Many people know how many percents of their networth is invested in X. However, occasionally it is much more important how you invest your time. I call this (surprise) “time allocation”. Let’s see how to do this and a couple of unexpected examples, where percentage looks much scarier than the plain number of hours.
I started looking into this topic to estimate how much “free” time I normally have per week. The idea was to make sure that, when I plan something for a given week, I don’t set obviously unreasonable goals. At first this wasn’t anything special, I just used some quick spreadsheet and got the numbers. However, then I checked the percentages (i.e. how many percent of my weekly time a given activity takes) and was surprised by how much I underestimated them.
This way of looking at your time allocation has many interesting properties. For example, if you do some activity every week (let’s imagine for the rest of your life), then this weekly time allocation becomes “rest of your life” time allocation. This definitely makes you feel differently. This implicitly forces you to prioritize: “Wait, this will take 10% of my life, do I actually need to do this?”.
Another observation is that time is your main resource. Yes, you can use money for some approximation, but money is just a representation of your time.
If I know how you spend your money and your asset allocation, I do know a lot about you. But knowing how you spend your time, gives away almost everything about you, except your reasons for doing something, i.e. “why”.
There is a common advice to look at what people do and not what they say. This exercise partially helps you to look at what you do, instead of what you feel you do or want to do. People are bad at estimates and it is very easy to say I am X (e.g. writer) and feel like you spend enough time on this activity. What if you discover that only 5% of your weekly time goes to X? Are you then just 5% of a writer?
It would also be peculiar to know at the end of a life how much time went into something. This could be some kind of ultimate measure, how much of a writer a person was. Obviously, different activities consume time differently, so it may be that you are indeed a writer, this just didn’t require that much time. I agree. I don’t claim that this “answers your life question” or that it is completely perfect. No, but it gives an interesting perspective, which I enjoy and find useful.
Unfortunately it may be tricky to get a complete picture, since majority of things we do are not repeated across weeks. I suggest you to start with at least something and just consider activities you do weekly.
I definitely plan to explore better time tracking (probably at a very low granularity for a short period of time). I do track my expenses, so optimizing time is an obvious next target. Having this data would help me to get a better picture of my actual time allocation.
I hope that you are now intrigued enough to give it a try. I prepared a spreadsheet, which you can reuse (just make a copy). 5 minutes granularity was reasonable for me, so that’s what the spreadsheet has, however, you are welcome to use 1 hour.
Basically each cell means “how I spend the next 5 minutes”. Below there are cells with all the calculations (sums and ratios). The data is just an example to give you an idea what you can do.
Let’s see how various activity durations correspond to percentages:
- 1 hour daily -> 1 hour / day * 7 days / (168 hours / week) = 4.1% week
- 1 hour every working day -> 1 hour / day * 5 days / (168 hours / week) = 2.9% week
- 1 hour once a week -> 1 hour / (168 hours / week) = 0.59% week
- 1 minute daily -> 1 minute / day * / (60 minutes / hour * 168 hours / week) = 0.069% week
Is anyone asking your for a commitment taking 1 hour once a week for the rest of your life? If you agree, you will “spend” 0.59% of the rest of your life.
Obviously everyone has to sleep and do exercises and this is good. However, when these are taken into account in the denominator, we are implicitly incentivized to spend less time on them. This feels wrong. Thus, you may subtract some activities from denominator (i.e. from 168 hours per week, sleep is an obvious candidate) to mitigate this issue. For my use case, this was not needed.
Happy conscious time planning!