As I entered the classroom on my first day of undergrad finance, I found a desk in the first row, sat down, and looked up toward the front of the classroom.

Big block letters were written across the blackboard.


We spent the entire first class just talking about this one concept.

I often think back to that first finance class and the concepts we learned that day.  Relatedly, I also think often about the value of time.

Unfortunately, none of us has unlimited time and how we choose to spend our time is really one of the most important choices of our lives. In his famous graduation speech at Stanford College, Steve Jobs stated, “Remembering I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered.”  It’s a reminder to use our time well and to make sure we’re not wasting it.

Often, when I’m in a meeting at work, I think about the collective value of the time that’s ticking away while we all sit around the meeting table. Same with traveling, eating lunch, dinner, snoozing in bed.  There is so much wasted time.

It’s very easy to waste time because the value of time is relatively hard to see.  Just like the time value of money, today, the value of time is largely invisible. Train tickets, hotel bills, airfare – those costs are all clearly visible and very easy to quantify.  The value of time is vague and obscure.

I wonder if behavior would change if we somehow found a way to make the value of time easily visible.

What if there was a digital monitor hanging on the wall of each meeting room – right next to the clock that counted the value being spent by all participants in each meeting. Each minute the counter would tick up counting the money that the company just spent employing all the people in the room for that last minute.

How would behavior change?

Would we be more efficient with time? Or just more paranoid?

Certainly we wouldn’t waste as much time on the small stuff. Searching for two hours for the cheapest flight to ultimately save $50 on the end cost, researching for days to make sure you were buying the absolute best vacuum cleaner – these would be easy habits to dismiss.  It would be obvious and visible that these activities were negative ROI.

Interesting to think about, right?


Editors note (from my wife): Related thoughts have been posted here in a recent article from NPR –

The Value of Time
  • Bren Eifler

    I’ve thought about this a lot too – having asked the question “how can I make the value of time clearly visible?” many times, often in frustration after wasting a large chunk of it. :P …In my experience the only way my brain has grasped the value of an hour, and (eventually) a minute was when I was so busy that I didn’t have enough time to get to things I wanted to. It was strange how my first reaction to be super busy was denial – “surely there’s enough time for this extra commitment!”.

    It’s taken years of being short on time, and many failed timeline predictions to put a (consistently) high priority on time management. …I wonder if this expanded sense of time is how our brains are naturally wired, and thus must be re-trained? (Apparently with great effort…) BTW, the pomodoro technique has been incredibly helpful, especially when working on difficult-to-face tasks:

  • Nice – thanks Bren!