Welcome to the next post in my Analyse Time Usage mini-series, part of the Looking-Glass Translations productivity programme!
The problem is not the problem. It’s your attitude about the problem. Do you understand?
– Captain Jack Sparrow

Captain Jack Sparrow of marauding pirate fame may just have been onto something with the above quote. Allow me to explain:


“There are only 24 hours in a day”

Only? Perhaps that word is a little out of place. It’s easy to get caught up in how little time you have without really thinking about the hours available to you.

This post should help you to re-examine how you look at your time (and follows on nicely from my post on multitasking).

Let’s start with a short history lesson (and it really is short, I promise!).


“Eight hours’ labour, eight hours’ recreation, eight hours’ rest”

The 40-hour working week is a product of the British industrial revolution. In the 19th century, the first labour rights were being slowly granted to workers. These included limiting the working day to 13 1/2 hours for pauper children, yet some industrialists wanted to see greater change.

Robert Owen, a forward-thinking social reformer of the time, owned the New Lanark mill and believed that shorter working days – though expensive – would have a positive impact on his workers. In 1810, he introduced a 10-hour working day, but soon set his sights on something far more radical.

By 1817, he had invented a now-famous slogan: “Eight hours’ labour, eight hours’ recreation, eight hours’ rest” – thus paving the way for the modern 40-hour work week (in the UK, at least!).


This slogan is extremely helpful when it comes to rationalising our time.

It may seem we have very little of it, but even if you work a 12-hour day, that still leaves you with 5 hours for food and fun, and 7 for sleep (less is a waste of time).

That’s almost a full, 8-hour workday for fun and sleep each.

What’s more, you may claim that a 40-hour work week is infeasible as a freelancer, but when there are people out there who advocate a four-hour work week, I’m not convinced that we have to accept the status quo.


There are 168 hours in a week.

This is actually pretty self-evident, but it needs restating: there are a whole 168 hours in a week. While this is not especially news, few of us take the time to work this out, and so it fell to Laura Vanderkam to write her book 168 hours: You have more time than you think.

Laura advocates taking a look at the time we really have by slowly subtracting time from our 168 hours a week, starting with sleep. As Laura, herself, says: “A week has 168 hours; if you work 50 hours and sleep 56 (8 per night), that still leaves 62 hours for other things.”

It’s really all about your priorities; if you’re honest with yourself (or if you’ve ever used time-tracker tools), you know that you misuse a lot of time for no reason, and nipping that in the bud can really help you to get the most out of your day (while still sleeping plenty, too!).


“If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way. If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse.”

Yes, you can fit in going to the gym every day – if that’s what you want. If not, why not spend 1.5 hours a day on a personal project? It’s time to paint that picture or write that book.

Even if you work 60 hours a week, sleep 8 hours a night, and spend 1.5 hours on you, you’ll still have 41.5 hours left to do other things – the sky really is the limit.

If you still have doubts, 168 hours is enough time to:

  • Get your Private Pilot’s License three times (45 hours’ flight time required)
  • Almost get your Commercial Pilot’s License (200 hours’ flight time required)
  • Almost complete an AS-level (180 guided learning hours)


How long is a minute?

After reading the above, you may realise that you have quite a lot of time if you look at it in the right way. At this point, it can be helpful to go back to your time trackers and re-examine how you actually use your time.

Think about those small tasks that fall by the wayside: sorting through your post and doing a bit of filing may only take 5 mins, but it can seem like it takes forever, which is precisely why you put it off. But this only makes the job take longer later on.

This same thought process can be applied to your ‘dead time’ – the few minutes here and there that you spend waiting or doing unproductive things between tasks, such as boiling the kettle or travelling.

The one or two minutes it takes to make a cuppa can be easily recycled to unload the dishwasher, sort your post, or even file a couple of bank statements, and travel time can be used to catch up on your favourite podcasts or webinars.

This way, you will feel like you’ve achieved a lot more than usual without losing any time at all (more on this in later posts)! 


30-minute units?

That’s all for now… but if you need any more inspiration for how to look at your time, I’ll leave you with this video (a clip from the film About a Boy, starring Hugh Grant), which suggests a tongue-in-cheek way of breaking down your day. Enjoy 😉


So how do you like to break down your time? Do you find any of the above concepts helpful? Or have you perhaps found the opposite is true? Please do share your thoughts in the comments!


Looking for more ways to solve your productivity conundrum?

These posts will help take you from time-poor to all-the-time-in-the-world:


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