Guest Post by Laura Vanderkam (Laura is a friend and author and time management guru amongst other things. Laura and I will be sharing the stage at the Chicago Ideas Week Edison Talks. She will talk about time management and I'll talk about time metaphysics, but one thing we share is the belief that time, as we experience it, is malleable.) Check out Lauravanderkam.com to read more about Laura.
John, in The Art of Really Living, writes a lot about the fact that time, as we experience it, is not chronological. Our brains play all sorts of tricks with time and we end up making significant errors in our estimations about time spent on activities, available time in our days, weeks and years. I agree. I’ve done a lot of research in this area and here are some fun facts:
* Americans are not increasingly overworked. The average workweek has declined over the past two generations.
* Americans are not increasingly sleep deprived. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ American Time Use Survey finds that the average American sleeps 8.8 hours in 24 hours (http://www.bls.gov/news.release/atus.t01.htm). While that average includes older teens and retirees, the people we might think of as busiest -- say, moms of young kids -- actually average slightly more than that: 8.92 hours (http://www.bls.gov/news.release/atus.t08A.htm ; dads get 8.46).
* People massively overestimate time devoted to housework: by 500 percent for some tasks, such as washing dishes.
Then there are the anecdotes. One of my favorite happened a few years ago when Real Simple magazine asked its time-starved readers to describe what they’d do with an extra 15 minutes in their days. One woman wrote in that “Fifteen minutes of uninterrupted writing time would be a priceless gift” -- which left me wondering when she found the time to read Real Simple, and write in a letter about this elusive dream of hers.
Why do we tell ourselves these stories? It’s human nature to assume that things we don’t want to do (work, housework) take longer than they do. It’s also human nature to assume that the things we do want to do (sleep, leisure) don’t get much space. In reality, they probably do get space, but if it’s not as much as we want, it’s more satisfying to claim these things “never” happen than to be honest about it.
While all this could be funny, I think there are important insights to be gained for people willing to question these narratives. If we think we work around the clock, then we assume we have no leisure time. If we assume we have no leisure time, then we don’t think about what we want to do with it. If we don’t think about what we want to do with it, we spend it doing meaningless things like watching TV we didn’t mean to watch, following click-bait headlines on the internet, and puttering around the house.
Keep track of your time, though, and you can see life as it really is. You can see how much you truly work, so you can use those hours wisely. You can see how much time you have for other things, so you can fill your leisure time with consciously chosen restorative pursuits. Your brain will be happy to trick you about how much time things take, but the good life requires knowing the truth which, as they say, sets us free.
Laura's new book is out: http://www.amazon.com/Know-How-She-Does-Successful/dp/159184732X/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8
Also a great read is "168 Hours: You have More Time than you Think" http://www.amazon.com/168-Hours-Have-More-Think/dp/159184410X/ref=pd_bxgy_14_text_z