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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Productivity

How to Reclaim More Than 1,300 Minutes Each Week


When talking to busy colleagues or professional contacts, one of the biggest complaints I hear is “I don’t have any time.” No time for leisure, no time for seeing friends, no time for handling those gazillion new emails, no time for the gym.

It is true that we are all working more than ever before, but for the vast majority of us, the no-time myth is exactly that: a myth.

As Scott Behson recently reminded us in Harvard Business Review, we all start each week with the gift of 168 new hours. Behson breaks down the week, taking out 49 hours for sleep, 56 for work, 7 for commuting, 13 for errands and routine housework, and 20 hours for family (childcare, cooking, and so on). After all that, he lays out what seems like an impossible fact: We should have a full 23 hours leftover. That’s 1,380 glorious minutes a week, unaccounted for. More than three hours a day!

Rather than quibble with Behson’s breakdown, I decided to take his 168 hours and try thinking of my time the same way I think about money: Since I only have a certain amount, I should make sure I’m being thoughtful about how and where I spend it.

Enter the time budget. Just like its financial counterpart, the idea is to plan out how much time you’d like to be spending on each part of your life (and how much you’d like to “save” for more fun or relaxing pursuits), and then track your actual temporal spending to help you stick to those goals.

To test this out on my own life, I created a simple Excel spreadsheet (blank one available for download here—just click File > Download as > any file you’d like) and started filling it out. I put in my most aggressive estimates on how much I work and gave myself seven hours of sleep per night (nine on weekends!) and a very aspirational 30 minutes a day each on exercise and reading. After taking out errands and such, I was still left with 10 whole hours unaccounted for to spend on family, friends, hobbies, and entertainment. Surprisingly, finding time in my budgeted week wasn’t as hard I thought it would be, and it didn’t reflect how much time I actually felt like I had each week.

So, where did all my time go? I’ll be spending the next month doing a weekly time audit. By writing down where I’m actually spending my time, without judgment or trying to change my activities for now, I’m hoping to discover some interesting patterns and opportunities to reclaim a few free hours for myself. I hope you’ll download a time budget, join me, and tweet at me (@acav) with your findings!

Just like a financial budget can surprise you with the amount you’re spending on Starbucks or taxis, a time budget can help you realize how fast your 10-minute Facebook breaks are adding up or how many TV shows you really watch per week. And unlike money, you can’t catch up on lost time, so make sure you’re spending yours wisely.