The Realized Value of Unpaid Time

Time matters for each of us whether unpaid or not. Reducing our individual time on the planet to a binary expression between paid and unpaid shortchanges the value we bring to our common humanity during our lifetimes. This raises a couple of questions for consideration in this post:

  1. How to measure the value of unpaid time?
  2. How to pay the provider for this value rendered?

In my previous post, Unpaid Time Distribution, I noted that unpaid time can be voluntary or involuntary. Examples of the former include a leave of absence from paid work, participation as a volunteer or intern within the public or private sector, or a lifestyle decision to live “off the grid.” As the wording suggests, involuntary unpaid time is not necessarily an outcome of choice, but the result of unemployment and unavailability of paid time due to termination, reduction in force, early retirement, sour reputation, etc.

Regardless of being voluntary or involuntary, unpaid time remains unaccounted for in contrast to paid time where value can be measured by productivity and profit. If unpaid time has value how does one generate and measure it? The diagram below, “Value of Unpaid Time,” gives us a way to look at it:

The left side of the diagram below lists items we use to spend our unpaid time: cell phones, computers, devices (includes Internet of Things), games, apps, and GPS to name the more obvious ones. The right side lists the data we generate by using the aforementioned items: identity, location, behaviors, connections, content, and access and myriad variations on each. Organizations in the public and private sectors use these streams of data to increase profits, pacify populations, and concentrate wealth. In other words, they capture, measure, and realize the value generated by us during our unpaid time activities.

So important is the data we generate that organizations in both the public and private sectors vie tirelessly for our attention.  The diagram below, “Public and Private Sectors,” illustrates some of the resulting dynamics:

These entities combine investment in the development of information and knowledge technologies (section 1) with sophisticated interface designs and structures to incentivize our participation (section 2) so that the resulting data streams are plentiful, wide and deep. In effect, we humans become living sensors who generate data through social networks, machine learning, exchange platforms, cooperatives, and machine ethics that can be put to use by automation, algorithms, artificial intelligence, robotics, and genetics.

Ideally, all of us would be plugged in 24/7 – a kind of universal basic participation that generates a lifelong stream of data about us and for us. The incentives would go beyond gamification and dopamine rushes to payment in the currency of basic needs. In other words, we would allow data about us to be captured by the machine on a continuous basis in exchange for our universal basic needs of food, water, clothing, housing, energy, safety, security, healthcare, education, socialization, etc. (section 3).

The issue isn’t that the value of unpaid time can’t be measured, it’s that it’s not paid.

And if it is paid?

The diagram above summarizes what “everyone wins” could mean:

  • Organizations win because costs are reduced (Maslow’s Hierarchy upright)
  • Individuals win because each can be creative within the boundaries imposed by nature, not man / machine (Maslow’s Hierarchy upside down)
  • Humanity and the machine both win because they learn from one another, adapt to each other and the world that encompasses them both (Maslow’s Hierarchies – upright and upside down)

No doubt these are topics for many future posts…

Unpaid Time Distribution

The flip side of paid time is unpaid time. Of course, sleep makes up a significant block of unpaid time. When we are not asleep, we often resort to describing unpaid time in terms of paid time. For instance, we may extend a vacation a week, or so, add days to sick leave or months to maternity leave, embark on a year-long sabbatical, etc. as a formal leave of absence. In other words, unpaid time is taken away from a job or formal tasks in accordance with the terms of an employment / work contract. This can be where there is an agreed upon time to return to paid work or it can be the result of termination or retirement where there is no intent to return. Regardless, unpaid work, in the eyes of many, is the absence of paid work.

Unpaid time beyond sleep covers a wide range of activities. Most often these activities are associated with public and private sector organizations that provide recognition for services rendered by volunteers or documentation on resumes for hands-on business and academic experiences gained by interns.

