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How We Spend Our Time

If there is one topic I think about most frequently, it is time. Since knowing the terrifying fact that 2006 is just as far away as 2040, I've dove down a rabbit hole of how/who we spend our time with over the course of our lives. The insights are simultaneously inspiring and depressing. When writing this monthly newsletter, I love reading about different topics and sharing what I learn. This is one of my favorites to date, and if this piece causes even just a few of you to make positive changes in your life, I have done my job.

Our World in Data breaks down who we spend our time with over the course of our lives. I've seen the combined graph of this data in the past, but I just glazed over it and failed to draw any meaningful conclusions. After inspecting each line closely, I wrote down my key takeaways and a few ideas to own the curve.

Family As you leave home and get caught up in your own life, you often fail to recognize that the time you have remaining with your family is limited. Key Takeaways:

  • Time with parents peaks in childhood and declines sharply after age 20.

  • Time with your parents after college is limited.

  • You may only see your loved ones a few times more.

The countable nature of seeing someone is terrifying. Prioritize and cherish every moment. Own the Curve: Call your parents or siblings this week for no reason other than just to chat.

Friends In your youth, you spend a lot of time with a lot of friends. As you enter adulthood, you spend a little bit of time with a few close friends, even if it brings you the most joy. Key Takeaways:

  • Embrace friendship breadth (quantity), but focus on depth (quality).

  • Time with friends peaks at 18 and declines sharply to a low baseline.

  • Cherish those who are with you through good times and bad. These are the ones you want to keep with you for life.

Invest your time and energy in the healthy, meaningful friendships that last. Own the Curve: Think about the 2-3 friends who would be there for you in your darkest hour. Call or text them this week to simply say how much you appreciate them.

Partner The person you choose to confront life's ups and downs with will have the largest impact on your happiness and fulfillment. Key Takeaways:

  • Trends upwards until death.

  • Who you choose as a partner is the most important decision you'll ever make.

  • Find someone you genuinely enjoy spending time with. Life isn't about the glamorous moments—most of life is just sitting around doing nothing. Find someone you genuinely enjoy doing nothing with.

You get one shot at life. Never settle for less than love. Own the Curve: Tell your partner one thing you appreciate about them today. Then do it again tomorrow. Then the next day. And so on. Appreciation and gratitude compounds.

Children You work and work to make more and more—but at what cost? At what point does all that work force you to miss the moments you can never get back? There's a short window of time during which you are your child's entire world. Key Takeaways:

  • Peaks in your 30's and declines sharply after.

  • Time with your children is short.

  • Be present in every moment.

Slow down and embrace the sweetness that children bring to your life. Own the Curve: If you have children, spend 15 minutes each day this week fully immersed in your relationship with them. No phones allowed. Ask questions, listen, play with them, tell stories. Just be present with them.

Coworkers Work will pull you away from your family and loved ones throughout your life. Key Takeaways:

  • Steady during prime working years of 20-60.

  • You'll spend a lot of time at work.

  • Who you choose to work with is one of the most important decisions you'll make.

If you have the luxury of choice, make sure you choose work—and coworkers—that you find meaningful and important. Aim to have coworkers who create energy in your life. Own the Curve: Ask yourself a few critical questions about your work and coworkers. Do you gain energy from being around them? Do they push you to grow intellectually? Are you happy spending such an outsized amount of your life with these people?

Alone When you're young, you learn to fear time alone. To fear boredom. But as you get older, you need to learn to cherish it. Key Takeaways:

  • Steadily increases throughout life.

  • Learn to embrace solitude.

  • Flex your boredom muscle regularly.

Find happiness and joy in the time you have to yourself—there will be a whole lot of it as you get older. Own the Curve: Spend 15 minutes each day being bored. No technology, no books or reading, no social interaction. Go for a walk, sit in a room, whatever. Flex your boredom and solitude muscle daily. Get comfortable with yourself.

Putting It All Together - 6 Key Lessons

  1. Family time is limited—cherish it.

  2. Friend time is limited—prioritize real ones.

  3. Partner time is significant—never settle.

  4. Children time is precious—be present.

  5. Coworker time is significant—find energy.

  6. Alone time is abundant—love yourself.

This is an important topic, so I would love to hear from you:

  • What are your reactions to these graphs?

  • How did it make you think differently about time, your life, and your priorities?

  • What conversations did it spark with your loved ones?

A Note on Sources: The data comes in a broad-based sample from the American Time Use Survey from 2009-2019, as compiled by Our World in Data. I expect that there are cultural differences that would appear if we took a more global view, though I believe the takeaways and lessons are universal. It would also be interesting to see data post-2020 to see how COVID-19 impacted who we spend our time with.

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