Do You Think About Spending or Investing Time?

time is moneyWe often talk about “spending” time. I often think about spending in two ways:

  • To expend, as in energy.
  • To exchange some value for something else. For example, I spend money in exchange for goods or services.

I’m not so sure I like the idea of “spending” time. I can’t ever get another second of time back.

Time is not renewable, certainly not like energy or money:

  • If I rest, rehydrate, and eat, I can restore my energy.
  • I have many options for making more money. Since I’m a consultant, I can offer current or new services for money.

Investment sounds and feels different to me.

When I invest my time, I expect a future benefit for the time I spend. Yes, I just used the word “spend.”

Here’s the difference:

  • Investment is for the long term. I don’t expect an immediate return for my time when I invest it.
  • Spending is for the short term. I expect a more immediate return.

You might tell me I’m wrong. You think about time the same way, regardless of the verb you use. Good for you!

I get another valuable side effect when I think about “investing” time. That investment means I select my actions more carefully.

When I invest my time, I don’t have to “manage” my time.

Time “management” is the wrong word. Time marches on, regardless of what any of us does. Yes, I learned this transforming idea from David Allen’s Getting Things Done. When we choose our actions, we choose where to invest our time.

I suspect our actions result from our short-term or long-term orientation for the issue at hand.

Does Short- or Long-Term Orientation Make a Difference?

I take different orientations depending on where I am in my learning or a project.

For example, I’m early in my fiction career. I’ve sold a dozen short stories, and have not yet completed a novel. Since I want to get better as a fiction writer faster, I choose to write a little fiction every day. I invest my time in my long-term goal of writing fiction.

I’m an experienced speaker. Sometimes, I accept a speaking engagement because I want to explore a topic, without expectations of turning that talk into a book or other product. In that case, I invest the time, but it’s a short-term investment. You might call it “spending” time.

I did that last week. During the talk, I realized I might want to invest the time to create a short book about the topic. I’m not positive I want to choose that action, because I have many books on my to-write queue. That changes the short-term orientation to a long-term orientation. However, I did spend the time to create the talk.

Based on choosing my actions, I mostly think about investing my time—even when I expect a short-term outcome. You might think differently.

Regardless, I hope you think about how you feel about the difference between spending and investing.

That’s the question this week: Do you think about spending or investing time?

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