Monday, November 16, 2015

You Have More Free Time than you Think!

Perhaps one of the biggest complaints I hear from clients is that they 'have no time' and that it is this decided 'lack of time' that is preventing them from exercising, eating right, taking on new projects, moving up, moving out, moving on. The ready excuse for being unable to take on anything else is that they simply don't have the time to get it done.

However, according to Sociologist John Robinson, a professor at the University of Maryland and Director of the Americans' Use of Time Project, most people have around 40 hours of free time per week.  40 hours.  It tends to beg the question - How are you using yours?

It seems that the Centre for Time Use Research, at the University of Oxford in the UK, has collected the largest and most detailed time studies, covering over 50 years, 850,000 people and 30 countries. The data they have mined from this is helping to gain perspective on the widespread perception that life today is far more hectic and busy than it has ever been.  However, the time diaries tell a different story, highlighting that 'actual' hours of work have not changed substantially from the 1980's.

Why then do we all feel so time-pressed?  It seems that there are a couple of consistent reasons, most notably...

  • That we are all heavily influenced by the current sociological impact of the perceived need to be seen as 'being busy', that our busy-ness is an indicator of our Success.
  • That time studies show that what we think we are doing and what we are actually doing are two very different things and, as a result, most people tend to over-estimate their work hours by 5-10% (in the US).  Therefore we 'feel' like we are working more hours, and thereby have less available free time, than we actually do.
  • That watching television is taking up more than 50% of people's free time but we tend to significantly under-estimate viewing time due to its perceived 'unproductive' nature.
  • That we are sleeping more than we used to.  It is found that the average American sleeps 8.75 hours per day.  However, people tend to admit to sleeping less than they do because it says that they are 'busy' to others.  
It has been found that there are, in fact, two groups of individuals that are working harder than ever...
  • Single working parents
  • Well educated professionals with young children
Interestingly, it is this second group, the time-squeezed professionals, that are having the largest impact on the perception that we are all time-starved.  This group contains the academics who study time and the journalists who write about it!  They therefore give greater voice to the issue than it actually merits, simply due to its relevance to their personal challenges.

If you are looking to utilize your free time more strategically, or at least to free up some time to devote to a new activity or hobby, there are some key steps you can take to reclaim some of yours.
  1. Undergo your own Time Study.  In order to `find` time you need to understand where your time is currently spent and, in particular, where it is wasted.  Keeping a time diary or activity log will help you to gain some perspective on how much time you are currently investing in various activities and allow you to make deliberate and strategic decisions on where to redirect it.  Knowing that we tend to over-estimate the time spent on work and under-estimate time spent on leisure, it is important to gain some accurate perspective on where your time goes. You can use a free online tool (perhaps Toggl), set up your own Excel spreadsheet or simply create a chart and record what activity you are engaged in every 15 minutes.  Most experts agree that you should complete this for an entire week and then view the results.  
  2. Gain clarity about how you would like to spend your leisure.  What are the activities you would like to engage in?  What do you want more free time to do?  Establishing some priorities will help you to make better decisions about what leisure activities to reduce to provide time to direct toward new ones. You will find that it will come down to wanting to do something 'more' than the thing you are currently doing.  Establish those priorities before viewing the time study results so that you can better challenge your existing free time usage.
  3. Address your Time Confetti.  We all have these short little blocks of free time over the course of our day and week that don't seem very productive.  On their own they aren't nearly long enough to get anything of substance accomplished and they are therefore wasted.  This is like those small blocks of space on your computer that prevent it from operating optimally.  You need to defrag your PC periodically to free up that space.  In essence you are doing the same thing, identifying those small chunks of time and becoming more deliberate about how they can be used.  I always have a file of reading with me that allows me to get 'caught up' on background research I'm conducting during any of my time-confetti moments.
  4. Consolidate/Chunk your activities.  Activities like 'errands' should be chunked together so that they get done all at once.  This takes less time overall and eliminates some of those 'confetti' holes that might exist in your schedule otherwise.
  5. Reduce your TV time.  Most people conducting time-studies discover that a significant portion of their leisure time is taken up by watching television.  Reducing your time spent here can free up a significant amount of time that you could devote to other activities, but it needs to become a conscious choice.  Much time watching television is simply 'filler', surfing around or watching something by default.  Know what you want to watch and watch that, without the need to watch the shows occurring before or after.  Consider also that there may be activities you want to include into your schedule that you could do while catching up on your favourite shows, thus applying the same time to two activities rather than just the one. 
Our time is one of our most precious resources.  How you choose to spend yours (and it is always a choice!) will have a significant impact on what you experience within and get out of your life. 

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