Cost of Time Spent

In an effort to be more business-y, I’ve been reading about accounting and how to better work with finances behind the scenes. One of the concepts I’ve been trying to wrap my head around is cost of goods sold, better known to calculator folk as COGS. The acronym explains how much it cost to produce a thing you’ve sold.

This all triggered a thought in relation to how much time we spend working. Those that know me well often refer to me as a workaholic. In a sense, they’re right, but the reason why I invest so much time in my work now is so that I don’t have to later. Something that’s always bugged me is the scripted nature of most people’s lives. Within the limits of our circumstances, we can do next to anything we want.

Most of us, though, get some sort of education, take a job (or several) and spend our lives living at the behest of others. Our lives, then, are not as independent or free as we’d like to believe. As long as our money comes from someone else, our existence is in bondage.

This is my motivation for spending a lot of my time working. It’s not because I want to—though, I do enjoy what I do—but because I want to avoid a future where how much time I have for my non-work life is dictated by whoever I find myself working for. Hearing a full grown, 40-60 year old adult say they need to “ask for time off” is frankly, sad. Yes, I realize a life where an opportunity to live and work on your own terms is a fortunate circumstance. But given that you do have the means to even attempt to do so, it feels like a slap in the face to luck to not at least try to break out of “the groove.”

Right now, at 27, time is relatively cheap. The cost of the time I spend working is low. Some might argue that I’m missing life by working a lot while I’m younger, but I offer a contrarian point of view: would you rather be older and look back at all of the fun you had Springsteen glory days style, or, would you rather check out (read: die) having the best time of your life? Even better, would you rather live your life free to do what you want, when you want, interspersing relaxation and time off every few weeks or months?

You’d think I was crazy, but Stefan Sagmeister, a well-known designer and one half of the New York based studio Sagmeister Walsh does exactly this. Every seven years, Stefan and his partner Jessica shut down their studio and take a year off. This allows them to recuperate, but also to come up with better ideas for the next seven years. On an even smaller scale, Sean McCabe, another designer/illustrator takes a similar approach. Instead of every seven years, Sean takes off a week every seven weeks. He spends time with family, schedules a quick vacation, or puts time into projects outside of his normal work.

Getting to this point—Sean or Stefan’s—sounds wonderful. Instead of saving up “the good times” for the end, pepper them into your life as you go. The end result being an even, well-paced life mixed with equal amounts of work and time off. For the time being, this is what I think about when I’m working.

Getting to the point where you can do things like take sabbaticals takes a lot of work up front. I don’t feel like I’ll be doing this any time soon, though, investing my time in a singular focus now means building up to a point where I can take regular time off—not just a measly two weeks a year. That means a fair amount of time and risk investment up front. I’m okay with that. Worst case scenario, I can look back on a life filled with self-belief and plenty of attempts at what I really wanted to do, not being willfully subservient to others.

On Friday, my girlfriend had the day off from work for the holiday. I got up at my usual time around 7am and she slept in a bit. A few hours into working she came outside (I was working on the porch) and mentioned she was going to go for a quick walk. On a whim I decided to ask if I could join.

We set out with the intention of being back in about twenty minutes, but ended up deciding to walk to get coffee. Almost two hours after we were due back, we arrived home. I picked up where I left off from the morning. Unscathed, with no one to explain or apologize for my absence to. It may seem trivial now, but I know when I look back decades from now, I’ll think of the time I spent working to afford that careless, two hours of freedom as a drop in the bucket.