Michael Altshuler is a popular motivational speaker and peak performance coach. He’s authored many wise and clever aphorisms reflecting life principles. The quotation above is one of his better known precepts. It’s worth taking a look at together.
One myth that’s commonly believed is that time is like money in the sense that you either have it or you don’t have it. But this myth is misleading and causes misunderstanding. EVERYONE HAS TIME—but not everyone has money. Everyone has EQUAL AMOUNTS OF TIME—but not everyone has equal amounts of money.
You may have noticed that those who struggle with a sense of too little time are often the same people who struggle with effective time management. Time is familiar to many but well understood by few. One of the common hindrances to the proper understanding of time is the use of time and money analogies. There are ways in which time and money are similar. But there are important ways that time and money are quite different.
So how is time LIKE money? In 2 key ways.
There are finite amounts of time and money
Nobody has more than 24 hours each day. From the most powerful to the weakest—no one has more time than anyone else. It’s the great equalizer of the human race. Now it’s true that not everyone has equal amounts of DISCRETIONARY TIME. If you must labor 20 hours each day to make a living, there are things you will not be able to accomplish in the 4 remaining hours of the day. But you still have 24 hours each day—just like everyone else.
What’s also true for everyone is that there’s a finite amount of time for each person. Not only is every human being limited to 24 hours each day, every human being has only so many days allotted to them in a lifetime. At some point each person will run out of time because they’ve run out of life. There are no exceptions. Whether you live to age 20 and have 175,000 hours or you live to age 100 and have 876,000 hours. At some point we will all run out of time. It’s important to remember this and to live like we know it’s true. Because it is. I don’t need to remind you that there are finite amounts of money. We know this all too well.
Time and money must be exchanged for something else
But not only are there finite amounts of time—both time and money must be exchanged for something else. Suppose you had $5 million in a bank account. But you never withdrew any of the funds? What if you never wrote any checks? What if you never spent a dime of the $5 million? What practical benefit would it provide? Short answer…NONE. Money only has value when it’s exchanged for something ELSE of value. Money in and of itself only represents potential value through what you EXCHANGE THE MONEY FOR.
Just as money must be exchanged for something else, TIME TOO must be exchanged for something else. You can exchange time for:
If you go to bed at 10:00pm and sleep until 6:00am, you’ve exchanged 8 hours of your time for 8 hours of sleep. You can never recover that time. It’s gone forever. But you’ve exchanged the time for something of value—rest. It’s a wise exchange. I recommend it.
But what if you chose to stay AWAKE for those 8 hours and read? Or watch television? Or watch cat videos on the internet? Or write a long-overdue letter to a friend? Or eat a bag of potato chips? Or bake a cake? Or change the oil on your car?
Each of these would be an exchange as well. And in none of the cases would you be able to retrieve the 8 hours any more than you could if you exchanged the 8 hours for a night’s sleep. You’re going to exchange the time NO MATTER WHAT YOU DO. Every minute of every hour of every day of every year you will exchange for SOMETHING. The only question is what you will exchange the minutes for. You really have no other say in the matter.
So that’s 2 important ways that time and money are similar. But how are time and money DISSIMILAR? How are time and money different? Good question. Time and money are DIFFERENT in 2 key ways.
You cannot store or save time
Have you ever said or heard the following expressions?
—That will save time.
—When I retire, I’ll have more time.
—When I finish this project I’ll have the time for that.
These expressions imply that there will be more time available if we do or don’t do certain things. But this is simply NOT TRUE. We cannot manufacture or create time. Time is simply a period in which we can make an exchange. We cannot save the exchange for some future period. We cannot store away some of the period for later use. Time does not work that way. Time must either be used in the moment or it will be gone forever. It cannot be retrieved—it can only be used. It can only be exchanged for something else.
What we mean by the above expressions is that at some other time, we will make a different exchange than we’re making right now. Tomorrow I will mow the lawn in exchange for 90 minutes. Today I’m going to exchange the 90 minutes for something ELSE.
If I do a particular thing in a more efficient way—I can then use some of the remaining time available for SOMETHING ELSE. But in no meaningful sense will I be SAVING TIME. Time cannot be saved. Time can only be exchanged or lost. Time cannot be saved or stored.
You cannot acquire more time than you already have
If I’m short some money for something I want to buy, I have some options. I can work more hours and acquire more money. Or I can try to find the item for a lower cost. Or I can sell something I currently own and use the proceeds to buy the item. I can almost always acquire more money than I currently have. I will simply need to exchange something I currently have for money that I don’t currently have.
But this cannot be done with time. Each day we are gifted with 24 hours. We can use the gift any way we choose. We can use it wisely, efficiently, and productively—if we choose. Or we can use it foolishly, wastefully, and worthlessly—if we choose.. But in 24 hours the time will be gone—REGARDLESS of how well or poorly we exchange the time.
A sobering reality is that we will never have more time than we have right now. Never. We will never have more than 24 hours each day we live. Not when we’re older. Not when we finish school. Not when we get that promotion. Not when the kids are grown and leave home. Not when we retire. Not when we clean out the garage. We will never have more time than we have RIGHT NOW. The good news is that we can MANAGE OUR TIME BETTER. We can make better exchanges with the time we now have. We can choose to exchange our time for things of greater value rather than of lesser value. Things that move us closer to our goals. Things that help others move closer to their goals.
This is really the point of the quotation where we began. The bad news is that time flies. The bad news is even worse than that. The bad news includes that there are only FINITE AMOUNTS of time. We have only so much time allotted to us. When it’s gone—it’s gone. It cannot be retrieved.
The bad news includes the fact that time cannot be saved or stored. It can only be used now or lost forever.
The good news is that YOU’RE THE PILOT! You’re in control of the way you exchange your time. You’re in charge of how you use the hours, days, and years that you have. You probably have a lot of time available. Probably hundreds of thousands of hours. But you don’t have unlimited amounts. And you cannot create more. Nor can you store it. Some day it will all be gone.
But good news remains… Though time flies…you’re the pilot. You just need to be a good pilot. Just like I need to be a good pilot.
The next time you ask yourself, where did the time go?—you now have an answer to your own question: I exchanged it for something else. The only question is what did you exchange it for? I hope it was for something of value.
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