Have You Heard of Time Privilege?

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

No, your 24 hours is not the same as my 24 hours.

A famous quote goes,

“Everyone has the same 24 hours — it is what you CHOOSE to do with them”.

The pandemic version of the quote is,

“If you don’t come out of this Lockdown with — A New Skill, More Knowledge, Better Health & Fitness, you never lacked time. You lacked discipline.”

Let me just articulate my position right away — these happen to be some of the more annoying quotes I have heard, and I’ve heard many.

If you take it quite literally, then yes, all of us do indeed have the same number of hours in the day — but when has taking something literally ever helped in bettering yourself?

What the proclaimers of this quote intend to tell you, is that some people (usually the names of Einstein or Steve Jobs crop up) used the same 24 hours of the day to basically change the world, while you sat there scrolling Instagram.

Which would be a great motivational tool, if only it didn’t depend on guilting someone for not working 24/7. Or for having to perform ‘unproductive’ tasks — for grocery shopping and working menial jobs are certainly not productive pursuits. Or for not being at peak mental health at all times, just waiting for a few free minutes here and there, in order to chip away at global domination.

But…you knew there was going to be a but.

The Privilege of Time

In our world full of privileges, there is one that we often miss out on recognizing — the privilege of time. More specifically, the privilege of being able to use your time in the manner you please. Very few of us have the absolute privilege of having the whole 24 hours at our disposal. Most of us have a few hours a day (4 to 6 hours being the average), while some can’t even call an hour their own. Instead of comparing 24 hours, we should (if at all we need to) compare the ‘disposable’ hours of a person’s day.

What Steve Jobs achieved in 16 hours a day, a person may never be able to achieve when they only have an hour a day. Not very motivational, is it? But it’s also not feeding into the narrative of ‘toxic positivity’, where the only thing standing between you and your dreams, is you. No, sometimes, systemic factors are at play, which an individual may never be able to overcome.

There are many aspects of time privilege that come into play in our daily lives. Let us recognize some of them, that most of us take for granted:

  • Having a short commute
  • Having the option of working from home
  • Having paid time off and/or having weekends off
  • Having help with childcare/not having children
  • Having help with household chores — whether from partners, roommates, or the hired help
  • Having to work a single job which can pay for your lifestyle
  • Not having to juggle education and work
  • Being medically fit and active, and not requiring additional downtime, doctor’s appointments, or other sessions to keep physically and mentally healthy
  • And the list can go on…

But why must we recognize our time privilege?

The reasons for recognizing our time privilege, however, are not simply to pity our own selves or others. They are three-fold:

  1. Being thankful for the people and situations in our life which afford us our time privilege, and at the same time, being kind with ourselves for not achieving those things that are out of our reach due to our situation
  2. Being empathetic towards those who do not enjoy the same privileges, and understanding that their outcomes will differ from your own, not because of effort or motivation, not because they are unable to ‘manage’ their time, but simply because they do not have as much disposable time as you
  3. Directing your efforts towards reclaiming time privilege

As important as the first two are, the third one is the most crucial.

How can you reclaim time privilege?

There is an immutable law of time. You cannot create or destroy time, but you can exchange it with others.

After all, the grocery will need to be done, whether it’s you or someone else who does it. The kids need to be fed, bathed, and clothed. If there is an option of exchanging some of your time for ‘disposable time’, even if it costs you money, do it in a heartbeat. Time IS money — it is more money, in fact, because it frees you up for potentially higher income-generating opportunities. Or it frees you up for taking care of your health, and reduces medical expenses, and increases the number of years you can live and therefore earn.

But that is not always an option. In those situations, you have to find ways to reduce the work you do during the ‘unproductive’ hours. Could you cook only once a week and get away with it? Could you move closer to work and reduce your commute? Or could you carpool to work and not have to drive every day, and use the commute on those days for something else? Could you share the chore of grocery shopping with neighbors, or pay more for it to be delivered instead? Could you rotate babysitting duties with friends, giving everyone more time?

Some of these options require money, which may limit their use for many who are starved for money as well as time. But there are also options that are free (monetarily) and can be paid through effort and/or social connections.

Our aim should be to recognize areas of our life where we can claim time back. Once you succeed in getting some of it back, you can utilize that time to put yourself in a position where you can get more of it back. For example, if by sharing babysitting duties, I can get a couple of evenings off, I can pick up extra shifts at work and have the money to buy more of my time back. It becomes a virtuous cycle, whose effects compound quickly.

On the other hand, if you do not focus on getting your time back, you will never have the time to get out of the current cycle. It is the very definition of a rut. For example, if I have two jobs and a house to run, and live paycheck to paycheck, and I do not have a laser-sharp focus at claiming some time for myself, I will never be able to get out. It is a vicious cycle.

That is why, for those of us most starved for time privilege, it is crucial to focus, first and foremost, on getting some of it back. Time privilege can then easily be converted to other objectives — more money, quality time with the family, better health, the list goes on.

The Takeaway

Find one way in your life where you can claim some time back, even if it’s just an hour a week. Have a plan for that one hour, to eventually lead you towards reclaiming more time. Rinse and repeat.

Your 24 hours may not be the same as mine, but your 6 hours/day will certainly be better than your 2 hours/day, won’t it?

I have put together a handy little Personal Finance Crash Course e-book, covering everything from budgeting and investing, to retirement and goal planning. Click here to check it out, and thank you!

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