On almost everyone’s wish list? More time for, well, everything. Laura Vanderkam, author of 168 Hours, explains how we can be happier by paying closer attention to how we spend our time.
Q: Why do so many of us feel rushed off our feet these days?
A: Often because we’re trying to do too many things at once, or are doing things that don’t really need to be done. I tell people to keep track of their time for a week just to see how they’re spending it. Then ask if this matches their priorities. Often, people find that rather than enjoying their leisure time, they’re filling it with things like excessive housework, running around in the car, checking email compulsively, or watching television they didn’t really mean to watch.
Q: What’s the connection between happiness and a greater sense of time?
A: We live our lives in hours. If you spend your hours doing things that make you happy, you’ll be happier. Unfortunately, many of us focus on what we “have” to do during our hours, and don’t ask what we’d like to do. How we spend our time is a choice, and if we don’t like it, we can choose differently.
Q: Do you think we’re happiest when we’re productive or when we’re at leisure?
A: It depends. There’s research finding that people are happiest when they’re in a state of “flow” – fully absorbed in an activity that is difficult but doable. That can be work (and will be frequently if you’re in the right job). But it can also happen during a fulfilling and challenging leisure activity like painting or playing a musical instrument.
Q: What’s your advice for anyone who needs to find more time in the week?
A: Log your time for a week to see where it’s going. If you’ve ever tried to lose weight, you know that you’re supposed to keep a food diary, because it keeps you from spending mindlessly. Time works the same way. Often, we lose hours to things we didn’t mean to do. A time log helps keep us accountable. But perhaps the biggest breakthrough is recognizing that there is time to do anything that really matters to you. Even if you’re working 50 hours a week, and sleeping eight hours a night (56 hours per week), this leaves 62 hours for other things. That’s more time than you’re working! In 62 hours, can you find four to exercise? Probably. You can also find many hours to play and read with your kids, talk with your spouse, volunteer or anything else you want to do. I tell people to focus their time on the things they do best: nurturing their careers, nurturing their families, and nurturing themselves. And then try to do as little else as possible.