You Work Less Than You Think

Or at least I do.

Let me explain. Since I started writing 168 Hours, I have been trying to keep time logs as frequently as possible. One of the key things I’ve discovered is how difficult it is to work 60 hours a week. Even during those weeks where I have to work nights and weekends, I seldom top 55.

Here’s my usual schedule. I have childcare from 8am to 6pm Monday-Thursday, and from 8am-1pm on Fridays. So in theory, that’s 45 hours, but I usually run for 3 hours, I’m feeding the baby (another 3 or so hours during my work time), and I walk my 3-year-old to preschool a certain number of days. So really it’s more like 37-38 hours. I get another 2 hours on Friday afternoon if the baby naps. So that’s 40. I work at least 4 hours during workday evenings after the kids go to bed (1-2 hours a few nights). I get about 6 in on weekends because my husband usually takes the kids for a half day, and then I get some Sunday night time after the kids go to bed.

So that’s 50. If I have an evening event one night, I might hit 53-54. But you can see why people overestimate work hours. Since my “usual” workday schedule is 8-6, you’d think I work 10 hours a day. Since there are 5 workdays in a week, this looks like 50 hours right there, and since I throw in the nights and weekends, I might easily guess 60 hours. But I don’t even come close to that total.

I’m not the only person who’s had this realization while keeping time logs. Other people may not have the run breaks and nursing breaks, but people take lunches (I eat at my desk), run errands, etc. And this is before we even get to the question of whether a 15 minute Facebook session every hour counts as “work.” Add all these considerations up, and many of us work a lot less than we think we do.

So what? You may ask. The point of this exercise is not to make us feel like liars. I think it’s actually liberating to realize that even very intense work weeks may not be as long as we think. A 50-hour workweek leaves more time for a personal life than a 65-hour workweek. Once you know you’re working the former and not the latter, you can make choices to seize these extra hours.

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