Follow along with the transcript below for episode: Making the Most of Your Time with Cassie Holmes
[0:00:02] PF: Thank you for joining us for episode 401 of Live Happy Now. Do you feel like you have plenty of time to do all the things you need to get done? Or are you like the rest of us, who are just trying to fit it all in? I’m your host, Paula Felps. This week, I’m talking with Cassie Holmes, an award-winning teacher and researcher on time and happiness and author of Happier Hour: How to Beat Distraction, Expand Your Time, and Focus on What Matters Most. Cassie is here today to talk about what it means to feel time poor, and why that has become so prevalent today. Then, she’ll explain how we can learn to better structure our days and begin using our time, instead of losing it. Let’s have a listen.
[0:00:45] PF: Cassie, thank you for coming on Live Happy Now.
[0:00:48] CH: Thanks so much for having me, Paula. I’m excited to chat with you.
[0:00:52] PF: Well, you have written an amazing book that takes on a huge topic that so many people are dealing with today. I think, before we really dive into that, can you clarify by telling us what you mean when you say time poverty?
[0:01:05] CH: Yeah. Time poverty is the acute feeling of having too much to do and not enough time to do it. I am sure, even if you haven’t heard that term before, everyone knows exactly what that is, because they felt it is really prevalent. We conducted a national poll that showed that nearly half of Americans feel time poor. That they don’t have enough time to do what they set out to do.
[0:01:33] PF: That’s amazing. Because I mentioned this book to my nurse practitioner when I was seeing her a couple weeks ago. She was like, “Time poor. I’m not familiar with that.” I explained, not as eloquently as you just did, and she was like, “So that’s what you call it.”
[0:01:48] CH: Yeah, exactly.
[0:01:49] PF: Like you said, and even if they haven’t heard the term, everyone has experienced this. I find myself saying a lot like, okay, our parents didn’t live this way. What happened? Where did the time go? Why is it that we are all living in such a time crunch?
[0:02:04] CH: Yeah. It’s a really important question. Because it is such an issue. It’s an issue, because it’s so prevalent, as I said. It’s an issue, because it has really negative consequences, which we can speak to in a second. In terms of why, why is it that we feel this way? I think there’s a couple of factors that contribute to it. One is cultural. That there’s been this taking on as viewing busyness, almost as a status symbol, a signal of competence, and that you’re needed. Then we take on so much, because we feel like we should, right? It’s that productivity orientation.
Also, recognizing that it is a feeling of having too little time to do all that you want to and think you should be doing. That expectation of what we think we should and could be doing is influenced by technology, to be honest. I think that our smartphones are so useful in so many ways. They help us do those things that we should be doing, to check tasks off our to-do lists. We can order groceries at any moment. We can coordinate schedules. We can respond to emails. Also, it’s the idea of all the things we could be doing at that moment. With social media, you have this constant view into other people’s lives, but only their happiest moments of their lives.
[0:03:32] PF: Like the highlight films.
[0:03:35] CH: Right. It’s like seeing. Well, you’re waiting in line at the coffee shop, or at the grocery store, you’re looking at your phone and seeing the amazing vacation, or the fun meal that someone is having and have like, “Oh, I could be doing that right now.” As well as we could be learning Spanish at any moment, watching a performance somewhere. Of course, there’s no way that we would have time to do all this notion of what we could and should be doing. I think that that’s also one of the culprits of why we feel time poor.
[0:04:11] PF: Right. We’re going to obviously get more into what it means to be time poor and what it’s doing to us, but one thing that I found so interesting early on, that you talk about having too much free time is just as detrimental as not having enough free time. I’ve found that so fascinating. Can you explain why? Can you also talk about what that sweet spot is of that perfect amount of free time?
[0:04:37] CH: Yeah. I think that’s a really important learning from the data for all of us who feel time poor. Because in those days and in those states where we feel so time stretched, oftentimes, I know for myself, for instance, I have been like, I don’t know if I can do it. I need to quit. There’s no way, so I should quit this job that I love so much and I’ve worked so hard for it, but it’s just not possible. We day dream. “If only I had all the hours of my days. Living on a beach somewhere.”
