How We Spend Our Time
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Today at a Glance
- Thinking about time forces us to confront some harsh realities, but I would encourage you to consider this a small "tax" on all of the benefit you gain from deepening your respect for—and appreciation of—time.
- I recently came across data on who we spend our time with over the course of our lives. The insights are simultaneously inspiring and depressing. This piece shares 6 graphs everyone needs to see.
- You can download a full PDF presentation of the graphs and key lessons for free here. Please share and discuss with your loved ones.
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A rich text element can be used with static or dynamic content. For static content, just drop it into any page and begin editing. For dynamic content, add a rich text field to any collection and then connect a rich text element to that field in the settings panel. !
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If there is one topic I think about most frequently, it is time.
My relationship with time has fundamentally morphed over the last few years.
In that period, I went from feeling the invincibility of youth to the fragility of adulthood. From feeling that time was limitless—a non-factor—to feeling that time was depressingly limited—the only factor.
Perhaps it was COVID—the forced slowdown of our lives that gave rise to a mass re-evaluation of priorities.
Perhaps it was the abrupt realization that my parents wouldn't be around forever.
Perhaps it was the birth of my son—which created a visceral awareness of the passage of precious moments that we will never get back.
I expect I'm not alone: Time is suddenly on all of our minds.
And while this may force us to confront some harsh realities, I would encourage you to consider this a small "tax" on all of the benefit you gain from deepening your respect for—and appreciation of—time.
Today's piece will force you to confront a few such harsh realities—it may feel depressing, yet simultaneously inspiring.
I would encourage you to think about each graph and discuss it with your loved ones. If this piece causes even just a few of you to make positive changes in your life, I have done my job.
Who We Spend Our Time With
A few weeks ago, I came across some data from the American Time Use Survey and Our World in Data that breaks down who we spend our time with over the course of our lives.
I had seen the combined graph of this data shared in the past, but with so many lines, I admit that I often just glazed over it and failed to draw any meaningful conclusions.
This time, I decided to dig a bit deeper, so I downloaded the dataset (openly available at the link above) and split each line out into its own graph.
Staring at the deconstructed output, I knew no one would glaze over it.
Here are the 6 graphs, key takeaways, and a few ideas on "owning the curve" (i.e. making deliberate changes bend your personal graphs) in your future...
Time spent with our parents, siblings, and family peaks in childhood and declines sharply after age 20.
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 so very limited.
- Time with family is limited.
- Time with parents declines sharply after age 20. I wrote about the depressing math we all need to do in this piece.
- You may only see your loved ones a few more times.
Prioritize and cherish every moment.
Own the Curve: Call your parents or siblings this week for no reason other than just to chat.
Time spent with friends peaks at age 18 and declines sharply to a low baseline.
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.
- Embrace friendship breadth, but focus on depth.
- Cherish those who are with you through good times and bad. The "Darkest Hour Friends" are those 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, text, or email them this week to simply say how much you appreciate them.
Time spent with your partner trends up until death.
The person you choose to confront life's ups and downs with will have the largest impact on your happiness and fulfillment.
- 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.
Remember: 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.
Time spent with your children peaks in your 30s and declines sharply thereafter.
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 devastatingly short window of time during which you are your child's entire world. Don't blink.
- Time with your children is short—the "Magic Years" will fly by if you let them.
- 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. Just be present with them.
Time spent with coworkers is steady during the traditional prime working years from age 20-60 and declines sharply thereafter.
Work will pull you away from your family and loved ones throughout your life.
- 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 coworkers?
Time spent alone steadily increases throughout your life.
"All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone." - Blaise Pascal
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.
- 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
Distilling all of this into 6 key lessons:
- Family time is limited—cherish it.
- Friend time is limited—prioritize real ones.
- Partner time is significant—never settle.
- Children time is precious—be present.
- Coworker time is significant—find energy.
- Alone time is abundant—love yourself.
For those of you who are interested, you can download a full shareable PDF presentation of these charts and insights here.
This is an important topic, so I would really like 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 is a broad-based sample from the American Time Use Survey from 2009-2019, as compiled by Our World in Data. I do 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 in nature. It would also be interesting to see data post-2020 to see how COVID-19 impacted who we spend our time with. I will post updates in the newsletter as I uncover and analyze new data.