Recently, I’ve been seriously evaluating where my time is spent during the day, mostly because I need a decision-making framework for how to approach taking on new time commitments. I notoriously hop around different personal goals, rarely prioritizing effort on focusing completion of one thing before transitioning into another.
I frequently make sprints of productivity progressively adding one goal on top of the next until it overwhelms and collapses the system and I’m left feeling dejected. I’ve realized goals are realized or shattered by logistics.
I might think, “Oh, I should work out more.”
Or, “Hmm, I should start meditating every day.”
Or, “Okay, it’s time to cook healthy meals for the week.”
How practical and realistically sustainable is taking on new habits while keeping up with my commitments? For example, if I know there’s only two spare hours on most weekends for meal prep, I might reverse engineer a plan to find recipes to fit that time frame.
I’m not seeking a perfect, robotic, optimized routine.
I’m seeking, for example, to help decide if I can sustain writing a blog AND take on cooking three times a week. If I want both, then how less frequently should I write or how much simpler should my recipes be without feeling overwhelmed?
Can I work out every day for 1H and still have enough space to visit a friend after work for tea? I’m not arguing which is more important. What one SHOULD do is a moving target based on priorities and probably something to get into in a different post. Rather, what kind of space exists in my schedule? And if I have to pivot my schedule for the day, what compromises should I expect to have to make?
The following numbers are averages, buffered and rounded up because it’s more helpful for me to underestimate than overestimate how much time I have considering Parkinson’s Law (“work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”).
I’ve divided the framework into 4-week intervals.
While 4-weeks is not technically a month (30/31 days), it’s a fixed set of hours that won’t change. It’s also more helpful in planning a weekly schedule.
There are thirteen 4-week intervals (364D) in a year with one day unaccounted for. Since it’s difficult to say if the unaccounted day is a weekday or weekend, for simplicity’s sake we’ll exclude it from our framework.
Uncompromisable Time Commitments These commitments are necessary to maintain a conventional schedule in a traditional 9am-5pm career. If you’re interested in how I got my numbers, please scroll to the bottom.*
- Sleep (8H x 28D) = 224H
- Work (8H x 20D) = 160H
- Commute Buffer (2H x 20D) = 40H
- Eating (2H x 28D) = 56H
- Grooming & Hygiene (1H x 28D) = 28H
- Chores & Home Upkeep (6H x 4W) = 24H
Total Time in a 4-Week Interval (28D x 24H) = 672H
Total Uncomromisable Time Commitments in a 4-Week Interval = 532H
672H – 532H = 140H Free Time in a 4-Week Interval (35H/week)
140H free time per 4-week interval is a bit misleading at first.
It’s significant to note the biggest chunks of free time falls on the weekends. If we want to take on something that involves a daily time commitment (including weekdays), we should dive deeper.
Let’s say we divert the bulk of the Chores and Home Upkeep tasking till the weekend. We probably still need 30m/day during the 5-day week to wash the dishes and put them up. Then, we’d spend the remaining 3.5H of chores on the weekend.
This assumption works best for me because I’m interested in pursuing daily habits. So, with all that considered, there’s roughly 2.5H of Free Time per Weekday and 22.5H of Free Time per weekend.
These are imperfect metrics for sure, because there will always be variability. But it’s a good logistical base to start.
Health and Wellness Habits
Let’s see what happens if we add some desirable, health habits to the time budget.
Meditation and journaling are practiced by 100% of the highest achieving athletes, entrepreneurs, and thought leaders in the world. And data shows that aerobic exercise and strength training protect against all physical and mental health related issues by 3X-5X as we age. This means not only do people who exercise regularly live longer, they maintain a higher quality of life as they get older. Maintaining the following habits yields dividends in every aspect of life.
- Cardio Exercise (3H/week)
- Strength Training (3H/week)
- Daily Journaling (20m/day)
- Meditation (10m/day)
So if we work out 1 hour/day for 6 days of the week and devote 30m for journaling/meditation, that’s 9.5H/Week for the 4-week interval.
After factoring these in, we’re at 1H of Free Time per Weekday and 20.5H of Free Time per weekend which assumes taking Sunday off from exercise.
