Do you have the time?

Understanding the limited nature of our most valuable resource

Do you know how many hours are there in a year? I am sure you can calculate, but do you know it?

It’s 8,760. Not a lot, is it?

Situation Analysis

I used to think that there are 30 million seconds in a year and there’s a lot that can be done in that time. And that’s true when you are young. There’s more time than you care for in a year. You seem to spend an eternity between two birthdays and can’t wait to be a year older and get the next set of gifts. You can’t seem to have enough friends, or enough things to do to kill all the time that you have in a day or a week or a month or a year.

But for me, that changed as I grew older.

It might be because of the Internet, which led to explosion of content that we have access to. There’s never a dull moment in our days now. There almost always is something to read or watch. We are struggling to prioritize time for people we care for because there are so many good movies, TV shows and books that we haven’t seen or read yet.

But aside from the internet, I think it might also be that once you grow up, you have a lot more responsibilities and a list of things that you have to do that never seems to get over. It either keeps growing, or refreshing itself with new items. Time, in this setting, becomes the most limiting factor in doing the things that you know make sense for you to be doing.

When I found myself struggling to do as much as I wanted to do, or rather had to do, the limitation of time as a resource in my life started sinking in. I immediately understood that I need a more reasonable number than 30 million seconds, which seems like a lot, but is actually not much.

30 million seconds is actually just about 500,000 minutes. Now we know how quickly the minutes pass. Ideally, I would have liked to have half-hour unit measures, because I am at a stage in life where I can track a 30-minute period easily. But that complicates the math, so I decided to stick with hours.

For simplicity, I will round 8,760 to 8,500. That’s almost 2 weeks taken out of the year. Let’s say it’s imperative to travel for that amount and get out of your other commitments while at it as well.

Just about 8,500 hours between two birthdays.

But that’s not all available to do the things that we want / have to do.

We need to take out sleeping time, to start with. At 7 hours/day, you sleep for 2,500 hours. That leaves you with, around 6,000 waking hours.

You have a chill job? That’s 9–10 hours a day, 5 days a week, 50 weeks knocks about 2,500 hours from that leaving you with about 3,500 hours. If you are commuting to work one hour each way, that’s another 500 hours gone.

We also take about 500 hours in a year recovering after a long day at work. For simplicity, let’s say that this includes all the time you take to discuss your work or people at work, the successes and the struggles with your friends and family. And the time when you go for after work parties with colleagues to vent or plan or strategise.

We are now left with about 2,500 hours.

Then, there are household chores and several societal obligations (least annoying of which are taking a bath and shaving everyday) which take away at least another 500–1000 hours in a year.

The remainder is just about 1500–2000 hours.

That’s not little, I hear you say. That’s like 60–80 days!

Theoretically only.

If we were able to access all this time together, we could indeed do so much more than we currently do with our time. But, alas, that’s not to be. Most of the times, we get these hours in small batches, which is not efficient although, arguably, necessary. Apart from the long vacations that one takes, at least 20% of this time is lost due to the inefficiencies of build-up towards starting something, transitioning from one activity to another, or simply interruptions.

For example, when you are reading a book and someone sends you a Whatsapp text or worse still — calls!, it takes some time in getting back to the zone on the book, correct?

We are now looking at a little over 1200–1400 hours.

30 to 60 minutes on social media every day? That’s 200 to 400 hours gone.

I think it’s safe to say that we have just about 1,000 hours in a year that we can make count for all things important to us.

Problem Statement

How should we be using these 1000 hours judiciously?

Approaching solutions

Solution to this of course needs to be individualized and there can’t be one answer to this.

But the approach can be similar. So, to start, let’s make a list of things that you want to do. For me, this included: writing, reading books, movies, TV series, and staying up to date on events in India and around the world.

I decided to spend about an hour a day on news. That’s close to 300 hours in the year. 30% of the time.

I decided to read 20 books in a year. The kind of books I read and the pace at which I read them takes me around 7 hours on an average to complete one. So that, 140 hours. 14–15% of the time.

I decided to workout for 30 minutes daily since I could not do longer workouts on alternate days. For me, it’s easy to sustain a momentum but very difficult to turn the ignition on again. It’s easier if I have a time carved out for this on a daily basis. So that’s about 150 hours in a year for workout.15% of the time.

I want to watch one movie every week, more or less. So that’s 50 movies in a year. Let’s say 20 of these would be at the theater, which takes about 4 hours each, taking 80 hours overall. 30 would be at home, taking about 70 hours. 150 hours. Another 15%.

I would like to see a few TV series too. GoT, Fargo, Stranger Things, Daredevil, Jessica Jones... If I want to cap series watching at 10% of the time, I can see only about 100 hours in the whole year. That’s about 10 seasons of 10 episodes each (50–60 minute format). I think I see a lot more than that, and there’s definitely room for improvement.

Left with just about 150 hours where we can choose to do what we want. For me, it’s the little time that’s left for writing. For people who like to read more or travel more, this is the available buffer where that time comes from.

It’s very little time if you consider that it’s less than 30 minutes per day. We need to be careful to not waste this time on things that are not productive. And even worse would be to spend this time on things that are draining, leaving you with lower energy to do things that you simply must do. It’s imperative to avoid being sucked into things that are a drain your time and energy. Identify these time and energy sinks and systematically weed them out of your life.