For the most part, most of us know how we should be living our lives. We should exercise five times a week, right? And if you listen to the doctor and the USDA, we should build a diet based on the food pyramid, stuffing down nine servings of fruits and vegetables per day.
We should limit the amount of alcohol and sugar we consume and make our beds every morning when we rise. We should read to our kids every night, be thankful for everything we have, and do our best at work whether we feel like it or not.
And, by golly, we should create a written monthly budget to keep our families on track with our financial goals. We should spend less, save more, and put our responsibilities ahead of our desires.
All of that sounds great, right? Except for one thing – time. While we all know what we should be doing, few of us feel like we have the time to live the life we truly want. And boy, do we pay for it.
Four Ways You Might Be Wasting Time Every Day
But, just like anything else, we do have the power to make time if we want it bad enough. It’s all about priorities and divvying up our time in a way that will help us reach our goals. And, despite our inclination to think otherwise, most of us have the time to improve our lives if we’re willing to give up something at least a few times per week.
Don’t believe me? Here are four ways we waste our most precious resource – time – every single day:
We spend almost five hours per day on our phones.
According to a 2015 report from Informate Mobile Intelligence, the average American with a cell phone spends a staggering 4.7 hours staring at their screen each day. Keep in mind that most Americans sleep between seven and nine hours a day on average, and you’ll see just how ludicrous that is.
To add insult to injury, their research shows that Americans check in with social media an average of 17 times per day. While that sounds absolutely nuts, it makes perfect sense; it’s easy to take a few quick glances at Facebook to see what everyone is doing, hop on Twitter for the news, and then spend your lunch hour sharing photos on Instagram.
All of this adds up to a whole lot of time spent on the internet, which begs the question: “Could we be using even part of this time to improve our lives in some way?”
Chances are, we could all benefit from a little less time spent on the web. Imagine if we hacked just a half hour off each day’s screen time and spent that time working out or managing our finances. We would all be rich…and buff.
We watch five hours of television every day.
Need more proof that we waste precious time doing things that don’t really matter? Nielsen Ratings reported in June that the average American watches five hours and four minutes of television each day – upwards of 35 hours a week. We’re watching prime-time dramas and nighttime sitcoms like it’s our full-time job.
If we spent just a quarter of that time on self-improvement, we would all be a lot better off. Imagine if you turned off “Grey’s Anatomy” and spend an hour at the gym instead, or put off “The Big Bang Theory” to spend some time on your budget.
And many people simply get sucked in to shows before bed, when they’re tired enough to fall asleep but too tired to resist another episode. If you’re tired, turn off “The Walking Dead” and go to bed an hour early — and maybe you won’t feel like the walking dead in the morning.
- Related: Why You Should Stop Watching TV
We spend almost nine hours a day in bed.
Speaking of getting enough sleep: While it’s true some of us need more sleep than others, it’s possible some of us are snoozing more than we should. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults ages 18 to 64 get between seven and nine hours of sleep a day, while those ages 65 and over can get by with a bit less. But as the U.S. Labor Department’s 2015 American Time Use Survey shows, Americans are spending an average of 8 hours and 50 minutes sleeping each day.
If that sounds surprisingly high to your sleep-deprived self, keep in mind a couple of things:
First, that’s an average, which means people are getting considerably more sleep than others — such as young children, teenagers, and the unemployed or retired. Employed adults age 25 to 54 with children reported getting only 7.7 hours of rest on a given weekday.
Second, pollster Gallup has reported that the average American gets only 6.8 hours of sleep per night. The discrepancy can partly be chalked up to methodology, according to the Washington Post. Whereas Gallup simply asked people how much sleep they got most nights, the Labor Department a) included naps and b) asked exactly what time people went to bed at night and got out of bed in the morning – thereby including other leisure time, such as reading before bed.
Still, if you find yourself on the “sleepy” side of the average, and feel as if you’re short on time, you might try waking up a half-hour earlier each day. The found time you gain might be exactly what you need to get ahead of things.
We spend almost an hour commuting back and forth to work each day.
Each day has 24 hours, yet most of us spend eight hours sleeping and eight hours at work, on average. That leaves eight hours remaining to do as you will. Sadly, we spend a lot of that time just sitting in our cars, wishing we were doing something – anything – else.
According to the Washington Post, the average commute to work rang in at 26 minutes each way in 2015. That’s almost an hour down the drain each day, and for many commuters that time involves bumper-to-bumper traffic and a whole lot of frustration.
Not everyone can change their commute, but some can. If you have the opportunity to work from home (even one day a week – and you won’t know until you ask), to move closer to work (or find a job closer to home), or shorten your drive in some way, you should at least consider it. With this one change, you could add up to five hours back into your life each week.
Failing that, you can at least make your commute more productive. Try taking public transportation so you can fit in some of that phone time or pleasure reading that would suck up your leisure time — or you could even get some work done on the train. If you walk or bike to work each day, you won’t have to spend as much time exercising at the gym. And if you’re stuck driving? Spend some of that time reflecting on your finances and planning out your goals, or listen to an entertaining or educational audiobook or podcast instead of spacing out at the taillights in front of you.
- Related: Is Moving Closer to Work Worth It?
William Penn once said, “Time is what we want most, but what we use the worst.”
And yes, he was absolutely right. If you ask nearly everyone what they want more of, it’s time – time to become a better person, time to spend with their famy, and time to relax and unwind. Unfortunately, we waste much of our time in ways that help us accomplish none of those goals.
Each 24-hour day presents an opportunity we’ll never get back. If we squander the precious time we are given, we must accept the fact it’s gone forever – and along with it, the opportunity it presented.
Whether it’s our health, our family connections, or our finances that need work, it’s up to us to find the time to make it happen.
Holly Johnson is an award-winning personal finance writer who is obsessed with frugality, budgeting, and travel. She blogs at ClubThrifty.com and teaches others how to write online at EarnMoreWriting.com.
- ‘Money Cannot Buy What Time Delivers’
- Treating Your Financial Goals as a Part-Time Job
- Convenience and Expenses: Why Time Management Really Matters
Are you guilty of wasting valuable time each day? How do you minimize wasted time?