How to Find Happiness by Making More Time, Not More Money
We all know the adage "money can't buy you happiness," but how many of us truly incorporate the knowledge into our life decisions? Not many. Most of us are frantically accumulating wealth for some future date without a clear idea of how we will use it to make us happier. In the meantime, we miss out on the things that matter—spending time with loved ones, attending to our physical and mental health, and pursuing our passions[A1] .
Dr. Ashley Whillans, Harvard Business School’s assistant professor in the Negotiation, Organizations & Markets Unit, investigated how intangible incentives affect employee motivation and well-being. Her research shows that it’s making more free time for ourselves that makes us happier. In her book Time Smart: How to Reclaim Your Time & Live a Happier Life, she shares the following six strategies for managing our time to enjoy our work and personal time more.
1. Focus on Important Work to the Exclusion of Everything Else
Prioritize your work and dedicate focused time to the most critical tasks. Research has shown the current average time spent on a task before an interruption is 1 minute 15 seconds. Frequent multitasking or “context-switching” leads to a 40 percent drop in productivity, with multitaskers taking up to 50 percent longer to complete a task and making 50 percent more errors.
Don’t permit others’ priorities to hijack your attention. Instead, prioritize proactive work that will reduce your need to respond reactively to colleagues and clients, and make “no” your default response (kindly) to unplanned work activities when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
Also, beware of unnecessary, time-wasting tasks, meetings, and interactions. Stephen Covey’s (author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People) Urgency/Importance Matrix can help categorize tasks into the following:
· Crises - Urgent and important tasks (Quadrant 1)
· Planning - Urgent but still important (Quadrant 2)
· Interruptions – Urgent but not important (Quadrant 3)
· Distractions – Not urgent and not important (Quadrant 4)
2. Ask for More Time if You Need It
Most employees think that asking for an extension on a deadline will be interpreted as incompetence. However, Whillans' research shows the opposite. Not only are managers more flexible than many of us realize, but they regard employees who ask for more time as motivated go-getters who want time to deliver their best work.
There are some guidelines to requesting extensions, though.
· Understand the nature of the deadline. It may not be within your manager’s control.
· Ask for an extension as soon as you know you'll need it. Leaving it to the last minute may preclude your manager from making arrangements to accommodate you. It may also look like you started too late. However, asking earlier demonstrates you have taken time to assess the work involved and are realistic about your ability to complete it.
· Provide reasons and suggest a new deadline.
· Offer and be prepared to demonstrate your progress to date.
· Always express your commitment to the project.
3. Outsource Non-Core and Tedious Non-Value-Adding Work
When you consciously value your time, you begin to make smarter choices of what to do with it. Unfortunately, we can easily fall into a pattern of considering the upfront, visible cost of something without considering what we lose out on—the “opportunity cost.” For example, cost-conscious entrepreneurs often opt to perform non-core tasks like bookkeeping themselves. To save a few dollars, they bog themselves down with work in which they’re not proficient and don't enjoy. And they lose out on time designing novel products or building networks—the things only they can do.
We do this in our private lives too. It could be choosing the cheapest flights only to waste valuable vacation time in an airport waiting for connections. Or it could be missing out on a beautiful day with the family to do household chores. Outsourcing cleaning, ordering meals, and grocery shopping online may seem extravagant (and for many it is not financially possible), but Whillans' research shows a direct positive correlation to eliminating drudgery and increased happiness.
4. Allow for Slack Time
Whillans warns against a tight schedule even if it’s filled with enjoyable activities, saying, “These fun things will start to feel like obligations, and you’ll get exhausted trying to keep up.” Instead, deliberately schedule in slack time throughout your day. For example, just 15 minutes between social appointments or activities will allow you some breathing room and leeway if you run into unexpected delays.
5. Use Vacation Days
Workers in the US get the least amount of vacation days globally, yet 700 million vacation days are left unused by Americans annually. It's Whillans' opinion that this is our worst misuse of time. Weekends and odd days aren't enough to recharge us, and when we're operating on empty, we make errors and deliver sub-optimal work. This can be the start of a downward spiral if we allow it to demoralize us. In contrast, research shows employees who take vacations are more energetic, engaged, creative, and productive than their colleagues who don’t.
6. Appreciate Your Free Time
Lastly, Whillans says it’s essential to savor our free time. Holidays can dissolve into arguments over money and how to spend our time. Avoid financial stress by choosing vacations that don’t break the bank and enter into the experience with an open mind. Having too fixed an idea upfront can leave us feeling disappointed and unable to enjoy what’s in front of us. As part of this time off, don’t be tempted to check work emails.
Finding a healthy balance of work and personal time is essential to living happy and fulfilled lives. We can do this by being more conscious of the value of our time and how we spend it. When we start to feel stressed, overwhelmed, and unhappy, we need to take a step back and assess whether our time is stacked the way we want it to be.
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