[0:05:07] PF: I’d been Costa Rica picking whatever is in Costa Rica.
[0:05:11] CH: Yeah. Surely, I would be happier. But is that true? In our work, we looked at with Hal Hershfield and Marissa Sharif, what’s the relationship between the amount of discretionary time people have and their happiness? Among our studies, including looking at data from the American Time Use Survey. Looking for among tens of thousands of working, as well as non-working Americans, how they spent a regular day. We could calculate the amount of time they spent on discretionary activities. Across studies, we found this consistent pattern of results.
Namely, it was a upside down U-shape, or like an arc, or rainbow, suggesting that on both ends of the spectrum, people are less happy. In that data, we found that folks with less than approximately two hours of discretionary time in the day, they were unhappy. Those were the time for folks. That’s because heightened feelings of stress. On the other side, we saw that those with more than approximately five hours of discretionary time in the day, were also less happy. The reason is, because we are driven to be productive. We are averse to being idle. When we have all the hours of our days open and available, and we spend them with nothing to actually show for how we spent that time, it undermines our sense of purpose. With that, we feel dissatisfied.
I also want to note that it’s not just that paid work is a way of spending that gives us purpose. For many of us, it actually is. Volunteer work, engaging in a hobby that’s really enriching and develops us, that’s also worthwhile ways of spending. Actually, we see that when people spend their discretionary time in worthwhile ways, that you don’t see this too much time effect. You don’t see that more is better. You don’t see that too much time effect. This is, I think, important for all of us, in those heady days to not quit. Don’t quit. Don’t sell your house and move to the island, because a weekend, you will be bored and looking for a sense of purpose.
[0:07:29] PF: Yeah. As I was reading that, I was thinking about some of the research that exists on people, how the death rate goes up when people retire. It’s not really associated with declining health. It really ties back into what you were talking about, when they lose a sense of purpose and their overall happiness goes down, their overall well-being goes down, I feel like, that’s got to be connected.
[0:07:48] CH: Absolutely. Related to that you see among retirees who actually do volunteer work, that you see higher levels of satisfaction. When you have that available time, is making sure that you invest it in ways that do feel worthwhile, that give you that sense of purpose. Again, our days living on the beach might not be quite as happy as we daydream about.
[0:08:16] PF: Absolutely. One exercise that you offer that people can really help to figure out their days is time tracking. I thought this was so excellent. We’ll make sure that we have a link to your site, so people can go and download these, because you have given some wonderful worksheets and exercises. Can you talk about time tracking and how it works and why it is so important in the way we see our days, and the way we start shaping our days?
[0:08:42] CH: Absolutely. In terms of how to live days that feel fulfilling and satisfying, the trick is to really maximize the amount of time that’s spent on activities that feel worthwhile. Minimize the amount of time that is spent on activities that feel like a waste. Then, the question is, well, what are those activities that are worthwhile? Research does time tracking to pull out tracking for that individual, or among a broad sample of people, what activities they spend their time on, how they feel over the course of their day, so they could pull out on average, what are those activities that are associated with the most positive emotion? What are those activities that are associated with most negative emotion?
You see that on average, activities that are socially connecting, so whether intimately, or spending time with family and friends are the most positive. You see the most negative are commuting, working and doing housework. Maybe not surprising. What’s important is that this is based off of averages. There are some folks and I would like to put myself in the category of work is actually a great source of satisfaction. Also, there are instances of socializing that are not at all fun. I suggest that people track their own time for a week. The worksheet is on my website. It’s so simple. I mean, granted is somewhat tedious for that week, but it’s worth it.
[0:10:12] PF: It pays off.
[0:10:14] CH: Is that for every half hour, write down what you’re doing, the activity. Being more specific than just work, or socializing. What work activity are you doing, so that you can pull out what are those activities that are the good ones? Also, whether those ways of socializing that are the good/bad ones. Because in addition to writing down what you’re doing is rating on a 10 point scale, how it made you feel coming out of it. Of satisfied, happy fulfilling. Then what’s wonderful is at the end of the week, you have this fantastic personalized data set. You can look across your time and see what are those activities that were your most positive. Also, what are commonalities across them.
