October 13, 2019

You're Not as Busy as You Think

“In 1930, the economist John Maynard Keynes published an essay titled ‘Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren’, in which he anticipated how we would spend our time a hundred years ahead. Keynes predicted that future generations would enjoy such an improved standard of living that they might work just fifteen hours a week. In this ‘age of leisure’ it would become a ‘fearful problem’ for ordinary people to decide how to fill their time, he wrote.

The year 2030 is almost here, and needless to say things aren’t panning out quite as Keynes thought. Most people of working age would probably say that they are working more hours than past generations, not fewer. We’re inundated with media stories about how we’re not getting enough sleep, not spending enough time with our families and whiling away our days glued to screens. There’s just no time to stop and think any more.

But is that true? For researchers, it’s quite difficult to accurately measure what people do with their time. Conventional survey questions such as ‘How many hours last week did you spend working?’ generate unreliable answers because it’s unclear which activities should be classified as ‘work’ and because people often give inaccurate estimates or exaggerate how much they were working in order to support their ideal of who they want to be. One solution lies in time-use diaries, in which researchers typically ask people to record exactly in ten-minute blocks what they are doing, where they are, who they are with and how much they are enjoying it, for all 1,440 minutes of the day.”

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