Where does all my time go?

The relationship between time and money is complex. We talk about ‘saving’ and ‘spending’ both money and time. It’s very tempting to say to ourselves that we could get everything we needed to done if only we had a great expanse of uninterrupted time.

‘I could organise my finances if only I could have one afternoon a week spare, or a whole day to set aside to do my taxes!’
‘I could write that novel if I were rich enough to be holed up in an hotel for a year!’
‘I could learn French if I could live in France for six months!’

What is much harder to see is the amount of time we could be spending, each and every day, on these bigger goals we’d like to achieve.

The average person will watch 2 years’ worth of commercials. Spend 4.3 years driving, and 3 months stuck in traffic (this is one reason (of many) I don’t drive – I can spend my whole trip to anywhere reading, writing, studying, etc.) You’ll spend 92 days on the toilet. Women will spend almost a year of their life just deciding what to wear, 1.5 years doing their hair, and 8 years shopping.

The average person will work for 10.3 solid years. The average office worker will spend 5 years sitting at a desk, 2 years sitting in work meetings, and we’ll all spend around 90% of our time indoors.

Is this how you want to spend your life?

Some of these tasks – like toileting – are unavoidable (although they can be combined with reading!) Others can be reduced, or substituted for more interesting, stimulating, exciting, useful tasks. Let’s take a look at some in detail.

Are you entertaining your time away?

The average person spends about 5 hours watching TV or other video content like Netflix or YouTube each day, and over 3 hours looking at social media – ‘liking’ something every now and then, posting photos or comments perhaps, but not exactly pursuing a dream of photography or writing.

Sure, it’s not necessarily 8 hours total: some of those hours will overlap – casually flicking through social media while watching video content on another device – and sometimes you’ll be multitasking – watching TV while making breakfast, checking your feed while you’re in the bathroom.

But even if you spend just 4 hours a day watching videos or using social media while doing not much else – not solid hours, mind you, but 5 or 10 minutes snatched here or there – that’s 1,825 hours a year. Or 76 full 24-hour days. 2.5 months.

If we think about it in terms of waking hours only, that’s 101 days after you’ve had your 8 hours sleep, or 3.4 months.

Imagine what you could do if you had 3.4 months to devote to something.

Do you spend more time getting ready than doing?

It’s not just technology. Consider how long you spend getting ready in the morning. If you take an hour and a half to choose your outfit, do your hair and makeup, and go through the rest of your routine, consider how much time you could save if you simplified your routine so that it took 30 minutes. Over the course of a year, you’d have an extra 365 hours.

If you spend an hour longer than is strictly necessary getting ready each day starting from the age of 15, by your 85th birthday, you will have spent 25,500 hours longer than someone with a simpler routine getting dressed. That’s over a thousand days of your life, or over 1,400 days not accounting for sleep.

And that is almost 4 whole years.

Imagine what you could do with an extra 4 years added to your life.

Are you on a journey going nowhere?

Back when I was commuting to work, I used my commute (a 1 to 2 hour ordeal depending on the performance of the public transport system each day involving a walk, a tram ride, a train trip, and then finally a bus) to read voraciously. With free access to a whole network of public libraries, and fantastic ebooks to download, I considered this the part of the day when I was working for myself. It was during these 2-4 hours a day that I learned and planned and dreamed of what my new life would be. Over the three years that I spent focused on achieving financial freedom, I probably spent close to 2,000 hours reading in this manner – time that those around me on the tram/train/bus were using to listen to music and stare out the window, probably (and understandably!) dreading the day ahead at work, or trying to detach themselves from it.

If you usually drive to work, considering what you could get done while taking public transport – you may find this time is even more valuable than the money you’d save.

Master the skills you want

How long you need to master a skill – whether it be financial wizardry, writing a masterpiece, learning a language, perfecting a sport or an instrument – is highly debated. At one end of the scale, Josh Kaufman says it takes 20 hours, while Malcolm Gladwell says it takes 10,000. Of course, will vary greatly depending on the quality and regularity of your practice and the complexity of the skill you want to acquire.

To learn a language, for example, might take you 575-600 hours in a classroom if it is closely related to your mother tongue (such as French, for English-speakers), while one that is much more distant might take 2,200 hours (such as Japanese, for English speakers).

While the precise amount of time required will differ based on many factors (such as class size, prior knowledge, previous language learning experience, age, resources, your teacher, in-country experience, and many others), what is not debatable is that learning a language – or learning to manage your finances, or any other skill – takes time and practice. And the more time you free up from activities that are not directly benefiting your life and actively furthering your goals, the more you can devote to activities that are.

Even though it is tempting to think we could get a lot more done if we had vast stretches of uninterrupted time, not only is this an unrealistic dream for most of us, but it isn’t the way that learning – or creativity – works in any case. If you’ve ever cleared your schedule to create something and then been struck with a bad case of writer’s – or painter’s, or sculptor’s – block, you’ll know what I mean. Inspiration does not wait for a break in your schedule to strike, you have to make time for it in the gaps. And similarly, we learn best with regular, spaced repetition.

How to buy your own time back – from yourself

Here in Switzerland, where the tourist guide points out well over 80 watch shops, time is always on my mind. The free Swatch museum Cité du Temps is described as a place where ‘the valid currency is time’.

You don’t need to give up television or social media entirely – not only do we all need some downtime every now and then, but like any tool, it’s how you use them that is important.

  • Use at least some of your social media time to read and share resources related to the goals you want to achieve rather than just to catch up on gossip. Listen to podcasts about finances or other issues while you’re online.
  • Rather than binge-watching the same old series again, expand your horizons with a documentary. Read finance books during the ad break (sticky notes are perfect for marking exactly where in a page you’re up to).

In Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert recommends treating your creative work – be that writing, painting, whatever – like people who have affairs treat them – snatching precious minutes here and there.

Where can you snatch a few minutes for your passion? To do the things in life you most want, or to do the things you most need to in order to achieve what you want?

Your life is precious, and you should spend it wisely. Wisely doesn’t just mean according to how you ‘think’ you should live, but how you want to live.

  • If you enjoy putting on makeup and dressing up – for you, not for anyone else – keep doing it. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to pamper yourself and feel good. If you enjoy staring out the window on the train – keep doing it. There’s nothing wrong with zoning out for a while and decompressing.
  • On the other hand, if you’re always wondering where your time goes, and wishing you had more, see if there are any areas in which you can either exchange or supplement activities (by, for example, listening to a language-learning app whilst you do something else) or cut back.

No matter how rich you are, the one thing you can’t buy is more time.

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Today’s featured image is from the Swatch Museum, and features one of the most ludicrous examples of disposable ‘fashion’ I’ve seen – a watch with a calendar printed onto its band – 10 years later, a true museum relic.

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7 thoughts on “Where does all my time go?

  1. hi Sarah; time flies when you are busy working and becoming ill and ending up in hospital, not good at all!!. we all need to vacation permanantly to relieve stress and this is what happens when you travel on a cruise ship, great cruise but came back stuffed, now looking at a hospital bill of $ 8000.00 more than what the 2 week cruise was. off to work i go to pay the bill as gmhba cover is stuff all in rebates, but costs us $ 2500.00 per year, bye for now ps hope a money tree grows soon. pete the plumber.

    1. Wow Peter, sorry to hear that – both on the health and the financial fronts. That’s terrible! Thanks for your comment, and I really hope things are improving now ???

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