How to Find Time for the Things You Love

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Productivity expert Laura Vanderkam has the answer

It’s Monday morning and workers across the world are scratching their heads as they pour another coffee, wondering where their weekend went.

If this was you today, you won’t be surprised to hear that a 2015 survey found that just 45 percent of professionals feel like we have enough free time.

So what’s the answer? How do we find more time in our week without eating into our paychecks? Is it even possible?

To find out, TSheets caught up with time management expert Laura Vanderkam, who has spent the last two years tracking every hour of her life. That’s right. Laura doesn’t just track her work time. She has logs of everything she’s done since April 2015, including how long she’s slept each night.

What Laura has learned from this time use experiment has become the subject of several books (which we’d highly recommend, by the way), and to give you a taste, we’re going to share some of her words of wisdom with you here.

 

We live in a competitive world

“It’s been interesting to see where the time really goes,” Laura explains. “I had this idea that I worked 50 hours a week. But it turned out that I was working much closer to 40 hours. And that was good to know. Perhaps I wanted to see myself as someone who was working longer hours?”

Find out with this fun quiz!

And that makes sense.

“We live in a competitive world,” Laura continues. “There is no benefit to anyone who says ‘I work a lot less than my colleagues.'”

Which explains why TSheets’ research recently revealed a surprising truth about the hours we all work. They’re not as long as we think they are. (Get the full scoop here.)

But what has this got to do with weekends? According to Laura, the answer — as wrong as it may sound — is to make them more like workdays.

 

Start tracking time all of the time

Laura recommends tracking your time not just while you’re at work but during your time off as well. Not for two whole years like she has — that would be crazy, she says — but just for a few weeks to give yourself a better idea of how you actually spend your time off.

(And if you’d like to give this a go, there’s a free version of TSheets that you can get here).

“I think a lot of people have trouble accounting for time that isn’t spent at work or asleep,” Laura explains, “because we’re not as mindful of it as our work hours.”

Unlike worktime, “Non-working time has no accountability for it whatsoever, so it’s easy to think ‘I never have any leisure time’ or ‘I never get to spend time with my kids’ when actually your time logs reveal that’s not the case. We have these stories we tell ourselves about our lives and I think it’s important we examine these stories to find out if they are really true. Tracking my time has definitely done that for me.”

All well and good. But weekends still seem to fly by, don’t they?

“There’s a theory on time perception that when life is carrying on as normal you have a memory of about six to nine things every two weeks,” Laura adds. “In other words, if you think back over the past two weeks you have a memory of about six things that happened, so in time perception, six things equals two weeks. Now think about a vacation when you go somewhere new and exotic. You probably have six memorable things happen to you before lunch. And that’s why it seems like time is going very slowly. You’ve had the equivalent of two weeks of time perception crammed into half a day.”

So there it is. This weekend, we all need to take a vacation. Or, at least, try to make a few more memories.

Laura says, “If you tell yourself the story that you don’t have time to do things, you have to remember that it’s not necessarily true. Keeping track of your time is not just about figuring out how much time we waste or how much time we spend on different work projects. Sometimes it’s about showing that your life is pretty good and you should celebrate that. I think low expectation in the short-run can lead to high expectations in the long-run. On any given day, if you just make forward progress and keep devoting time to things that are important to you, in the long-run that really does add up.

“If we have some intentions for our non-work time, that can help us make the most of it.”

 

Intrigued? Read more from Laura in a fascinating exploration of how American time use has changed since 2003. 

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