Simple living, extreme early retirement, being wealthy, ...
Post Reply
Posts: 522
Joined: Sun Jun 12, 2016 9:09 am


Post by Fish » Tue Jan 03, 2017 8:42 am

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
From viewtopic.php?p=127568#p127568
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.
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.

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)

User avatar
Posts: 4347
Joined: Wed Nov 23, 2011 12:42 am

Re: Time

Post by Ego » Tue Jan 03, 2017 9:15 am

One can hack the maintenance/project time dichotomy. It is possible to make maintenance time productive by seeking jobs that pay you to acquire skills or maintain abilities that you would otherwise use project time to acquire or maintain.

Site Admin
Posts: 11483
Joined: Fri Jun 28, 2013 8:38 pm
Location: USA, Zone 5b, Koppen Dfa, Elev. 620ft, Walkscore 73

Re: Time

Post by jacob » Tue Jan 03, 2017 10:03 am

I suppose "maintenance" is one way to look at it, but that's not how I see it in the book (or in my life).

I'd rather say that 0th order goals (the spine of the diagram) are "tactical" and higher order goals (the fishbones) are "strategic" in the sense that they prepare the ground/increase optionality/can be combined into forming other goals. The reverse fishbones are the components that make the web-of-goals look like a web and not like a straight line.

Posts: 1067
Joined: Sun Mar 20, 2016 6:05 am

Re: Time

Post by classical_Liberal » Tue Jan 03, 2017 10:35 am

I realize you are attempting to avoid emotions in the analysis, however, time being the uniquely limited capital you described, some value must be placed on the activities that consume it outside of the project vs maintenance dichotomy for accurate analysis. Afterall, as you stated not all maintenance time is equal (or even required). Perhaps a likert scale of sorts in which an individual can place emotional values on maintenance time. 1(Very satisfying), 2(Satisfying), 3(neutral), 4(Dissatisfying), 5(Very Dissatisfying). In this way a person can rank the appeal of a maintenance activity to examine its overall agreeablity to one's life. For the purpose of this exercise assume that all project time remains equal, as it should be emotionally/personally satisfying.

In the salaryman scenario, he may find his job neutral, but time with family very satisfying. He can appropriately weight his maintenance time according to the enjoyment or drudgery. Albeit, we will end with a ratio that is not representative of total time spent, rather of how much one is enjoying the maintenance time that surrounds the project time. This would be helpful in determining whether or not a project is worth the perceived effort/discomfort going forward. Example: 8 hours of work at neutral = 24, 2 hours family time at very satisfying = 2, for 4 hours total project time. 26:4. The goal would be to reduce ratio. Of course other scales could be added, including how efficient each activity is towards reaching the end goal of project time. Modify the factors of each scale based on the importance to the user. OTOH, as ego points out, an ERE'er should be working towards a situation in which maintenance time & project time are mingled, rendering such a simple equation irrelevant.

Posts: 522
Joined: Sun Jun 12, 2016 9:09 am

Re: Time

Post by Fish » Tue Jan 03, 2017 12:52 pm

Thanks for the feedback everyone. It's sounding like a mistake to bring reverse fishbone effect mapping into this. Maybe the following revision would be more appropriate.

Time spent on an activity is considered "maintenance" to the extent that it is obligatory or required to preserve standard of living. Everything else is available as project time. Here, SoL is intended in a broad sense to encompass various types of human capital as described in the ERE book.

The purpose of the time calculation is to illustrate the time cost of living at a high SoL, whether that be material (nice house), financial (high NW), social (many friends), or physical (elite fitness level). Some maintenance can be outsourced or bought like house cleaning and portfolio management, while other maintenance must be paid for with time. But you cannot buy true friendship or pay someone to exercise for you!

The project time calculation therefore becomes a measure of how efficiently one spends time to maintain a certain standard of living. It also shows how much time is available to improve SoL if so desired. Ultimately I think a true "skill of living" concept would reflect how effectively time, money, and energy are spent in constructing a lifestyle. Measuring only money efficiency doesn't reveal the whole picture.

Posts: 5320
Joined: Fri Oct 18, 2013 9:03 am

Re: Time

Post by 7Wannabe5 » Tue Jan 03, 2017 3:53 pm

One of my favorite novels features a protagonist who, subsequent to a terrible marital break-up of her own making, finds herself with two young children and an upper-middle-class lifestyle which she has no possibility of continuing to afford. She determines that she is reasonably close to being able to obtain a graduate degree which would lead to a career, so she moves out of the large suburban home and into graduate student housing with her kids. However, she also chooses to retain the services of her full-time live-in nanny/housekeeper. IMO, this is an example of the sort of creative outside-of-the-locked-in-box thinking that defines true frugality because most people in similar circumstances would cling to the house and forego the housekeeper.

