Where does all the time go?

Last week, Ben wrote about how he felt there was never enough personal time to go around. I did an exercise last month where I tried to quantify where I was spending my time in the past, currently, and what the ideal future might look like. It’s very sobering, and I thought I’d share the mechanics of the exercise.

Begin with the assumption you have approximately 100 waking hours per week to accomplish everything you need to: eat, poop, work, read, shave your legs, go bowling, etc. (Yes, there are 168 hours in the week, and you may sleep more or fewer hours. You can certainly use a different number, but 100 works out well when you start thinking about percentages.)

For each subcategory, fill in the number of hours that you spend in that activity each week. In the worksheets, there are eight major categories of daily activities: personal, couple, family, friendship, work, leisure, social, and environmental. These are adapted from Frederic Hudson’s book, The Adult Years: Mastering the Art of Self-Renewal. Underneath each are a set of subcategories. These are only suggestions. If you don’t like or understand them, change them to something more relevant to you. There is no “score” on this self-test.

There will be activities you do concurrently. Make your own judgement call. You can lump it all into one category or split it some way.

  • Contrived Example #1: Suppose you frequently call your kids on the cell phone while driving to/from work, eating a hamburger while they talk. You could lump this all under Work/Commute, or you could allocate chunks of time in the Family/Parenting (calling your kids), Work/Career system (commuting), and Personal/Self-Care (eating). Be aware that this particular combination already makes an interesting statement on your life.
  • Contrived Example #2: Suppose you finally convince your significant other to go bicycling. This could be either Couples/Leisure Activities, or Leisure/Sports or both! — whatever you want to do.

Similarly, there may be activities that would fit in multiple categories.

  • Contrived Example #3: Suppose you’re running for political office. That time could be either under Work/Job Hunting or Social/Political Groups.
  • Contrived Example #4: Suppose you’ve given up cat herding and are going to pursue a hobby as a vocation. You could slot the time as Leisure/Hobbies until you’re actually making money. Or you can lump it under Work/Work, or you can split it.

Key Point: There are more ways to do this than there are combinations in spelling Viagra!
The worksheets are organized in three columns, intended to compare times in your life. For example, if you’re undergoing a career transition, the first column could be how things were, the second column how things are now, and the third column how you think things should be.

Interpretation of the results: this is one of those touchy-feely exercises where there’s no mechanical, correct answer of “proper balance.” If it did, we’d all be working only 12.5 hours a week (including commute) and we’d have 12.5 hours of unadulterated fun time with our significant other. (Boy, wouldn’t that be fun!)

Instead, look at the results as a whole and ask yourself if the balance feels right.
If it doesn’t, where are you spending more time than you need to be?
For example, if you don’t think you’re spending enough time with the kids, look at what you are spending your time on. Some things may be more important than the 1,732 reading of The Cat In The Hat, but odds are, there are some unimportant things in there, too.

It’s also sobering to look at the allocation in the context of one’s work/life balance. For example, a 40-hour-a-week job, which is rarely only 40 hours, sucks up a big chunk of your waking time. It seems tragic doing something you really hate to support hobbies and leisure you don’t have time to pursue.

1 thought on “Where does all the time go?”

  1. I’ve never actually done this with an excel spreadsheet, but the amount of time spent working vs. the benefit you receive from it has long been an interesting subject to me.

    I very much agree with the last sentence of your post, and it’s something I’ve often thought and tried to convince others of. However, it’s necessary to qualify it a bit. Even if you got rid of all your hobbies and luxuries, it’s unlikely you could simply stop working.

    What I’ve found useful is to try to take into consideration the base expenses of life:
    – food
    – shelter
    – clothing

    And this does not mean your current level of those things, but an absolute base level necessary to keep you alive and sane. There are of course some other expenses involved in having a job, such as transportation, an alarm clock to wake you up, coffee you keep you awake, etc.

    But the point is: depending on where you live, you may be able to get by on under $500/month(living as a single person – if you have an S.O. it may be significantly cheaper per person). Now if you’re bringing in $1000, $2000, $5000 or more a month…is it worth it?

    Lets say you’re bringing in $2500/month(after taxes – a salary of around $45k). $500 is gone, right away, for what we can call living expenses. That means that out of the 20 days you worked that month, 4 are gone.

    Now the question to ask yourself is, what is more important to me: those 640 hours of work, or the things I bought with that money(some DVDs, restaurant food, shiny new hubcaps). This isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition. Maybe 200 of those hours are earning money that goes towards a decent car, or a house with A/C, or a nice soft bed to sleep on. But *everyone* wastes money. And the less money you make, the more hours of probably unpleasant toil are going towards that crap that you buy that you don’t need and won’t even really want in a few weeks.

    Now you may say “but I can’t simply go to my employer and demand that my 40 hrs/week be changed to 20, for half the pay,” and that may be true. But there’s always savings and an early retirement…

    So I don’t know. This is a very long-winded comment, but I guess my point is, I think a lot of Americans have a very screwed up set of priorities in life. Having a beer with friends costs barely anything, but for many people it’s one of the most satisfying experiences in life. And yet how many times like those do we give up so we can have enough money to buy fashionable cookware or lease that turbo-charged import?

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