Data Driven Time Management

I’m intrigued with the idea of the Quantified Self which is all about self knowledge through self tracking. I am a firm believer that inefficiencies exist in all of us that could be improved if only we could record the data and analyze it. The book Moneyball (if you haven’t read it yet you should) has a great quote about this idea:

“If gross miscalculations of a persons value could occur on a baseball field, before a live audience of thirty thousand, and a television audience of millions more, what did that say about the measurement of performance in other lines of work? If professional baseball players could be over, or under valued, who couldn’t? Bad as they may have been, the statistics used to evaluate baseball players were probably far more accurate than anything used to measure the value of people who didn’t play baseball for a living.”

One area that likewise has gross miscalculations is how we all use our time. There is a big disconnect between how we see ourselves and what we do. For several years the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics has conducted a study called the American Time Use Survey which consistently shows how we all overestimate how busy we are. These studies involve thousands of people who report what they do every few minutes over 24 hours. Despite all the widely held beliefs that we are over-worked and never have enough time in the day – In 2010 employed people still only worked on average 7.5 hours a day and the average American gets 8 hours and 23 minutes of sleep a night.
Even those who claim being over-worked are less worked than they think they are – one analysis comparing estimated workweeks with time diaries, conducted by sociologist John Robinson of the University of Maryland, found that the average person claiming to work 70, 80 or more hours per week was logging less than 60. So where does the extra time go? Mostly to TV, about 21 hours a week – the one thing most people underestimate.
There are a plethora of things one could quantify to improve themselves, but I think one of the most effective things is tracking where your time goes. Keeping track isn’t easy, using journals or time-logs, something I’m still working out myself (and planning on writing about on this blog), but its worth it.
On a final note, I think the reason most people underestimate how much time they have is summed up in this quote by George Bernard Shaw,

“Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.”

Believing we have less time than we really do passes the responsibility for ourselves on to someone else – time. Realizing you have more free time than you think means coming to terms with what you have done with it all.

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