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How To Work 50 Hours A Week And Still Have Plenty Of Time For Yourself

There are 168 hours in a week. Subtract work and a decent amount of sleep and you're left with about 65 hours. Math!

Whenever people ask me how they can start spending their time better, I say that the first step is knowing how you’re spending your time now. Over the past few years, I’ve kept track of my hours for a full week (168 hours) several times. It’s always an enlightening experience.

Last week was no exception. As I kept a diligent record of my hours, I was reminded of several things.

First, it is really hard to log anywhere near the sweatshop-type work hours people sometimes claim. My time log shows—sadly, I confess—that I worked at least a few hours on all seven days of the week. I also worked after my kids went to bed six out of seven nights. That’s in addition to a normal 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. kind of workday (8 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. one day when I was traveling). But there were enough other things going on during this time—breaks and errands and the like—that my grand total for the week was just 50 hours. That’s more than full-time, to be sure, but it’s no where near the 70 hours I would have guessed.

And second, I was reminded that work doesn’t preclude a life if you want to have one — something that broader analyses of time diaries increasingly find. Time is incredibly elastic, which leads to some surprising realities.

While keeping my log last week, I was reading Alison Wolf’s new book, The XX Factor, which is out this week. While the bulk of the book (subtitled "How the rise of working women has created a far less equal world") deals with the politics of income inequality, to me the most fascinating parts of Wolf’s book are her analyses of how people—particularly working women—spend their time. After hunting through data from various time diary studies, Wolf notes that many common perceptions are wrong. You’d think that families with two high-income parents wouldn’t have much time to spend with their children. Yet in reality, such families spend more time with their children than many other categories of families—partly because of cultural expectations that children must be groomed for college and beyond.

Indeed, despite widespread perceptions that people are working more and more, Wolf tells me that "Nobody’s time with children declined"—men or women. Time is elastic. If you want to spend time with your kids, which many parents do, you figure out a way to do it. Even if you work long hours.

I spent very little time on housework which, in a phone interview, Wolf confirmed was the norm. "Everybody is spending less time on housework. That frees up time to do other things." Her book deals with how it frees up time for work, but another big thing it frees up time for? Leisure. Though there’s a common narrative that working parents are too busy to breathe, as Wolf puts it, "Of course, there’s leisure. We’re not being sent up chimneys at the crack of dawn." Subtract a 50-hour workweek from 168 hours, then subtract the 7.4 hours of sleep I got each night (about 52 total) and you’re left with 66 hours.

That’s kind of a lot of time. Even though I worked every day and worked most nights, I was not working more waking time than I was actually working.

And I see that on my logs. Despite my somewhat lackluster performance on the work-life balance front, I found time to roast marshmallows over a fire with my kids, to read on the porch, to go down a water slide (twice!), to run multiple times, to bake a pie, and even to look through the sales racks at Macy’s while one kid was at a birthday party. The truth is that we tend to make time for the things we want to do. Time bends to accommodate what we want to put in it. Even if we work a lot—even if it feels as though we’re always working—we have time for many other things, too.

[Image: Flickr user Darek]

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  • Adam7271

    I don't mean to sound snarky, and maybe I just missed it, do you work 50 hours a week and still find time for yourself? Talking about the joys of going down a water slide (twice!) doesn't convey any kind of useable strategy, I think.

  • Rami Gandi

    I felt the article is kind of poetry rather than realistic. What if someone is working 90 hours a week? Just because billions are doing the 50 hours a week doesn't make it right thing. 
    Finding time for cooking and eating is not what make the life balanced, these are mandatory things which could be considered kind of working. What about finding time to learn music, learn new dances, learn to draw, learn new sport, travailing, being in nature, reading, watching some movies, learning, ...... etc
    This way of thinking contradict with wellness philosophy and sustainability principles, so I consider it old fashion mentality. And Fast Company have published recently an article that 47% of the jobs are under the threat of automation so luck who could save his time from the jobs which make negative developments. Work less and live/learn more, if you can. You are not machine you are human. 

  • P Mort

    This is overly simplistic, and doesn't seem to be questioning the status-quo as the author bio states, in fact nowhere near so much as helping perpetuate it further. In this technological day and age, why we still have to work this many hours in the first place while there are so many people without any work to speak of is baffling.

  • Brooke Taylor

    May I ask if you used a specific tool to log your time? I know there are a few apps that track your online time. Thank you!

  • Brain capture

    What about time spent thinking about work even when you are not physically doing work? There is area for further study here because time spent thinking about work for individuals with more strategic and management roles is often equally stressful and emotionally exhausting as physically sitting at the computer.