written by
Srinivas Rao

8760 Hours: How Humans Spend their Most Valuable Resource

23 min read

Time is our most valuable and least renewable resource.

  • Everybody has the same amount, but nobody ever seems to have enough
  • Unlike money, you can't save time in an interest-bearing account where the amount you have increases because of compound interest

We download productivity apps, implement productivity hacks and read time management books to save time. But our current paradigm of time management is based on a false premise.

  • If you purchase a pair of shoes on Amazon and don't like them, you can return them for a refund.
  • But if you spend 10 weeks training for a marathon, you can't get a refund on the time you've spent.

Because it's a non-renewable resource, none of us can save time. We can only decide how to spend our most valuable resource and who to spend it with.

A Brief History of Our Most Valuable Resource

most valuable resource

When you're young, and older people give you advice, you dismiss them as old farts. But when you get older, you realize how wise they all were.

Money Buys You Freedom to Spend Your Time However You Want

During college, I was talking about money with the CFO at the startup where I was an intern.

CFO: Why do you want to be rich? What do you think money will give you?

20 Year Old Me: Having money would let me buy Ferraris, Lamborghinis, and mansions.

CFO: No. What money gives you is time.

It took starting my own company to understand what he was talking about.

Money gives you the luxury of paying someone else to spend THEIR time doing something you NEED to do so that you can spend YOURS doing something that you WANT to DO.

How People Use Money to Buy Freedom Every Day

But, you don't have to be a CEO of a company to see this principle at work. You apply this principle every day, whether you realize it or not.

  • If you've ever ordered food from Doordash or used an Uber, you're paying someone else to spend THEIR time picking up your food or driving you to the airport, SO you can spend YOUR time doing something you want to do.
  • When someone mows your lawn or landscapes your home, you're paying them to spend THEIR time doing something you don't want to spend YOUR time doing.

Your Freedom Decreases in Proportion to the Time It Takes You to Earn Money

In his essay on How to Me Wealth, Paul Graham said you have to endure a million dollars worth of pain to earn a million dollars. And you can endure that pain for four or fifty years.

  • You could earn it by working at the same job for 50 years, or
  • Alternatively, try to condense your working life, build a company, and try to do the same amount of work in ten years instead of fifty.

Even if you make a lot of money, your freedom will always be limited if you're trading dollars for hours. The irony is that we spend most of our time at work, trying to earn money, so we have the freedom to spend most of our time however we want.

How Much Time Do We have? Not A Lot

When I graduated from business school in 2009, I was spiritually, emotionally, and financially bankrupt. After I drowned my sorrows in Vodka for a week, my dad talked some sense into me.

I realized I'd been given a gift that most of us undervalue: time to reflect on how to make the next 10 years better than the ones before and use my time accordingly.

  • I stumbled on a movie called the School of Life starring Ryan Reynolds. In the film, he continually asks his students. How much time do we have?" The answer is not a lot.
  • After that, I started my first blog called The Skool of Life. I guess you could say Ryan Reynold's kicked off my career without even knowing it.

The other incredibly counterintuitive lesson I received that summer was from a consultant named Peter Bregman: He told me "the worst thing you can do when you're unemployed is spend all your time looking for a job," which is precisely what most of my classmates did.

  • Some said they applied to every job on the internet, which is the height of stupidity.
  • I spent an hour in the morning submitting resumes and writing blog posts and the rest of the day at the beach surfing. What seemed like a questionable way to spend my time changed my life. 7 years later, surfing became the organizing principle of my first book with a publisher.

If I had spent my most valuable resource looking for a job, you wouldn't be reading this, and it's possible the Unmistakable Creative wouldn't exist. The lesson is simple to understand but not easy to live. We don't have much time, and tomorrow isn't guaranteed.

