Jobs and the Future of Work

What is stealing your time in 2020 - and how to get it back

Visitors at the Musee d'Orsay are seen in silhouette as they look behind a giant clock face at the former Orsay railway station, in Paris, France July 28, 2015. The national museum of the Musee d'Orsay opened in December 1986 and it displays collections of art from the period 1848 to 1914.  France has been the world's most visited country since the 1980's, welcoming 84 million tourists last year.   REUTERS/Stephane Mahe - PM1EB7S1DSU01

Are you making the most of your time? Image: REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

Chris Taylor
Writer, Reuters
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This article is part of: The Jobs Reset Summit
  • A recent Glassdoor poll found that 79% of U.S. employees say they'd prefer more time-related benefits over a pay raise.
  • Due to 2020's lockdowns and a shift to remote working, for many of us our perception of time has changed.
  • Here are 4 ways we can make the most of our time, according to Harvard Business School's Ashley Whillans.

If you feel that your perception of time has changed recently, you are not alone.

Ottawa’s Christina Chenard is one of those folks whose sense of time has been revamped, and it has changed her life for the better.

Before the pandemic, the director of alumni and donor relations for Carleton University, said she used to run around like a headless chicken: rising extremely early, getting two kids off to daycare, navigating traffic and then zigzagging around campus for meetings much of the day, before coming home to “collapse and start all over again.”

Now she works mainly from home, and time is opening up. Chenard sleeps more, commutes less and spends more quality time with her family.

“What works for me is setting up blocks of time when I’m just not available for work, like when I’m with family or doing things around the house,” Chenard said. “I never would have done that before.”

Similar calibrations are being felt around the globe.

For example, a survey from jobs site Glassdoor found that 79% of U.S. employees say they would prefer more time-related benefits over a pay raise – including vacation days (37%), paid sick days (32%) and a flexible schedule (30%).

“This moment has made us all more attuned to things that are truly important in life, and changed our relationship to work,” says Ashley Whillans, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School whose new book “Time Smart: How To Reclaim Your Time & Live a Happier Life” will be released this month. “At the end of the day, time is our most valuable resource, and we can never get it back.”

Put time first in your decision-making, and instead of feeling permanently frazzled and worn out, you will find yourself becoming what Whillans calls “time affluent”.

Here are four tips to create time affluence from Whillans.

Catalog it

In any review of your financial life, Job One is figuring out exactly where your cash is going. The same holds true for time.

Write down how you are spending your days, down to the minute, and then take a hard look at the results. Presumably, far too much time is being spent on unproductive periods like commutes; scrolling through anxiety-producing news feeds; or doing stuff you really dislike, mainly because you think you have to.

For a graphic on why time feels so weird in 2020, click here: here

Buy more time

Yes, you can essentially fund more free time for yourself, by outsourcing chores you despise – like, say, cleaning your house. It will cost you in monetary terms, but if you can afford it, the effect on your life happiness will be wildly disproportionate.

Have you read?

Whillans even came up with a metric to quantify that tradeoff: “Happiness Dollars”. For instance, she estimates that outsourcing disliked tasks produces the happiness equivalent of an extra $16,000 in annual household income.

Reshape your workday

Making time-first decisions could change what your office life looks like – and with everything in flux right now, your bosses might be more amenable to creative solutions.

If your day is clogged with time-sucking meetings, perhaps there are some you could skip. If your office reopens, perhaps you could negotiate working from home a couple of days a week. Multiply those time savings over the course of a year, and you are creating vast amounts of new space in your calendar.

Leisure time matters

The point of generating more time for yourself is not so you can spend it all playing games on your smartphone or zoning out in front of a TV screen.

That is “passive” leisure, and it is fine in moderation – but aim for more “active” leisure that is proven to produce real happiness, like having meals with friends, volunteering, exercising, or engaging in your favorite hobbies.

“Time affluence doesn’t necessarily require major life changes, like quitting your job or retiring early,” Whillans said. “It can also be about smaller changes around the margins, like how you use the next 30 minutes. Use your hours deliberately, with more intention, and it will have powerful effects on your happiness.”

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