Coffee heat rising

Time is not money

‘Twasn’t long ago that I posted a comment to a blog in which I held forth on the rock-solid value of my time, which I calculated at around $60 an hour. That was the bargain rate. Platinum Edition: $200.

Wrong.

My time isn’t “worth” anything: it has no monetary value. Neither does yours. Like other clichés we use to order our lives, that fine old saying “time is money” has a nice ring to it, but it’s not the ring of a genuine silver dollar.

As metaphor, the “time is money” turn of phrase is just slightly off kilter. Time is more like water or air: something that is and should be freely available to everyone. You don’t have to work to earn time, or come into it by inheritance, or win it at the gambling table. You already have it. Is it limited? Yes. So is money. But that doesn’t make time the same as money. Water and air, as we’re rapidly learning, are limited, too. But they are not money. Like time, they can be manipulated to create money, but they are not the same as money. Time, water, and air are not intrinsically “worth” the same things that money is “worth”: they do not buy the same thing.

Here is a major source of stress in our lives: the disconnect between the way we think about time and what time really is.

This insight came to me the other day as I was trying to race around the city, charging from dreary destination to dreary destination so that I could get done with my errands, so that I could get on with something else. Every which way I turned, some clown pulled in front of me and ambled down the road at five miles an hour under the speed limit.

Flaring toward road rage, I growled at no one and everyone, What is the matter with these people! Don’t they know how much my time is worth? Where do they get off wasting someone else’s time? If I could have caught one of the morons, I’d have dragged him out of his car and throttled him right in the middle of the street. It felt very much like they were stealing from me: stealing time, stealing money.

The idea that our time possesses monetary value—that it is money—leads naturally to the feeling that it can be wasted, and that if someone else is doing the wasting, they’re effectively stealing something of great worth. It’s an idea that’s so universal you can’t escape it. As workers, we’re paid by the hour. Our vacation time and our sick leave are assigned monetary, hourly value. Lawyers and accountants and psychiatrists and therapists assess us by the hour, not by what they can do for us. We “budget” time; we “spend” time; we “waste” time.

If even half the other drivers out there subscribe to this point of view, I thought, it’s no wonder road rage has become a menace. Who wouldn’t be furious at the theft of something so valuable?

This attitude needs to change. Believing that something as commonplace as air must be husbanded, coveted, budgeted, and even somehow earned just naturally leads to greed, resentment, and stress. It’s hard to see past our culture’s insistence on assigning a monetary value to time—most of us are paid by the hour, leading us to think of life as something that can be broken into coin-like pieces. But that’s an illusion. We are paid for our skills and abilities, for the product of our intellectual or physical labor. The amount we can demand for our time depends not on how much time we have to sell but on how much our skills are valued.

Time is not money!

  • We don’t spend time: we pass time.
  • We don’t budget time: we write lists, make plans, and schedule appointments.
  • We don’t waste time: we idle or get distracted.

When you start looking at the minutes, the hours, and the days in this light, a whole new perspective dawns. Slow-moving traffic, a long line at the grocery checkout, a chatty acquaintance on the phone, a tedious meeting suddenly become a lot less frustrating, because none of them is taking anything of value away from you.

This is huge. A basic change in attitude—time is part of the environment, not the coin of the realm—relieves a vast amount of frustration and stress. It’s not an easy change, because it requires you to throw over a concept that permeates our lives. But what you get for the effort can’t be measured in coin.

Money buys stuff. Time buys experience, wisdom, and peace of mind.

Incoming! How to get the paper flak under control

Bills. Junk mail. Credit offers. Catalogs. Magazines. Insurance statements. Reminders. Envelopes full of coupons. Bank statements. Investment prospectuses. Mutual fund statements. Business correspondence. Greeting cards. And heaven help us, an actual letter from a friend!

Where does all this stuff go once it gets out of the mailbox? If you’re like me, it lands in stacks on the kitchen counter, where it mounds up until it finally starts to fall onto the floor. Eventually you carry it back to your desk and plop it on top of the last two or three weeks’ worth of paper. There it turns into a stress time bomb, set to go off the minute you “lose” a bank statement or a credit card bill and have to spend ten or fifteen minutes pawing through a mountain of trash in a frantic search for a document you need right now. Each piece of this stuff has to be opened, handled, acted upon, thrown out or filed away—a time-consuming task when you’re looking at a Mt. Everest of loose paper.

