How Do You "Spend" Your Time?



Time is our most valuable asset. You can't get more of it, no matter how asset-rich you are and, interestingly, none of us know exactly how much of it we have. All we know is that we have a maximum of 24 hours in a day, no more, no less.

The way we think of how we use our time is relatively new. Historically-speaking, we used to "pass" the time. Now, we "spend" it:

"Before capitalism, most people did not work very long hours at all. The tempo of life was slow, even leisurely; the pace of work relaxed. Our ancestors may not have been rich, but they had an abundance of leisure. When capitalism raised their incomes, it also took away their time." Source: p. 44, "The Overworked American" (1991) by Juliet B. Schor*

Given time is a limited resource, how we choose to divvy up this resource among the "buckets" we usually think of is important: work, family & friends, giving (charity work), leisure, cleaning/fixing, driving, entertainment, travel, learning, exercising, eating, sleeping, etc. What we do on a day-to-day basis should be in line with what we truly value in life.

My time budget was in need of a major overhaul.

Over the past year, I have completed a time budget overhaul. You read that correctly, a "time budget".

Previous Weekday Time Budget

  • Sleep - 5 to 6 hours - Ugh!

  • Getting ready for work - 1/2 hour

  • Commute - 1 hour

  • Gym - 0.5 to 1 hour

  • Work - 10 to 14 hours - Double Ugh! 

  • Leisure & Entertainment - 2 to 4 hours of mindless TV watching and/or Internet surfing - Seriously!!!

  • Misc. - 0 to 2 hours

The above looks straightforward enough. That is if you are OK with the lack of time with family and friends, lack of learning..and the lack of sleep! I was always up at the crack of dawn or earlier, sometimes after a fitful sleep or hours of insomnia. Once at work, I would get through my sometimes double/triple-booked workday and work through lunch, though I did make a couple of trips to the coffee shop to pick up a good, hot cup of quality coffee. After work, I would get home and crash in front of a screen and play zombie until I peeled myself off the couch to go to bed, only to do it all over again the next day.

I was always so wiped that I even had difficulty having any sort of meaningful conversation with my husband until late in the evening. Half my weekend was then recovering from the week, squeezing in some family time once in a while and getting things ready for the next work week.

I prided myself on being busy and productive, you know, "giving it my all". I was also always in a hurry and found that anything that was not producing something "of value" was not worth my time and attention.

The Overworked American

"We have become more demanding in terms of activities, goals, and achievements…This theme is echoed by another time-use expert: 'We have become walking résumés. If you’re not doing something, you’re not creating and defining who you are.' Since the time available to us to do and to define ourselves cannot increase, we are naturally frustrated. While some have suggested that it is merely a 'baby-boom' problem, the evidence suggests it is more widespread." Source: p. 23, "The Overworked American" (1991) by Juliet B. Schor

I spent years living at this "work hard play hard" pace, managing to wedge in a vacation and university course here and there...but always with my smartphone in tow. 

Current Weekday Time Budget

  • Sleep - 7 to 9 hours

  • Getting ready for work - 10 minutes, seriously

  • Commute - N/A - I work from home

  • Gym & Activity - 1 to 2 hours

  • Work** - 0 to 14 hours, self-defined work

  • Food (shop, prep & eat) - 2 hours

  • Reading - 1 to 8 hours

  • House & Yard Maintenance - 1 to 4 hours

  • Friends & Family - 1 to 6 hours

  • Leisure & Entertainment - 0 to 4 hours (incl. TV & Internet)

  • Misc. - 0 to 7 hours

Reality for me is very different now than it was about a year ago. 

Now, I still get up early--that's just how I'm wired-- but not as early as I used to! I'm up when my body tells me to get up, which is some time between 4 am and 8 am, with the average about 6:30 am, after getting a 7 to 9 hours of restful sleep - that's right people, NO ALARM.

Sometimes I don't work at all and sometimes, if I really get into the flow of things, I'll put in a good 14 hours. Most importantly, when I work, I no longer multi-task!!! I focus on what I want to accomplish and don't let electronics and/or people dictate changes to my work flow or priorities.

I walk/bike/garden/work out at some point in the day to get things done and catch a little sunshine at the same time. I keep my home tidy and I make a point to connect with at least one friend or family member every day. I take time to make and eat healthy meals and make sure I connect with my husband via meaningful conversation at least once a day.

My days are full and fulfilling but I don't feel rushed and busy all the time like I used to. I don't need to watch TV for 2-3 hours every night because I can't do anything else. And, I actually manage to give a crap about others and about getting everything I can out of each day but in a way that is respectful and mindful. It feels like a complete about face and I am grateful every day for the change in my day-to-day reality. Now, I almost don't care which day of the week it is because I don't feel I need to "get away" from or "survive" anything. 

The way I viewed my priorities was in serious need of an a** kicking, even more than I realized...

My time makeover still surprises me, even though I made these changes nearly a year ago. I think that many would have deemed what I was doing prior to the change "important and successful" work. I had a lot of responsibility, stress, and a fat pay cheque to show for it. BUT, I was also a very bitchy and unhappy version of myself and never felt that what I was doing was enough - there was always more that needed to be done!

Sadly, I paid NO attention to my most valuable resource. I gave my time away to things and activities that absolutely DO NOT MATTER in the long run. I also thought that others should be doing what I was doing - anything less meant someone was just being lazy and unproductive. Were they not committed to achieving success in life?

I paid a very big price for over 10 years of my life because I did not spend my time in a way that aligns with my values over the long term. It was NOT WORTH IT! Based on what I know now, I can achieve just as much--actually, I think I am accomplishing more these days--with less time and less tole on my body and my mind.

Phew! I've found "me" again.

Now, I take time to think, process, and enjoy. My mind slows down and can properly consider one thing at a time because I am not constantly bombarded with thoughts of to dos and looming deadlines, and I don't have to listen to devices prompting me to drop one thing and pick up another.

I am more intelligent in my approach to things and happier because I am able to be fully "in the moment" when I want to be. I have reconnected with the way I used to think and work in my teens and early 20s. I had forgotten what this feels like and don't want to lose it again.

Finding the right balance is key, and that means YOU have to come first.

I've heard those words before and I suspect you have too. Why is it so hard to put our health and welfare first? I'm under no illusion that my use of time will change over the next months/years/decades - assuming I am lucky enough to still have sand in the hour glass. That's OK, but I will be more careful not to accept artificial obligations and responsibilities that cause me to pay such a high personal price again.

I don't see time as something I "spend" anymore but more so as something I "invest" in order to make life richer in ways that just can't be measured in monetary terms. Thinking of time as money has been a HUGE mistake and I hope that I never shortchange myself into thinking that way again, no matter what life brings my way.

What about you? How do you spend your time? Is it in line with what you value most?

*I highly recommend this book, as well as "Born to Buy" by the same author. Both great reads that I will be adding to my book recommendations.

**Work for me normally consists of working online, writing, reading, general office & course work, coaching, facilitating and various associated communication via email/Skype/Social Media. I have a great deal of leeway with respect to how and when I work and tend to "go with the flow" of how I'm feeling on a particular day.