How much do you think your time is worth?

Let’s say you are pretty unsure, but you guess ‘hardly anything’. So when you see opportunities to turn your time into a little bit of value, you naturally jump at them. You offer to clean your friend’s car for her, because it’s a way of saving ten dollars for like an hour of your time, which would otherwise be put to a worse use. You put a lot of attention into finding good shopping deals and learning how to make cheaper meals. And in between all this, you don’t mind cutting down your work hours to enjoy life, because losing an hour of productivity is worth less than the popcorn. Sometimes you do reassess the value of your time, by thinking about your second best options for spending it. For instance, if you didn’t clean your friend’s car, what would you have been doing? Probably making your own granola, which is worth something, but doesn’t matter much. So you learn that you were right: your time is not worth much.

But let’s say instead that you guess that your time is worth a lot. You then shamelessly skip over any task that isn’t also worth a lot. You jump at opportunities to spend dollars to save minutes, and buy whatever is convenient and doesn’t get in the way of the real work. If a new opportunity appears, you compare it to the next best thing you could be doing, and since that is something awesome (or you wouldn’t be doing it), few opportunities are good enough to take. So it turns out that you were right: your time is worth a lot.

This probably shouldn’t happen to an ideal agent, but I think it probably does happen to humans. I am curious whether this is a familiar phenomenon to others.

You might think, if you guess your time is not worth much, won’t you correct it later if it is, when you see the more amazing opportunities on the table? In practice maybe not, because you (and others) partly assess which things you can do by the current value of your time (e.g. maybe I can see that it is valuable to start an awesome startup but I assume it is not an opportunity for *me* because I am usually peeling carrots or something, and am not even amazing at that). Also you don’t necessarily hear about high value opportunities if you are doing low value activities. Also, maybe you hear about fewer things altogether if you stop at the first opportunity to turn time into peanuts and turn your attention to running that process, instead of looking further. And you just see a whole different set of opportunities if you go down one path instead of another. Like if you decide to start at cleaning jobs, you then hear about other (sometimes somewhat better) cleaning-job-level things, not about important philosophy problems that need solving.

New Comment