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Is wasting time more acceptable than wasting money?

A quick response might be “Yes”. A guarded response might be “No” or even “Maybe”. It is astonishing that very few people take the time to reflect on this question. Even those that say wasting time is not more acceptable than wasting money will tend to waste time over money. In the context of this discussion, money implies a wide range of resources and not just cash or other finances. Our submission is that wasting time IS NOT more acceptable than wasting money, however we are more susceptible and insensitive to wasting time.

Money is material and tangible. The effects of wasting money can be felt immediately and strongly. Time is more conceptual, vague, abstract and ephemeral. The effect of wasting time is usually not felt in painful immediacy. Also, it depends on how time is being “wasted” and the interpretation of “wastage”. Wasting anything is not acceptable because we don’t have anything in abundance to waste. However, wasting finite or non-renewable resources is not acceptable. Time is one of the most finite and nonrenewable resources. When we waste time, that time is gone for ever and cannot be recovered. However, wasted money can be recovered over time (pun intended). To understand this in both quantitative and qualitative terms let us understand the concept of value of money and time and the relationship between time and money.

The value of money

The value of money is a subjective and relative concept. However, a universally applicable and simplistic method of measuring the value of money is what a unit of money can buy or do for us. Our standard of living is determined mostly by the value of money and the amount of money we have. The material resources we invest in any initiative is usually determined by how much money we have.

The value of time

Time is a more difficult concept than money. We have heard of the saying that “time is money” implying that time has value and should not be wasted. Just as in the case of the value of money, the value of time can vary and be subjective. Let us assume that a person earns $100,000 in annual salary. Further let us assume that there are 240 working days in a year and people usually work 8 hours a day. In this situation, the value of time for this individual is about $52/hour. Every hour wasted is costing the individual about $52. Whether wasting time is costing the individual or the employer is a matter of interpretation and perspective. There is a clear value to time. Another factor to consider is the type of work one does. While it may not always be appropriate to measure knowledge work in units of time, it can be argued that wasting time for knowledge workers is costlier than for others. As an example, the value of time for anyone working in Microsoft is $375/hour. The value of time for a brain surgeon is over $1000/hour. It is easy to see the cost of wasted time for different activities, in those examples.

It is important to know and perceive the present value of time for each of us. This helps us estimate our potential and use time as an asset to maximise our potential.

The time value of money

The relationship between time and money is quite simple and is a fundamental concept of economics and finance. Value of money decreases with time. A dollar today is worth less than a dollar tomorrow. We will be able to buy more today with the same money than we can in future. Therefore, the value of money is always referred to in “present value” and “future value” terms. We may know this concept through a formal understanding of the concept of inflation and interest rates or we may also know this intuitively. This concept may be subconsciously influencing our behaviour towards wasting time. When we waste money, we feel the effect immediately because the loss is material and immediate. When we waste time the effect may appear delayed and not material. However, wasting time eventually leads to wasting money.

Relevance of time and money in Projects

Projects consume resources in the form of people (labour) and material, over a predetermined time-period. These resources cost money and are intended to produce benefits. Money is usually spent early and benefits are realized much later. Therefore, the financial value of those benefits in future years are much lesser in present value terms. Another key aspect of time wastage in projects cause significant opportunity loss (Revenue, Profits, Market Share, First mover advantage, Customer Satisfaction, etc.)

Let us explore how individuals and organizations waste time in projects (and money in the process) and how this wastage significantly impacts future benefits.

Five major types of time wastage in projects by individuals

  1. Not having the requisite skills and therefore taking more time to do the work (errors and rework)

  2. Waiting for work to be handed over (and therefore idling)

  3. Waiting for work instructions (and therefore idling)

  4. Being distracted from working on key deliverables (using social media, browsing the Internet, etc)

  5. Working on low priority requirements (instead of high value requirements)

Five major types of time wastage in projects by teams / organizations

  1. Inability to deal with ambiguity and uncertainty (and not making progress)

  2. Having long project schedules (losing focus, attention and discipline)

  3. Poor bonding and inter-team conflicts

  4. Not knowing how to manage change

  5. Working on low priority requirements

Key messages

Wasting time should not be more acceptable than wasting money. Wasting time leads to wasting money in the longer run. Time is a non-renewable resource unlike money. While time can be used to make up for wasted money, money cannot be used to make up for lost time.


  1. Build a team culture that practices prioritisation of work based on value

  2. Build a team culture that values time over money

  3. In structuring and planning projects, clearly establish the relationship between time and value

  4. Create short, focused and intense Agile sprint cycles of 1-4 weeks

  5. Use smaller 8-10 member outcome-oriented project teams rather than large monolithic functional teams

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