You May Not Be as Busy as You Think

February 14, 2012

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It often feels like there aren't enough hours in the day. But research indicates that we aren't quite as busy as we think and that Americans' workload worries are really a matter of time management.

Given people's packed schedules and the stresses of the modern workplace overburdening employees with too many assignments, it's common to feel as if we don't have a minute to spare. But our perception of how busy we are may be quite different from the reality, as recent research points out that most Americans have plenty of free time — we just don't know how to use it well.

"Adults are no strangers to feeling like life has them burning the candles at both ends. This seems to be especially true as the demands of a serious career and family begin to pull you in increasingly opposite directions," Visual Economics notes. "As you flop down at the end of a day's work, head reeling, feet aching, looking around at how much there is left to be done, you realize you have it all to do again once the alarm sounds tomorrow. Have you ever stopped to wonder how much time you really spend performing these daily tasks which seem to compose your life?"

According to the latest findings from the American Time Use Survey from the U.S. Department of Labor, employees in the United States worked an average of 7.5 hours per day in 2010, broken down to an average of 7.9 hours per weekday and 5.5 hours per weekend day. Work still remains largely confined to weekdays, with 82 percent of employed persons reporting working on weekdays, compared to 35 percent working on weekends.

Telecommuting is also becoming more common. On days they worked, 24 percent of employed persons did some or all of their work from home. Self-employed workers were three times as likely to work from home than wage or salary workers — 64 percent compared to 19 percent. Interestingly, education level also seems to influence telecommuting patterns, as 36 percent of people over 25 years old with a bachelor's degree or higher worked from home, compared to only 10 percent of those with less than a high school diploma.

Outside of work, leisure time still composes a significant portion of our schedules. On an average day, nearly everyone over the age of 15 engaged in some sort of leisure activity, with watching television occupying the most time (2.7 hours per day), followed by socializing and communicating (0.7 hours) and participating in sports, exercise and recreation (0.3 hours).

"Our time use has been studied and broken down in every conceivable way. But a salient conclusion is that — irrespective of education or income — as a population we aren't as consumed with work as we might have ourselves and others believe," CBS MoneyWatch notes. "We have plenty of discretionary time: We spend a quarter to a third of our waking hours on non-work related activities, and that doesn't include time spent doing personal stuff while at work."

Surprisingly, compensation rates are not a clear indicator of who's working more and who's working less. The Labor Department findings show that those who earn $1,200 or more per week do not work more, on average, than those who make less than $540 per week. Moreover, MoneyWatch adds that people who earn $100,000 or more per year spend considerably more time surfing the Web and consuming other media than those earning less.

Given that the hours spent working are relatively stable across income brackets, and most of us have at least some time allotted each day for relaxing and recreation, why do Americans believe we're so busy all the time? Part of the reason may be that much of our time is wasted or diverted onto less relevant subjects — especially online — leaving less time for being productive and getting real work done.

"[I]nternet users of all ages are much more likely now than in the past to say they go online for no particular reason other than to pass the time or have fun. Some 58 percent of all adults (or 74 percent of all online adults) say they use the Internet this way," according to Pew Internet. "And a third of all adults (34 percent) say they used the Internet that way 'yesterday' — or the day before Pew Internet reached them for the survey. Both figures are higher than in 2009 when we last asked this question and vastly higher than in the middle of the last decade."

In addition, many Americans are simply hard-wired to feel as if they're busy. This desire to be constantly occupied with some activity can actually lead to increased levels of stress, which in turn produce behaviors that can be harmful to someone's physical or psychological well-being.

"Americans like to be doing something and it does not have to be anything in particular — just something," PsychCentral notes. "Surprisingly, the desire for activity may lead to unhealthy behaviors such as snacking on high-calorie foods or other forms of impulsive behaviors. In fact, experiments have shown that the desire for activity is quite strong; people will go to a lot of trouble to maintain their desired level of activity."

Consequently, learning to better manage your time at work to leave yourself more opportunities for relaxing, reducing stress and enjoying leisurely pursuits is an important goal, especially if you believe that you're overworked.

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For more tips on improving your time management skills, check out IMT's Achieve More While Doing Less, Make Your To-Do List Work for You and Not Enough Hours in the Day?

Related

Does Multitasking Make Us Less Productive?

Fighting Job Burnout

The Most and Least Stressful Jobs in America

Are Employees Penalized for Work-Life Balance?

On-the-Job Stress Tips

Resources

How Busy are Americans? Visual Economics

American Time Use Survey — 2010 Results U.S. Department of Labor, June 22, 2011

You're Probably Not as Busy as You Say You Are by Michael Hess CBS MoneyWatch, Jan. 30, 2012

The Internet as Diversion and Destination by Lee Rainle Pew Internet, Dec. 2, 2011

Americans' Yen to be Busy Can Have Unintended Results by Rick Nauert PsychCentral, May 2, 2011

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