When stressed, I’m prone to bemoaning the lack of hours in the day. I think if I could just get an extra, say, two hours a day, that would be one more activity I could get in.
When happy (and for me, happy usually means productive) I reason, “We all get the same 24 hours in the day, and we all get to choose how we spend it”.
I said this to someone, and she recommended a book – 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think (Amazon). Which I downloaded to my Kindle and didn’t read until… recently. I’ve been on a bit of a kick reading books that I hope will make me happier/less strung out of late.
I found it an interesting and helpful book, but it has the same problem as The Happiness Project (Amazon) – what does a New York writer with two kids and a wealthy husband have to say that will apply to everyone? The kid stuff was irrelevant to me, and some others were just annoying, like the edict that getting ready should take no more than 20 minutes. Not all of us have naturally great-looking and manageable hair! But there was a lot in it that was helpful.
For example, I’m prone to thinking that people work more than me and sleep less, but in fact people tend to over-estimate the amount of time they spend on chores, or at work (they think about the days they worked 9-9, and forget about the morning they took off for the dentist and leaving early on Friday) and underestimate the amount of time they spend sleeping, and relaxing.
She also advocates focusing in core competencies (“broadly, those who get the most out of life try to figure out and focus on core competancies…”), as someone who gave up cooking as it was “inefficient” this is obviously something I identify with! Getting a cleaner, acknowledging the relationship between time and money – paying someone to clean my apartment gives me a chunk of my weekend back, for example. There’s lots of helpful things to consider if you’re feeling time-poor and cash-reasonable. The standard for entertaining as well, is interestingly used to demonstrate how things have changed now it’s normal for women to work outside the home.
The conclusion, though, is that we need to structure our relaxation time in order to get the most out of it. I tend to become stressed about time because I feel that I don’t have enough unstructured time, so this isn’t that helpful to me. I can see if you work from home then going out and doing things with people might be how you want to spend your leisure time, but working with people I want to spend a good amount of my down time alone!
Inspired by the book, I actually kept a detailed spreadsheet of how I spent my time in 15 minute increments. The first week I tracked my time somewhat obsessively, the second I was a little more relaxed about the tracking but still more aware of how I spent my time. I used Google Docs for this – it was handy to be able to update from any computer/my iPad or even my iPhone, if you want to try this, you can find my spreadsheet here (it’s not editable, but you can make a copy).
I know I can’t have more than 24 hours in the day, but what I want is a feeling of time-abundance; to feel less rushed, and less pressured. The spreadsheet was helpful because it made me more aware of how I was spending my time and look at the big blocks of time that I actually found to do things I wanted – like read novels, go to the gym, or hang out with my boyfriend. Half an hour in the morning having breakfast at my favorite coffeeshop before work with my book gives me a space that makes me less stressed and happier – that’s half an hour well spent. And taking time in the afternoon to go for spin class and then going back to work wasn’t as derailing to my happiness as I thought it would be. It was also nice to see how little time I spend on email (people expecting a response may not feel the same way), 2 hours on work email and filing an expense report, 45 minutes of which was whilst watching the video of TGIF (usually I do a little bit of code stuff here too). Both weeks I managed an email-free day, which is nice. I don’t know if this was related, but the first week I was motivated to get the writing I wanted to do done on Saturday, and had a completely guilt free day off on Sunday, which was amazing. The next week that wasn’t possible, as I had to spend Saturday in the office.
I don’t know if I’m going to keep tracking. It’s helpful because it’s making me more mindful about how I spend my time, but I’m not doing anything with the data. But I definitely recommend trying a week of detailed time-tracking to see how you’re spending your time, and if you in general want to be more mindful about what you’re choosing to spend your time on, then I recommend the book.
Meanwhile, what little things do you do to create feelings of “time abundance”?