If you judged by the number of blog posts offering tips on how to get more sleep, squeeze more work into the day, and find time for family and friends, you'd have to conclude that Americans are busier than ever before. A straw poll of friends might lead you to the same conclusion -- ask just about any professional how they're doing these days and they'll answer with some variation of 'crazy busy.'

But our voracious appetite for productivity advice and constant carping aside, are Americans really getting busier and more sleep deprived? If any exercise could turn up evidence of our increasing time crunch it would be the American Time Use Survey, the Bureau of Labor Statistics' annual exercise in measuring exactly how Americans spend their days.

Unlike other surveys that ask people to recall typical days or how much time they spent doing specific categories, the BLS study simply asks people to keep a detailed time diary of their actual days, a technique that researchers agree is the gold standard in accuracy. So what does the latest edition reveal?

Americans just are not that busy (or sleep deprived)

Despite all the noise about our overwork and exhaustion, Americans, it seems, still have plenty of time for rest and relaxation. For instance, the average American man slept 8.77 hours a day and the average woman 8.9 hours.

Yes, the unemployed, slacker college students, and the retired are included in these averages, but busier groups weren't exactly run ragged either. The average working mom with children under six still got 8.67 hours of sleep per day. The average working father just 0.4 hours less than that.

And the amount of sleep we're getting is only going up over time. "These numbers have trended up, not down, over the past decade. In 2003, the average American slept 8.57 hours, or about 15 minutes less per day than he or she currently does," Fast Company points out.

We're not just sleeping more, we're also finding more time for other forms of leisure. "If current trends continue, Americans will soon spend, on average, just as much time watching TV as they do working," The Washington Post notes. "In 2005, for instance, for every 10 hours Americans worked, they spent a little less than 7 hours watching TV. By last year, though, Americans watched nearly 8 hours of TV for every 10 hours they worked."

It's not entirely surprising that we fit in all their leisure -- the average full-time workweek is a moderate 42 hours.

Believe it.

Your first response to these findings might be disbelief. With everyone complaining about their crazed schedules all the time, how could these numbers possibly be right? But the BLS survey isn't the only evidence that all this moaning about busyness might be more about culture than real time constraints.

Several other time use studies have come to the same conclusion -- in general, we have plenty of time to kick back. So why do we tell each other we're so busy? According to law professor Joan C, Williams, it's just the latest way of showing off.

"How do the elite signal to each other how important they are? 'I am slammed' is a socially acceptable way of saying 'I am important.' Fifty years ago, Americans signaled class by displaying their leisure: think banker's hours (9 to 3). Today, the elite- journalist Chrystia Freeland calls them 'the working rich"- display their extreme schedules," she has written on HBR.

Are you surprised by the BLS findings?

 

Published on: Jul 8, 2016