We want to leave enough space in our time budget to feel free to make spontaneous decisions to hang out with friends and family without feeling guilt about derailing everything else we’re trying to do.
Now we have a clearer idea of how much free time we actually have, assuming we also want to sleep 8H, work our normal schedule, work out regularly, meditate and journal.
There’s a lot more we can do here like add bedtime routines with children every night (30m), cooking (1H per dish), reading every day (30m-1H), and so on. There’s also plenty of caveats we can add to the mix, but getting that far into the weeds isn’t what I’m seeking to clarify at this point.
It’s enough for me to know I have roughly 1H of Free Time per Weekday and 20.5H of Free Time per weekend to work on personal projects. This is not much time at all so I must choose carefully. The next step is to test this out and take some real-life measurements.
Rather, if you want to start your own part-time business, or take on a new or old hobby, or binge Netflix shows, you should look at what you’ve already said is important to you. Time is the most scarce resource any of us have and none of us know how much of it we have left.
If after reviewing our time budget, we’ve identified something we want to do that takes us over the budget, then we can strategize how we can add more time. Maybe our partner is willing to take on more of the Chores & Home Upkeep to free up a 2-3H/week. Or maybe we start intermittent fasting to free an additional 1H/day from eating. Based on how much your time is worth, maybe you outsource Chores & Home Upkeep to free up even more time.
The point is to try and manage the logistics. If we have the ambition to take on more, we can set ourselves up for success by seeing clearly what we’ve already committed to pursuing.
This time budget is probably most helpful for those who’ve finished their schooling and assumes a conventional weekday work schedule.
1) SLEEP | Sadly, sleep is the first thing that’s sacrificed to add to our free time. However, after reading “Why We Sleep” by Matthew Walker, I woke up (🥁😂) to how essential sleep is. A mountain of data and research points to the benefit of 8H sleep on practically every human function including creativity, mood, cognitive ability, physical health and more.
2) WORK | Only relevant to a typical 9am-5pm work day because that is most consistent with my schedule. I have plenty of 60H work weeks in a year, but they are seasonal.
3) COMMUTE BUFFER | Any buffering of the work day is factored in here. No one works exactly 8 hours a week. Factoring in rush hour, walking to the car, and getting into work a little early or leaving a little later, it’s safe to bookend an hour on the head and tale of each work day.
If working from home, you can add 40H of free time back a month. That’s a whole work week!
However, even if you work from home, if you have kids too young to drive, there’s still the commute in the morning and afternoon for drop-off/pick-up from school. It’s safe to say the 2H commute time will still be a relevant time commitment per weekday.
If you commute AND have young kids to drop off, you may have to add another 30m to 1H to this time budget line per weekday.
4) EATING | The numbers in this category have the greatest variability. For work days, lunches may already be factored into the normal 8H work day. It may only take 30m in the morning if all you make is coffee and a light breakfast. Some people skip breakfast all together.
Imperfectly guesstimated, if you’re eating with family, friends, or colleagues during most meals for a healthy social life, allotting an average of 2H/day feels accurate enough for me to have leisurely meals with loved ones. This doesn’t factor cooking time, but does factor microwaving and preparing plates.
5) GROOMING & HYGIENE | Includes showering, flossing, brushing, deodorizing, cutting nails, shaving, lotion rituals, going to the bathroom, washing hands, grocery shopping.
6) CHORES & HOME UPKEEP | Washing dishes, wiping counters, opening mail, paying bills, laundry, folding clothes, ironing, grocery shopping, mowing, maintenance of appliances, vacuuming. These activities may not always be daily, so I factored them for the week. These commitment hours are highly variable based on the living situation.
Neglecting chores and upkeep can cause stress and possibly dissent in the home if you life with someone else, so this time should be protected. Also, it can be eaten up pretty quickly if you have chores that pile up from multiple weeks. 30m a day washing dishes equals to 3.5H/Week.
The 6H/Week of chores also assumes having a partner (a roommate, a wife, a girlfriend) and splitting the chores. If you live alone this number will probably either be 2X or 1.5X depending on personal habits and whether you own a home or rent an apartment.
It’s also possible to go a week or two out of each month doing far less, but that’s more of a debt of time that’ll have to be paid back eventually.
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