Notes from a Floating Life Thoughts about productivity, digital living, and leading a simpler life

The Fallacy of Saving Time, Revisited

An analog watch

As I argued in a previous post, I don’t believe that saving time is possible. I don’t even think it’s a worthwhile goal.

But I’m in the minority. A lot of people seem to think they can save time, and they go out of their way to create shortcuts that will help them do just that. I know more than a few people who get a sense of accomplishment from shaving a few seconds off of a task. When they do that, they really believe they’re being more productive.

Maybe they are.

In some circles, though, saving time seems to have become something of an obsession. I recall a blog post from way back in 2006 in which the author stated:

It’s just 15 seconds or so less than writing a full email. But seconds add up to a lot in a year.

Yes, those seconds do add up. But it’s not contiguous time. I doubt most people really notice (or even use) all the time they supposedly saved.

Case in point: a few years ago, I got to work by streetcar. Most days, I got off the streetcar via the rear doors. One day, someone suggested that before I got to my stop, I should walk to the front of the car and get off using the front doors. Why? You guessed it: to save time. I did some figuring. The walk down the aisle would have saved me about 4 seconds a day. That would have been 20 seconds a week, or about 1,000 seconds (16-odd minutes) a year.

On the surface, that’s quite a block of time. In the end, though, it wasn’t the kind of saving that would have changed my life in any way, shape, or form. It’s a few seconds scattered here and there. There’s no way that 16+ minutes would come together in a clump for me to use for more productive pursuits.

Think about that seemingly clever, time-saving shortcut or hack before you decide to go through with it. Consider how much time you’ll really save. Think about how that time will improve your life or your work.

Chances are, it won’t.

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