The Time Investment Matrix: Choose Wisely

Stepping Out of the Matrix

Tip #1: Choose the red pill - accept that time is NOT linear, and invest it wisely

"Remember… all I'm offering is the truth, nothing more…"

With these lines from the movie, "The Matrix", Morpheus offers Neo the opportunity to fundamentally invert his world view by seeing his existence through a completely different lens. In so doing, Neo loses the comfort of the false but predictable conventions he grew up with, while gaining the ability to warp the fabric of the universe to do his bidding.

So too, modern neuroscience has lifted the veil on a nearly universally held fallacy; that time, as we experience it, is linear (blue pill).  Instead we now know that the way our brains process time is dependent on the activities and the emotional and environmental cues around us. If you can accept that our actions and environment governs our experience with time and that the way we actually experience time is not at all linear, then please take the red pill. The red pill (Tip #1) offers this truth: "The value of an increment of time is not related to its duration."

The value of an increment of time is not related to its duration.

Let's break this down. In a linear / chronological temporal construct, the value of an increment of time is directly proportional to its duration - hence "quality time," "time management," and all kinds of methodologies to "track your time" in a futile effort to maximize it.

But… but if you can accept that the value of your time is not related to its duration, then you can fundamentally change your relationship with time, and learn how to maximize it by investing in it more wisely. Accepting this means we need a new way to measure time other than our watches: we have the time value of money, but where is the construct for the investment value of time? I'd like to propose a new currency for time: the memory value of time.

The simple matrix above plots linear time on the Y axis (from high to low) and the investment (memory) value of time on the x axis (from low to high).  The greatest returns and best investments are in creating or experiencing those magical "event horizon" moments that make indelible imprints on our memory, often in a short span of linear time. And yet, we've known this all along… "make it count", "create memories", or Abraham Lincoln's  quote, "it's not the years left in your life that count, it's the life in your years." We've known intuitively all along that certain minutes and moments mattered more than others, but for some reason we keep trying to force fit them into the one dimensional matrix of linear time.

Let's look at each of these areas of temporal investment:

Quadrant 1: high investment, low return. We want to minimize this quadrant, but the reality is that all of us have time sucking activities we must do - even billionaires have to deal with taxes, commutes and management. To the extent you can design your life to live fully in your strengths, this quadrant can be minimized, but this may be impossible for some people. For the full-time toll booth collector, this is their job, and yes you could argue, get a new one, but if that means going back to school to get a degree over long years of missed family time, perhaps we should just consider this quadrant "investment time" - it exists to fuel the two right hand quadrants. A tollbooth collector working 50 hours a week still has 118 hours left to invest heavily in high return activities leveraging their strengths or designing event horizon moments.

Quadrant 2: low investment, low return. This is the "filler time" and some of it should be minimized, but I also believe this quadrant offers amazing opportunities to expand time. These are small mundane activities and routines that we can constantly challenge - the same commute, the same restaurants, the same conversations, the same friends, the same place on vacation - all of these offer the opportunity to morph into a meaningful memory. Perhaps not an event horizon moment except on rare occasions but certainly the opportunity replace repetition and routine for meaning and memory. Recently I had a conversation with Lila, the 15 year old daughter of a great friend. After being exposed to the red pill, she exclaimed, "So wait! We are all just living the routine, waiting to die!!" She then proposed to her brother "let's walk to school tomorrow - see things differently." So, rather than being driven  4 miles to school as they have done every day for years, they planned to  to experience it differently. I find this to be a beautifully simple way to modify quadrant 2  to create value.

Quadrant 3: high investment, high return. For people lucky enough to have a career aligned with their strengths, this is a quadrant in which you will naturally spend most of your linear time. I believe that strong relationships are also a form of "strengths" - natural or developed "talents" for other people, leading to experiences of flow and a greater possibility of "event horizon moments" when together. For me, over the last 15 years, I have slowly morphed my career from spending 95% of my time on weaknesses (being a PMO consultant at Goldman Sachs for Y2K) to a 50/50 split with my strengths (marketing) to spending 75% of my time on my strengths (innovation consultant) to 95% strengths (self employed, being paid to travel, speak, and write). When I'm not working, I'm with my daughter or great friends, or traveling - or all 3. I think the only quadrant 1 activity I have left is doing email, expenses, and sleeping.

Fallacy #1: "we must be constantly be creating meaningful moments 24/7." This is probably the most consistent mis-interpration of the Art of Really Living. No-one can or should be constantly be creating event horizon moments.

Quadrant 4: low investment, high return (event horizon moments) These moments are the “Apple Inc.” of time investment - massive returns from small investments of linear time. I've written about these at length - My Feb 17, 2015 post has a summary of the 5 key elements: 

Here's the thing about event horizon moments that is often misunderstood - the goal is not to have these twice a day every day. Almost always, truly intense time-expanding [or clock-stopping] moments rest on the shoulders of investment time, and are found or created in unique circumstances derived from time invested in "really living." For me, my goal is that for each chronological year, I will design or experience 10 moments that are so intense they are worth an entire year of linear time to me. In 2015 I had 17 of these. But the stress associated with these kinds of moments is often considerable… and not all of them are good, so depending on your resiliency, 10 − 15 feels like a reasonable goal.  By investing almost all my linear time into quadrants 3 & 4 I feel I have already lived, perceptually, about 4 lifetimes already. The possibility of living the equivalent of 400 to 500 more years and creating indelible memories along the way is a pretty amazing outcome.

In conclusion: you have a choice. Continue to believe the fallacy of linear time and try to track and manage it, all the while watching it accelerate, or choose to accept this new construct and instead invest your time for the value of the memories it brings.  What do you choose, and what are you going to do about it?