Awareness of Time Usage and Personal Decision Making

There are two truisms not usually put together that seem to make perfect sense when accidental usage brings them together. Peter Drucker’s quote, “Time is the scarcest resource and unless it is managed nothing else can be managed,” is one of them. The second Druckerism is, “What gets measured gets managed.” These conjoined ideas result in several misquotes that are nevertheless true, one of which is, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth measuring.” The focus of time management usually means studying the use of time to attack, destroy, and manage time robbing bad habits. It has been up to the owner of the hours to determine how many of them seem to be wasted and how much is seen to be productive time. Measuring time usually has had no standard for comparison… until now.

In June 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released the American Time Use Survey Summary for 2017. Like other government studies, some results appear to be a simple restatement of common sense logic, such as, “Many more people worked on weekdays than on weekend days.” By drilling down through all the drivel, some interesting facts can give us a baseline for analyzing our use of time. Employees and employers can use this data to increase awareness of the total universe of time rather than spot-checking and “fixing” disjointed elements of it.

  • Multiple jobholders are more likely to work on a weekend. 57% of those having more than one job were found to work on an average weekend day. This result may be one of those common sense items we take for granted, but the necessity to work multiple jobs takes detailed planning to ensure there is not a conflict between the positions or an unexpected sacrifice of valuable personal time. Measuring time as a non-renewable resource may allow the possibility of making a difference in attitude, productivity, and health. Jumping into such situations without thinking about how prevalent and demanding such a decision can be on our time can be devastating.
  • Education level is a significant factor in working from home. 46% of those with an advanced degree performed some work at home on days worked, compared with 12% of those with a high school diploma. Without drawing an unfounded conclusion based on the maturity required for a person to attain higher education, it does point out the fact that jobs held by them come with an element of trust by their employers. While not stated in the survey, there is a bias toward degreed professionals over those without a college degree even in jobs that do not require the skills associated with a formal degree. It also explains why some employers are reluctant to trust anyone to work offsite. It isn’t so much a matter of the caliber of the individual but an indication of willingness to measure and manage employees’ time.
  • It’s not all about the workday. On an average day, 84% of women and 68% of men spent some time doing household activities. In households with children under the age of 6, men spent 1.1 hours each day less in household activities, 1.3 hours, compared with women who spent 2.4 hours daily. Human resources managers who are more concerned about onsite visible work activities may overlook the outside demands on time. There are no set rules about how to give equal consideration for the differential between women and men performing household duties, but culturally society still sees a mother as the primary caregiver. Not understanding this fact can cause managers to overlook the extra demands placed on women or cause them to discriminate against female employees for perceived lack of devotion to the job.
  • It is also essential to budget for leisure time. On an average day, nearly everyone age 15 and over, 96%, engaged in some leisure activity, such as watching TV, socializing, or exercising. We intuitively recognize the fact that mental acuity is adversely affected by a lack of sufficient downtime to recharge and recuperate from daily stresses. Looking at the total picture of time traps in our daily lives, we need to prepare consciously for a diversity of activities even in a job with routine, repetitive tasks. In fact, it could be that performing rote actions can arguably heighten the inability to find time for alternative outlets.

While this study is not an earth-shattering revelation, it does give us some idea of normalcy in an environment in which we tend to sub-optimize tasks without a big-picture view of our time. It is still essential to understand the difference between important time requirements and unnecessarily urgent time-wasters, but finding the key to “normal” is an exercise in deciding on personal values and managing the available time.