Share this article

print logo

Jeffrey M. Bowen: Time, money motivate each of us differently

Time and money are two of life’s biggest rewards, but only when we use them wisely. We can spend, save or waste them both, but they reflect surprisingly different purposes despite Benjamin Franklin’s famous claim that time is just money.

Some people are driven by the clock. They like the security and predictability that time provides because it lends itself to rules and structure. Said to be externally focused, these individuals like schedules, guarantees and controls. On the job they prefer compensation based on experience and security rather than merit.

Other individuals, said to be internally or intrinsically oriented, prize the rewards of self-actualization. To become the very best they can be, they embrace change, individual challenges and competitive recognition. Time for them is rewarding when it offers unstructured opportunity to think and be creative. For the intrinsically motivated, money and merit go together, and performance targets are better than deadlines.

Researchers argue about which money and time rewards produce more satisfaction (intrinsic) or less dissatisfaction (extrinsic), but I have found that most everyone combines some of each orientation.

For instance, in my role as a school superintendent, I was responsible for human resources. I found that individual priorities and the setting often dictated how time and money were connected. When I interviewed new teacher candidates, or informally asked veteran teachers what they enjoyed the most about their profession, their intrinsic side shone like a bright light. However, when negotiating, I discovered that the teachers’ union wanted every single contractual provision of time translated into dollars.

Lately the time and money balance is changing as technology transforms the workplace. Computer technology has been marketed for its cost-effectiveness and efficiency, but increasingly its dividend is intrinsic gratification from the freedom and flexibility of time.

Another rebalance stems from retail sales data, which shows that millennials are spending less on tangible goods found on store shelves, and more on intrinsically rewarding experiences like trips, restaurants or theaters.

Nowhere is the relationship between time and money more important than in relationships between spouses or significant others. My wife and I always discuss and agree upon our financial priorities. We play complementary roles and act as a team.

My wife is the organizer. She likes to maintain our checkbook and pay bills conscientiously. I spend more time on other things, but count on her to keep us accountable. Time and money are balanced by open communication and mutual trust.

Research shows that time and money drastically affect our health. When they are scarce, we risk stress and illness. Fortunately, positive health stems not only from improved medical treatments and insurance, which meets an extrinsic need, but also from the intrinsic reward of giving and sharing our resources.

My personal motivational journey is guided by the satisfying rewards that time can engender. Danger lies in using monetary wealth to measure self-worth and status. I say no to thinking whoever dies with the most toys wins. I say yes to the intrinsic uses of time because, after all, time flies when you let it help you learn and create.