How to Value Your Time

Knowing time’s value will help you decide how to use your time best.

Stever Robbins
5-minute read
Episode #394

In today’s world, we tend to have enough on our plate so every available second is filled. Our time is our most precious limited, non-replaceable resource. There are a billion things to do, and all need to get done (or so we believe). We need a way to decide what to do next. But it’s not always clear how to make that choice. 

At work, we can at least be guided by business goals. After all, time is money. But how about our free hours? There, time may be happiness. Or joy. Or friendship. Decide the highest value use of your time by using some easy metrics.

Give Each Option a Comparable Currency

You can’t compare apples to oranges. (Well, I can, but that’s due to a head injury I sustained as a small child.) Likewise, you can’t compare time that’s money with time that’s happiness. So put them into the same currency. 

Measuring professional time is easy. Put it in terms of the money you’ll make. If someone’s willing to pay you, the rate they’re willing to pay is the value. For example, your job. You spend eight hours working each day, and get paid for those hours. 

If what you do will eventually bring income, that time’s value is the eventual hourly rate. Of course, taking into account the extra hours you needed to make that dollar. If you’re a consultant looking for a contract, you spend time looking for that contract. If you spend four days to land a six week gig that pays 500 bucks, you’re making $500 for six weeks and four days, which is $14/day. You need to raise your rates.

You can't compare apples to oranges. So put them into the same currency.

Email Is Not Your Friend

Email is particularly pernicious. People say “I spend two hours a day doing email, but that’s OK, since I get business through email and I once got a $5,000 contract via email.” Then they conclude that their 30 minutes of email checking brought in $5,000. Wrong! 

If they check email two hours each day, that’s 25% of their work hours. If they get paid $80,000 a year, then that email time has to bring in at least 25% of that $80,000 or $20,000 in order to be paying for itself. 

When valuing income-producing time, divide the income by the total amount of time—billable and not—that it took to get that business.

Turn Personal Time Into Money

Comparing paid time and personal time requires valuing your personal time in dollars, too. 

Set your rate according to how you feel. What would you charge to miss something personal? That’s what your time is worth. Your friends Chris and Sam are going to see a movie, and you get offered a shift at work. What do you do?

Well, forget that it’s work. Pretend you’ve decided to join Chris and Sam. Your nemesis wants you to have no social life, but wants you to believe they have your best interests at heart. So your nemesis offers to pay you to stay home. How much do you need to get paid in order to be willing to forgo the time with Chris and Sam? $10? $50? $200? Whatever that number is, it’s the value you’re placing on that particular personal time.

Turn Exposure Into Money

A major modern currency is “exposure.” A well-funded or profitable company decides they want to abandon capitalism and steal your skill and labor to make money for themselves. Slavery is no longer legal, however, and they don’t believe in capitalism or paying people for their work, so they need to convince you to work for free. They offer you “exposure” and think they’re doing you a favor. Are they? Is it worth your time to work for “exposure?”

Convert the payoff to dollars. When you’re offered access or exposure instead of money, ask how much you would be willing to pay for the equivalent access. Let’s say the People’s Liberation Objectivist Paper (fondly knows as “PLOP”) offers you the chance to write an unpaid front-page article. Is that a good deal?

Ask yourself: if they hadn’t offered, how much would you be willing to pay to be on the front page of PLOP? Just asking that question immediately puts you in a new frame of mind. You start being picky. You ask how many people read the front page? Who are they? How long does the story stay live? How will they promote the story? How much will it raise (or lower!) your credibility to appear? The simple act of asking what you’d pay leads you immediately to ask a bunch of questions that you might not think to ask otherwise.


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.