Stop Scrolling Mindlessly, Because This Is How Much Your Free Time Is Really Worth

You might be doing it right now — scrolling the vast, never-ending landscape of the internet and all the interesting stuff it offers. Admittedly, there are plenty of opportunities for learning, entertainment, and inspiration, but beware of the rabbit holes. You might have a quick question and turn to the world wide web for the answer, and then suddenly, you realize you've been scrolling for a cringe-worthy hour or more.

Social media feeds are chock full of inspiration for cool hobbies and stories featuring what stars like Rachael Ray like to do in their free time. So, you might feel a little guilty for having used your downtime on nothing but staring at your phone screen. In addition to our cell phones, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that American adults watch an average of 2.86 hours of television daily. That might not seem like much, but all of those hours start to add up.

Add to this the fact that Entrepreneur reports that the side hustle economy is still booming, meaning more people are hustling between multiple jobs. As a result, free time is more valuable than ever. Under these circumstances, it can be incredibly eye-opening to better understand just how much your free time is worth. But how is such a seemingly intangible thing calculated?

The traditional math is just the beginning

One old adage that's been making the rounds for years is that time is money. The central premise is that our daily working hours can be used to calculate the overall value of our time. So, for example, if you add up the hours you worked in a year and divide that number by your net earnings, the result is an hourly dollar value for each hour of your day-to-day life.

But this equation is not as straightforward as it seems because, according to Entrepreneur, you need to add time for your commute and anything that's at all related to work. In other words, if your weekly timesheet says 50 hours, you need to add the time getting ready for work, dropping your dog or child at a daycare, and phone calls or emails when you're not in the office.

Author Laura Vanderkam, who penned an article for CBS News Money Watch, says there's an opportunity in this calculation — something that the math alone might miss. Simply put, not all the hours in the day have an equal value. With this in mind, let's imagine that the traditional calculation indicates that each hour of your day is worth $28, but you have the opportunity to spend an hour with a beloved family member that's in the hospital. In this case, it would be nearly impossible to put a value on that hour, and any attempts would likely set it much higher than $28.

The hours in each day are not equal in value

To better understand the true value of our free time, we need to first acknowledge that it's linked to the real reason leisure time is so important. As an illustration, Ashley Whillans is an expert in the value of free time. She's an assistant professor at Harvard Business School and the author of the book "Time Smart: How To Reclaim Your Time & Live A Happier Life," and she summed it up in an interview with Forbes by explaining that "we don't realize it, but all of our daily choices, like whether to socialize and exercise rather than work longer hours, add up to a lot of time. And our choices powerfully shape whether we're happy or not."

This happiness can still be accounted for in a new riff on the standard time-is-money equation, though, according to Lifehacker. Rather than all hours of your day having just one value, there are a few tiers. For example, working your primary job usually takes up many hours of the day. But the time remaining each day — your free time — might be split between obligations and leisure. Knowing that some commitments (such as a side hustle) will need to be prioritized means your time for relaxation is more limited and, therefore, much more valuable. So, use the traditional calculation as a starting point, and then increase that hourly value based on your personal priorities.