Relaxation

Is spare time such a rare commodity?

Everyday time management

“I work 180 hours a week,” confided a young man to American author and columnist Laura Vanderkam. On the face of that assertion, one would presume the youth is an intensely driven, upwardly mobile professional. Except that a week holds just 168 hours, which makes him a liar or a self-aggrandizer instead. In this regard, he is not alone. According to a study conducted by American sociologist John Robinson, this tendency to exaggerate the demands of one’s work life is in fact typical of our times.

After compiling and analyzing the work schedules of over 130,000 Americans, Robinson concluded that even the supposedly busiest among them have a reasonable amount of spare time in their lives. The typical week has 42 hours devoted to work and 56 to sleep (a healthy eight hours per night), which leaves 70 hours of spare time. This hardly squares with many people’s claims to “not have time.” Robinson’s survey also revealed that people who claim to work 75 hours per week are embroidering reality by roughly 25 hours. That’s one full day more!

Which begs the question: Why do we tend to exaggerate our workload in this manner? Vanderkam claims that, for many of us, our aim is to reassure ourselves that we are carrying out our duties effectively. Michael Hess, financial reporter at CBS, thinks instead that we do so to avoid or to postpone uninspiring tasks.

Daniel Mercure, a Canadian sociologist working at Université Laval, offers another interpretation: The ubiquity of the smartphone makes it difficult for people to “turn off,” and when one adopts the habit of checking one’s e-mails in bed before turning out the lights, it is easy to get the impression one is constantly working.

The right words for the right attitude

In order to better manage one’s time or to become mindful of the way one uses it, Vanderkam suggests, among other things, a simple change of vocabulary. For instance, she recommends replacing statements such as “I don’t have time” by “It’s not a priority for me.” In this way, when someone is turning down an invitation to meet up with friends for drinks, the latter expression will seem more fitting and truthful. On the other hand, when the time comes to book an appointment for a visit to the doctor, the same response will ring hollow—which is precisely the aim. Changing how we describe things often leads to a shift in mindset.

Everyday time management

To help people budget their time on a daily basis, human resources management firm Brio RH offers on its Web site practical tips for staying on top of one’s schedule. These include communicating concisely, learning to delegate, and identifying the distractions around you. For Daniel Mercure, it is first and foremost a matter of avoiding procrastination, so that decisions are made in a timely manner and do not pile up.

To wrap up on a more philosophical note, a thought from Michael Hess, who believes it is above all a question of perspective: “As humans, we unquestionably fill up each second of each hour of our finite lives: we work, sleep, eat, play, rest, or do nothing. So being “too busy” is all about how we spend our time, and not about the foregone conclusion that there will never be enough of it.”

 

Sources: Fast Company, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, CBS News, Les Affaires, Brio RH.