You’re not as busy as you think

by | Nov 28, 2016 | General Productivity

Takeaway: We tend to overestimate our busyness levels and the number of hours we work by incredible margins.

Estimated Reading Time: 2 minutes, 2s.


As I wrote about this past August, people often look to how busy they are as an indicator of how productive they must be. The flaw with this outlook is that when your actions don’t lead you to accomplish anything, busyness is no different than laziness. At the end of the day, productivity is about how much we accomplish. This is why productivity tactics like the Rule of 3 are so powerful.

I recently stumbled across a study that compared how many hours people thought they worked every week with how many hours they actually worked. The difference, the study discovered, was staggering. People who thought they worked 60-64 hours a week actually worked an average of 44.2 hours (17.8 hours less); those who claimed to work 65-74 hours a week clocked an average of 52.8 hours (16.7 hours less); and those who claimed to work more than 75 hours actually worked an average of 54.9 hours (20+ hours less).

On average, people overestimated the time they worked by more than 18 hours. They weren’t nearly as busy as they had thought.

I find myself falling into this trap all the time. Whenever someone asks how I am, I often talk about how “busy” I am, as though I’m wearing my busyness as a badge of honor. In reality, talking about your busyness levels is really just a way of telling someone how much the world needs and depends on you.

If you want to discover this trap for yourself, try keeping a time log where you track, in 15 or 30 minute increments, how you spend your time over a given week. (Seriously, try this next Monday. Here’s a time tracking template I talked about in my book that will help you do this.) Like me, you’ll probably be amazed by how inefficiently you spend your time; how frequently you procrastinate and work on things that aren’t important. Maybe you’ll also discover that you work fewer hours than you originally thought.

We can resist falling into this busyness trap if we recognize our bias: that we have the tendency to overstate how busy we are, and overestimate the number of hours we work.

The takeaway here is a vital one: despite how busy you may feel, you’re probably not as busy as you think. You may have more free hours in the day than you originally thought—it’s just that you’re spending that time on work that’s less important and meaningful than what you ought to be doing.

Written by Chris Bailey

Chris Bailey has written hundreds of articles on the subject of productivity and is the author of three books: How to Calm Your Mind, Hyperfocus, and The Productivity Project. His books have been published in more than 40 languages. Chris writes about productivity on this site and speaks to organizations around the globe on how they can become more productive without hating the process.

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