You don’t need to juggle your schedule or prune your commitments. You just need to do this.
What if I told you the best and easiest way to start feeling like you have more time wasn’t to investigate your priorities or trim your commitments, but instead to add one more small item to your to-do list?
You’d probably think I was crazy, but according to author and time use expert Laura Vanderkam this really is the case. And she speaks from experience.
As someone who regularly writes about time use and productivity, Vanderkam has been occasionally tracking her time for years, but in the New York Times Sunday Review recently she revealed that she’s been engaged in a far larger time-tracking project for the last year.
“I spent the past 12 months studying my own time during what might turn out to be the busiest year of my life,” she writes, explaining that not only did she give birth to another baby during this year (her fourth), she also published a new book and kept up a busy speaking schedule.
Of course Vanderkam tracks her own time, you might respond. As a professional productivity writer, that’s her bread and butter. But according to Vanderkam, nearly everyone who feels like their schedule is out of control can benefit from devoting a little time to finding out exactly how they spend their hours.
Why you should track your time
Why is adding one more activity to your day likely to help you feel less pressed for time? Because the vast majority of us feel busier than we objectively are, claims Vanderkam (who has also analyzed the time logs of hundreds of other professionals).
“Professionals tend to overestimate work hours; we remember our busiest weeks as typical. This is partly because negative experiences stand out in the mind more than positive ones, and partly because we all like to see ourselves as hard-working,” she writes, adding that “one study from the June 2011 Monthly Labour Review found that people estimating 75-plus hour workweeks were off, on average, by about 25 hours.”
Vanderkam was as guilty of overestimating her busyness as anyone — she thought she worked 45 to 50 hours a week but actually put in 40. She also underestimated the leisure time she had available. “There are 168 hours in a week. If I worked 37.40 and slept 51.81, this left 78.79 hours for other things. This is a lot of space,” she writes. Aside from work, sleep, chores and schlepping kids there “was also time for singing karaoke twice, picking strawberries, peaches and apples and even two solo beach days for me.”
Knowledge is power.
In essence, Vanderkam argues that getting a handle on how you really spend your time won’t just be another administrative chore. It can help many people radically re-conceptualize their schedule from frantic to capacious — without making major changes. (Though, of course, some people won’t like what they see reflected in the data and will opt to re-balance.)
“I am not the only one for whom time tracking has led to a sense of abundance. I have found that for women especially, it is the best antidote to the pernicious narrative that professional success requires harsh sacrifices at home,” she claims. Plus, facing how you really spend your time can force you to think harder about your choices.
“By showing us that we do, in fact, have the privilege of free time, time tracking also nudges us to make wiser choices about how we spend it,” Vanderkam concludes.
Would you consider tracking your time for a month or two? What do you think you would discover?
By Jessica Stillman