The March April edition of The Futurist has a short interview with John Robinson. John has been studying how people spend their time for many years and was one of the pioneers of keeping time journals to help measure where your time is being spent.
One of the things that seems to be changing the most is the way people
are multi-tasking. It is making the ability to track where people are
spending their time much more difficult. Beyond just making his job
more difficult, he is concerned that multi-tasking is training people
to be unable to concentrate on a single task in ways that are
unhealthy. Other researchers are noticing the same thing especially in
the younger generation and there is concern that a decreased attention
span will manifest itself in a variety of organizational problems in
Another issue discussed was the way people over inflate the amount of time they spend working. If you have someone keep a time diary and at the end of the week ask them to estimate how much time they have spent working they will usually over estimate. Robinson admits he even does that himself and the last time he kept a time diary he was sure he had worked 100 hours for the week. When he added it all up he saw that the actual time spent working was 72.
He didn’t give an explanation for this, but I would speculate it might be because of the way the brain works on problems subconsciously. You may only work for 60 hours, but the amount of time your mind spends on work issues may be significantly greater.
Another issue is that in the United States we are so culturally programmed to believe that more hours worked is better than fewer–that it is even a moral issue. Overestimating how many hours we actually work might be like overestimating how many friends we have, or how much exercise we do, or conversely underestimating how much we weigh. In other words, wishful thinking. Thought provoking post, Mark. Thanks!