Where Is All of Your Time Going?

In the 1930 publication, Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren, John Maynard Keynes, the renowned economist, predicted that our millennial generation would be working “three-hour shifts” or a “fifteen-hour week.” Now that the future is here, it’s safe to say that we’re working longer and harder than ever to meet the competitive challenges of today’s workplace, and we can’t seem catch our breath during the frantic daily grind.

According to a recent poll, the working week in the United States is almost a full working day longer than average. It’s no better internationally: in Turkey, nearly half the population works more than 50 hours per week. If we are to ever regain control of our work week, we need to better understand where our time goes.

Jackie Bavaro, Product Manager at Asana, recently shared her insights on how to master one’s time. She outlined a simple way to assess how we’re spending our time. Make two pie charts: one showing how you want to spend your time and another showing how you’re actually spending your time. Open a spreadsheet, and list out your weekly activities until they total 168 hours (the total time allocated to you each week). Create 3 columns:

  1. Activity — Now list the following items under this heading: Sleep, Physical Fitness, Eating/Cooking/Groceries, Work/Career, Watching TV/Internet Surfing/Video Games, Miscellaneous (Errands, House Cleaning, etc.), Family/Friends, Self-Care (Shower, Getting Ready, Daily Routine, etc.), Quiet Time (Reflection, Meditation, Journaling, etc.), Education and Commuting. Feel free to add any other categories not mentioned.
  2. # of Hours — Here, list the total estimated hours your spend per week doing each of the corresponding activities.
  3. % of time — Each cell should contain a calculation of the # of hours spent on specific activity, divided by the total weekly expenditure of hours, expressed as a percentage.

Begin listing how your time is currently spent each week. Your Total Weekly Expenditure should equal 168 hours and 100% of your allocated time. Now turn this data into a labelled pie chart so that you can visualize your week.

The more you work, the less time you have to spend on other activities, especially time with others or leisure. The amount and quality of downtime time is important for your well-being (both physical and mental). In visualizing your time as Bavaro has suggested, you might notice several patterns and dependancies.

You might realize that you’re feeling stressed not only because you aren’t sleeping enough, but you aren’t factoring exercise into your weekly routine. You might notice that some of your leisure time is contaminated (ie. it’s not spent distraction/work-free due to mobile technology).

It would be wise to resist the paradox of productivity: do not fill your free time with more work.

In fact, your capacity for creativity depends on lulls in your schedule. Are you making enough time for vacation? Are you making enough time for sleep? Are you making enough time to be bored? According to David Burkus, author of The Myths of Creativity: The Truth About How Innovative Companies and People Generate Great Ideas:

Boredom boosts creativity because of how people prefer to alleviate it. Boredom, they suggest, motivates people to approach new and rewarding activities. In other words, an idle mind will seek a toy. (Anyone who has taken a long car ride with a young child has surely experienced some version of this phenomenon.)

In a study of 1,000 U.S. professionals, 94% said they work 50 or more hours a week, with nearly half that group putting in more than 65 hours a week. And that doesn’t include the 20-25 hours/week most of them spend monitoring their phones while outside the office. If aren’t auditing how we spend our most valuable resource, our time, who else will? Nobody ever dies saying “I wish I’d spent more time at the office.”

This post was originally published on 99U.