Over the holidays I spoke with a friend who had just finished an interesting experiment: She spent a few weeks writing down the amount of time she spent daily doing both productive and unproductive things. At the end of her experiment, she was shocked to find how much time she was actually wasting on things like “quickly” checking social media. I was inspired to undertake the same experiment to see if I’m really as productive as I think, or if I’m wasting time.
So I decided to track everything I did every day for one workweek. My method was simple: I jotted down on paper how much time I had spent doing various tasks as soon as I finished them. I did not look at these times until the end of the week, as I didn’t want to influence a change in my behavior as I was doing this experiment. At the end of the week, I slotted all the events into the categories below, and then added up the times for each day, and then the entire week. The amount of time listed below are the daily averages for the entire workweek.
Doing Actual Work: 8.5 Hours A Day
Might as well start off with my strengths. I was relieved to find I don’t appear to be a slacker. I work from home, and I spend 8.5 hours of my day, on average, doing actual work. In my case, this mostly involves writing. But as a journalist, a lot of my work doesn’t just involve the physical act of writing. I’m in one of the few occupations that can say browsing the web and social media for research is actually part of my duties.
My 8.5-hour workday involved five hours of writing and 3.5 hours doing work-related research online. That’s not bad, but sadly, the time I spend on social media doesn’t end with my workday.
Walking: 3 hours A Day
I take three one-hour walks a day: one before work, one halfway through my workday, and then one later at night. While I do take these walks for health-related purposes, I also take them for work-related purposes. There’s just something about walking that helps spur my creativity to generate words and ideas for new stories–something studies support.
Running Errands: 1 Hour A Day
On average, I found I spend about an hour a day doing errands. This can include things like managing finances and invoices, doing laundry, and cleaning the house. I actually thought the amount of time I spent on errands would be higher, but technology means that I don’t have to waste time doing things like running to the bank.
Cooking/Eating: 1 hour A Day
My average time spent both cooking and eating during a workday is only one hour. I eat three meals a day, and considering each meal takes me about 10 minutes to make, that means I only spend 10 minutes per meal actually eating my food. Yep, I scarf my food down fast–something that isn’t good for you. I should, in fact, be spending 20 minutes enjoying each meal (not counting the 10-minute prep time each meal takes).
Internet And Social Media: 2.5 Hours
I found that I waste a whopping 2.5 hours of every workday playing around on social media and browsing the web just because it’s there. Sadly, that’s actually more than most people across the world do. The global average is closer to 2.25 hours. Further, considering I already spend 3.5 hours of my workday on the internet and social media sites doing work-related tasks, this is a horrible metric for me. Since staring at a screen and spending a lot of time on social media may actually be detrimental to our mental health, this is one area my findings say I need to reallocate time from to other more important areas of my life (like taking the time to enjoy meals).
Relaxing: 2 Hours A Day
This category includes things like reading a physical book, meeting a friend for a coffee, and watching television. These two hours of downtime usually always come before I go to bed for the night and, unlike wasting time browsing people’s pictures of food on Instagram, actually have a beneficial effect on our well-being.
Sleep: 6 Hours A Day
Finally, we get to sleep. That critical state our bodies require every night. During a workweek I found I averaged about six hours a night. That’s not bad–but still less than the 7-9 hours most experts recommend.
Related: The Perils Of Time Tracking
So, What Does This All Tell Me?
Overall, my unscientific experiment shows I’m generally a productive guy when it comes to my professional work (a good thing, since I write about productivity so much). However, I found I am wasting more time than I thought. Had you asked me before my experiment how much time I spent on social media and the web outside of work, I would have guessed maybe 30 to 60 minutes a day. The fact is, it is fives times that lower figure: All those “quick” checks of my social media apps add up to a lot of time over the course of the day.
My experiment also revealed that I need to spend more time enjoying my meals instead of scarfing them down, and that I should probably get at least an extra hour of sleep each night. Where could I find the extra, say, two hours, for that? You guessed it: from the time I spend wasting on social media.
So for me, it’s time to make a change. After all, the clock’s ticking.