Time is a valuable form of human capital that is often taken for granted, until you no longer have it. Assuming 8 hours for sleep, a person has 5,840 waking hours per year. Dr. Obvious finds it interesting that unlike other types of capital, time is unique in that it is both finite and invariant. Much like ignorance of personal finance concepts often results in financial disaster, not managing time properly leads to lifestyle disaster.
Project Time vs. Maintenance Time
Recall the fishbone diagrams from the ERE book. For the purpose of this discussion, time spent working on zeroth order goals (that is, doing exactly what you want to be doing) is called project time. Time spent addressing the higher order side effects of pursuing these goals is termed maintenance time.
Project time is precious. Properly used, it is the most effective way achieve your goals, develop new capabilities and improve quality of life. This being said, not all activities are created equal, and doing things for entertainment purposes is a perfectly valid though unproductive way to spend one's time.
On the other hand, maintenance time is a burden. The equivalent of this in PF-space is transportation, which serves no purpose but to impose a time and/or money cost for the inability to collocate everything that's needed into one place. All else equal, less need for transportation is always desirable.
Maintenance is viewed similarly. The main difference between project time and maintenance time is that of obligation. Failure to perform required maintenance activities(*) is detrimental to the zeroth order goal. While ERE advocates the selection of activities with mutually reinforcing side effects, time spent on zeroth order goals is preferable to an equal amount of time dealing with their side effects.
(*)Not all maintenance is required! Many activities can be neglected with minimal consequence, and are therefore optional.
Having distinguished project and maintenance time, this gives us a new way to think about important aspects of life: jobs, shelter, pets, children. In the popular "rent vs. buy" conundrum, usually only financial and emotional aspects are considered. However, the time cost should also be given consideration since ERE followers are likely to DIY maintenance and remodels on principle.
Ratio of Project Time to Total Time
An important ratio to consider is the proportion of project time to total time(%). Let's call this the project rate. If project rate gets too low, it means you're spending all your time on side effects and not the goals themselves.
For example, a salaryman holds an unfulfilling job as a side effect of a lifestyle which requires money. Suppose working a 9-5 job requires 10 hours per weekday after considering all side effects (commute, lunch break, etc.). Nominally, this diminishes the time available for projects by 2,500 hours per year (assuming 2 weeks vacation) and corresponds to a project rate of 57%. So far so good. At 57%, 1 hour of maintenance enables 1.75 hours of project time.
Now, suppose our salaryman lives a full life. After housekeeping, grocery shopping, taking care of dependents, and other personal obligations, the salaryman is left with an average of 2 hours per day towards self-directed goals. Project rate is now down to 12.5% (14 hours of maintenance enabling 2 hours of project time). At this point, project time is scarce, and its quality is likely diminished due to the energy expended on maintenance activities. It amazes me how overcommitted people at this level of time poverty will still spend their precious free time watching TV!
When project rate reaches zero there is no more capacity for deliberate attempts at development or increasing quality of life. One is powerless and entirely subject to the side effects at this point. Reverse fishbone effect planning is extremely important for anyone in a time crunch!
Relationship to Personal Finance
It is possible to "buy time" to the extent that the market offers solutions, e.g. hire a housekeeper, have food delivered, using time-efficient transportation. For people with the goal of becoming or staying financially independent, the money cost of convenience is heterotelic. There is a point where the most time-efficient solution is used for everything and you will be unable to buy your way to a better life. Instead, better strategy (rethinking the lifestyle and adjusting zeroth order goals) is the only way at that point.jacob wrote:If you're all-money and need money to solve all problems, then you need a lot of money because you'd be spending it even in cases where the efficiency is low. Conversely, if you're all-handyman and need to work to solve all problems, then you'll be working all the time because you need to even if the problem could be solved more easily with money.
A common reason for pursuing FIRE is to free up time to work on more interesting projects. FIRE can only free up time to the extent that a job occupies the lifestyle. In the salaryman example, that is 50 of 112 hours/week. When pursuing FIRE, also consider how the other 62 hours are spent. Choose your maintenance side effects wisely! It may even be the case that better lifestyle strategy may allow for the pursuit of the desired projects while continuing to hold a job.
(%)The source of inspiration for this post was the concept of EROEI ("energy returned on energy invested"), which is the ratio of useful energy extracted to the total energy required for its extraction. I was trying to see how it could be applied to FIRE thinking and time seemed to be the natural parameter. I do wonder if there's a correlation between certain types of activities and the project rate/"time returned on time invested" needed for their undertaking. Kind of like the EROEI requirements for certain activities that Jacob quoted in another thread. For example, watching TV and surfing the internet can be enjoyed by the time-poor and time-rich people alike. But more time-expensive activities like writing a book or developing high levels of competence in a skill require a lot of project time, which acts as a barrier to entry.
(Note: There is a similar topic called Leisure vs. Free Time, but I opted to start a new thread to discuss it with respect to ERE and personal finance theory)