A random question popped into my head: how much time do we have left after accounting for routine activities?
I don’t know about you, but “time flies” is a phrase I started using increasingly after I graduated from college into the school of hard knocks. Again, I don’t know about you, but sometimes I can’t help but feel time is going by so quickly. That everything is becoming so fast-paced that there’s only so much you can remember in detail from just a few years back.
But of course, we still live by the 24-hour cycle. So I was curious to know: why in the world do we sometimes feel there’s not enough time in the day?
So, I decided to find out what eats up our time. Given that my daily schedule is probably an outlier, I relied on a set of very moderate assumptions for a typical adult to develop approximate figures. I only focused on a few activities that a typical adult performs daily. This then excludes a myriad of other activities which vary greatly by person, so it’s beyond the scope of this article.
I made 4 critical assumptions:
- 40-hour week and no work on weekends. Absolutely none
- Commuting. This implies you don’t normally work from home
- You get to sleep seven hours every night
- It takes you about an hour to eat (excluding lunch at work)
Below is the summary of the hours that we allocate to key activities.
The schedule has no scientific basis or whatsoever. I’m not a statistician and this is not a dissertation paper. But, you’ll get my point. Read on.
Two major activities take up over half of our time
As shown in the table above, I was quite conservative on the time allocated to the activities. I did this to highlight the amount of time we still devote to them despite how “normal”they could be.
The donut chart shows that sleep takes up 29% of our time during the week, followed by work at 24%. Honestly, I suppose most people get less than 7 hours of sleep on average. On the other hand, most people in my network work more than 40 hours during the week in varying degrees. They work more than they sleep. I also personally know only a few people who don’t work at all during most weekends. This implies that many people actually spend even more time working and slightly less time sleeping as the schedule suggests.
I went a step further to see how much combined time we allocate to sleep and work. I found out that sleeping and working activities eat up 53% of our time during the week. This means that on most days of our lives, we invariably spend over half of our time working or sleeping. That’s quite a chunk of time and when we take into account the commute to work and eating daily, we’ve already spent 60% of our weekly time. We then have the great constraint to fit everything else we have to do— and want to do— within the remaining time.
“No amount of time management skills will ever enable you to do all the things you ever want to do”
So, have time management gurus lied to us?
Yes, sort of. They often suggest that we have enough time, but we simply don’t know how to optimize it. I agree that it’s true most of us are not very good at managing our time. However the claim that we have enough time is wildly untrue. Question: if you are spending close to 60% of your time working and sleeping, how many other activities can you possibly fit in the remaining time?
Clearly, what this indicates is that we must learn to allocate the remaining 40% of our time to a limited number of activities. In other words, time management is really all about deciding what’s more important for us, not how much we can cramp into a limited amount of time.
If you are spending 60% of your day doing a few things that you must do, no amount of time management skills will ever help you do all the other things you ever want to do. This isn’t possible and it’s important we recognize this constraint early on in our lives, otherwise all sorts of gurus and experts will sell you a concoction of tips that they don’t even use.
How can we face our inherent time constraint?
I’m not a guru, so I don’t know. But, I’ve observed people’s lives and I’ve done an assessment on how I spend my time. There are two pointers that could help us to face our inherent time constraint.
1. Remain focused on a few objectives
It appears people are doing too many things all at once, especially nowadays. Increasing content availability has increased competition even in the most futile of things. We want to become a tech entrepreneur, an industrialist, a polyglot, a modern-day Socrates…all before the age of 40. Why are we making our lives more difficult than it should really be?
While it’s true that we may be learning more about a range of things today than in the past, we also have not been able to manage to filter the content we consume. We consume plenty of distraction and not a whole lot of practical knowledge. Result: we are doing so much, appearing so busy, yet not achieving a whole lot.
Personally, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m a mere mortal and cannot do things exceptionally well all at once, especially if I don’t have the means to delegate. For this reason, I’ve been scaling down on the number of activities and interests that I pursue in the same period. This has resulted in a tremendous sense of relief.
I feel I have adequate time because I’m dedicating just enough to a limited number of activities.
2. Be willing to sacrifice for genuine happiness
Given we inherently face a time constraint, we actually don’t have much time to pursue all our interests. 70 years? 80 years? Seen from a broad perspective, that’s not much and most people pass away before that age anyways. So, why do we keep engaging in activities that don’t bring us genuine happiness? Some may argue that we don’t have the leeway to always do the things we really want to do. I agree. But, I also think we often have the choice to make sacrifices in order to do the things we love the most and which bring us unconditional joy.
This concept applies to your career, your opinions, your friendships, your curiosity, and even your love life. If 60% of your life is spent on doing “routine” activities, ensure at least that you enjoy doing them. Make the necessary sacrifices to have the career that you really want. Make the necessary sacrifices to pursue your curiosity. Why? Because while fighting for things that genuinely make you happy, there’s an inevitable joy that you get even before achieving the end result.
REMEMBER: whenever you can fight to live happy and content, do it.