The place where lost time goes

I am gonna get so much work done today. There is nothing like coming back from holidays with a fresh and recharged mind. Let’s start by catching up with emails from work, maybe there is something of outmost importance I must reply to…

But chances are that there is nothing of outmost importance there, and what usually happens is that one email leads to another, and then a quick peek at Twitter/Facebook leads you to the latest post of that blog you like, which happens to have a catchy title, and next thing you hear is someone asking: “Anyone coming for lunch?” Mother of… Damn! Lunch time already? “I can’t, sorry, I have so much stuff to do. I am so busy today”.


But am I so busy, though? Where did all my time go? Why does modern life seem so stressful? Apparently, there is a lab in Oxford trying to answer these and more questions in order to figure out where our time really goes. A piece on this topic appeared in Nature last October, and if it piqued your curiosity it makes a really interesting read.

[Spoiler alert] There is one particular thing about the article that got me thinking, and it has to do with the bottom part of the first figure. Participants on such a study on time use are required to record everything they do during the day and rate how much they enjoy doing it. Below these lines you can see an excerpt of how such a record correlates activities with enjoyment and time points (you can click the image to see the complete figure).

time and enjoyment
Source: Oxford Centre Time-Use Res./Nature

What is really surprising to me is the fact that the only moment when we seem to be very happy is when we are asleep. The big downside of this is that I am not even sure that sleep is something you “do”. I certainly wouldn’t place sleep in the same category as working or putting the kids to bed. I would be more prone to think that sleep falls better into the category of physiological processes such as breathing or digestion. But categories aside, isn’t it strange that we report being the happiest in a stage when we are not conscious at all? How do we know we are happy when we are asleep? We are not feeling anything, or at least nothing we can remember when we wake up. So are we just assuming that we were truly happy even though we have no recollection of the past 7-9 hours? Quite odd if you stop and think about it.

And if we remove sleep from the equation, we are left with a couple of peaks during which we do something we enjoy. TWO DARN PEAKS. At this point, we should really consider thinking about where our time is actually going. Are we happy with what we do all day? Are we just jumping from one task to the next, sailing through the day until we reach the end of it to think that, yet again, we didn’t have time to do what we wanted to do?

Many of us have a mental list of things we would love to try, things that would actually make us feel good. But I don’t have time, I am so busy! And it is true. We don’t have time. But we can take it out from things that take up a lot more than they deserve. And if we can find what these things are, we can begin to steal back our time. I have started to try to actively identify what my particular time wasters are. I discovered that I open Facebook or Twitter and scroll down just because I made a habit from it, but I don’t even pay attention to it sometimes. I have also found myself checking emails even on a Sunday. What the heck Oriol? Really? Yes, really. So I now ask myself: could I be doing something else I have been wanting to do instead of what I am doing right now? Go out for a walk with my dog? Read a book in the sun? Write that unfinished story?

What would you do, if you had the time?

Tempus fugit.

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