Monday, October 21, 2013

The Difference a Schedule Makes

We aren’t as busy as we think. Have you ever noticed how some people seem to have extra hours in the day? They go around being involved in about five million different things, plus have time for work, school, church, family, and a social life. And here you sit, just trying to figure out how to make time for getting your laundry done between the homework, the job, and having a least a little bit of a social life. What gives?

The answer is SCHEDULE (or as business gurus call it, time management). Those people who seem to accomplish everything and then have time left over have a schedule and they stick to it. Now, a lot of people react to the word “schedule” the way they react to the word “budget.” It seems to reek of constriction and suck all the fun out of life. But the reality is just the opposite. Being on schedule, like being on a budget, simply means knowing what you are doing with your time and making intentional choices about how you want to use it.

Just as a good budget is zero-sum (that is, there’s no dollar left over from that month’s income that doesn’t have a job to do, whether it’s rent, savings, or going to the movies), a good schedule is also zero-sum: you shouldn’t have any time where you don’t know what you’ll be doing with it, whether it’s for work, studying, or just spontaneous fun stuff.

Now, I personally prefer the weekly schedule to the monthly schedule, because this allows for a bit more flexibility in fitting in things that may come up on short notice that you really want to do. So start by putting into your schedule the things you have to do that are fixed: things like work, class, organization meetings, volunteer time—the stuff that doesn’t change from week to week and you don’t have the option of removing from your schedule. And don’t forget to include travel time in with this. The average American adult spends 52 minutes a day commuting*, so include that time in your schedule.

Now, if you work full-time, you’ll find that you spend 40 hours per week working and approximately 5 hours per week commuting to and from work. That’s 45 hours per week taken up by work. If you’re a full-time college student taking 15 credit hours, and you spend the recommended 2 hours out of class for every hour in class (which, unless you’re a science major, is probably a bit more than you’re actually spending), that’s 45 hours per week taken up by school. Commute time for a college student, obviously, will vary drastically depending on how far from campus you live and the size of the school you attend, but it shouldn’t be too hard to figure out. I’ll let you do that part on your own.

If we assume that you also get 8 hours of sleep a night, that puts you at 56 hours of your week spent asleep. So we have now accounted for 101 hours of your week. That leaves you with 67 hours each week to do whatever you want with! That’s more than 9 HOURS PER DAY of free time, on average. Crazy, isn’t it? Sure doesn’t feel like you have that much time, does it? 

Here’s why:
First, there’s the obvious fact that your time spent at work or in class is concentrated into five of the seven weekdays, so you don’t actually have nine hours free each day—but that’s made up for by the fact that you have 16 hours on Saturday and 16 hours on Sunday free, leaving 35 hours across the other five days. But that’s still 7 hours a day.

Well, numerous studies have shown that the average American watches between 35 and 40 hours of television PER WEEK. That’s the equivalent of a full-time job! If you’re watching on the low end, 35 hours per week, that’s still 5 hours each day! No wonder you feel like you don’t have any time. And what about Facebook and other social networking sites? If you visit them while studying or working on other things, they sap your time away, and you won’t even realize that it’s not your work or studies taking up so much time: it’s that you’re using your free time up without even realizing it.

Now, I’m not saying you should never watch TV or go online. That would be pretty extreme. (Although think of what you could accomplish with your time if you did!) What I am saying is to be intentional about your time. I recommend figuring out on Sunday night what shows you want to watch that week and how much time you want to spend on Facebook or Twitter, and then stick to that. It’s hard to do, especially if you’re not used to making deliberate decisions about how you use your time, but you’ll be surprised how much more you’re able to get done in a day.

And, as a side note, don’t try to multi-task. All it does is make you less effective at each activity. Whenever you interrupt yourself, it takes you 15 minutes to get back into the flow of it. So that 5 minute break to check your email actually cost you 20 minutes of studying. So when you’re working on something, do everything you can to remove all distractions. If you have a test coming up, put your phone on airplane mode while you study. You don’t need to be worrying about who’s going to that party Saturday night when you’re trying to remember the difference between a nucleus and a nucleolus. Also, it makes the time spent on the distracting activities less enjoyable because you know you still have to go back to finish the work. So just avoid the multi-tasking temptation. It’s not worth it.

So, to summarize: you probably have more free time than you’re aware of. There’s 168 hours in a week, and the typical American uses up 101 hours in sleep and work or school, leaving 67 hours free to do whatever you want with. But if you don’t set up an intentional schedule about how to use those hours, you’ll simply end up wasting them away without even realizing it. If you’re intentional about how you spend your time, and cut back on the TV and multi-tasking, you’ll be amazed at how much more momentum you'll have, what you'll accomplish, and how great you'll feel because of it.

Jaselyn Taubel
Sales Support, Southwestern Advantage

*NPR TED Radio Hour Podcast, Sept 13, 2013