Do people who are wealthy often leverage the labor of others? Obviously, yes. Therefore, I see no inconsistency, or inherent difference, in leveraging the labor of others in close proximity (hiring housekeeper/nanny in order to achieve graduate degree) vs. leveraging the labor of others in distant proximity (profiting through investment in the enterprises of others which leverage the labor of others.) It seems to me that the least upside, most downside, would involve trading your own specialized $20/labor for the $20/hr specialized labor of others, whereas trading for the most useful tiny bit of the time of somebody who charges $200/hr for their labor, and a much larger chunk of the time of somebody who charges less for skills you already possess would tend to have the most upside, least downside. So, a rough first attempt might look something like spending $500 for one hour of the time of a very good lawyer and an extra $1/day, 5 days/week to get eggplant curry from the hot buffet at the low-rent ethnic market vs. spending the 20 minutes to cook it yourself. However, it quickly becomes evident that you could do even better than this, by integrating the leverage of the labor of others with additional factors, such as technology. For instance, how much is the expert advice from a master which you can obtain for only the investment of your time by reading a work such as "The Art of War" worth? Consider all the possible benefits of building your own solar-powered grass mowing robot!

Anyways, good thread. Got my brain percolating a bit.

Posts: 522
Joined: Sun Jun 12, 2016 9:09 am

Re: Time

Post by Fish » Fri Apr 14, 2017 7:55 pm

Third attempt at time subject, in particular maintenance activities and the significance of their proportion in one's life. A related concept is the "upkeep" mechanic in Magic: the Gathering. For those who have never played Magic, things with upkeep require an ongoing resource cost or they are lost. Owning stuff with upkeep is a lot like being in debt as it prevents resource income from being used to acquire new stuff.

Most things in real life have some level of upkeep, which are the recurring time and money costs for maintenance. With this in mind, improving standard of living requires doing at least one of the following:

1. Acquire (spend) more money
2. Spend more time
3. Increase efficiency of spending
4. Substitute the relatively abundant resource for the one that is scarce (e.g. DIY or outsource depending on which resource is in abundance).

When you can no longer do any of the above then SoL is maxed out. This maximum point is fragile due to the tight coupling of SoL to resources and personal efficiency.

It's intuitively understood that living paycheck to paycheck is not good practice because this tight coupling is problematic when things go wrong. Concepts such as savings rates and emergency funds naturally follow.

However, it's less common to think about time in the same manner. Maybe I should be asking in a time management forum instead? But I think time expenditures can be categorized as follows:

1. Increasing standard of living
2. Improving efficiency
3. Preserving standard of living, that is maintenance
4. Nonproductive endeavors such as entertainment

In personal finance terms, we can think of these time expenditures as investing (1, 2), spending on needs (3) and wants (4). Ideally, time is allocated to categories 1, 2 and 4 (the last having a positive impact on quality of life even if SoL is not increased). While maintenance is a productive activity, due to hedonic adaptation it tends to be perceived as a necessary evil.

A lifestyle with all effort going towards maintenance may have higher SoL, but it is fragile and can only get worse. If this point is reached, it is necessary to be adaptable, meaning being flexible and accepting of declining SoL, lest one risks burnout trying to keep up appearances.

Reminds me of what 7w5 said in 1taskaday's journal:
7wannabe5 wrote:[As a working mother] It really is the mortgage and the commute that locks you in.
Lock-in results when maintenance precludes investment and want-spending. A life filled only with essentials is consumed by it.

Voluntary simplicity. It's not just for money. Also works as a technique to achieve time frugality as Scott 2 has noted. I feel like I'm amateurishly reinventing the wheel here so I'll stop here and search for existing literature before I "spend 30 days in the lab." :)

@7w5: That example of out-of-the-box thinking you provided was quite thought-provoking. Need to remember that if ever presented with similar decisions in life.

Posts: 3803
Joined: Sat Dec 26, 2015 5:20 pm

Re: Time

Post by BRUTE » Fri Apr 14, 2017 9:38 pm

counter theory: while time can be a valuable (if scarce) resource, it can also be an overwhelming dilemma when in abundance. brute suggests that the majority of humans actually work because they'd have too much free time on their hands without a job. most humans would rather not have to kill 40 more hours per week on their own.

life's a bitch and then humans die. finally.

Posts: 4452
Joined: Wed Aug 24, 2011 1:50 am

Re: Time

Post by Dragline » Fri Apr 14, 2017 10:58 pm

I think its time for Pink Floyd: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JwYX52BP2Sk

Posts: 3803
Joined: Sat Dec 26, 2015 5:20 pm

Re: Time

Post by BRUTE » Fri Apr 14, 2017 11:08 pm

objectively best album of all times.

Posts: 1081
Joined: Fri Dec 13, 2013 8:49 am
Location: Switzterland

Re: Time

Post by Jean » Sat Apr 15, 2017 8:24 am

We kill time by emulating what humans used to do a long time ago when they had no spare time.

