Time Affluence: On Becoming Financially Independent
I bet time affluence is something to which most physicians do not ascribe. In fact, I suggest in our culture of always being “so busy,” that most face time poverty.
Yet what is more important: to have an affluence of money or time? The nice part on becoming financially independent is that you don’t have to choose!
Let’s look at physicians, time, and finances and consider ways to have time affluence even before you become financially independent.
Time Affluence vs. Time Poverty
First, what’s up with the term “time affluence?”
It appears as if concepts such as time poverty have been around in management literature since prior to the 1990s. Even prior to the internet, ideas like awe, gratitude and giving your time to others were suggested as ways to get your time back.
Time affluence appeared in research 20 years later, again originally applied to the workplace.
Research shows then and now a majority of people “always” feel rushed. Even a higher percentage wish they had more time in the day. Is that all posturing, or do people actually feel that way?
Or, is this more survey-based junk science that cannot be replicated?
Maybe we might find a kernel of truth to the notion of time poverty. The research indicates that, while people believe they are busier now than in the past, the opposite actually may be true.
People seem to think prior generations had easier lives. I like to think that the 90’s were the golden age of medicine. The time when you could actually do something for folks (but not too much). The old geezers retiring now saw the advent of axial imaging… my generation carried palm pilots in their overfilled short white coats. And the kids wearing short white coats now can’t imagine the struggle of going to the library to pull journal articles to find out about rare diagnoses.
But prior generations thought the generation before had it easier, too, and better as well. And were less busy!
Time Poverty: Why People Feel Rushed
So, people have always felt rushed. And thought that prior generations were less rushed. But do you want to know what really bothers me?
I dislike when people say I “have” to do this or that. No, you “get” to do this or that. It is a choice; one you are affirmatively making. You make it a busy day by having to and you make it your life by getting to.
On becoming financially independent, you don’t have to choose. You get to do what you want and don’t have to do anything.
Before that, there are glossy magazine quality fluffy to-do lists of recommendations for those who wish to become time affluent. I’m not the to-do list kind of guy, but there are ways to get your time back before you become financially independent.
So, to get your time back, does one enhance the positive or try to get rid of the negative? Be less busy or have more time?
Let’s try both!
Time and Utility
Economists call happiness utility. If you are happy, who cares if you have a poverty of time.
As I mention in my piece Fire is Joy, more stuff does not lead to increased happiness.
Similarly, money is not a predictor of happiness either. Once you have enough, well, how many hammers do you need to drive a nail? Apparently, around 60k a year is enough to flatten the curve of negative emotions, and the positive utility of money goes flat at 90k a year. Beyond that, and you are not happier. Enough is enough, except for time.
There is a limit on time, as life is a terminal condition. We each have what we have, and time affluence may better predict wellbeing than material affluence.
Another interesting thought: ask yourself “what do I want?” and then ask “why?” Reduce what you want enough, and the reason why you want it is because you are going to die someday. That is, keep asking “why” you want what you want. Why, why, why? And the reason is “because I’m going to die someday.”
On becoming financially independent, you can focus on utility. You have time affluence. What is the point of more wealth when you can have a wealth of time to do what you want before you die. Time affluence: have more time.
80/20 Rule and Time Affluence
But you can start being less busy right now if you are on your way to becoming financially independent. Think about the 80/20 rule when it comes to time affluence.
Let’s look at the 80/20 rule in action. What if you list the top 5 things you like about your job, and the top 5 things you would change about it. Seriously, do it; and then force rank them. One through five, what would you change, and what would you do more?
Remember, Pareto principle (the 80/20 rule) states that you get 80% of your results from 20% of your actions. The inverse is also true. Twenty percent of your practice leads to 80% of your headaches.
If you are on the path to financial independence, why not do more of what you love and let go of the headaches? Try to do more of the first item on your force rank list.
And stop doing the thing that brings the most headaches. Seriously, stop doing the 20% that makes your job suck 80% of the time. How are you going to know if you need to keep doing it unless you ask?
Further, 20% of your activities make you feel “busy” 80% of the time. Stop it. Stop being busy.
So in summary, focus on utility and the positive time affluence, and use Pareto to keep away the busy. Let’s finish with one more law.
Parkinson’s Law and Time Affluence
The other law we should look into is Parkinson’s Law. I have a nice blog on the financial implications of Parkinson’s Law, but here we are just talking about being busy.
To restate Parkinson’s law: a task requires exactly as much time to complete as you give it. Limit the time you allow to certain tasks, and you spend less time on them.
This comes down to the big rocks and the mason jar. Here, if you fill up your jar with sand first (the small annoying things that fill up our lives), you can’t get in the big rocks (which are the important actions that make your day and life work).
But, if you put in the big rocks first (by scheduling them and not doing small unimportant things), then you can add the pebbles (important and urgent tasks) and the sand fits in after everything else.
For me, perhaps the monkey I need to get off my back is always trying to be efficient. I go so far as to plan out my morning ablutions in advance so I save a few seconds. When I’m doing evening chores, I plan instead of enjoying being with the (many) animals. When driving, I even look at the car in front of the car in front of me to see how fast I should be going. Watch out for the car you are going to run into as you look through it at the car beyond it.
I spend so much time being efficient that I lose out on just being. This might be the extreme of Parkinson’s law; always trying to be so efficient with your time that you actually rush and miss out on the enjoyment of just being.
To me, this feels like the opposite of flow. Just being present. This is what I want to work on.
Time Affluence: On Becoming Financially Independent
As a young physician you are better off saying yes to everything. Yes, to that committee, that leadership opportunity, yes to an add-on, yes yes yes. Get good and busy. Maybe even get a little burnt out (not that you aren’t already after residency).
Then, once you know what you like about the job, once you know better, consider a Hell Yes policy.
Stop being so busy. If an opportunity doesn’t excite you enough in order to say hell yes, then just say no.
After all, you are not busier than the gal in the next clinic, or the guy next door. You may feel like it, but you don’t get points for that. You are not busier than the old guys used to be, either.
Say yes initially to figure out what you like. How else are you going to know? A book I like is Stumbling on Happiness. I must like it since I keep it next to my bed for months at a time. I’ve read it 3 times, and frankly, I don’t remember much about the book a week after finishing it. What I do take with me is that we are really poor at predicting what will make us happy in the future. You will change, and honestly, you have no idea what is going to make you happy 10 years from now.
Yet now we feel busy.
Then use Pareto to cut 20% and Parkinson to move the big rocks of your life.
Remember, the hospital will not love you back. More and more, we are just cogs in the wheel. We are not irreplaceable.
Don’t give your soul to something that will not love you back. Remember what brought you to medicine in the first place… it wasn’t the healthcare system or the insurance company.
Focus on affluence. Time affluence is the goal on becoming financially independent.