Here’s the thing we all know, but don’t want to admit: For all its glory, technology and the internet hasn’t reduced the number of hours we work and it hasn’t allowed us to relax more. In fact, it’s the opposite, most of us are working more. New tools have allowed us to do more in less time but we haven’t in turn reduced the number of hours we work. In fact, we work more hours now than we did 20 years ago.
“Our grandchildren”, reckoned John Keynes in 1930, would work around “three hours a day, and probably only by choice”.
There’s 168 hours in a week. Let me break down what that previously looked like for me. Maybe you’ll see some similarities.
I slept 8 hours a night, that’s 56 hours, or a full third of the week.
I worked 46 hours a week, that’s nearly another third, but it’s exactly 27% of my week.
Let’s just stop there shall we? That’s 60% of my week gone with two activities.
Driving my daughter to and from school – 3 hours a week
Bathing and getting dressed – 6 hours a week
Errands – 3 hours a week
Cooking, making lunches, shopping – 8 hours a week
I’m down to 46 available hours at this point.
“Technology continues to be touted as a way to do more work in less time. But in reality, work rarely stops. It follows us home on our phones, tugging at us during an evening out or in the middle of our children’s bedtime routines. It makes permanent use of valuable cognitive space, and chooses odd hours to pace through our thoughts, shoving aside whatever might have been there before. It colonises our personal relationships and uses them for its own ends.”
Kid’s activities and bedtime routine – colouring, lego, swim lessons, cleaning up sparkles – 12 hours a week
Fitness – spin, yoga, gym (including travel to and from) – 8 hours a week
I’m down to 26 hours at this point and everything above is pretty much a non-negotiable.
It’s nice to relax a little and read for 30 minutes a day or watch something on TV – 8 hours
Even though I have a cleaning lady I still clean up, do a little laundry, change a lightbulb, etc – 2 hours
Netflix and Chill – 2 hours a week
Social Media – 2 hours a week
So let’s stop there, I’m down to 12 hours. 12 hours to see friends, family, take a course, enjoy some alone time, get a massage, write a love letter, plan a trip, etc.
If I’m left with only 12 hours. How do I decide how to spend those final 12 hours? Conversely, if I want to increase those 12 hours I need another tool to help me find more hours from the 156 I’ve already used up. The key to this is filters. A filter is a tool used to remove unwanted impurities, it allows certain objects to pass and others remain caught in the filter. You know the filter in your furnace that captures dust? Well now you need a filter to capture the people and activities you shouldn’t be spending your time on.
How to create and apply filters to anything
It’s often best to start anything new in beta, keeping it as simple as possible. So let’s look at this in the simplest way possible.
For my remaining 12 hours. I’m going to put any opportunity through 3 simple filters:
- Will I be smiling and feeling positive after investing my time in this activity?
- If other people are involved, do I enjoy their company, do they build me up?
- Will this activity support my mid to long term goals?
These are my filters, you can create your own three filters to ensure that what little time you have left after you’ve slept, worked, bathed, cleaned up glitter and nourished your body is time well spent. You’ve got to have examples of things you’ve agreed to do that you regret in the last month, put those situations through your new filters and I’m sure you’ll see they would have been caught in them.
I’ve come to realize we’ve made life more and more complicated with an odd parallel promise of greater happiness. I believe that things need to be simplified and that real joy comes from less, not more. I don’t need another life hack, I need hours in my day to cook, not order through Uber Eats. I need hours to play Lego, not more hours to respond to emails. I need hours to walk or ride my bike, not drive my car so I get there quicker.
So step two is to get hours back from what I had labeled as non negotiables.
- I now work five hours a day in two 2.5 hour blocks. Phone away, no interruptions, no social media, zero distractions. The odd reality is that most people go to work for eight hours but really only produce for three to four of those eight hours. I’ve chosen to be 100% productive, using less hours, which has resulted in getting 21 hours back on the right side of the ledger. I know what you are thinking, you can’t do that! Let me tell you what I think about your knee jerk reaction: it’s bullshit. Maybe you can’t find 21, but I’m confident you could find at least 10 hours in your week by simply committing to shutting down the channels that distract you and commit to uninterrupted blocks of work.
- Go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time everyday. This has resulted in me needing slightly less sleep due to the consistency. The end result has been about six hours a week I’ve gotten back, almost all of which is going to reading.
- Finally, I’m saying ‘no’ way more often. There’s been a lot written about this strategy over the last few years and it’s playfully referred to as ‘the simple art of giving less fucks’ about what others think. We all commit to do things we really don’t want to. Going to someone’s birthday dinner you really don’t want to go to, agreeing to meet a friend’s third cousin who’s in town for a conference or attending an after work function you don’t want to attend but feel compelled to. Without a ‘do I really give a fuck’ filter we end up committing to things that end up cutting out time with people we want to spend time with and participating in activities that spark joy. I’ve personally gained four hours a week saying ‘no thanks’ more often.
We don’t have a lot of time. Being intentional about how we spend our precious attention is the least we can do for ourselves.