Posts: 626
Joined: Tue Nov 01, 2011 4:12 pm
Location: Netherlands/Austria

Re: Time

Post by J_ » Sat Apr 15, 2017 11:17 am

Enjoying post FI, is enjoying that you are master of (your) time. At the moment I am traveling solo with my little motorboat through the Netherlands, Belgium to France. I stay in places which I find interesting: Amsterdam, Dordrecht, Antwerpen and today Gent (Belgium). I go where the big inland transport boats go , and leaf those big canals and sluices, to smaller ones to see the interesting cities. So now and then I do maintenance on my boat (varnish, maintain the diesel-motor). I feel that I live the life I want to. @Fish, I do not bother which fishbone or web I am in. Master of (your) time is a wonderful thing.

Posts: 5320
Joined: Fri Oct 18, 2013 9:03 am

Re: Time

Post by 7Wannabe5 » Sat Apr 15, 2017 2:47 pm

I am going to attempt to type something here that will make my brain hurt, so may be wrong or not sensible.

Jacob wrote this on thread about anti-fragility.
I usually compare ERE to a time-dependent version of permaculture
In the film "The Permaculture Orchard: Beyond Organic", Stefan Sobkowiak explains that one of his practices is that every time he pulls a "weed" from the under-story of his orchard, he plants something that he does want in its place. So, I've been thinking about how best to follow this practice in my garden project.

A sour cherry tree might be a productive asset for 20 years. A sage plant might be a productive asset for 4 years. A pea plant will be productive for a month or so. You can't just put any plant in any spot in your garden and expect it to thrive. Different plants need different proportions of resources such as sunlight, water and magnesium. So, when you pull out a "weed" and replace it with a plant you prefer, it is good practice to consider why that "weed" was thriving in that spot.

When you retire, in full or in part, from a 40 hour block of paid-employment and maybe around 10 more hours of commute/shirt-ironing work-related activities, it is not the case that you are freeing up (50 uniform hours/week X life-expectancy-in-weeks)of time. The hours you are freeing up will be more like the different beds with different micro-climates of a garden, because your life energy is cyclic, just like sunlight and weather. For instance, my prime time for doing anything physical would be around 10 AM. and then maybe again around 6 or 7 PM. I like to read in the afternoon, and later in the evening. So, if I attempted to plug "Do Tabata Intervals" into my schedule at 3 PM, and read "A Mathematical Theory of Communication" into my schedule at 9:30 AM, I am less likely to accomplish either.

Taleb wrote that one important thing people don't necessarily think about providing for themselves in the case of an ongoing emergency situation, like he experienced in his boyhood, is a lot of books to read. Most people need to interact with books/journal or have conversation with people or watch stories on the TV or interact through the internet on a pretty regular basis, or they will go insane with boredom. Maslow doesn't make this explicit on hierarchy, but maybe Level 3. If you include more challenging activities in the time you must allot to exercise, sociability and mental stimulation anyways, then maybe Level 4. If you somehow form a unique complex web with a shared overall purpose to all these activities that you have to do anyways, then maybe Level 5.

I can't remember how I was going to tie this back into the quote from Jacob. Maybe somebody else can connect my dots :lol:

Posts: 3803
Joined: Sat Dec 26, 2015 5:20 pm

Re: Time

Post by BRUTE » Sat Apr 15, 2017 4:26 pm

good thought - what is gone needs to be replaced with something that fills a different metaphorical ecological niche. not all weeds can be replaced with tomatoes. some grow in places that tomatoes don't grow in.

similarly, a career of thinking hard and coming up with great ideas, working with teams, or what not, can likely not be fully replaced by hiking for 40 hours a week, or 40 hours of reading. it will likely take something socially engaging, mentally challenging.

many humans fail to appreciate what work and jobs do for them, or for humans in general. for most humans with jobs, the job is their main source of socializing, identity, self-worth, challenge, mental exercise, and yes, income. focusing on replacing solely the income part isn't going to fare well. that's one of the things ERE has over "high savings rate only" thinking - it takes into account the other roles of the job in human life.

Posts: 1091
Joined: Thu Feb 12, 2015 2:14 pm
Location: Falls City, OR

Re: Time

Post by enigmaT120 » Mon Apr 17, 2017 5:20 pm


Where did I read "Time is what keeps everything from happening at once."?

I thought 7WB5 made sense. If I open up a big space in my time, weeds will come in if I don't plant something else there that I prefer.

Posts: 522
Joined: Sun Jun 12, 2016 9:09 am

Re: Time

Post by Fish » Mon Apr 24, 2017 2:04 am

@7w5 @brute Thanks, this is helping me understand myself (and ERE?) a little better. I am realizing that consumer life was unfulfilling because my job doesn't directly impact my quality of life. Instead it's indirect influence through earn/spend. Taking back the producer role has improved satisfaction by restoring the effort-reward connection. The utilization of time does not seem to matter as much as whether the activities provide the psychological equivalent of essential amino acids.

Also, if uprooting something as large as a full-time job, definitely need to plant something good and sustainable in its place, else weeds will fill the time void. That's a great way to visualize FIRE.

Post Reply