Everyone’s So Busy. Where Does All The Time Go?

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stopwatch2In the provocatively-titled article How Everything We Tell Ourselves About How Busy We Are Is A Lie, the writer interviews the director of the Americans’ Use of Time Project and takes data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics American Time Use Survey (ATUS). Here is my condensed version:

  • The average American works an average of 7.55 hours per day.
  • When comparing detailed time diaries with just asking people for a number, people tended to overestimate their work hours by 5% to 10%.
  • The average American sleeps an average of 8.75 hours per day.
  • On an average day, women spend 2 hours and 10 minutes doing housework, while men spend 1 hour and 17 minutes. That’s roughly a 60/40 ratio.
  • Most people have over 40 hours of free time per week.
  • Watching television takes up 50% of that free time.

Basically, we may feel more busy, but actually have more free time than folks from 40 years ago. Half that free time is used to watch TV.

I suppose the takeaway here is that our perceptions may differ from reality. If we tracked our activities in a time diary, we’d might discover some new things about our own schedules and habits. Perhaps we should all try to carve out an hour each day to work for ourselves.

Alternatively, I’d like to figure out how to really enjoy my free time without half my mind worrying about other stuff. So far, playing sports and swimming with my babies has been the most effective.

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  1. The average American spent about 56+ hrs per week working up until the 1970s, but when they polled themselves, it was found that they felt they had enough free time. Most people also worked Saturdays.

    One thing that always blew my mind is that we do get 2 days off every 5 days. I think that’s pretty generous.

  2. I guess it is a matter of sources … Gallup reports that fewer than ten percent work less than 40 hours per week and that the average is now 47 hours per week:


    • But is that self-reported and simply based on time spent at a workplace? I would agree that people seem to spend more time at the office, but I’m not as sure about actual work done.

      • Wait, are you saying that only productive time at the office should count as “work time”? It is true that for many people a chunk of their day is spent chatting at the water cooler or otherwise engaging in seemingly unproductive tasks, but they are still at work. Hours spent in the office (including unproductive hours) are work time, they are not your own free time if you are not free to come and go as you please.

        • It is work time as defined by this study. But no, in my opinion some people stay late to get work done and others just stay late to make sure they leave after their boss.

  3. 20 hours of TV a week? That’s a part time job. I don’t watch TV so I have plenty of free time to do things I really enjoy.

  4. Well this week I started at 5 am every day and finished after 3 pm each day. Well except for Tuesday when I did a server install untill 11 pm. So that is… Well…a great deal more than fifty hours.

    Normal work week for me. Who gets more than six hours of sleep?

  5. “The average American sleeps an average of 8.75 hours per day.”

    Is that a joke? I don’t think I know anyone that gets than much sleep besides my 75yo father.

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