Eventually, There Will Be Fewer Days in Front of You Than There Are Behind You

In the summer of 2014, I was at a coffee shop wallowing in self-pity. I was having what felt like the worst year of my life. Every time someone asked this old guy how he was doing, he would say, "it's the best day of my life." After reading over 1000 books and conducting 1000 interviews, he gave me the most priceless advice anyone had given me when I asked him why it was the best day of his life.

At some point, I realized that there were fewer days in front of me than there were behind me. So every day going forward is the best day of my life.

At the age of 43, I've had to come to terms with the likelihood that my life is half over. There are fewer days in front of me than there are behind.

The True Purpose of Time Management

The way we spend some of our time is a necessity, and the way we spend the remainder is optional.

  • Spending time sleeping and eating is necessary for your survival. If you don't spend time on these activities, it won't be long before you don't have any left.
  • Going to work is necessary to earn a living, keep a roof over our heads and sleep in a warm bed.
  • Having kids is optional. Unless you're a negligent parent who doesn't care if they turn out to be assholes, the time you spend raising them is not.

The true purpose of time management is not to increase our productivity or get more done but to live a more meaningful life. If attention is the currency of achievement, time is the currency of meaning.

The more time we have, the more freedom it gives us to spend that time on things and with people that matter most to us. To get the most out of our 8760 Hours and live more intentional lives, we have to start by becoming are of how to spend our most valuable resource.

The Illusion of Saving Time and The Subjectivity of Wasting It

Whether or not something is a waste of time is subjective.

  • To my dad, going to Costco is meaningful; to me, it's a waste of time
  • Some people think watching TV and movies is a waste of time while others treasure it.

What is meaningful to one person is mundane to another.

Investing vs. Spending Time

When I shared the idea for this article on Facebook, my friend Ben Hardy suggested that I change the title to How Humans Invest Their Most Valuable Resources. Ben isn't entirely wrong. You can spend your time today on activities that give you more freedom to spend it however you want in the future.

  • An exercise habit could extend your lifespan, giving you more time with the people who matter most to you.
  • Building a business might take up all of your time for 10 years, but it gives you the freedom to spend your time however you want for the rest of your life.

What sets time apart from money is that it will be gone tomorrow regardless of how you spend it today.

Like money, an investment of time to one person is an expense to another.

Time Allocation is Context Dependent

Like all prescriptive advice, time management strategies are context-dependent.

If you and Jeff Bezos both fly from Denver to Los Angeles, it will take him less time to get there.

  • With the drive to the airport, the security check, the wait for your luggage, and the time it takes to get from the airport to your destination, your trip could take 5-6 hours.
  • Plus, you are at the mercy of the airline because you can not call the pilot and say, "Hold the plane for me, I am running a little late."
  • Because he takes a private jet, Jeff Bezos might take 2 hours for the same trip.

Everyone has the same amount of time, but different amounts to spend.

A mother of two has to spend more time on things she needs to do, while a single man can spend more time on things he wants to do. There's no such thing as a one size-fits all approach to time management.

How Humans Spend Their Most Valuable Resource

most valuable resource

Most of us know how we spend our time during our days, weeks, and months. But we don't usually reflect on how we've spent it during the year until the end.

Waiting until the end of the year to reflect distorts our view of how we spent our time. As a result, we spend a lot of time on things and with people who don't matter to us or vice versa.

Before I came home for Christmas, I went on a date with a woman who was beautiful, intelligent, creative, funny, and just not that into me. After years chasing women who weren't interested, I decided I wouldn't spend another hour of my life doing that.

  • I could spend my time trying to change her mind or spend it with someone who was into me.
  • A couple of days after our date, I sent her a message. And she told me that she'd started seeing someone and wanted to see where it went.
  • To her credit, meeting her inspired me to write this article and start working on a new book about how humans spend time.

8760 Hours Starting at Midnight on January 1st

Imagine for a moment that you had a stopwatch on your wrist. At midnight on January 1st, the timer begins with 8760 hours. How much time would you spend...

