The Magical Time Investment Calculator

I wish there was a magical time investment calculator.

Time Investment Calculator

It’s best to assume that an investment of time with another human being is worth it.
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Many sites have an investment calculator for money. I like to use them from time to time to figure out my retirement age and how much European vacation I will get each year, whether I will be able to afford a beach house and a mountain house, or if the market goes bad, how long exactly I will have to greet at Wal-Mart. It’s fun.

But we don’t have one for investments of time unfortunately.

I sat down earlier this week at 5:30am to write a macro for a repetitive task that I do in Firefox. I spent over an hour writing this macro that will save me approximately three minutes each day. In other words, it will be about twenty-five days before I see a return on my investment of time. For two to three years after that, I will spend exactly zero hours a day doing this task, a nice savings of time when added up. NOTE: This isn’t a post about browser tools, but I highly recommend iMacros for Firefox…it’s free and easy to use. It easily saves me two hours every week…that’s literally two weeks a year.

But at the time I was writing the macro and editing it and troubleshooting it, it did not seem like a good investment of time. I was frustrated and ready to give up. I was ready to spend three minutes every weekday for the foreseeable future in order to spare an hour or so now. I needed a magical time investment calculator.

I’ve found that I do this in all areas of life though, especially with investing time with people.

With money, it’s easy for me to delay gratification. It is easy for me to forgo the $1000 purchase now for the $20,000 (that’s a guess numbers freaks) I will have in twenty years. I really want to be able to retire in twenty years, so I keep a close eye on what it will take to do that. The numbers are tangible based on a one hundred year track record and fancy algorithms.

But time is different. It has no defined, track-record-proven, predictable results. And I hate that.

What is the calculation on what an hour with the guy at church will return? (For the purposes of this post, I am assuming no altruistic motives or anticipated heavenly rewards.) What is the return on time spent with family or time counseling someone at work? Much like me writing the macro (which at least had a measurable result), time spent with people can feel wasted. Rather than deepen a relationship that is difficult, we pull out of it. Rather than spend time thinking of ways to communicate better or research ways to help a person in need, we tune them out and move on with our lives, missing the rewards that will inherently come with helping others.

Maybe I am speaking only for myself, but it sure would be nice if we had that calculator for time with people. “Three hours with Jim will yield…oh look seven years from now, Jim will introduce me to Henry who will save me $20,000 on my taxes. Yep, this is worth it.” In the meantime, I it’s best to assume that an investment of time with another human being is worth it. It’s worth it to him or her, probably to you, and it brings a big, sweeping smile to God’s face.

How do you calculate time spent with others?

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  • I don’t need a calculator for that. I can just use my Jedi-future-seeing abilities.

    It is easy for us to look only at the present. Most of us are busy, and we can’t justify the extra time to do something right the first time, and we just do enough to get by. I heard this while in Bible college: “Good enough is never good enough.”

    Time investment with people is almost impossible to measure. The benefits keep adding and multiplying as time goes on. A few extra minutes spent with your family, if done right, can go a long way toward a lifetime of great relationships.

    Thanks for another great post, Matt.

  • Laura Johnson

    Thanks, calling me a numbers freak…

    • HAHA! I just knew someone would actually look up the numbers so I had to say it. I actually think it was more like $11,000 but why let a detail like that ruin the example? It’s more than $30k in 30 years :)

  • I’m the worst time manager on the planet. In my head, I know I can get home after work, spend quality time with my kids, cook an amazing dinner and do the dishes before going to bed at 8:00 PM. Reality is completely different. Great example happened yesterday. We got home and my daughter noticed there are no Halloween decorations in our house. I said, let’s look quickly in the craft room, I have a couple things we can put up. This turned into a discovery adventure, opening up boxes of craft supplies we have not yet unpacked since we moved in 20 months ago. Next thing I know, we’re trying to put the decorations up. Emily wants to see what the ghost on the window looks like from outside. This leads to them riding their bicycles, jumping on leaf piles and chasing each other around in the front yard.

    My housekeeper time calculator estimated that I had just “wasted” two hours instead of loading the dishwasher and doing laundry.

    My mom calculator tells me it was time well spent because my kids would rather be with me than watch me do housework … and they know I’ll always be able to find them a clean pair of socks.

    Thanks for the great post!!

    • Interesting idea…multiple calculators…

      Wow Lily, that is very insightful. I never thought of it that way but you are SPOT ON.

  • Great post, Matt. Another time sink that most people completely overlook (as did I for years), is the time lost in “activity switching.” Many people pride themselves on their ability to multi-task. Scientists have time and again, proven that there is no such thing. We can do one thing at a time, but we can “switch” between those activities and convince ourselves we are doing multiple tasks simultaneously.

    Take email and your cell phone for example, if you are working on a project and you stop to “check your email” . . . studies have shown that you will lose about 20 minutes of productivity in attempting to switch back to the project you were working on. Consider how often you check your email because you get that sweet sounding “ding” or how often you answer your cell phone just because it’s ringing.

    I encourage everyone to attempt the following experiment for one week.

    Pick two time blocks in which you will check and respond to emails. I use an hour before lunch and the hour before I leave the office. At all other times, turn your email off.

    Same with your cell phone, pick a time block each day where you check your voicemails and return calls. I do this as I drive to and from work.

    Since I have made these two small changes, I feel like I have been blessed with an additional three+ hours a day. Philosophically, it all reinforces the idea that “you” come first. The things that “you” need to accomplish are more important than the external demands of your time.

    Again. . .great post, Matt.

    • Totally agree Matt. I’ve found the biggest disciplines for me have been avoiding email and not starting another task while I am waiting on something to load. I run a lot of huge reports for one client and sometimes it takes 2 minutes. I used to start checking email or working on something else while waiting…then I’d forget what I was doing in the first place haha.

      It takes discipline to just stand there waiting (or I use it to go get water or take a bathroom break).

      I am in a service industry so I check email often, but still on a time schedule. Sometime around 8:00am, again at 10:00am, then right before and after lunch, then at 4:00pm and one last time before I leave the office.

      I am still on top of things without sacrificing the time I need to focus on projects.

      Thanks for the tips Matt. Others should listen :)

  • I don’t try to have hindsight and assume any return. It leads to too much, “Oh, I shouldn’t have met with him, that was a waste.” Now, this doesn’t mean I don’t spend time with others, and weigh in on potential return. For example, meeting with someone outside my area to give them technical advice? Yeah, that might help me. But I’m not going to document it and years from now see how that hour paid off.

    I guess my schedule isn’t crunched enough yet where I’m having to make those decisions.

    • Yeah you would drive yourself crazy doing that :)

      That is why I stick to the premise that “it’s best to assume that an investment of time with another human being is worth it.”

      It might not always be true but I would rather “waste” an hour or two here and there to gain so much more in the long run!

      Thanks for stopping by Bryan.