You’re not nearly as busy as you think

You're Not That Busy

I’ve been getting fed the “OMG I’m so busy, there’s no time for anything else!” line my entire professional life, so eventually I started blogging about it:

I literally have never understood the whole busy thing. Life is complex, yes. Sometimes your boss is killing you with deliverables. Sometimes your kids have a lot of needs. You need to pay attention to your spouse and adult parents and siblings and family and friends. There are commitments, yes. THERE’S NO TIME FOR TRAVEL!

I’ve heard all this stuff. I’ve thought some of it (but not a lot of it) myself. My general viewpoint is thus: how “busy” you are is a choice. You have X-amount of time you’re required to be at work; if it’s taking you 2x that time to actually do your work, you need to think about how productive you are. I’m not saying skate out at 4:55pm every day (although I’ve had long stretches of life where I’ve done that, yes), but you don’t need to be rocking the 72-hour/week with pride every time out either. That just burns you out. About 55 hours/week is essentially a hard ceiling. Remember that.

Now we’ve got some new research on all this. Here it is in Fast Company, and here’s the original study. Here’s the general methodology:

Every year, throughout the year, researchers from the BLS contact thousands of Americans and have them talk through the previous day. The resulting American Time Use Survey (ATUS) gives the most complete statistical picture of how people spend their time, without some of the biases inherent in other surveys. Since the BLS doesn’t ask about particular categories of time, people are less inclined to give socially desirable answers. Since the survey looks at the previous day (including both weekdays and weekends), people don’t have to guess what is a typical day and what is not.

Alright, not bad. It has flaws. But not bad. (All methodologies have flaws because, well, people have flaws too.)

Here are the big takeaways:

The results paint a picture of modern life that’s quite at odds with the usual assumptions. According to the ATUS, the average American sleeps 8.8 hours per day. That’s 8.54 hours on weekdays and 9.4 hours on weekends and holidays. This survey does include older teens and senior citizens, who perhaps might have more hours available for sleep, but even looking at slightly busier demographics, the sleep totals are still pretty high. The average working mom with a kid under age six got 8.67 hours of sleep per day; the average working father of young kids got 8.27 hours.

We have enough time to sleep because we work less than we think. The average full-time work week comes out at just a bit shy of 42 hours.

If you told most hard-driving, Type-A D-Bag “Work Is Virtue” guys that they only work 42 hours/week, they’d spit in your face, then punch you right in the teeth. People hate to have their work ethic questioned, especially those that tie their self-worth back to work (which is many people). But this is actual data, baby! This is the same thing as whenever you sit in a meeting about analytics, which no one really understands in the least, and everyone starts questioning everything down to the root. Yes, analytics programs sometimes are bad, and sometimes are set up wrong. But I mean, that’s trackable data. Let’s stop questioning it. OK? Same with this survey. It has flaws, no doubt. But … it’s a survey. It’s not made up out of whole cloth.

There’s 168 hours/week. If you work 42 and you sleep 56, that leaves 72 hours for other stuff. (Chasing those dreams, baby!) Let’s say you work 52 and sleep 56. There’s still 62 hours available. That’s like, 9 hours/day.

I know most guys (usually guys, but it happens with females too) claim “70-80 on the clock.” For some people, maybe that’s close to true. For a lot of people, I think it isn’t. People chase busy because they fear irrelevance if they’re not busy, especially in a world where everyone is claiming to be busy. (That made no sense, but hopefully you followed it.) People also chase busy because it literally gives you the same quick hit that a drug does. It makes you feel like you’re important and relevant to others. If you don’t feel that way, the opposite is depression, right? That’s not good.

Here’s the real answer: learn to worry less about how relevant you are and focus more on the things that matter/less on the things that don’t. 


Ted Bauer

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