In 2017, the Pew Research Center conducted two separate surveys to determine what provides Americans with a sense of meaning. What is truly important on our Calendar is: Data Doesn’t Lie.
The first survey from Pew featured “an open-ended question asking Americans to describe in their own words what makes their lives feel meaningful, fulfilling or satisfying.” The second Pew survey “included a set of closed-ended (also known as forced-choice) questions asking Americans to rate how much meaning and fulfillment” they got from 15 possible sources.
When Actions Don’t Follow the Words, We Speak.
When actions don’t follow the words we speak — that’s when we can see clearly that the data doesn’t lie. In both surveys, the family was overwhelmingly the answer that was given. The findings were consistent across a variety of social and demographic subgroups. Other popular responses included career, finances, religious faith, friendships, and hobbies. Although we consider family so important, we spend “less than 45 minutes all together on a typical weekday.”
We are professing so loudly about loving our families — and it seems that globally — everyone says their families are essential. But, our Calendar will show that isn’t necessarily true — and data doesn’t lie.
The Amount of Time we Spend with Family Increases to Two Hours and 40 Minutes on the Weekend.
I’m the CEO of Calendar, a productivity app to help people be more effective with their time. I’ve pulled data globally from millions of days. Days we’ve blocked out meetings, appointments, soccer practice, vacation, lunches, you name it. With all this data, we’ve found one pretty interesting fact. Family, according to our calendar, is not essential. However, if we are pinned-down about this lie, we tell ourselves — we increase our family time spent by at least two hours and 40 minutes on the weekend.
You’d think if the family was vital to us, we’d block off time in our calendar for the purpose of our family. This way, something else wouldn’t take us away from our families. But, according to behavioral scientists, that’s not how we are wired. Instead of scheduling an exact time to meet with friends and family, we enjoy more spontaneous encounters.
These findings are the opposite of what we’ve been told: If something is significant to you, it belongs on your calendar. However, when it comes to our social lives, we don’t want to be constrained by time like we are at work. If we know we’re going to meet a family member or friend; the brain won’t allow us to concentrate on what’s going on in the present.
If we aren’t using our calendars for our social lives, what exactly are we putting on them? After analyzing more than 6 million meetings and schedules, here’s what the average person finds most important — and what the average person does with their time.
Weekly Meetings: A Necessary Evil
No surprise here: For years, numerous studies have shown how much time we spend in meetings. Robert Half found that, on average, workers spend 21 percent of their time in meetings. We have found through our real-time data that number at around 38 – 57 percent of every day is in meetings. These stats also depend on your job title. Other research indicates people spend five hours and three minutes per week, more or less. They also spend four hours preparing for these meetings every week. No wonder most people cite meetings as the top time waster at work.
In addition to a significant amount of time sucked up by meetings; 62 percent of them are deemed ineffective, with 72 percent resulting in no action items or follow-ups.
Scientifically-Backed Ways to Improve Meetings
Because we spend so much time in meetings, we have to improve them so they’re productive and deserving of a calendar slot. These are the best ways to achieve that goal:
- Create an agenda. An agenda ensures every meeting has a purpose and stays within the time allotted. It also allows everyone to prepare. We’ve found that meetings with an agenda tend to end eight minutes earlier then meetings without an agenda. Have these printed off for taking notes.
- Keep ’em short. The average meeting runs between 31 and 60 minutes in length. The problem is that the first eight minutes and the final 14 are wasted on unimportant chatter. Also, our attention spans aren’t meant to run that long. The solution to both? Trim back meetings, so they don’t go longer than 20 minutes. You’ll be more productive.
- Don’t invite the entire team. Ever heard the expression “Too many cooks spoil the broth”? Parkinson’s Law — as well as research — backs this up by arguing that groups of people often give disproportionate weight to pointless discussions. Only include key stakeholders and one decision maker in each meeting.
- Provide water. Hunger and dehydration can impact the brain’s cognitive function. You can avoid that by making sure, there are healthy snacks and drinks available.
- Perfect your presentation. By presenting your critical points in groups of three, using the right colors to convey the right message, and telling a story to build a connection with your audience, you can increase people’s absorption of the material.
- Tuesday afternoons are for meetings. According to our research, meetings are most effective at 2:30 p.m. on Tuesdays.
- Stand up. Studies have found that standing, not sitting, allows for improved collaboration and creativity. Decisions are also made much faster.
- Coat-check the electronics. Phone and laptops are distractions. Also, we’re able to understand concepts better and retain information by manually taking notes.