  • On a lousy date to see if it will get better as you watch the number of hours you have left decrease?
  • Chasing people who aren't a hell yes about dating you when you could spend that time trying to meet somebody who's not only a hell yes, wants to tear your clothes off, and have babies with you, and grow old together.
  • Listening to a mind-numbing PowerPoint presentation in which someone uses 20 slides to communicate what they could have in 3 sentences?
  • Working at a job you hate for a boss you can't stand?
  • Arguing with family members, friends, and strangers on the internet?

Most people don't develop this level of awareness until they're forced to confront their mortality.

But if you wait until you're given a death sentence to make the most of your time, it will be too late. There are four main categories and thousands of subcategories for how humans spend 8760 Hours every year.

1. Waiting

Every year people spend countless hours waiting.

  • In lines at airports, grocery stores, concerts, DMV's and other places.
  • Sitting in traffic and commuting to work.
  • On hold to speak to an actual human with credit card companies, cell phone providers, insurance companies, etc.
  • God forbid they call a government agency, and they might spend entire days waiting to talk to some bureaucrat.

The collective time humans across the planet spend waiting probably adds up decades or centuries. With the amount of time people spend waiting, it's possible we could solve all of humanity's most significant problems in a matter of weeks.

Some of the time we spend waiting is necessary, but plenty is not. For example, spending time waiting in line at the airport is optional. . TSA pre-check costs 85 dollars for 5 years.

  • Unless you're a masochist, I'm sure there are far more meaningful ways you'd rather spend your time.
  • You also spend less time in transit getting to the airport because you don't need as much to get through security.

The opportunity cost of waiting in lines is the time you could spend doing something else like reading a book, having a conversation with a stranger at the airport bar, or making a new friend.

The opportunity cost of waiting in some contexts is small but massive in others.

How the Tyranny of Waiting Destroys Your Life

It's overwhelming. Think of all the art that has yet to be created and all the web applications that have yet to be built and all the music that has yet to be written and all the dishes that have yet to be tested and all stories that have yet to be told … because somebody, somewhere is waiting- AJ Leon

The opportunity cost of waiting is far more significant when waiting is an option instead of a necessity. It prevents you from accomplishing your goals and so much more.

Waiting Until the Time is Right

The time is never right because some part of your life always sucks. When you sit around waiting for the stars to align or some mythical date in the future when the conditions are perfect, you let things you can't control determine your fate and your destiny.

You're not an Indian matchmaker. Your efforts aren't meaningless unless the stars align. If you’re waiting for the stars to align, you’ll be waiting until the day you die.

Waiting Until Someone Tells You What to Do

Liz Wiseman says, "impact players don't wait to initiate. They like don't wait for an invitation to a party to show up." Of course, she's speaking metaphorically. You don't want to show to party uninvited unless it's to an Indian wedding. Just say you're friends with Raj since there's bound to be at least one at every Indian wedding.

While you spend time waiting for someone to tell you what to do, someone else is already doing it. They're putting in their 10,000 hours, learning from their mistakes, mastering their craft, and not leaving the impact they want to have to chance.

Self-directed people don't wait until anyone tells them what to do. They wait to tell someone what've what they've already done.

Waiting Until You Know Where to Start or What To Do

Nobody knows what to do or where to start when they've never done something before. They take action in the absence of clarity. But, when fear of failure becomes fear of trying, you're not waiting until you know where to start or what to do.

You're waiting until you have the guts to do something that might not work, and for a guaranteed result in a situation where nothing is guaranteed, and anything is possible.

Waiting to be Picked

I spent 5 years waiting for a publisher's permission, approval, and money to say my book was worth writing—no reason for you to repeat my mistake. Everything changed when I realized I'd probably never get a book deal and could spend my time writing a book or waiting to be picked.

My first self-published book sold 1000 copies because Chris Brogan was kind enough to recommend it to his readers. The second one sold 15,000 copies and eventually led to a two book deal with a publisher.