The diagram below illustrates how these widely endorsed categories of volunteerism and internships might be distributed across Maslow’s Hierarchy:

While volunteerism and internships cover an explicit set of unpaid time activities, more often than not we spend our unpaid time in undocumented behavior. This manner may be important to us, but frequently we consider it trivial or inappropriate for others outside of select family members, friends, and acquaintances to know about. As a result, we choose to keep other people “in the dark,” so to speak, which features in the title of the diagram below:

The “dark side” may sound sinister, but the reality is that most of us have occasions when we don’t want others to know where we are and when we are there, what we are doing, and who we are with. With the rise of social media, sophisticated communication systems, and all manner of invasive technologies, it has become extremely difficult to go dark so that one cannot be found. One way for those committed to this degree of anonymity can do so is by going off the grid.

More commonly, though, opportunities for paid time simply dry-up or our personal situations are such that we cannot take advantage of them and we become unemployed – perhaps chronically so 1. This condition is similar to the unpaid time engaged in volunteerism and internships except it is not a position one necessarily chooses to be in – it just happens due to life circumstances. Even though we may be spending unpaid time providing several basic needs for ourselves as well as our children, elders, or family and community members with health issues, that time is not reflected in conventional economic indicators nor does it allow us to qualify for supplementary income through a social contract. We are uncounted, invisible, and marginalized. And that is a dark place, indeed.

  1. Long-Term Unemployment: The Economy’s ‘Secret Cancer’

Paid Time Distribution

The principle way we earn money is by being paid for our time fulfilling the contracted terms of a job description or statement of work.

This paid work, called “jobs” for the sake this post, can be offered by employers or contractors in the public sector or the private sector, which covers non-governmental organizations (NGO) and cooperatives among others.

Not all jobs are created equal in terms of paid time distribution. Some pay more than others for the same block of time. As a rule, jobs that pay more are harder to find and the requirements to get them are more stringent.  Conversely, lower paid jobs may be more plentiful and easier to get, but a person must work multiple jobs to earn the equivalent of a higher paying one. As a result, pay scale determines the time a person spends in paid work and the range of choices a person has to participate in quality of life activities outside of paid work.

The diagram below applies these characteristics of jobs and pay to Maslow’s Hierarchy.

Doing so shows how the distribution of paid time relates to meeting basic needs and enjoying a reasonable quality of life. The demarcation between these two can be represented as a poverty line. In this case, the poverty line represents the amount of income from paid time from employment, public services, and volunteer services sufficient to meet one’s basic needs.

At a minimum, a fully functional society assures each member receives daily basic needs in exchange for 24-hours of life in that society. Ideally, society provides opportunities for each member to meet daily basic needs through no more than 8 hours of paid time, leaving 16 hours of unpaid time available for sleep and quality of life endeavors as described in the previous post, Lifetime Hours Revisited.

Oftentimes, societies fall short of the ideal and, in more difficult situations, fail to be fully functional. The consequences are borne by families that must put more time into paid work or supplement it with income from public services and volunteer services in order to meet their basic needs. The diagram below illustrates this dynamic in the form of a question:

Of course, at the heart of this question is an even more fundamental one which asks what does the future hold for a family that cannot spend the time and generate enough income from all sources to procure basic needs? And what does that say about the condition of the society to which those families belong?

Questions for consideration in subsequent posts…

Lifetime Hours Revisited

In a previous post Motivation to Allocate Your 700,000 Hours, I introduced the notion of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as a potential framework to distribute one’s lifetime hours between meeting basic needs and having a reasonable quality of life. The diagram below shows that split more specifically:


The distribution of these same 700,000 hours can be categorized as paid and unpaid time. Making an arbitrary allocation of one-third of a lifespan for paid time and two-thirds for unpaid time, which includes one-third for sleep, 80 years would yield 233,333 hours of paid time, 233,333 hours of unpaid time awake, and 233,334, hours of unpaid time asleep.

If placed Maslow’s Hierarchy, it looks like the diagram below:


This distinction between paid and unpaid time in hours leads us to the topics of Economy and Currency and Money and Contracts introduced in previous posts. It also gives us the opportunity to examine the consequences unpaid time has on members of our society and how those issues might be addressed. Surely we can envision a system that acknowledges the value each of us brings to the world simply by being alive. More about this in subsequent posts!


Some highlights from the blog posting, This Is How To Sleep Better: 5 Secrets From Neuroscience by Eric Barker concerning the importance of sleep and the consequences of not getting enough:

You need eight hours. The National Sleep Foundation and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention both recommend 7 to 9 hours — but after 10 days of 7 hours your brain is mush whether you realize it or not. So get 8.