You might see, for instance, that actually, it’s not socializing per se, or being not at work. It’s for me, it was like, I really value one-on-one time, whether with a family member, or a friend, or a colleague, that was actually time that was really fulfilling for me. Then I also recognized in groups, less fulfilling. But that’s me. You, as you have your own data, you can really hone in on what are those activities that feel not satisfying. To dig into the commonalities to figure out why.
Also, you can see just how much time you’re spending across your various activities. Helping you pull out like, “Holy cow. I had no idea that I was spending that much time on social media, or watching TV, or burning like, oh, email.” It’s like, my entire life is spent on email. Recognizing that, in fact, maybe not surprising for email, but for some, it’s actually quite surprising that social media doesn’t make them feel very good, even though they have it in their head like, “Oh, this is my fun time. This is my me time.” It’s really helpful to have this information to see where you’re spending your time, such that there are opportunities to reallocate away from these times that are actually somewhat of a waste, according to you, not according to me, but according to your own data, so that you can reallocate them towards those activities that are more worthwhile.
In the context of time poverty, where so many of us feel we don’t have enough time, this is really important information to find pockets, where actually, we do have available time. If we spend it on ways that are more fulfilling, then perhaps, and I experienced this myself and have heard from readers, perhaps at the end of the week, even if you’re busy, you look back and you feel fulfilled and satisfied and happy, because you spent on these worthwhile things.
[0:13:09] PF: That exercise really reminded me of when you’re going to go see a nutritionist, or something, they say, write down everything you eat for a week. You’re like, “Oh, I got this. I’m going to blow it away.” Then you’re like, “Oh, wow. I didn’t realize I really picked up that many little pieces of chocolate, or whatever.” It’s like, it really does make you sit down and think, “Wow, okay. There are areas where it’s not just time has been stolen from me. I am generously giving it away.” What a great way to reset and figure out how to change that. You also give tips for making chores, or things that you don’t love doing. Say, housework. How do you make that more enjoyable and feel more fulfilling?
[0:13:48] CH: Time tracking, or even in your reflection, there are activities that are not fun. That’s just –
[0:13:53] PF: We can’t just quit doing them, I guess.
[0:13:54] CH: You can’t quit doing. They’re necessary. Unless, you want your family, or housemates to kick you out, because you’re not contributing to chores. We do have to do them. I do share some strategies to make them feel more positive. One of those is bundling. This is out of research by Katie Milkman and her colleagues. It’s so simple yet so effective. Is basically, you bundle this activity that you don’t enjoy doing, like chores, like folding the laundry, and you bundle it with an activity that you do enjoy, such that that time that you’re spending becomes more worthwhile. It becomes more fun.
For example, folding the laundry, if you bundle that with watching your TV show. Actually, one of readers was saying that her husband is now bundling ironing with watching sports and he is now so excited to iron each week, because he sets up the ironing board in front of the TV and that is his dedicated time to watch sports. Commuting, that was one of those other activities that is just so painful, because you’re waiting through it. You just want to get there already, and it feels like a waste. During your commute, if you’re driving, listen to an audiobook. Or if you’re on the subway, or bus, read a book. When in this work on time poverty, I ask people to complete the sentence, I don’t have time to.
One of a very frequent response is, I don’t have time to read for pleasure. If every time you got in your car, or that you’re on the train going to work, you are “reading,” then you’ll get through a book every week or so. All of a sudden, that time that was a chore, or felt like a waste feels more worthwhile and fun.
[0:15:49] PF: One thing that you bring out and we all know this is true that when we feel pressed for time, the first things that go out the window seem to be those things that are going to make us feel better and are good for us, things like exercise, things like preparing our meals, so we’re eating more healthy. How do we change our mindset and realize that those are the things we need to schedule in first, so that we don’t just disregard them?
