Time Is not Money. Time is Life

What’s the scarcest resource? Time.

I’ve had a lot of business training, and the privilege of listening to some great speakers, but that simple thought is something my wife taught me, in the early years of our marriage, when we had young kids.

I was one of those who started working a lot to pick up more money. I had a full-time job as a business writer, and a second just-as-good income from freelance writing. But it was in Mexico, the peso was overvalued, we had three kids in four years, and journalism doesn’t pay well; so we were always broke.

But — and this is important — early on, when I started to get second thoughts, wasn’t sure if I could go camping on the weekend because I had too much work, she wouldn’t let it happen — well okay, sometimes it was obvious, I had to do the extra work, so she wasn’t 100% consistent — but most of the time, she’d remind me:

“Tim, we won’t get these times back. These kids won’t always be little. It won’t be long before they won’t even want to go with us.”

And also, at least within reason, she was good about not letting chronic lack of money interfere with family times, like vacations. While broke, we’d go backpacking instead of Disneyland, or rent a cheap houseboat for three nights instead of seven, but we’d have our time relatively well spent.

There again, we’d stretch the money farther than we thought possible, but Vange would remind me, at the key moments, “we don’t get these times back.”

Nothing is always true. I worked on weekends off and on for years, and still do. And she made that easy for me when it clearly had to be done. But she also booked vacations, even relatively cheap ones like the backpacking, well in advance so I couldn’t blow them off for work.

And, as I hope you can tell, I’m grateful.

Does this reflection seem out of place for a mostly-business blog? Maybe, but actually, as I think of it, no, it isn’t. Because the biggest mistake most of us make in business is forgetting that business is not our first priority.

I forget where I first heard the cliche: “Nobody on their death bed wishes they spent more time in the office.”

Why this topic now? Thankfully, not a health problem, or at least none that I know of. Maybe it’s that our youngest is off to her last year in college tomorrow, making this her last true summer vacation. But mostly, I think,  because I just finished reading Death of the Clock: Reclaiming Your Time by Jonathan Mead on Zen Habits:

We always find more things to do, more projects to work on, more ways to improve and optimize. But when we base our happiness on achievement, we’ve joined the cult of productivity. Being productive is no longer a means to an end. It’s the end entirely. And it’s a sickness.

Here are some signs you’ve contracted the productivititis:

  1. Inability to sit still for prolonged periods of time while playing games or spending time with friends.
  2. Accidentally leaving your planner at home causes you to break into a cold sweat.
  3. Lack of a highly-detailed action plan induces blurred vision, lack of ability to focus, and severe anxiety.
  4. You feel that saving time is a serious accomplishment.
  5. Clearing your inbox in 40 seconds less than yesterday is cause for a monumental celebration.
  6. Painting, laying out on the beach, and other non time-based activities are considered a horrendous sin against productivity.

Part of the reason for this obsession with productivity is we think time is money. But time is not money. Time is life.”

Wow. That’s beautifully put? Something everybody in business should think about now and then … or maybe more often than just now and then.

And, although I’m going to stop here, Jonathan doesn’t. He goes on to list eight suggestions: keep in balance, stay in perspective, say no … but do yourself a favor, and read it as he wrote it, not just my summary here.

What? You don’t have time for that?


  • Anson Ivan says:

    Thanks Tim ,
    I think most corporations need to put a disclaimer below their brand time. Like we see in Cigarette packets ” Smoking is injurious to health”.
    Similarly its time they should put “Time is life ” or the one below as per your quote.
    “Nobody on their death bed wishes they spent more time in the office.”
    That sounds better.

  • Norbert says:

    Good topic. I am a bit younger as I am only 23. But when I hear this saying that “Time is money” the first thing that usually comes to my mind is that these people forgot what is really improtant in life. And it is not the money!

    As I am a student of economics, I “think” I know it is not easy to find balance between work and family.

  • Jamie says:

    Your suggestion on renting a houseboat is an excellent idea — we do it about every 3rd vacation – and don't laugh at my email address.

    Yes, we are country people. So what you call a cheap houseboat might classify as luxuery for use, but with a large family, it's hard to get a better bargain — housing, fishing, water park… it's all in one place!

  • Dallon Christensen says:

    My wife and I have talked about this topic many times as well. Before I was married and had kids (one stepson, one biological son), I didn't worry about how much I worked and was concerned about climbing the ladder. It took having a family of my own to see what is really important.

    Time is certainly life. I know far too many people at my company who sacrifice family time for working from home. What kind of life is that? How do you explain to your spouse and children that you are spending time in a home office when you spend too much time in an office at work?

    It was this realization that made me want to find a way to gain more control over my time. It certainly is not in a Fortune 500 company where the shareholder demands more work with less people. While I expect my new business to take a lot of time and effort to launch, I hope to build a business that gives me the modest lifestyle my wife and I desire while giving me the flexibility I want with my time. What will my kids remember more 25 years from now – that I made a little extra money by working 65-70 hours a week or that I was there for their soccer games, school plays, and other events? I don't even have to think about that answer.

    Dallon Christensen
    Beacon Business Consulting

  • Elia Freedman says:

    I have been reading your blog for a while now and sometimes I think we are kindred spirits.

    The timing of your post is quite interesting. I have been working on my own company for 11 years, which has struggled the last few. Last week, I was offered a what-would-be great job with lots of upside and perks.

    While I had a strong business reason for turning it down (I need to see my company through to its logical end), I also was greatly concerned about my own ability to manage that position and be a father. With two young kids (2.5 and 6 months), I felt it would have been too much and turned it down. The funny thing is, I used that exact same line when describing it to family: on their death bed, no one ever said they wished they'd worked more.

    Plus, my wife does the exact same thing! To two kindred Oregon spirits, both transplanted from elsewhere. Thanks for writing. I enjoy your articles every day.


  • Tim Berry says:

    Thanks (again) Matthew, I appreciate your comments … and the good news in this case is you don't have to find a whole book, just the Zen Habits blog. Tim.

  • Matthew Scott says:


    I really needed this post.

    I shall find this book and read.

    When work does not seem like anymore-it can be tough, as when worked sucked the life out of you.

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