Where Does the Time Go?

Are you effective at managing your time?  Many of us may not be as effective as we think, as discussed in the excellent book Deep Work by Cal Newport.  For example, in 2013 the British TV licensing authority surveyed television watchers about their viewing habits.  People aged 25 – 34 estimated about 15 – 16 hours per week were spent watching television, which may sound like a lot, but it’s a significant understatement.  These same respondents had meters placed in their homes to measure the actual time spent watching television.  The meters showed that the 25 – 34 year olds were watching 28 hours of television per week, not 15 – 16 hours.

Not only are we bad at estimating television watching, but we also underestimate the time we spend sleeping according to a survey by the National Sleep Foundation.  Americans who were surveyed thought they spent an average of seven hours per night asleep, but actual measurements showed closer to 8.5 hours.  People also consistently overestimate how many hours they work, typically by twenty percent or more.

How can we have such a poor sense of time?  One of the points made in the book Deep Work is we spend too much time on autopilot not thinking about what we are doing with our time.  During our workday, trivial tasks and interruptions pull us away from important projects that require concentration.  Since we are not as good as we may think at managing time, it is critical that we allocate uninterrupted time for tasks that require concentration.  As Cal Newport points out in his book, we also need to consistently ask ourselves during the day if our attention is on the right task. 

Therefore, we need to have blocks of time for projects that require concentration just as we need blocks for tasks that are not as cognitively demanding (such as checking email or returning calls).  Fortunately, we can train ourselves to improve our time management skills.  As the motivational speaker Michael Altshuler once said, “The bad news is time flies.  The good news is you’re the pilot.”

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