Lazy Germans

The average German works about 2.5 hours per calendar day. The link has more analysis about lazy Germans in general, but I am more interested in the related issue: do you know how much productive work you do each day? Time, like money, is a resource which you spend largely at your discretion. To maximize the utility of either, you need to make smart decisions. But before you decide how to optimize resource allocation, you have to be able to get a reasonably clear picture of where your resources are going.

This is all seems patronizing, until yourealize that very few people have any idea where they spend their time or money. Most people could give you a reasonable guess about how much they spend on taxes versus investment versus consumption, but the number of people who could break down consumption into the five biggest constituents is probably in single-digit percentages. And most people do far worse at understanding where their time goes. This is unfortunate, since time is undoubtedly more valuable than money, and burns at a fixed rate whether you chose to spend it or not.

Lawyers and consultants learn to track time in terms of billable hours. I believe that the simple discipline of tracking billable hours makes it easier for such people to balance their time for other professional activities, since their rough time allocation is always visible to them. However, most people do not have any such requirement for transparency, and even billable professionals do not often have good visibility extending beyond their office time. A very interesting exercise is to track your time in 30 minute increments over the period of a week, and see where your time goes. Especially interesting is the personal time; since presumably people’s working time is meant to enrich and enable the personal time rather than vice-versa.

I’m convincedthat we spend most of our lives sleep-walking through decisions about time expenditure, allowing the decisions to be made by default rather than lucidly. It’s amazing, really, how hypnogogic most of us are about many of the most important choices we can make. I’m not passing judgement; just making an observation — perhaps we would all go mad if we tried to micromanage our own existence. But I can sure say it’s absurd for most people to take a comment about ?2.5 hours a day? and run with it.

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