The paradox of waiting to be picked is that opportunity knocks when you stop waiting for it. If you want to be picked, give people the chance to say yes, give them a reason to find you interesting.

Waiting to Do the Work

I see a lot of people waiting to work, not waiting to get picked. -Austin Kleon

It's easy to confuse waiting to be picked with waiting to do the work. Do the work before someone give you the opportunity you seek and you’ll be more likely to get it.

My dad always says that patience is a virtue. But when you confuse patience with the tyranny of waiting, it's a vice that destroys your life. As AJ Leon says, "The not-so-obvious problem with waiting. The more you do it, the better you get at it."

What the hell are you waiting for?

The pandemic to end

Politicians to get their heads out of their asses

Validation and approval from people whose opinions don’t matter

Think about all the other things you could do instead of waiting for the unlikely events above.

2. Deciding

The average human being makes over 300 decisions a day which fall into two categories.

Low Impact Decisions with Low Reversal Costs

The following are all low impact decisions with low reversal costs.

  • The meal you order a restaurant
  • What brand of pen or dish soap to purchase on Amazon.
  • Choosing a movie to watch on Netflix (which is a pain in the ass when our friends or family are also voting)

If you were to assign a dollar value to your time, you'd see that these types of decisions typically cost you more than they save you.

  • Saving two bucks on dish soap will have no long-term impact on your ability to build wealth or make you bankrupt.
  • Watching a movie that sucks won't destroy your life.

High Impact Decisions with High Reversal Costs

Only a handful of decisions fall in the second category: the most crucial being who you marry.

  • Ironically people spend a lot of their time making decisions in the first category and hardly any in the second category.
  • As Nick Notas once said, people put more thought into Amazon purchases than choosing romantic partners. Yet, these decisions have incredibly high reversal costs.

If you want to make the most of your time, spend less on decisions with low reversal costs and the bulk of it on decisions with high reversal costs.

3. Doing

Out of your 8760 hours, you'll spend some of it doing things you have to do and the rest of it doing things you want to do.

  • Going to work, eating, and sleeping are things you have to do to keep a roof over your head and stay alive.
  • Sex is a twofer because it's something we have to do for the survival of our species. It's also something most of us want to do.

You're always doing something, even when you think you're thinking you're doing nothing.

Working

Assuming you work 40 hours a week, you'll spend 1920 hours of the year at work. Ask yourself if you're ok with spending that much time doing something you hate.

  • Most people don't have the luxury of telling their boss to take their job and shove it.
  • But anyone can spend time learning something new, developing rare and valuable skills, and designing an evacuation plan to find a job they enjoy.

It may not be easy. But things in life worth doing rarely are.

Eating

You have to spend time eating for sustenance. But if that's the only reason you're eating, you might as well replace your meals with Soylent.

Eating is a necessity, but you have the option to enjoy the time you spend eating meals with friends, family, and loved ones. No meal replacement solution is a viable substitute for the joy of breaking bread with people you love.

Sleeping and Having Sex

Sleep is vital to our mental health and a non-negotiable aspect of peak performance.

  • The less of it you get, the worse off you'll be. A good night's sleep helps you make the most out of every day.
  • I doubt anyone reading this would consider having sex a poor way to spend time. So let's leave it at that.

Once you know how much time you spend on your responsibilities, you can allocate the rest for your goals

Reflecting and Thinking

Taking time out of your daily life to observe, reflect and write teaches you to be analytical instead of emotional. When you're making important decisions, you learn to pause Before You Proceed and reflect before you respond. As a result, you'll make better decisions and live a more meaningful life.

Hobbies, Traveling, Etc

In a world where people no longer have hobbies, only side hustles, we underestimate the value of doing anything for its own sake.

When was the last time you did something creative just for fun and without any intention of building an audience, getting attention, or monetizing what you've made? Trying to monetize every minute of your life is a recipe for profound disappointment, prolonged dissatisfaction, and misery, not meaning.

