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…

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?

Vision 101

Leaders prompt alignment. With alignment comes a flow of human energy and creativity that advances whatever cause is underway. Through this flow endeavors deemed important are initiated, actions are taken, and change occurs within a proposed framework.

Alignment is produced in three ways: integrity, vision, and fear – greed (see previous posting). Leaders lead because of their ability to draw upon at least one of these three dimensions “…in the exercise of power within a social system to produce alignment.” Of course, the greater the skills leaders have in more than one dimension, the more fluid their movement from one dimension to another as circumstances warrant, and ultimately, the more effective they will be.

Leaders who can exercise more than one dimension possess the wherewithal to use “vision” as a way to both inspire and motivate. While somewhat synonymous, the terms “inspire” and “motivate” represent a critical duality that is central to the importance of vision in the repertoire of tools used by effective leaders. Inspiration originates when there is sufficient detachment from what is or a future extrapolated from what was to see possibilities otherwise missed. Motivation is fueled by an expectation of comfort when that which is feared is dismissed and the stress of achievement is diminished. Leaders are able to use inspiration and motivation at the right time and in the correct context to build momentum and keep the flow going.

The diagram below illustrates the dual nature of vision. As an organizatio – represented by the green triangle – moves through time toward an endpoint on the horizon, it passes through its “vision” – illustrated by the yellow circle – of what it anticipates it will become or what will influence it. Philosophical ideals and spiritual values pre-date and eclipse the organization and provide a guiding moral framework that is timeless in its relevance and significance.

While the pursuit of abstractions such as peace, justice, love, and freedom is a source of inspiration, it lacks the type of structured approach required to convert the obtuse into the actionable. At some point people benefit from a clear picture of what can be reasonably expected after a finite period during which people invest their time, energy, and resources to have the intended results. Vision in this practical sense relates to the mission of a project, goals and objectives of an organization, and the “nuts and bolts” details of strategies and tactics required to complete the mission. But it is not the simple restatement of these elements a la Dilbert. Instead, it is a story told that depicts what reality might look like if the mission is completed successfully.

Just as leadership is about alignment, vision is about change – seeing it, relating to it, describing it and making it happen. Leaders who are in command of the tools of vision tell stories that inspire people at their higher levels of functioning and motivate them to take necessary action in giving practicality to that which is dreamed. Great leaders are involved; they embody the changes they are attempting to influence rather than remaining aloof and attempting to control them remotely.

A significant part of the story a powerful leader tells is not only in words but by example in deed. The leader espouses the principle in clear wording, such as the following extract from Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech delivered to more than 250,000 on August 28, 1963 in Washington, DC:

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.”

It’s no wonder Dr. King could lead thousands – he posited the principles as a dream worth striving for, outlined the very trying and difficult steps that would have to be taken to make the dream reality, walked the talk hand-in-hand with others, and put his life on the line to stand tall in what he believed possible for his country and its people.

Of course, Dr. King was a “student” of another great leader in this respect, Mahatma Gandhi. The following extract from a brief biography on Gandhi’s life by B.R. Nanda sums up the compelling nature of a leader who strikes a dynamic balance between the philosophical and the practical:

His genius, so to speak, was an infinite capacity for taking pains in fulfillment of a restless moral urge. His life was one continuous striving, an unremitting sadhana, a relentless search for truth, not abstract or metaphysical truth, but such truth as can be realized in human relations. He climbed step by step, each step no bigger than a man’s, till when we saw him at the height he seemed more than a man. ‘Generations to come, it may be, will scarce believe’, wrote Einstein, ‘that such a one as this, ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.’ If at the end he seemed like no other man, it is good to remember that when he began he was like any other man.”

The result of his strong stands on principle and living the life of change – being the change – was a key factor in India gaining independence. His strict adherence to the concept of non-violence and non-resistance sets a stellar example for others to follow in their struggles with freedom and justice. And the lessons of his life continue to inform and influence generations of Indians as they build on the foundation of self-determination he laid and propel his beloved country into prominence as an economic and political global powerhouse.

The Dalai Lama, political leader of the Tibetan government in exile and spiritual guide for thousands of people around the world, offers yet another powerful example of vision in the ethereal married with the practical. Below is a extract from his commentary entitled, “A Human Approach to World Peace“:

Science and technology, though capable of creating immeasurable material comfort, cannot replace the age-old spiritual and humanitarian values that have largely shaped world civilization, in all its national forms, as we know it today. No one can deny the unprecedented material benefit of science and technology, but our basic human problems remain; we are still faced with the same, if not more, suffering, fear, and tension. Thus it is only logical to try to strike a balance between material developments on the one hand and the development of spiritual, human values on the other. In order to bring about this great adjustment, we need to revive our humanitarian values.”

Again, overarching philosophical ideals and spiritual principles are associated with the conundrum of daily issues that plague humanity. The Tibet issue is one of three commitments made by the Dalai Lama wherein he gives unwavering focus. It is in this arena on the world stage that principle is carried into action for all to see and learn. This is vision in its purest form. No one can ask more of a leader than that!

Originally posted to New Media Explorer by Steve Bosserman on Monday, February 13, 2006