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Neutral hours: a tool for valuing time

Owen Cotton-Barratt

Prioritisation is mostly about working out how to trade different resources off against one another. Prioritisation problems come at different scales: for individuals, for companies or organisations, for the world at large. At the Global Priorities Project we’re mostly interested in the large-scale questions. But we sometimes have something to say about smaller scale problems, too.

I’ve just tidied and released old research notes (mostly from 2013) on the personal prioritisation problem of how to value time spent on different activities. This is primarily of use for individuals making decisions about how to spend their time, money, and mental energy.

Abstract: We get lots of opportunities to convert between time and money, and it’s hard to know which ones to take, since they use up other mental resources. I introduce the neutral hour as a tool for thinking about how to make these comparisons. A neutral hour is an hour spent where your mental energy is the same level at the start and the end. I work through some examples of how to use this tool, look at implications for some common scenarios, and explore the theory behind them.

There may be benefits for broader prioritisation questions. Since societies are comprised of individuals, it could help to know how to value time savings or costs to individuals when performing cost-benefit analysis on larger projects. And there may be techniques for comparing between different resources that we could usefully apply in wider contexts. However we think these benefits are secondary. We’re releasing this work now to let others take advantage of it: either for personal benefit; or to build on it and release easier-to-use guidance or tools.

You can read the full document here.

Posted in Prioritisation research, Research notes, Techniques.