The high cost of attention

February 27th, 2007 by most of my career, I’ve had a salaried job that paid a set amount no matter how long I worked. The agreement is simple, you work 40+ hours a week, get paid a consistent weekly wage, but also receive benefits like health care, stock options, etc. With salaried positions, I never really thought about my hourly rate, and better yet, the actual dollar value of my time.

Recently, I started consulting, which tends to pay hourly, so my frame of mind changed. Any hour that I wasn’t working, I also wasn’t getting paid. What is my time worth? I started thinking more and more about the value of my time and figuring out the best ways to spend it.

What is the cost of your attention?

I did a little non-scientific study with a few friends and talked about their email usage. I asked, “How much time do you spend during the day getting rid of unwanted email?” The answers hovered around 5 to 10 minutes. So how much does wasting 5-10 minutes a day actually cost?

If you expand the low end (5 minutes) out over a year, the people in my non-scientific study spent about 21 hours a year hitting the delete key.

5 minutes x 5 days x 50 weeks = 21 hours

Now if your wages fall at the 2005 national average of $36,952 (according the Social Security Administration), manually processing that unwanted email cost you $384.93.

($36,952 a year / 50 weeks / 40 hours) x 21 hours = $384.93.  

To put that into perspective, $384.93 is enough to buy a top end iPod, with tax. If you make more than $37,000 a year or spend more than 5 minutes a day deleting email, your cost rises accordingly.

Now, I realize that this isn’t money that is coming out of most people’s pockets. As a salaried employee, however, this is time coming out of your day.

Given that, I suppose the real question is, what would you rather do with those 21 hours?

photo by Flickr member cmiper