“Time is money.” It’s an age-old business adage, popularized by Ben Franklin’s Advice To A Young Tradesman. Franklin argued “He that loses five shillings worth of time loses five shillings, and might as prudently throw five shillings into the sea.”  Since then, the phrase has been used to exhort business people of all kinds to work more hours.

No disrespect to Ben, but enough already.

The phrase was meant to encourage focus, to remind you that any time you spend not working is draining revenue. That may be technically true. But equating time with money doesn’t encourage productivity so much as it encourages misery. It turns work into a chore rather than a calling. It surrenders us to the idea that money is more valuable than time. It isn’t.

I propose we flip this equation. Time shouldn’t be something we spend in order to acquire money. Money is something we should spend to acquire time. That’s the point of business. That’s the point of entrepreneurship. By starting an independent business, you free yourself from someone else’s demands on your time.

Time Is The Most Valuable Commodity

Money can be spent, earned, loaned and recuperated. Time is different. There’s no getting it back once it’s gone. It can’t be regenerated or negotiated for or made to pour out of a slot machine. But like money, time can be invested in order to produce more of itself. We all know our business represents an investment of time. Rather than seeing the return on that investment as money, a healthier outlook is to see more time as the ultimate reward.

In Tony Robbins’ latest book Money: Master the Game the self-help legend details his philosophy of prosperity. The ideal earner, he argues, is ultimately a smart investor. He claims that the absolute worst investment one can make is an investment of time—if money is the expected return. The worst! This may fly in the face of conventional wisdom (and certainly in the face of conventional employment), but I couldn’t agree more.

Most people exchange time for money on a daily basis. We get paid by the hour, the month or the year. Every day, across the globe, people trade this precious, finite resource for money. We trade life itself for greenish paper. We trade happiness for numbers in an account. It’s like trading gold for pigeon droppings.

Instead, let’s think of time as the most valuable currency. Life gives you an account. This account accepts no deposits, only withdrawals. Every day you withdraw 24 hours. You spend 8 or so sleeping, leaving about 16 hours of irreplaceable denominations of existence. It’s definitely unhealthy to spend that time on a job you hate—but you shouldn’t spend too much even on a job you like!

I’m not suggesting we give up our livelihoods and live under a bridge, enjoying all the free time. What I am suggesting is that sometimes entrepreneurs get into business to free themselves, and instead end up enslaved. Devoting excessive amounts of time to your business in order to reach that next milestone, and the next, and the next, defeats the purpose. You can succeed on your own terms without sacrificing what matters most.

How To Take Back Time

Why did you get into business? How can you avoid trading one cage (conventional work) for another (independent work)? Once you’ve decided to prioritize time over money, how can you go about earning more of the former?

Planning. While it’s reasonable to devote a great deal of time and energy to getting your business off the ground, you need an exit strategy. Your exit is the moment you can hand over the reins of your business to people you trust. It’s the moment you finally extricate yourself from the day-to-day work. It’s the moment you’re free to live off of your creation, instead of it living off of you.

At some point, your business will reach what I call a “personal profitability marker.” That’s the point at which the business is sustainable. Revenue pays for all operations and for your own personal needs and living expenses, with money to spare. From here, you’ll be able to start moving towards that exit. As soon as you can afford to, pay someone else to take one task off your hands. Then, one by one, subtract more and more tasks from your own schedule.

As more revenue allows you to pay more people to produce more product which produces more revenue, you earn more time. This is the ultimate exchange. This is the transaction that makes independent business worth the effort. This is how you can—in the only real sense—buy time. It’s the greatest profit possible.

Start with something small, like emails. Train someone else to handle the crafting and sending of emails to your audience. Once they’ve mastered it, the time you normally spend doing it is returned to you. Then, move on to your blogs. Scheduling. Payroll. Customer service. The list goes on. Groom managers to make important decisions. Mold them into people you can trust to run operations. Keep files on your own decision-making process for your protégés to study. They get experience, skill, and pay. You get time.

In Robert Kiyosaki’s book Cashflow Quadrant, he describes a left-to-right continuum from employee to investor. The employee is at the beginning of his working life. He or she has the least favorable exchange: time for money. To the far right is the investor, who only exchanges money for time. That’s the goal of entrepreneurship: to be the person whose work creates something self-perpetuating. While Kiyosaki is under scrutiny as the kind of financial “guru” whose advice should be taken with a few grains of salt, the concept is valid.

I’m working on that process now. The $100 MBA Show podcast takes time. Refining our webinar platform, Webinar Ninja, takes time. On top of that, there’s speaking engagements, interviews, conferences, etc. But even all that is less than I used to do. Little by little, Nicole and I have unburdened ourselves of various duties by finding good people to do them for us.

It costs money. But in return, we get something so much more valuable.