You may not be working as much as you think you are

It’s 10 p.m. at night and I’m watching The Bachelorette. It’s a silly show but I love it. During commercials, I’m checking work email, clearing out the junk and responding to a few inquiries I didn’t get to during the day.

If you’re like me, you feel like you’re working A LOT. Yet according to the 2016American Time Use Survey, full time workers only put in about 40 hours a week, which is only five minutes more a week than a decade ago.

So, we’re not actually working as much as we think we are…or something else is going on.

In this hyper-connected age, working hours might still be 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., but the hours to do work can stretch from midnight to midnight, with emails zipping through the ether at the convenience of the sender, but not necessarily the recipient, as noted by Nick Coltrain of the Coloradoan.

I tend to interval work, which means I switch from task to task at home and the office, taking care of personal responsibilities and work responsibilities as needed. If your workday is anything like mine, you might sit down in front of your computer screen to start a project and become distracted by a new email. Then, you might work for an hour, and take a quick break to check Facebook.

The switching between personal and business tasks at the workplace has become so habitual that some researchers believe Americans spend as much as two hours of an eight-hour workday doing non-work tasks, whether or not we realize it.  Of course, no one can work 8 hours straight without going crazy. We all need breaks.

I think what makes me feel like I’m working so much is that even when I am at home and not actually working, I still feel the tug of work on my brain. It’s that “always on” feeling that researchers say creates chronic stress and emotional exhaustion and makes us feel like we’re working more all the time.

In our desire for work/life balance, it’s just as difficult to know how much time we spend on leisure activities as work tasks, in part because of the increase in smartphone use. The American Time Use Survey shows Americans spend about five hours a day doing leisure activity, with television watching accounting for more than half of that time. However, many people are like me and watch television with their mobile devices in hand, sporadically checking work email.

When employers ask workers to manually track their work time, productivity improves, according to Fred Krieger, CEO of Scoro, a San Francisco productivity/project management software firm. If you really tracked the hours you worked for a week, how much do you think it would add up to? Do you consider multi-tasking — watching television and checking email to be work or leisure time? It’s kind of tricky, isn’t it? But if we can improve our productivity by tracking our time, it might be worth doing.

What do you think your time diary would reveal about how much you work?

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About Cindy Goodman

Cindy is a national columnist who can help you with the daily struggle to find career and personal fulfillment. She offers creative solutions and new strategies for juggling work and play, career and family. As a mother of three and veteran journalist, she brings her personal experience to the work/life balancing act.

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