Don’t Spend Your Time — Pass It

“Until the 1600s when clocks became ubiquitous, people rarely thought about time,” Paul Millerd writes in The Pathless Path. “English historian E.P. Thompson noted that instead, people thought in terms of activities. In Madagascar, a half-hour was a ‘rice cooking,’ and a brief moment was ‘frying a locust.'”

Only once clocks became commonplace did we start equating time with money, Paul explains. We stopped “passing” the time and started “spending” it. In doing so, “we can make trade‑offs, calculations, and coordinate global meetings, but we also decrease any sense of abundance.” We gain a better economical sense of our hours, but we lose our inner peace.

Nowadays, we say “time is money,” but actually, we’re just pretending — because that’s not true at all, is it?

Time isn’t something you can save, put away for a rainy day, and spend in larger quantities when you need to. You can’t stash away a week for when your parent gets sick or to take a vacation when you feel burned out.

Time isn’t fungible. The value of each additional unit depends highly on when we receive it. An extra day of life might be worth little to you if you’re stuck in a wheelchair in your 80s, but an extra day of watching your son grow up as a young mother could be priceless.

We routinely and casually trade money for time, from hiring an editor to ordering an Uber to buying ready-made meals, but when time is the thing we’re asked to give up, we tighten up and exercise extreme scrutiny.

Clearly, the two are not the same. Perhaps it’s time we stopped “spending” — and pretending.

Time passes with or without us. From time’s perspective, what we do — whether we even exist — is irrelevant. It will keep flowing. Under that paradigm, we can take a more relaxed attitude towards time. We’re paddlers floating in a river, and though we have some control of where we’re going, we can never go ashore. The river will keep carrying us regardless.

If time keeps passing no matter what we do, perhaps it’s not such a bad thing if some hours just pass us by. We sleep until we wake up. We idle and contemplate nature. Time still moves us forward, even when we’re not moving.

Absent the meddling force of money, even the question of how we can pass our time deliberately changes. Why shouldn’t taking two hours to cook a healthy, tasty meal for your partner be a perfectly acceptable way to pass the time? Why would a mid-day break to read an hour of fiction be a bad thing?

Remove the incessant guilt of “I should be using my time to make money,” and suddenly, work is just one way to pass the time — not in any way superior to all the others, let alone our only concern. Most of our scarcity complexes today revolve around money, so once we equate it with time, we project those same complexes on the clock, even if the dynamics are rather different.

Once time becomes money, there can never be enough of it, and the endless chase begins. That’s a foolish game to play with a resource whose supply is already fixed. You’ll have as much time as you’ll have on this earth. Not a minute more or less. Money, on the other hand, is a means you can generate infinitely more of or at least replenish on a regular basis. In fact, as you get more skilled at making money, you’ll be able to create more of it faster. Your capacity to earn more money goes up over time, whereas every minute passed in the river has forever flown down the stream.

Before time was money, working more than you had to was frowned upon. Idleness, deep thought, beauty, and relaxation took precedent over running the grindstone. This isn’t to say that, today, work can’t add meaningfully to our lives, but if we spend all our time in hopes of making more money — or even fretting about why we’re not using our time to make more money — the best things in life will, ironically, pass right by us.

Don’t spend your time. Pass it. Don’t let the coins bully you in a way the clock never would, and remember: Time is not money.