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Think beyond your paycheck: what is your time worth to you?

I’m a workaholic, and I never have enough time. I run my family’s business, which is expanding just as my parents are passing the leadership torch over to me. I’m juggling a lot of things and, from time to time, I drop something. Like reading, or going to the gym.

Think about the last time you said, “I don’t have enough time.”

Here’s the thing: we all have the same number of hours in a day and some choice in how we spend those hours. My pokey little shaved ice business in Austin, Texas has just as many hours to be successful as enterprises graced by the likes of Sheryl Sandberg or Jeff Bezos, though there are a lot fewer helping hands. It’s a sobering thought that keeps me working hard, but I’m also tired of not having enough time to do the things I love.

So I wonder: How much am I willing to pay a service to give me back an hour of my life, so that I can do something I love? In an ideal world, I’d only earn money doing things that make me happy, and that’s my goal. Instrumental in helping me achieve that goal is knowing what my time is worth. To that end, I think about my time being equal to the money I earn or the joy that I can derive by living the life I want. Or ideally both.

How much would you pay yourself for your time?

Assuming you’re gainfully employed, you’re already trading your time for money. In my case, I earn a base wage of $10.10 per hour. If you’re salaried and aren’t sure what you earn hourly, use this calculator to find out.

Once you know what your time is worth to someone else, you have a threshold to figure out what your time is worth to you. If it’s hard to assign a number, consider how much you’d pay to spend an hour with your kids, or pets, or S.O.—significant other. (Let’s assume this is something you want to do.) Maybe that number is actually pretty high.

Consider how much you'd pay to spend an hour with your kids, or pets, or S.O. - significant other. (Let's assume this is something you want to do.)

It’s hard, but I’ve found two ways to answer this question. One is the “dirty job” test—which assumes a level of privilege, that your basic needs are met. For example, what if someone said they’d pay you $50 per hour to scoop dirty kitty litter boxes? If you don’t enjoy a job, you’re less likely to be willing to spend your time doing it, so consider what amount would entice you to do something you really don’t want to do. For me, dealing in kitty litter is a hard, “No.” But could I work outdoors and rake leaves for $50 an hour? Maybe. I’m more willing to forego time doing what I love when I enjoy the work or task at hand.

The other way to answer the question involves a little thing I like to call, “life automation”—looking at ways to help yourself out by carefully weighing the cost of a service against your time and enjoyment.

Automate your life

Think about the routine tasks in your life that can be outsourced. If you rideshare or participate in the gig economy, you’re already automating aspects of your life. But maybe there are some services you haven’t considered. Here are a few examples, with some cost-benefit analysis to help determine if it’s worth buying some help to gain back some time.

Groceries: Right now my S.O. and I live five walking minutes from the grocery store. However, at the end of the month, we’re moving 20 driving minutes away from the nearest grocery. We really enjoy the time we spend together going to the store, but at our new home, we estimate grocery shopping will take us an hour and forty minutes each week—which is a lot more time than we spend on groceries now. That makes this a likely candidate for outsourcing.

Ask yourself: How many hours per week do you spend making a list, commuting to the store, and shopping? Do you enjoy grocery shopping? What would you do if you didn’t have to grocery shop?

Check out: Instacart, Amazon Prime Pantry, or an in-house shopping assistance, delivery, or curbside pickup from your local grocery store.

Meal delivery: We tried a meal delivery service earlier this year, and it wasn’t for us. It cost more than we were spending by doing our own shopping, there was too much packaging, and we missed selecting our own recipes. I do all the cooking in the house, so we also used my relatively low income of $10.10 per hour in our cost-benefit analysis. That really made the service a lose-lose proposition.

When it comes to joy, I did like learning how to cook new things, but I can still do that by opening a cookbook and challenging myself to try a new dish.

Ask yourself: Do you enjoy cooking? How much time per week do you spend meal-planning? How many days do you want to cook, and could you also cook enough in one day to last the week? How much control do you want over ingredients, where they’re sourced from, and your diet?

Check out: Hello Fresh, Plated, Home Chef, Blue Apron, Munchery, or Imperfect Produce.

Ridesharing: Ugh. Don’t know if you’ve heard, but Austin has a traffic problem. It’s no fun to sit in traffic, but maybe you can convert some of your commute days into rideshare days. Just think, in someone else’s car you could do something you like, like read or plan a weekend trip.

We use ridesharing when we go on dates and know we’ll have a drink, or when we know parking will be tight or astronomically expensive. Ridesharing lets us get maximum joy out of our time by allowing us to do what we want, worry and hassle free.

Ridesharing lets us get maximum joy out of our time by allowing us to do what we want, worry and hassle free.

Ask yourself: How much time do you spend driving per week? Do you even need a car? Are you someone who can read in the car, or would you value conversation and company? When you factor in parking and gas, does ridesharing pay for itself?

Check out: Lyft, Uber, Chariot, or if there is local startup in your area.

Email management: Anyone else feel like a swordless hero fighting a hydra when you open your inbox? I used to, until I spent some time looking up tools to automate and better manage Gmail. I built a file structure and use filters to keep my unread count low. I subscribed to Boomerang for Gmail, which helps me schedule, follow up, and request read receipts on emails. I use a Google Keep note with my canned responses for common business emails. I still spend a lot of time with a Gmail tab open, but I’m using my time more efficiently.

Ask yourself: Do you feel dread before opening your inbox? Are tasks falling through the cracks? Do you work for your inbox, or does it work for you?

Around the house: The home we’re buying has a yard and is almost twice as large as our apartment. It’s by no means a gaudy Texan McMansion, but it will take us more time to care for. It’s also an investment we want to maintain, not just repair. I don’t mind vacuuming as much as my S.O., but I also don't love it. Neither of us enjoys dusting, and I’d never heard of cleaning the baseboards until we moved in together three years ago. So, a housekeeper would bring us a lot of joy and save us a lot of time. Like groceries, this is a likely candidate for getting some help.

Home also emcompasses things like yard care and easy automotive tasks, like changing the oil or washing the car. Almost anyone can do these things to save money, but they can also be pretty low cost. Personally, I love working with my hands, but I rather do something else than change the oil in my car or edge the yard. I’m happy to pay up to $40 per hour for someone else to tend to these things, because my time is worth that much to me. It feels like I’ve gained time and saved money.

Ask yourself: What home jobs do you spend time doing each week or month? How much time do you spend on those jobs? How much would it cost to automate those jobs?

Check out: Thumbtack, Handy, or TaskRabbit.

What will you do with your time?

If you know what your time is worth to you—what you would pay yourself to hang with your kids or take your dog on a walk—it becomes easier to make decisions about how to spend your time and where to shell out the cash. Then it’s just on you to use your time wisely and to do the things you want to do.

For extra credit, check in with yourself every quarter. I find that I value my time differently throughout the year. As things change, I want to keep myself on track toward that goal of getting paid to do what I love and to strike the right balance of working and living.