- Keep the audience engaged. Ask questions, allow time for discussions, and get a little interactive. Any person should not speak for longer than 3 minutes.
Daily Lunches: You Need a Break from Work
Everyone needs to eat lunch. Beyond providing a much-needed break, it gives us the fuel to make it through the rest of the day. But 87 percent of the time, lunch is spent with friends and not related to work.
Having lunch or any other activity that is not related to work isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In countries like Italy and China, most everyone goes home for a two-hour lunch. Talk about not having to stress about fitting in quality time with your family! In the United States, when you’re not spending lunch with others, you’re probably eating at your desk while continuing to toil away. Eating at your desk and not getting away for a moment is known as the “sad lunch,” and it should not be encouraged.
“Taking breaks is vital to productivity and keeps employees from getting stir crazy, so it’s key to create a lunch culture that fosters collaboration and creativity,” says Christine Marcus, co-founder, and CEO of Alchemista. Interacting with others can lead to brainstorming, collaboration, and strengthened relationships.
Even if you’re not discussing work, your lunch break should definitely be added to your calendar. Share your calendar with others so you can coordinate and grab a bite to eat together more frequently. If you need to discuss something work-related, it’s a solid idea to skip that empty conference room and have more lunch meetings.
Afternoon Meetings: The Sooner, the Better
We found that a staggering 94 percent of meetings are scheduled before 4 p.m. Why? Because people want to leave early. After all, everyone has a life outside the office. Americans have a whole lot of other things to do — here’s how they’re spending their time each day:
- More than nine hours are devoted to personal care, which includes sleep.
- More than five hours go to leisure, sports, and watching TV.
- Close to four hours will be spent on work and work-related tasks.
- Household activities earn a lot of fewer than two hours.
- More than an hour is spent eating and drinking.
- Approximately one hour is devoted to taking care of family members.
That’s already a packed day, and that didn’t even cover areas like shopping, email, and education — or daily commutes. It’s recently been found that “the average American’s commute inched up to 26.9 minutes from 26.6 minutes” in 2016.
What we’ve found is that people don’t want to stick around the workplace simply because a meeting was scheduled that day. Sticking around when you don’t need to makes it even more challenging to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Meetings should be planned for mid-afternoon so participants can be out of the office on time and focus on non-work activities.
How People Really Spend the Average Workday
After we crunched the numbers, we determined that the average workday is nine hours and twenty-two minutes long. But just because you’re at work doesn’t actually mean you’re working.
We’ve discovered that 1.38 hours is set aside for lunch for the average person. As already discussed, this isn’t the worst use of time. What is troubling is how we spend the rest of our time at work. About 4.26 hours are dedicated to meetings. But social media consumes a lot of our time. We spend a day on average:
- 40 minutes on YouTube.
- 35 minutes on Facebook.
- 24 minutes on Snapchat.
- 15 minutes on Instagram.
- One minute on Twitter.
We also spend 11 hours per week, cleaning out our inboxes. We partake in numerous unproductive activities, like spending more than an hour reading the news online, chatting with co-workers, searching for a new job, and other activities that might not be as productive. As a result, most of us are productive for just two hours and 53 minutes in the average work day.
You don’t need to work nonstop for nine hours. However, to ensure you’re productive, you should put your most important tasks for the day on your calendar and block out specific time periods for them. During these blocks, don’t focus on anything else. You could then take a 15-minute break to check your social media accounts or text a friend — but only during that timeframe.
Even better, you could block out time on your calendar for all of your social media, email, texts, and phone calls, so you’re not checking them throughout the day. Instead, you’re strategically checking these boxes at specific times, such as before you start working and before you leave for the day.
Life Outside of Work
We spend the majority of our time on personal care, which is mostly sleeping. But after self-care and putting in a full day of work, how do people spend their time?
Most of our time outside of work is spent on TV, leisure, socializing, and exercise. Our data, which was only from people who marked “gym” on their calendar, indicated people spent 70 minutes getting their sweat on. More intriguing was that people who schedule gym time on their calendar are four times more likely to be in a higher-paying job with a better title.
You may balk at that, but if you make time for exercise on your calendar, you’ll be more productive — you’ll have more energy, less stress, and an improved mood. Exercise can also boost creativity, improve your memory, and present new networking opportunities.
I wouldn’t recommend putting all your leisure activities on your calendar. Some are so minuscule that they don’t deserve a time slot. Instead, you need to put what’s truly important on your calendar: family events, meetings that serve a purpose, breaks like lunch, notable events that require attention and exercise. By ensuring your calendar reflects your real priorities, you’ll feel a lot better about how you spend your time.