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Get Your Time Back

In 1790, the US census counted 4 million Americans. 90% of them lived on farms. Granted, not all of them worked the farm, but you get the gist: agriculture was huge! Food was so hard to produce that only 10% of the population could afford not to be involved in agriculture.

Today, only 1.3% of the American workforce participates in farming.

Look at the chart below. It’s amazing. Farming productivity and total output have increased incredibly over the past 70 years despite inputs staying steady and labor & land use dropping precipitously.

This change has been hugely beneficial for both American and global society. Check out Norman Borlaug, who is credited with saving 1 billion lives (!!!) through his work in agricultural productivity.

The takeaway? Specialization, efficiency, innovation, and productivity move society forward. Because others were dragging the plows, Borlaug didn’t have to. He was able to specialize in the sciences – and he changed the world! Barely any of us drag plows today, so we’re able to help humanity in other specific, productive, innovative ways.

It’s both true on the macro level (like feeding a nation) and true on the micro level.

Earlier this week, Kelly and I spent $1200 to hire a 3-man painting team to paint the walls and ceilings in our living room. It’s a tall room, so they spent much of their time on ladders, reaching with rollers, etc. For those of you wondering, the answer is Shoji White.

men painting a room

$1200 is nothing to scoff at. It’s real money. But let’s break it down. $200 was for materials. We would have spent that if we did it ourselves. The remaining $1000 was paid for ~21 hours of their expert labor, or about $50 per hour.

But I don’t think we should measure their time so much as we should measure our time. How much time (and hassle) did we save by hiring experts? They can paint will more skill and efficiency than I can. It took them 21 person-hours of ladders and rollers; it would have taken us 40+.

Is $1000 worth saving 40 hours (and hassle). Sure is by my book!

We’re not alone. Better tools, better machines, and more skilled labor have vastly reduced the amount of time Americans spend on chores.

Washing machines, blenders, lawn mowers…you name it. We’re surrounded by tools – and, in many cases, skilled workers – who can save us time. It’s worth considering how much your time is worth.

As Rubin Miller recently wrote:

Buy your f***ing time back. What do you hate doing that you can pay someone else to do? Time is an ethereal concept, and so thinking this way can feel unnatural. But most of the physical crap we buy doesn’t make us happier anyway.

Whereas at least I know exactly how to enjoy myself if I had more time.

As you have more and more money, buying time gets relatively cheaper and cheaper. We’re all gonna die. Probably before we want to. And for a lot of us, we will die with plenty of money in the bank.

And our regret will be not enough time. Not enough time with people we love. Not enough time for places to see. Not enough time to do things we wanted to do.

Unfortunately, there are very few ways to get more of it. So go f***ing buy it.

Rubin Miller

You don’t have to hire out everything. Nor should you give up the reins completely; go ahead and stay in the loop.

But if you:

  • Don’t like a chore.
  • Aren’t good at a chore.
  • Or are extremely slow at a chore.

…then what are you doing?! Why aren’t you hiring that out to a professional?

For thousands of years, we all had to be farmers because that’s the only way we could eat. That’s not the case anymore! Thanks again, Norman.

So “buy your f***ing time back.” Spend it honing your specialization so people hire you to do stuff you’re great at. Better yet, spend some time doing things you love.

Personally, I never want to fall off a ladder thinking, “Is Ghost Champagne really a different shade than Eggshell Cream?”

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