Sleep is essential for memory and skill development. Cheat yourself on zzz’s and learning drops as much as 40%. Yeah, thats the difference between an A+ and an F.

Here’s how to sleep better:

  • Have a consistent sleep schedule: Yes, that includes weekends. Yes, I understand that you hate me now.
  • “Blue” light isn’t the only problem: Dim the lights in the evening. Set the mood. (Barry White music optional.)
  • Be Cool: People stick their feet out from under the covers because it’s good science.
  • No coffee, no booze… and no sleeping pills: And while I’m ruining everything and being a total buzzkill let me add: there is no Santa Claus.
  • To sleep more… sleep less: Don’t think of it as CBT; look at it as getting revenge on your brain for not letting you sleep.

Money and Contracts

Today, all global economic systems use currencies issued by internationally accepted monetary systems. In order to participate in these economies you must first exchange your time for money.

This exchange is done by a work contract between you and a person or organization that pays you for the market value of your time, or a social contract between you and a governing entity that pays you for your value as a member of its purview.

The goal of a well-functioning society is to maintain a healthy dialectic between these two types of exchanges in order to maximize the combined benefits they can bring to its members, namely, prosperity through peace. Unfortunately, the goal often defaults to control and containment in order to increase profit through pacification.

Economy and Currency

An economy is where we humans exchange / trade our time on the planet for our needs and wants.

Our time on the planet is a resource that holds intrinsic value due to our inherent humanness and extrinsic value through our acknowledged reputation, experience, skills, certification, etc.

When we apply intrinsic and extrinsic value to our time, the ensuing time units become a currency we can exchange / trade for our needs and wants.

It would be sufficient if our time currency functioned solely as a medium of exchange, but it represents multiple levels of value far beyond that:

  • unit of life practices on the planet
  • investment in future practices
  • repayment of debt for past practices

The most efficient economic system would allow the direct exchange of time units for wants and needs. Unfortunately, the prevailing system doesn’t work that way. And the currency conversion difficulties that result lead to increased disparity and disunity.

Plan the Work, Work the Plan

Now that the end of February is here, it’s becoming obvious that I need to buckle down if I want to meet my writing goals for the year. An effective way to get started is to follow the wise counsel: “plan the work, work the plan” hence, the title of this post.

What work, though?

To give me a push, I’m going to get my arms around the extraordinary proliferation – in the thousands, no less – of untagged and uncategorized bookmarks on multiple platforms I’ve generated over the past 10 years. For instance, I have over 8,000 entries on Evernote alone. Those seem like a good starting point. I can actually USE the Evernote app to organize my bookmarks in support of what I’m writing instead of letting it be a study in how to build random and largely useless collections.

To do that, I have five major (“monster” might be a more appropriate term!) tasks:

  1. Reconcile the wide assortment of tags (basically, out of control – almost as bad as the number of bookmarks!);
  2. Restructure the notebooks by purpose and title (not as bad as tags, but nonsensical nonetheless);
  3. Transfer bookmarks and files from my Evernote business account into the personal account so I can close the business account this year;
  4. Tag and categorize all the yet untouched bookmarked items most of them in my default folder; and
  5. Establish a consistent routine to stage bookmarked items as drafts in Ulysses, which prompts me to actually write rather than talk about it and make excuses for not taking action.

The web version of Evernote shows the complete list of tags in alpha-numeric order. To start, I’m consolidating tags beginning with the numbers, first. I do NOT want hundreds of tags. The search capabilities with Evernote are robust enough to let me conduct key word searches and find what I’m looking for without having to resort to tags for recall.

As I’m going through the tagged items I’m checking each URL for duplication, broken link, and relevance. I’m commenting on some and moving them into the queue for drafting in Ulysses and eventual posting on WordPress. That prompts me to keep writing and not get caught up in the details of the technology. Very freeing!

Actual writing of the posts will be in Ulysses using Markdown. From there I can easily “publish” to WordPress or in other file types for further editing, archiving, or public release.

