time and money

Day 22 of 30. As a tech geek, I spend some time lurking around Hacker News, and like all groups Hacker News has a culture, and like all cultures that culture has its comfort zones and touchpoints.

One of those is productivity porn: a particular type of content that valorises productivity, that in its worst incarnations gets monomaniacal about optimising and maximising your use of time. This is prevalent enough on Hacker News that there are also response pieces to the glut of productivity porn, which can also become their own kind of productivity porn: how dare you consume this content that only talks about being productive, when you could just go be productive? (But, of course, don't forget to read this piece shaming you into doing that first. Nothing oils the gears of productivity like shame and self-loathing - wait, no, those are actually terrible motivators.)

Another is effective altruism, which at its best encourages us all to do good more effectively, and at its worst functions as a kind of massive-scale sin indulgence for the ultra-rich. (In that way, you could say it's no worse than any other belief system whose tenets are vague enough to permit a wide range of conflicting interpretations.)

Somewhere in the intersection of these two concepts lies the Value of Time Calculator. I tried it out, and apparently I value my time at somewhere around 55o DKK per hour (~$80). That means that I shouldn't accept an extra hour of otherwise unrewarding work for less than $80 post-tax, and I should be willing to spend $80 to save 1 hour of toil.

If I take my salary + benefits and amortise them across the 24-hour day, I'd make 114 DKK (~$16) for every hour I draw breath. So maybe I shouldn't go out and spend $80 per hour saved to solve all my problems, at least not if I also want food and a roof over my head.

And: what about the future value of money unspent vs. future value of additional learning? Or health? Or time spent on my most cherished relationships? And what would it mean to think about everything I do in this way, anyways? Though, to be fair: many of these articles make the point that thinking about nothing you do in this way could also be a mistake. Fair enough - we've all been in meetings that devalue our time, or bureaucratic tangles that seem useless.

I'm writing this on a Friday, and as I left the office today, I had the chance to glimpse how the companies in our building unwind at the end of the week. For LEGO, that meant clusters huddled around piles of small plastic bricks, laughing and building. (Yes, we build LEGO for fun at the office.) One floor down is Joe and the Juice, a Euro-bro-ish juice bar chain that started in Scandinavia and has since spread overseas - pumping techno blares from behind their doors, and the occasional clink of bottles. Down again from there is some kind of professional services firm - maybe law, maybe accounting - and here there's a sedate circle of suit-and-tie sorts sipping from beer cans.

I think this is a better way to think about the value of time. What relaxes you, invigorates you, recharges you? What can you barely stop yourself from doing - not compulsively, but with engagement and excitement? Who do you surround yourself with? What brings you joy, and how could you do more of that?

Perhaps a utilitarian financial view can help you realise those goals, but it shouldn't be your only lens - it's just another tool in the toolbox.