Here’s a Method to take control of the mailbox blizzard. First, you’ll need these things:

  • 3 file folders
  • a box or basket large enough to hold an 8 ½ x 11-inch file folder
  • a trash basket or recycling bin
  • a shredder or pair of scissors

Set the trash or recycling container near the door through which you enter carrying the mail. Have the shredder or scissors nearby.

Label the file folders as follows:

  • Bills
  • Financial Statements
  • To File

Place the folders in the box or basket and put it in a convenient place near where you bring the mail into the house.

As soon as you pick up the mail, go immediately to the trash or recycling container. Throw out all obvious junk mail, except for credit offers, without opening it.

Next, run the credit offers through the shredder, also without opening them. If you have no shredder, use the scissors to cut each offer into small pieces and drop them into the trash or recycling.

Before doing anything else, place the bills and financial statements in their respective file folders. Place any items that need only to be opened and filed in the To File folder.

Voilà! You’ve sorted the mail, thrown out the trash, and put away the things you need to attend to. The statements and bills can sit there until you’re ready to deal with them—without making a mess on the kitchen counter, the dining room table, or your desk. When you’re ready to reconcile accounts or conduct business, you know exactly where to find the paper you need, and you’re rid of the junk mail. You’ve decluttered, organized, and cut stress in one swell foop.

Four other strategies to deal with incoming paper:

  • Retrieve your financial statements online and ask to have mailings canceled.
  • Go to OptOutPrescreen.com and register to opt out of credit and insurance solicitations.
  • Go toNew American Dreamand use the free form to remove your name from major junk mail lists.
  • E-mail the Direct Marketing Association with a request that you be removed from marketers’ mailing lists. You can also reach them by snail mail:

Mail Preference Service
P.O. Box 643
Carmel, NY 10512

Either way, this request will cost you a dollar.

decluttering, organization, stress control

Less clutter = less stress!

Freeing the house of kitsch and clutter worked! In the time it took to draw a bath, I managed to dust the entire four-bedroom house, including picture frames, mirrors, and light fixtures. Since the bathrooms were already cleaned, all that’s left of the dratted weekly housecleaning is to vacuum and mop 1680 square feet of tile, scrub the grease off the stovetop, and shine up the kitchen counters with vinegar.

This is great stress control when I’m looking forward to several hours of dumbing down my (already finished and posted!) syllabus and assignments to accommodate twice as many students as I agreed to teach this spring. That task will absorb time I’d planned to use on something more entertaining. Or at least more useful.

2008 financial goal thwarted at birth

In a New Year’s Day post, Mrs. Micah described her 2008 financial goals and asked readers about theirs. I responded by remarking that I hoped to put $10,000 a year in savings over the next two and a half years to pay off a small second mortgage used for house renovation. The plan was to set aside $250 a month out of my current salary and do the same with the $3,500 a semester I expected to net from teaching two online sections of a required service course for one of the Great Desert University’s satellite campuses.

Yesterday, they e-mailed a contract for the two classes, urging me to sign it immediately and fax it back forthwith. Understand, for unknown reasons (of the sort that feed paranoia) I haven’t been able to enter the university’s site that allows faculty to view their course rosters. So, this morning a colleague and I accessed it through her password. And what should I discover? Every section except the two I’m slated to teach is capped at 20 students. Mine are capped at FORTY! And both are full. I’ve already had students on the phone begging for overrides.

In other words, GDU expects I will teach the equivalent of four sections–EIGHTY STUDENTS in a WRITING COURSE (if it looks like I’m shouting, it’s because I am)–and accept pay for two sections.

Wrong.

I’ve e-mailed the interim vice president asking to be paid for four sections. He of course will turn that request down. But it doesn’t matter. Even if he agreed to it, I can’t pack 80 students into my spare moments around a full-time job, nor will I try.

If you are an employer and you wonder why young college graduates applying to work at your business can’t write a competent cover letter, to say nothing of any other kind of business document, this is why. Writing courses at universities and community colleges are traditionally taught by part-timers who are shamelessly exploited. Most cobble together four to six sections by running around from campus to campus; it is physically impossible to do a decent job of teaching writing to more than 15 or 20 students in a course, and an instructor certainly should not be teaching more than two writing-intensive sections at a time.

Well, in the new destressification regime, my foot is firmly put down about this kind of treatment. Better to take a little longer (make that “a lot longer”) to accrue the funds to pay off the loan than to put myself through the overwork, anger, and grief that will result from allowing GDU to take advantage of me like that.

