The Value of My Time

May 20, 2014

Having kids opened my eyes to understanding the value of my time. Although I have a lot less time to devote to my job and profession, if I stay focused and work on the right things I'll be able to accomplish more with less.

On an adventure

On an adventure with my kids, where we found a mysterious fort. Way more fun on a weekend afternoon than working.

I was sitting at my daughter's swim lessons on a recent Saturday morning, watching her thoroughly enjoy herself as she practiced her kicks, when I got the urge to tweet:

I wanted to expand on that thought.

When I was in my 20's and 30's I worked a lot more hours per week than I do now. I was married and had no kids, so sixty to eighty hours a week wasn't unusual. Staying up until 2 or 3 a.m. every night was the norm. I was always working on something, trying to build a business. My life wasn't very balanced, but I had all the time in the world to work if I wanted to.

My kids at play

I now have two kids, and my free time is no longer my own. For example, on the morning I started this post I was almost done setting up my new Matrix fieldtype for this blog when I heard my son wake up, requiring me to stop halfway through. Deploying the blog changes wouldn't get done until the end of the day. The second time I sat down to finish this post was later that afternoon, on the couch while my daughter was watching a cartoon and my son was taking a rare nap. The third attempt to finish this post is right now, almost two weeks later.

Nights and weekends aren't an easy option for me any more, either. Weekends are family time unless I can get up early enough to get a few things done before the kids wake up. Nights are out because by the time we get the kids to bed, I have nothing left in the tank. I'm ready to do anything but work and then go to bed. I can't stay up late like I used to.

This means the majority of what I can accomplish these days needs to be done during weekday work hours, which is practically the worst time to get anything done due to scheduled calls and other potential distractions. Whatever I choose to do during these hours needs to be "high-leverage" or only those things I can do. Anything someone else can do needs to be delegated. High leverage actions are those that will award me the biggest result for my effort. Like, should I spend my time fighting with a Javascript issue on some random client web page, or delegate that task to someone who can handle it better than I can while I work on new sales copy for our company's website redesign? That example is a no-brainer, but sometimes the decisions are tougher to make than that.

Let's be clear: it's not just about the kids, it's only that they're the latest in the line of "life stages." Each stage is a little more harried than the last:

In any stage, I can look back at a previous one and say, "I didn't realize how easy I had it." The Catch-22 is that I would never have understood how valuable my time was in a stage (or how much I had at my disposal) without migrating to the next stage.

I feel I could have accomplished more in the time that I had in the pre-kids "Married, running a single business" stage. I don't think I maximized that time for a couple reasons:

  1. I didn't understand the value of that time.
  2. I had no long-term goals in mind.

That 60-80 hours a week I had at my disposal was probably filled with a lot of distracted half-work, or work being done on the "wrong" things. And without long-term goals, it's hard to say what I was working towards. I was just working, day after day, on client project after client project, no end in sight. If I had been thinking about long-term goals and objectives in earlier stages, that might have helped me focus on the right things (those things being, in my eyes: hiring sooner, building products sooner, working on "positioning" myself and my business sooner with a concrete goal of "retire to my beach house on Lake Michigan" being something specific to work towards).

All this is to say that now I realize I have a lot less time to achieve personal goals that relate to my profession, so I need to maximize the time I do have by not screwing around.

I have so much I want to accomplish and need to learn, especially in light of my company's recent foray into SaaS (software as as service) with, that I'm terrified I'm just not going to get there. I'm afraid I'm not going to accomplish what I know I could accomplish or learn what I need to learn quickly enough, because the majority of my time is no longer my own. So staying focused when it's time to work, and working on the right things is my only option.

And let's be honest…why am I working on these things at all anymore, and so concerned with maximizing what I can do in the time I have for work? It's for my family—my wife and those very kids for whom I'm gladly making so much time.

I might only have 20-24 hours of quality work time available to me in a week now, but I understand its value in a way I only could now that I have experienced a change in my life as large as having my wonderful kids.

I never would have realized this without them.

Ryan spends most of his time as Mystery Supply Co. He's been floating through space with you since the 70's. King of Michigan.

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