[0:16:12] CH: Exactly. Exercise is a really important one, because exercise is an activity that has direct implications, not only for your health, but your emotional well-being. It’s a mood booster. It is very effective at offsetting anxiety, which so many people are suffering from. Also, offsetting depression. It makes us feel really good about ourselves. Once we do make that time, we realize that we can do it. Actually, in terms of our feeling of being time poor, a part of that is that we don’t have the confidence that we can accomplish what we set out to do, given the resources that we have, namely the time that we have.
If you actually spend your time in ways that increase your self-efficacy, like exercise, then and I can speak to myself and I share this as an anecdote in the book is that, like you said, when I feel busy, my morning run is the first thing I give up. When I make the time and I’m out there running, it’s like, “Oh, my gosh.” Thank, gosh, I did, because I’m feeling good. I feel like, I can take on the day on those important things. With that sense of accomplishment, it expands my sense of how much time I have available to do and complete what I set out to do.
Both exercise, as well as doing acts of kindness. I have research that shows that when we actually spend time to give a little to someone else, that increases our sense of accomplishment, and self-efficacy. It actually increases our sense of time affluence, too. But it’s important that it’s giving time, not that time is being taken from you.
[0:18:07] PF: You’re an expert at this. How do you tell yourself, go ahead, invest the time, do the exercise, take the time to prepare your meals, whatever it takes? We can make a habit out of it. Once we get into that groove after 30 or 60 days, it’s not that difficult, but how do we then, we’re at this time of the year where people are trying to develop new habits anyway, so this might as well be one. How do we do that?
[0:18:30] CH: It’s such an exciting time of the year as people with that fresh start, looking for it and becoming more intentional. Actually, towards the end of the book, I have this chapter on time crafting. Pulling all of the strategies together from across the book, how do you design your week, such that you are protecting, carving out time for those things that matter, putting them into your schedule, so my Monday morning run. In many cases, it’s the time and investing in those relationships that are so important to us that often do get neglected, when we’re in a hurry.
Putting those things into the schedule first. Protecting them. Also, placing them in that important work that you love so much. Your deep-thinking work. Put it into your schedule, so that it doesn’t get filled by unnecessary meetings, or even responding to email. So that you make sure that you do have that time in the part of your day where you’re most alert and most creative, and then seeing, consolidating the activities that you don’t enjoy doing, because as we start activities and our anticipation of those activities have a big effect. If we condense them, then all the bad stuff, it’s less painful if you get it all done together.
Whereas watching TV, for instance, that first half hour is great. Five hours in on binging, less enjoyable. In fact, quite anxiety producing, because you feel really guilty and bad about yourself and it’s not even fun at that point anyway. Putting those half hours and being really intentional. I do talk a lot about how to design your week, so that you are making time for the things that matter. Highlighting and increasing the impact of those activities that really matter. This is so important to do, because – Can I share an analogy that I think is –
[0:20:35] PF: Please do.
[0:20:36] CH: – really helpful for folks to have in their heads? I continue to touch back on it, when I’m making my own time saving, or spending decisions. It’s an analogy about prioritization. It’s nicely depicted in a short film that I share in actually the first day of my class that I teach to MBAs on how to be happy applying the science of happiness. In the film, a professor walks into his classroom and on the desk, he puts this large, clear jar. Then into the jar, he pours golf balls up to the very top, and he asked the students, is the jar full? The students nod their head, because it looks full. Nope.
Then he pulls from a bag on the side, pebbles, and he pours the pebbles into the jar and they fill the spaces between the golf balls, reached the very top and asked the students, “Is the jar full?” They’re like, “Yes.” But he’s like, “Nope.” Then he pours sand into the jar and it fills all those spaces between the golf balls, between the pebbles, up to the very top and he asked the students, “Is the jar full?” By this point, they’re laughing. They’re like, “Yes.”
He explains like, this jar is the time of your life. The golf balls are all those things that really matter to you. Your relationships with your family members, your friendships, that work that you truly care about. The pebbles are those other important things in your life, like your job, your house, the sand is everything else. The sand is all of that stuff that just fills your time without you even thinking about it, whether it’s social media. For me, the email inbox. For some, it’s TV. It’s like, those never-ending requests that come in that it’s easier to say yes to than no. Even though, you don’t really care about what that task is.