  • Take a masterclass about a subject you find interesting. Then do a project based on the subject. Create a portrait gallery of your friends or make a short documentary with your iPhone
  • Build something with your hands like furniture or a lego set.

The pandemic might make it difficult to travel, but it doesn't have to prevent you from discovering an opportunity for adventure in your backyard.

  • Act like a kid again. Climb a tree, explore your neighborhood on a skateboard instead of in your car
  • Spend time in nature and let your mind wander and daydream, or pick up an outdoor hobby like snowboarding.
  • Instead of scrolling through Netflix every night, pick one actor or actress and watch all of their movies.

While some of these activities might make you think you're wasting time, you're spending time in ways that make your life more meaningful.

Maybe you think you don't have time to do any of the things you want to do. But as Laura Vanderkam says, whatever you say you don't have time for is not a priority.

4. Being

How much time have you spent being...

Angry at your parents for screwing things up when they have the hardest job in the world: making sure you don't turn out to be a giant asshole, a job that you will screw up too if you become a parent.

Bitter toward those who betrayed you

Hateful to the people who hurt you or broke your heart

Resentful to those who wronged you

Layer the hours you spend in therapy on top of all that, and humans spend a lot of time indulging in emotions they don't want to feel.

Angry

For a long time, I was angry at my parents for dragging me around the world, forcing me to leave my friends behind after freshman year, and giving my sister the gift of a group of friends that she's known since sixth grade.

But my sister made me see that I got a gift of equal or greater value: the opportunity to be a citizen of the world. They exposed me to people and cultures. And as my friend Matt's mother, Donna, said, "you've lived more in 40 years than most people live in a lifetime."

It sucked not to have many close friends from high school. But the experience also taught me how to adapt, navigate relationships with people across every age group and create the kinds of conversations I do on the Unmistakable Creative.

As Tara Mcmullin once said to me, there's great creative potential in the things that make you angry. You could channel your anger towards something positive. Or let it consume you. Spend your time accordingly.

Hateful

If you put your heart on the line, someone will eventually break it. Thats' the price of admission for falling in love. And someone will eventually betray you. But I firmly believe that almost nobody is motivated by malicious intent.

As I was reflecting on dates that didn't go well and relationships that didn't work out, something occurred to me that never had before.

  • What if I could find one quality in each person that I liked about them, regardless of how things turned out between us?
  • How would that alter my perception of every woman I met?
  • How would my dates change if I went into each one with zero expectations other than identifying one trait I admire and would look for in a long-term partner?

Bit by bit, if we start to consider the alternative emotion to the one we feel, we can spend our time in ways that cause us to grow instead of shrink.

Resentful

There's probably nobody I've resented in my life as much as all the bosses who fired me. For all time I spent resenting them, what did I get in return? Not a damn thing.

The truth is they gave me the greatest gift of all: the opportunity to spend my time doing what I was was born to do instead of spending it doing something I was able to do.

By looking for the gifts that someone you resent might have given, you can transform resentment into gratitude.

Time is Not Money: It's More Valuable

Although time is our most most valuable resource, people pay more attention to how they spend their money.

If most people spent their money the way they spend their time, they would be broke.

They fritter away their time scrolling through Twitter and Facebook, only to wake up one day and realize they could have used their time more wisely.

The years that changed my life the most were the ones where I was adamant about how I spent my time, years where every single decision I made was a definite yes or no.

To summarize how we spend our most precious, least renewable resource, spend

1920 hours at work

2688 hours sleeping

4608 hours on everything else.

If you really want to make the most of the time you have in 2022, buy a stopwatch, hang it on the wall, and set a countdown timer for 8760 hours. A constant reminder of how much you have left will help you make the most of your time this year and every year that follows.

Learn How to Spend Your Time More Intentionally

Time is our most valuable resource, and we all only have 8760 hours in a year. How do you want to spend your time? This book is about how to make the most of your time, with each weekly chapter providing strategies for living a more intentional life. Sign up now to be notified when new chapters are released!