The sequence of Evernote-to-Ulysses-to-WordPress makes it SO EASY to document thoughts / ideas and convert them into intelligible, readable text that can be handily posted, edited, and revised depending on commentary and changing conditions. I have no reason not to do it. And I’ve given myself permission to never be finished with a posting but keep it as a work in progress or ongoing experiment. Eventually, my current life cycle will close and what’s done is done. Until then, though, I reserve the right to keep the channels open to new and different ways of writing about topics that are important to me.

Let the experiment begin!

Motivation to Allocate Your 700,000 Hours

The mere fact that we live means that we allocate our allotted time on the planet to various activities. Even though we may have myriad alternatives as to what we could do with our time at any given moment, most are mutually exclusive. For instance, as I’m writing this, I’m not able to do anything else at the same time. In other words, I must choose this activity and let others go by. This internal zero-sum game we’re forced to play makes time our scarcest resource.

As distasteful as playing the game may seem, we do have to take responsibility for our decisions about how we use our time or the resource slips away and we risk regret over lost opportunities or, worse yet, we find our lives imperiled. Such responsibility taking is at the heart of why we do what we do when we do it. Human motivation is the longstanding subject of ongoing research, study and analysis resulting in a number of theories to explain it. The following diagram from Psychology by Juliánna Katalin Soós and Ildikó Takács (2013), identifies several of the more prominent ones.


For the purpose of this post, Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is the theory of choice because is well-known, easy to understand, and widely accepted as a framework for examining human motivation (see diagram below).  It can become the basis for each of us to consider in how we spend our 700,000 hours.

Maslow’s theory suggests that under natural circumstances we would divide a 24-hour period into thirds with one-third dedicated to sleep – an essential physiological need about which we are only now beginning to understand the degree of importance it holds, (see Why Sleep Is Important), another third to the remaining basic needs we all have, and the final third to achieving an improved quality of life the characteristics of which are unique to each of us.

The diagram below positions Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in between a couple of ways to carve-up a 24-hour period in relation to it:

The left-hand time stack, entitled Work-Life Balance, shows three equal 8-hour segments in keeping with the “natural” division of a given 24-hour period described above. While an even split may seem idealized, the intent is to emphasize the importance of a balanced allocation of one’s time as the foundation for a healthy and satisfying life. Just as successful personal finance strategies emphasize the importance of investing in a diverse portfolio for better long-term results, balancing one’s daily life offers the best return on investment for one’s 700,000 hours.

The right-hand stack, entitled Koyaanisqatsi – the Hopi word for “unbalanced life” – illustrates a disproportionate allocation of time in a day to meeting basic needs. The result is that one must make trade-offs between sleeping less in order to have some modicum of quality of life or sacrificing higher aspirations altogether in exchange for longer sleep. Regardless, an unbalanced life inexorably becomes one that is unhealthy either physically or psychologically or both. And this condition is frequently a point of discussion and debate among those who study it, suffer because of it, offer relief from it, and even contribute to it as mentioned in these articles: Is the Stuff You Buy Over 20 Years Worth 40,000 Hours of Time? – The New York Times and Buying Time, Not Stuff, Might Make You Happier : Shots – Health News : NPR.

So, how does your life stack up?  Does it matter in how you make your decisions about how to spend your time from one day to the next? If it does matter and you want to change it, how will you go about doing so?

700,000 Hours

According to the 2014 National Vital Statistics Report, Vol 65, No 4, the average life expectancy at birth is 78.8 years. Rounded up that equals 80 years or 700,000 hours.

Some may live well beyond 80 years and others may fall quite short, but whatever length of time one has on the planet, it is finite — and non-negotiable.

Every minute that passes by cannot be reclaimed or relived and as such holds inestimable significance. How each of us spends our allotted time is a deeply personal and profoundly important set of decisions about our very lives.

Too often, though, the challenges we face daily prompt us to fall back on ingrained and unquestioned behavior patterns to guide our decisions. Our lives, switched silently to “social autopilot” slip-by unnoticed and unfulfilled until our time is too soon gone. Forever.

How do we take control over the use of our 700,000 hours and reclaim our lives? The posts that follow will unpack prevailing behavior patterns that aren’t particularly helpful and explore alternatives that give us a wider range of choices.