What’s really important to note is that had he put the sand into the jar first, all of the golf balls would not have fit. That is if we let our time get filled, it will get filled with sand. We won’t have had time, we wouldn’t have spent the time on those things that really matter to us. We have to identify what are those golf balls, put them into our schedules first. Protect, prioritize that time. Then the sand will fill the rest, absolutely. We need to be really intentional and thoughtful. The time tracking exercise that I mentioned was one way to really identify, what are those golf balls for you, such that when you are designing your week, you’re doing the time crafting part of it. That goes into your schedule first.
That morning run, or whatever your form of exercise is actually really important. Put that into your schedule for us. Because actually, for exercise for instance, not only does it influence how you feel while you’re doing it. You get that mood boost and sense of self efficacy, but also it colors how you experience the rest of your day. It has a really big impact, beyond just the experience itself.
[0:23:34] PF: That is so huge. I know we have to let you go, but there was one more strategy you talked about that I had never heard of. Absolutely fell in love with, and really want you to share this with our listeners. That’s the idea of time left. That was so powerful. Can you talk about what that technique is and why it works so beautifully.
[0:23:55] CH: Yeah. I’m so glad you asked about that, because I do think it’s a really important one. It is recognizing that some of those golf balls are really, actually from simple, ordinary moments in our life. These everyday moments, like a coffee date for me with my daughter, or having dinner with your family. Or, it’s just these everyday moments that sometimes we’re moving through them, because they’re so every day that we expect they will continue to happen every day. But that’s not true. Our time is passing, our time is fleeting, and circumstances in our life are changing. If those sorts of activities that bring joy involve someone else, circumstances in their life, too, are changing.
One way to make it so that we do pay attention, we prioritize time and pay attention during these sorts of simple joys that are right there and the time we’re already spending is to count the times left. Picking a experience that brings you joy and calculating, how many times have you done it in your life so far? The next step is to calculate, how many times do you expect to have do this activity in the future, accounting for the fact that circumstances in your life will change, if it involves another, circumstances in the other person’s life will change.
The last step is to calculate of the total times doing this activity in your life, what percentage do you have left? More often than not, it’s way less than you think. Initially, it’s sad. But the benefits of seeing this is really worth that initial sadness, is because what it does is it makes me protect the time. Then also, it influences how you experience that time, knowing that it is limited, that it is so precious, we remove those distractions, so that phone gets put away, that constant to-do list that’s running in our heads, that gets quieter, because we realize that this is the time of our life that really matters, and to really make it count.
It doesn’t have to be a whole lot. All of us who are time poor, it doesn’t have to be a lot of time for these activities to have a really big impact on how satisfied we feel in our weeks, how fulfilled we feel in our lives. I think that the counting times left is a very lenient and impactful exercise to make us spend our time on the activities that matter, as well as make the most of those times when we’re spending them.
[0:26:29] PF: I would say, that is correct, because that, like I said, it just stopped me when I read that. That’s absolutely incredible. This book is so full of strategies, information, hope, techniques. What is it that you really hope readers take away from it?
[0:26:46] CH: I hope that people just become more intentional in the time that they’re spending and to really soak up. There’s so much happiness and joy right there that’s available, no matter how time poor, no matter other constraints that we have facing our lives, that there is a lot of happiness and joy available to us, if we are that intentional about the way that we spend our time.
[0:27:13] PF: Cassie, thank you so much for coming on the show today. We’re going to tell our listeners more about your book, where they can find it. Thank you for writing this. This is something we all need. It’s presented so incredibly well. I really appreciate it.
[0:27:28] CH: Oh, well, thank you so much for having me. It was a treat.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[0:27:35] PF: That was Cassie Holmes, talking about how to make the most of our time. If you’d like to learn more about Cassie and her book, download some free worksheets to help you plan your time better, or follow her on social media, visit us at livehappy.com and click on the podcast link. While you’re on the website, be sure to drop by the Live Happy Store and check out our great selection of Live Happy gear and merch, so you can show the world how you live happy.
That is all we have time for today. We will meet you back here again next week for an all-new episode. Until then, this is Paula Felps, reminding you to make every day a happy one.