Back in 2005 we wrote about the September/October 2005 issue of The Futurist where they examined Americans’ use of time. According to the article, the common perception that there just isn’t enough time isn’t supported by the stats from a national study using time-diaries. Basically, the findings show that Americans average 35 hours per week of work time and 35 hours per week of free time. So how does that compare to today? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics people spent an average of 35.91 hours each week on leisure activities in 2016. The average time spent working was closer to 40 hours, but it isn’t clear that the methodology is the same.
Regardless of the exact numbers, it is clear that most people don’t feel like they have 35 hours of free time each week.
One of the reasons people feel like they have no time is because of marketing. There are many businesses who make money if you don’t feel like you have enough time. Everything from self-help books to prepared foods to delivery services depend on people who feel like they are too busy.
So where does all the free time go? The 2005 study showed over half of that time is spent watching television which was about what it had been in 1990. BLS is showing people spent 2.73 hours per day watching Television in 2016 which pretty close to half of their free time.
When people say that they don’t have enough time, it says more about how they spend their time than the actual quantity. After all, no one really has more time, we all just spend it in different ways. When people feel like their time is being spent on very valuable things, they may still run out of time, but there is a completely different level of fulfillment involved.
The trick to having enough time is making sure that it is spent on things that you feel are important. This means setting priorities and deciding what is actually valuable to you ahead of time.
By spending your free time on things that you feel are truly valuable, you won’t have actually ended up with more time, but you can increase your satisfaction with how your time is spent.
This funny quote from the article in The Futurist seems to sum up many Americans’ feelings about why they don’t have any free time. “Of course I don’t have any free time, because I spend so much of my time watching TV.”
Originally published November 17th, 2005 and updated with current statistics in 2017.
Brent Edwards says
While not able to recall the sources off of the top of my head, I know I’ve read in other sources that the number of working hours has increased over the years. I wonder if this discrepancy is due to a difference in data collection. Perhaps if you limit the statistics to full-time workers then the story is different.
This article is published 3 years ago. Maybe updated statistics exists?
A strong argument against owning a television.
Mark Shead says
@Lianna – We don’t own a television. I have a large computer monitor hooked up to a DVD that looks like a TV, but without the broadcast side of things.
Mary Anne says
Where in that graph are the maintenance chores counted? Commuting time, grocery shopping, cooking and cleaning and weeding the garden. They’re not leisure even if they’re unpaid.
Mark Shead says
@Mary Anne – They don’t show up because they are not leisure activities. The graph only shows activities that are outside of work, chores, daily maintenance, etc.
Mary Anne says
Good to know. Some studies I’ve seen count everything not work as leisure.
A little sad, the amount of time dedicated to television. It’s tempting to turn on the TV after a day of work and tune into someone else’s more interesting life, but wouldn’t be better to spend time with REAL friends and working on your OWN goals?
Like I read somewhere, “You can choose your own life, or someone else’s, but not both.”
This is why I don’t watch TV that much. But then, I spend so much time on the Internet that sometimes it steals away time that should have been spent on other productive activities. Maybe addiction to the Internet is also stealing away our precious time.
Very interesting post!
It’s sadly common seeing that almost everyone fells that don’t have time while we’re spending huge amounts of time in front of TV…
some one said to me they don’t have a time. in fact he was sitting waiting for me to arrive starting from the morning, 5 hours. i asked him how he can say he doesn’t have time when he sat for 5 hours waiting for me to arrive. He couldn’t understand.