Life Is Not a Zero-Sum Game

Deciding how to spend money without going into debt is a zero-sum process. If you want to spend more on housing, you will have to spend less on your car. Every additional expenditure has to be matched with an equal reduction in spending. 

Some people view their lives in much the same way. If they want a career, they have to sacrifice family time. If they want a family life, they have to sacrifice their career.

But this equation is incomplete and misleading. Your time is not literally an accounting of minutes, like your budget is an accounting of dollars. Your time is a measure of commitment, concern, and efficiency, not just quantity. 

You can do more when you use your time better. Take out a few frivolous time killers and work harder at using time well, and you can add to both sides of your life’s equation.

“My father gave me a book of lawyer jokes; I’ve heard them all,” says Michigan attorney Douglas Theodoroff. “Sometimes lawyers get a bad rap, but we probably deserve it.”

Douglas is known as one of the good guys, a lawyer who takes time out from his thriving practice to donate it to clients who cannot afford to pay. 

“I almost consider myself a legal social worker. I enjoy solving problems for people. I have something I can share. If I can help people less fortunate, I want to do it.” Douglas says that even though he has a heavy workload, it’s never overwhelming because he imposes some order on it. “As you get older, it’s easier to establish your priorities and not feel pressured to take on every paying client available,” he explains. 

Douglas also serves his clients’ interests and his own time demands by trying to find solutions out of the courtroom. “Going to court is the most expensive and time-consuming outcome; it should be a last resort.”

The quantity of hours spent working or thinking about work, or hours spent with our families, does not predict achievement or life satisfaction. Instead, the quality of those hours—how stressful or relaxing they are—is a much more potent factor in producing a satisfying family life and career.

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