What would you give to get over a month to pursue something you've always wanted to do... but just haven't had the time?

Hold that thought.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently completed a two-year study of over 32,000 people to determine how much free time people really have each day. 

For the purposes of the study, the following were not considered "free time":

  • Working in the labor market
  •  Education (formal, not personal interest)
  • "Home" work: Taking care of children and family, cooking, cleaning, shopping, etc.
  •  Self-care: Eating, sleeping, grooming

What's left is "free time":

  • Socializing (including social media)
  • Entertainment
  • Sports and recreation (including exercise)
  • Volunteering
  • Religious activities
  • Education for personal interest
  • Travel 

Taking care of kids, doing housework, shopping (essentials yes, aspirational virtual window shopping no), eating, sleeping... those are things you have to do.

Free time involves things you don't have to do, no matter how fun, fulfilling, or "essential" they may feel. (I didn't have to watch the new season of Peaky Blinders as soon as it came out... although it sure felt like it.)

How Much Free Time Does the Average Person Have?

Approximately 5 hours per day. 

Yep. 5 hours.

Here's the breakdown:

Non-Leisure Time

  • Women: 18 hours and 42 minutes
  • Men: 18 hours and 4 minutes (yep: women do significantly more work keeping the trains running, even when both work outside the home)

Leisure Time

  • Women: 5 hours and 18 minutes
  • Men: 5 hours and 56 minutes

And what do we do with our free time?

Screen Time

  • Women: 2 hours 55 minutes
  • Men: 3 hours 31 minutes (ouch)

Other Leisure

  • Women: 2 hours 9 minutes
  • Men: 2 hours 1 minute

Exercise

  • Women: 14 minutes
  • Men: 24 minutes

I know what you're thinking. Averages reflect the amount of free time other people have. You and me?

We're way busier. We have much less free time at our disposal; we don't have enough time to finish the things we have to get done, much less enjoy a little free time.

Actually, no.

According to the researchers, "no sub-group reported having less than 4.5 hours of free time."

Generally speaking, people with higher incomes reported less free time than those living significantly below poverty guidelines... but no demographic slice reported less than 4.5 hours of free time per day.

Granted, some people do work incredibly long hours. And some side hustlers work a full-time job and then spend four to six hours a day or more working on and in their small business.

So yes: Your results may vary.

But probably not.

Your Goal? Take 30 Back

As my buddy Ryan Holiday says:

Stoic philosopher Seneca once marveled at how stupid even the smartest people are when it comes to protecting their time: "No person hands out their money to passersby, but to how many do each of us hand out our lives! We're tightfisted with property and money, yet think too little of wasting time, the one thing about which we should all be the toughest misers."

That's especially where screen time is concerned.

The average person spends over 3 hours a day engaging with some sort of screen for leisure -- not work.

That's a ton of time that could be put to use elsewhere.

Which means creating a clear separation between "work" screen time and "leisure" screen time -- especially if there's something you've always wanted to do... but don't feel you have the time. 

So do this.

Pick something you've always wanted to do. Something productive, not leisure (although where fun and fulfillment are concerned, the two often go hand in hand).

Start a business. Start a side hustle. Learn a language. Gain a skill. Get in shape.

In short, pick something that will make your life better, especially over the long run.

Then take back 30 minutes of your screen time each day -- TV, movies, social media etc. -- and use that time to work on your goal.

Schedule it: Make it as much a part of your daily routine as working, eating, doing chores, etc. Harness the power of routine -- make it something you just do.

While 30 minutes a day doesn't sound like much, over the course of a week, it's 3.5 hours.

Over the course of a year, it's 182 hours -- which adds up to well over four 40-hour weeks.

Without having to take a leave of absence. Or a sabbatical. Or sacrificing anything important in your personal or professional life.

Four weeks to do something that truly matters to you -- to harness the power of steady, consistent progress. The power of aggregate gains.

To turn a dream into a reality; because, as Adam Grant says, "The seeds of greatness are planted in the daily grind."

30 minutes a day. Four weeks a year.

All upside. Zero downside.

Can't beat that.

Published on: Oct 31, 2019
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