How to Assess the Value of Your Personal Time

Want to live with intention? Calculating what your free time is worth could engender better work-life balance, says this productivity coach and TEDx speaker.
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Arlington productivity coach Brian Nelson-Palmer urges people to “live like they’re worth the value of their time.” (Photo by Marvin Meyer on Unsplash)

The ongoing quest to achieve work-life balance (or, through another lens, work-life integration) revolves largely around how we spend our time. Sure, we’d all love to learn how to squeeze more out of each 24-hour period, but most of us could use some help.

Pentagon City resident Brian Nelson-Palmer, 39, a self-described “productivity trainer” who founded Productivity Gladiator, works with organizations to help employees maximize their time at work, as well as in their personal lives. His recent TEDx talk, Reimagining the Actual Value of Your Time—viewed more than 65,000 times on YouTube— encourages viewers to assign a monetary value to their free time, and make decisions accordingly.

We asked the longtime professional development facilitator to explain how his time-value calculator works and why it’s critical to think of time as currency.

Tell us a little bit about how you got into this field.

I have been an instructor and a facilitator for more than two decades, teaching personal and professional development. I noticed there was a real opportunity for teaching life balance and personal productivity.

It’s certainly something I struggled with myself. Living like you’re worth the value of your time—that’s my message. I’ve noticed that people tend to have a hard time making those decisions, so I created a way to calculate a number value for your personal time. That tool has changed people’s lives.

What inspired you to reconsider how you were spending your time?

At the age of 4, I was diagnosed with insulin-dependent diabetes. I will never forget sitting in that doctor’s office, holding my mom’s hand, and the doc said that with Type I diabetes, you can live a full and mostly normal life, but that the life expectancy for diabetics is 10 to 20 years less than everyone else. So I’ve always had this idea that I didn’t have as much time as everybody else. And while certainly technology has improved and life expectancy for diabetics is better than it was, I’ve always valued my time.

I grew up in a house where my dad used to drive all the way to the neighboring town to get gas because it was 10 cents cheaper. That was my life. I always had this idea that you save money; your time is expendable, but money is sort of a paramount thing.

One idea behind the time-value calculator is that sometimes it’s worthwhile to pay others or spend a little bit more money to free up quality time…which you could also look at as buying stress reduction. 

Absolutely. And when is it worth it? Half of it is giving yourself permission to do that, and the other half is making the decision. There’s a number for it. There is a number at which you will drive across town to save money on gas. But what is that number? In the D.C. area, the Express lanes come up [as an example] all the time. It’s going to be $1, $2 to take [the hot lanes] and people look at that and say, “No, absolutely not.” My penny pincher childhood is like, “No, I’m not going to spend an extra dollar.” So I sit in traffic for five to 10 minutes instead of taking that Express lane.

How does the time-value calculator work and how did you devise it?

It really came from trying to get a practical number for what someone could potentially afford. The goal of the calculation is not an exact number. Life isn’t a formula. But having a number as a frame of reference is a really helpful tool.

What is it for you? Is it $10 an hour? $20 an hour? Is it $50? For every person it’s different. When I teach these workshops, my conversation with an attorney who makes beaucoup dollars is different from my conversation with the employees at a nonprofit. However, for both of them, there is a number. What’s funny is, the conversation with both of those crowds is the same. The only difference is that [determining when] it’s worth it depends on your income, and how much free time you have.

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Brian Nelson-Palmer (Courtesy photo)

How to you integrate the time-value calculation into decisions surrounding productivity and work-life balance?

I have a workshop and a keynote that I give called, “The Actual Value of Your Time and Life Hacks to Get it Back.” The idea is, when you have that number as a frame of reference…that’s going to apply at work and that’s going to apply at home.

One example at work is if you need to go get office supplies. You know that your time at work is worth X number of dollars. If you can get it delivered for less than that, let’s look at that as something that’s potentially worth your time. The same thing applies at home with grocery delivery.

What are your top three pieces of advice for members of the community who want better balance in the new year?

1. Calculate the value of your time and have that number as a frame of reference.

2. Plan your week in advance for yourself—not just work. Fitness isn’t going to happen as an accident. You’ve got to make time to do that.

3. Activate the time restrictions on your phone. It’s a game-changer when you are forced to acknowledge that you are choosing to spend this much time on social media, as opposed to it happening by accident. Put yourself back in the driver’s seat.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Categories: Community, Health