The Poverty of Time

“An inch of time is an inch of gold, but you can’t buy that inch of time with an inch of gold.” — Chinese Proverb

A few years ago, during the last leg of my corporate sector career, I first heard of the demographic term, ‘money-rich, time-poor’. It hasn’t taken very long for this term to become commonplace and today it is used frequently by marketing departments of several corporations. Initially I found this term amusing but soon its profoundness dawned on me. Unlike other divisions, the marketing division of most corporations have significant insights into the subtleties of life although seldom it is that they use them for life-enhancing purposes.

Who are time-poor people and what is time poverty?

In its simplest form, time poverty is the phenomenon that describes people who have a huge inventory of things to do but inadequate time to accomplish them. I am time-poor when I am perpetually in a hurry, when I am a busybody who has no time to chat with a friendly neighbour, and when I duck any form of exercise because time doesn’t permit me. I am time poor when I am troubled for time and still have an unending list of blogs to write and I see myself constantly pushing the envelope to get one more blog out and then another and another. I am time poor when my wife berates me for working on a task whilst she is speaking to me thus denying her undivided attention under the excuse of multiplexing. When I suffer FOMO (fear of missing out) and I wish to be all over the place, I am, in a manner of speaking, time-poor.

People who are time-poor do not have the time to be at ease nor are able to engage in leisure activities nor simply enjoy the beauty of creation. They are constantly beating deadlines and forever in a hurry.  They are like the white rabbit in Alice of Wonderland who sings “I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date. No time to say hello, good-bye, I’m late, I’m late, I’m late, I’m late, and when I wave, I lose the time I save.”

To be clear, the poverty of time is independent of material and money poverty. People can be money-rich and be either time-poor or time-rich or people can be money-poor and be time-poor or time-rich. But when our focus is on people who are money-rich, it is rare that they are time-rich too.

People who are money rich and time-poor are people whose aspirations, need for achievement (N-Ach) and need for power (nPow) weigh far in excess of the time resources they command. These are people who constantly look at their watches and calendars and monitor every day and hour in in their lives, anxious of what’s remaining to be accomplished or aggrandized. Every fulfilment of a need gives birth to another set of needs. There is no end.

Take the case of  the three billionaires who are in competition to outdo each other through their forays into space. Do any of them have the time to sit still and gaze in wonder at the universe? It would be a mistake, however, to think that this affliction happens only to the super-rich. Time-poor people are not just the billionaires of the world but include several middle-class working professionals who remain caught-up most of the time. For all of these people, time poverty results in lower state of well-being often accompanied by burnout and a stressful life.

It doesn’t matter what profession you are in, whether you are helping realize the U.N.’s SDGs or enhancing the bottom line of a corporation or excelling in artistic expression for each one of us is vulnerable to the poverty of time. Much of time poverty, among the well-off, can be attributed to the way in which digital technology is reshaping our lives. Technology has been not just an enabler but an amplifier of human activity leaving us to feel so time deprived.

Time is a relative phenomenon, as Einstein taught us. For the same unit of time, one person may find it infinitely long while another might see it go by in a flash. So, there must be a way for us to experience time abundance but we can experience it only if we will it in the first place. It requires us to understand that all that we stand for and live for doesn’t have to be achieved only by ourselves and that we need to reverse the paradigm of life from having-doing-being to being-doing-having.

Meditation is a great way, although not the only way, to realize time abundance. Just the awareness of our mortality and the sheer limitations of our pursuits is a good starting point. After all, when the sages of the East beckoned “less is more”, they understood time not as a resource but as a state of mind. The choice to feel time-rich is essentially ours.

Feature Image courtesy Dylan Ferreira on Unsplash

Cartoon ©

 Shakti Saran is an Inclusive World Citizen, Writer and Senior Fellow at PYXERA Global. All views expressed are his own.

6 thoughts on “The Poverty of Time

Add yours

    1. Thank you Gautam. It’s quite simple actually. I don’t think one needs to reduce her/his To-Do List but instead manage it better. Here, prioritization is the key. A person should classify her/his To-Do List in three buckets by priority, for instance like top priority; moderate priority and least priority. Most To-Do Lists are, however, constructed sequentially.
      More than anything else, one needs a mental resolve to want to imbibe equanimity. Once this is in place, the path to time abundance will reveal itself.


  1. Well written! Your response to Gautam is on the mark! We need priority list and not to do list! Also I think achievement is not a bad thing if correctly prioritized! If you are getting your top priorities on time, assuming your priorities are aligned with your happiness than you are gaining time by being happy! My 2 cents

    Liked by 1 person

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