How much is your time really worth?

Last week I went to China to audit a factory which has just become our newest supplier, manufacturing our brand new Paladin premium sleeves. Normally I love travelling and I do not shy away from overseas trips. I enjoy experiencing new cultures as I believe it expands one’s understanding of the world and of life. Plus, it’s fun!

This latest trip was different though, as it required a lot of flying and a lot of time spent aimlessly at airports. For a single 5-hour meeting, I had to be away from home and office for 5 days and I felt like a zombie for two extra days because of jet lag. Was it worth it, from a business point of view, as well as from a personal point of view?

We all know that time is money, but what does that actually mean? A few years ago I was working from home still, and my private life, my social life, and my professional life (publishing board games) were all an intertwined mess: night felt like day, cleaning or washing dishes came smack down in the middle of preparing Photoshop files, and game design sometimes happened around 3 AM. Overall, an obviously unhealthy life style. Most likely I was spending a lot of time working, but another thing was obvious: body and mind needed some kind of distraction to stay alive and healthy. It (and by “it” I also mean “me”) needed some fun time (time spent to relax, enjoy life or otherwise rest).

Time is a precious commodity, we love to be constantly in command of.

My theory was that chores take a slice of the productive time, rather than from the fun time, as one is less likely to give up fun time, especially in a situation like mine, when work and personal life were… kind of a mess from a certain perspective. I needed to quantify time, to give it a dollar value, so I can at least understand how much an hour of my time is worth.

Taking the revenue of NSKN Games, dividing by the number of people working there and then, fine tuning this number so that it reflects reality as well as possible (40-hour work week, with vacations and bank holidays, etc) brought me to the magic number of 12 dollars an hour.

Now let’s go back to my recent trip to China. The cost of this trip in terms of given up working hours was roughly $600. Add the price of the trip and the overall cost goes just above $2000. We estimated the risk of not visiting the factory at $1500 (possible value of damage times the probability of that damage), so spending $2000 to mitigate a $1500 risk did not seem like sound common sense. Add on top of that my reluctance to travel again to China, and it made more sense to stay home. But the fact that it is becoming company policy to check every supplier, so that we have the guarantee to deliver best possible quality to our backers made this trip mandatory.

Wasted time is impossible to show, but this seems to come pretty close.

What I have done to make this an overall financially sound experience was to set up yet another business meeting in between two flights, with just enough time to get from the airport to our customer’s office, have a chat and a quick lunch, and then rush back to catch the next plane.

The meeting came with little added cost, but with a great deal of added value. In the same way as evaluating risk, the probable added value was $1000 (potential extra revenue time probability of that business to happen). I know I am talking about small amounts of money here, but this extra $1000 made this whole trip financially sound.

On a personal level, things looks even worse at first. In a 120-hour trip, I was to spend more than 65 hours in taxis, flights, airports and trains, with little time to sleep and even less to have any fun. I could have taken some extra work in those long hours of waiting at airports, but I believe I had found a better solution.

Since I am not collecting any worldly goods (I may have many flaws, but – a moderately small and fine-tuned bord game collection exempted – being a hoarder is not one of them), I decided some time ago to collect…countries. Thus, after some brief research, I realized I could simply take a Qatari visa on arrival and spend 11 hours walking the capital city instead of Doha airport.

In spite of the scorching heat (46 °C feeling like 58 according to AccuWeather), I had a good time, I saw a new country and a new culture, I ate local food, and saw local architecture. Suddenly, part of this trip became fun time, allowing me to cope a little better with the lack of sleep, as well as  simply not wanting to do this whole thing in the first place. I believe that this brief getaway also gave me strength to return to work quicker, thus saving some actual money.

A shift of paradigm – putting a dollar value on time – combined with a little bit of out of the box thinking made a potentially unpleasant experience a pretty good one.

How do you price your time? Is there any way I could do it better? Or is time simply not quantifiable in terms of dollar value?

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