Reclaiming your time and living a happier life (review of Time Smart)

Dreading the return of your daily commute? I’m not.

Before the pandemic, I walked to work through a residential neighborhood and sometimes a forest. It took 20 minutes.

That walk holds the record for longest commute of my career. Short and stress-free commutes is one of the best perks of working and living in a mid-size city.

Could I have made more money working out-of-town? Probably. Would longer commutes have been worth the bigger paycheques? No.

“Commutes suck,” says Ashley Whillans, an assistant professor at Harvard University, behavioural scientist and author of Time Smart. “Mega-commuters burn weeks of their lives in high-stress, unhappy gridlock. Bad commutes are, generally speaking, the by-product of a disconnect between one’s desire for a certain type of work and one’s desire for a certain type of home.”

It’s also a reflection of how we value money more than time. While we can always make more money, we can’t make more time. Everyone’s days are numbered and many of us don’t fully appreciate how few we get.

“No matter our age, education or income, we share the same reality: none of us knows how much time we have left,” says Whillans.

“One day, time runs out and tomorrow never comes. This is one of the core discoveries I’ve made researching time and money: we don’t understand well that time is our most valuable resource and it is finite. People tend to focus too much on working and making money and not enough on having more and better time.

“Given how precious time is, we should put it first. But many of us focus on our careers, constantly giving up more of our time in exchange for more money or productivity.”

Whillans is on a mission to help us put time ahead of money. It starts by avoiding six common traps that leave us time poor.

There’s our constant connection to technology that interrupts and fragments our free time. We’re scrolling and swiping our way through life.

We’re obsessed with work and making money. “We are taught and (incorrectly) believe that money, not time, will bring greater happiness,” says Whillans. “Chasing professional success at all costs is a cause of, and not a solution to, our feeling of having too much to do and not enough time to do it.”

We’ve turned busyness into a status symbol that shapes our identity and defines our self-worth.

We’re quick to give up lots of time to save a little money.

We’re averse to idleness. Doing nothing makes us feel guilty and leaves us bored, restless and reaching for our phones.

And we’re overly optimistic about how much time we’ll have in the future. We say yes to any and all requests that fill our work and social calendars. “The cost of saying yes in the present is low (and it feels good to say yes to people) and the future seems like a place filled with open time – that is, until the future becomes the present and we often wish we could take back the things we said yes to.”

To avoid these traps, start by figuring out where your hours are going.

Think about what you enjoy doing and what gives you a sense of purpose. It’s probably not a two-hour daily commute.

Find small pockets of time each day to do more of what you enjoy.

Now think about what you don’t enjoy.

Spend less time doing what makes you miserable. Quit doing it altogether (drop out of meetings where you have no value to add) or pay someone to do it for you (housekeeping, mowing the lawn).

Block out the free hours you’ve found and funded and then enjoy it without guilt or interruption.

 “If something makes us happy or gives us purpose, we need to hold on to it,” says Whillans. “We need to do whatever we can to prioritize it, to care for it, and to not let distractions disconnect us from it. All of us are living lives that are slowly slipping away. In an era of constant distraction, without careful planning our seconds will pass easily and unhappily.”

Jay Robb serves as communications manager with McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

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Jay Robb

I've reviewed more than 500 business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and worked in public relations since 1993.

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