There are two ways to go about feeling less busy.
One is to literally remove things from your calendar: meetings, workouts, trips to the grocery store. It’s a little impractical, but technically you’d have fewer obligations.
The other way is to start adding things to your calendar. Actually, add just one thing: socializing with friends, family, and coworkers.
In her new book, “Off the Clock,” time-management expert Laura Vanderkam explains why this second way is generally the more effective strategy for feeling less busy. As Vanderkam puts it, “people expand time.”
She realized this after reviewing her own research on more than 900 people who kept time logs and answered questions about how they felt about their schedules. Results showed that respondents who had made time the day before for the important people in their lives were 15% more likely than average to say they generally had time for the things they wanted to do.
You could argue that having more time on your hands is what leads you to spend more time with other people, but Vanderkam thinks the relationship works the opposite way. A night spent browsing social media probably won’t be especially memorable or joyful, but a night spent visiting a friend — or chatting with that friend on the phone — probably will be.
Vanderkam’s assertion that spending time with friends lead to a more fulfilling life isn’t novel — the Harvard Study of Adult Development, which followed two groups of white men for 75 years, found that good relationships keep us happier and healthier.
Setting ‘relationship priorities’ is key
To maximize the benefit we get from socializing, Vanderkam encourages readers to set “relationship priorities,” the same way they’d set priorities at work. She writes: “Few people would show up at work at 8 a.m. with no idea about what they’d do until 1 p.m., and yet people will come home at 6 p.m. having given no thought to what they’ll do until 11 p.m.”
In other words, it’s all about intentionality. She goes on: “This is how people will claim to have no time for their hobbies, even though they’re clearly awake for two hours or more after their kids go to bed.”
While Vanderkam advises people to foster friendships new and old, she also tells them to “be choosy” about the people they spend their days with. Over time, she writes, you’ll realize who you’re friends with because “they truly deepen your spirit” vs. who you were friends with simply because it was convenient.
Interestingly, the Harvard study found that the quality of your relationships — as opposed to quantity — starts to matter more when you hit your 30s.
As for Vanderkam herself? She writes of her relationships with her kids and other people important to her: “I have a more profound sense of time’s value, and memories that are both more ridiculous and more poignant than I ever would have had otherwise.”