Revised 2008 financial goal: Save $3,000 and put it all in the Roth IRA. Snowflake the loan principal with freelance income, extra savings from penny-pinching, and windfalls.

Lights in the night

At first I thought it was a helicopter. But copters don’t dodge around at sharp angles, reverse themselves on a skyhooked dime. Then I decided it was undoubtedly a flying saucer. Well, except for what looked like a red tail light. Helicopter viewed through the atmospheric distortion of a cold desert night?

Tonight is clear and crisp. Just outside the front gate, Orion is climbing up the eastern sky right behind his scout, the god of war. The saucer or helicopter or whatever it is jerks back and forth in the sky, somewhere between the earth and the cosmic hunter. I walk in its general direction, east and south toward the park.

My neighbor has, bar none, the best Christmas display in the city: the Burning Bush. Every year he wraps the big deciduous tree in his front yard with what must be several million lights. Somehow he contrives to have them glow in different colors every night–don’t ask, I have no idea! The colors rotate, so if you stand and watch for a while you see the tree’s trunks and branches burning red and then blue and then gold and then white and then red. . . . Tonight as I pass they’re mostly white, with a few flecks of blue here and there.

As I draw closer to the park, I realize the saucer is not somewhere over downtown Phoenix but actually is doing its acrobatics much closer to hand. And it isn’t just white and red; it’s glowing red, white and blue. Lo! It’s a model airplane, all tricked out in colors, its wings outlined in blue, its tail lit red, and its fuselage dinged in white. Up and down and around and around it swoops through the air like an illuminated swallow, tracing its owner’s delight.

When m’hijito was little, we used to bring his model rocket ships into this park to launch them into orbit. One of them, I’m sure, actually did reach those heights. It shot through a leaden gray overcast and–I swear!–never came back down. We snooped in all the neighboring yards and found nary a sign of it. As we speak that rocket is passing over southern Australia.

A mile’s walk through a cold dark, lights earthly and unearthly marking your way: stress control, and it’s free.

Make a New Year’s to-do list

In my experience, New Year’s resolutions fade from memory along about January 7. Several reasons for this: we make unrealistic vows (“I will lose 100 pounds this year”); we cast our resolutions as broad generalizations rather than as specifics (“I will put more money into savings”); we ask ourselves to do things that don’t fit into our routine or are out of character (“I will teach myself to play bongo drums”), or are downright impossible (“and I will learn to play a Bach cantata on the bongo drums”).

What if, instead of resolving to achieve some broad goal, we made a checklist, the very sort of checklist that helps many of us get things done in an ordinary day or week? Instead of stating a wish, a to-do list tells you how to get through the process of accomplishing things. It speaks in specifics, not generalities. And a to-do list, being a pragmatic sort of device, is likely to fit in to the life we are already leading. On that theory, here is my 2008 to-do list:

1. Three days a week, add bicycling or mountain park hiking to exercise routine
2. Lose five to ten pounds by

a) staying off the sauce,
b) increasing exercise as above, and
c) continuing to eat lots of whole foods and less sugar & refined grain

3. Bring food to the office instead of ponying up $8 for the miserable restaurant fodder that passes as lunch
4. Drink tea, not coffee, and less of it
5. Learn to put widgets on iWeb pages
6. Join four social networking sites
7. Aim for two no-purchase days a week
8.Snowflake the Renovation Loan principal down by $1,000 (that’s $83.30 a month)
9. Invest $250 a month in an interest-bearing account to build liquid savings and to provide the option of paying off Renovation Loan within five years
10. Invest net income from side job (approx. $3500 a semester) in the same interest-bearing account
11. Wear better clothes to the office, using the wardrobe now expanded by after-Christmas clothing purchases
12. Try to wangle a Power Mac from the university
13. Build cross-campus collaboration by trying to land another research assistantship to be staffed by grad students in the publishing program
14. Build new ways to mentor graduate students and reinforce editorial training
15. Make new friends

a) through Meetup.com
b) rejoin the choir

As a list of New Year’s resolutions, this would be way too long. It could be cast as six broad, eminently forgettable goals: reduce stress, build readership for Funny about Money, pay down the Renovation Loan, save more money, improve job performance, and meet new people.

As a to-do list, it contains no more items to accomplish than I normally accrue for a single day. I think it’ll work.

What are your New Year’s resolutions? I challenge you to accomplish as many of yours as I will of mine! Meet me here after each quarter of 2008 to compare notes. See you in three months-and sooner, I hope.