How many hours do you work?

I am in the throes of writing 168 Hours right now, but I’m going to start loading up blog content as I go. First stop: an honest accounting of my working hours.

Spend enough time around high-octane professionals, and you start hearing some fairly amazing numbers on hours worked per week. 70,80, 90… with each person making sure to top the last. If you say “50” — last time I checked, a very full-time job — some might dismiss this as practically part-time.

But time-use researchers have actually studied the phenomenon of self-reported mammoth work weeks, and it turns out that there’s a simple explanation for them: People lie. As John Robinson and Geoffrey Godbey found out in research for their 1997 book Time for Life, when you ask people to keep a time diary, their work hours seldom top 60. Indeed, the average person who claims to be working 70, 80, 90+ hours per week is in fact working 58. That is a lot. But it is not 90.

In the interest of keeping myself honest, I’ve been keeping time diaries as I write 168 Hours. Last week was definitely busy but, on the other hand, Friday was shorter due to the Memorial Day holiday weekend. I was also functioning as a single parent, which induced me to take the evenings off (I’d go back to work after Jasper went to bed). The sum total for last week was 52-53 hours, counting a little bit of transit and reading time. I am also counting my personal shopping extravaganza, given that I did that for the book. Fair? Maybe not, but any executive claiming to work 80 hours per week is definitely counting time spent watching Wedding Crashers on the plane to a business meeting.

I wasn’t particularly aiming to work 50 hours, but the previous week I recorded meticulously, back in late March, also came out almost exactly at 50 hours. This seems to be about what it takes to stay on top of my work and look forward a little ways. It’s also a level that fits with my sense of what it takes to spend adequate time with my family.

I encourage anyone who reads 168 Hours or stops by this blog to start keeping a time diary and report tallies of your work weeks in the comment section. It’s a surprising exercise, but good for keeping oneself honest.

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