How An Extra 30 Minutes A Day At Work Catapults Careers



Long-time readers of my articles know that I have a favorite data set: The American Time Use Survey. This annual study from the Bureau of Labor Statistics asks thousands of Americans to keep track of their time. Because it is broad, and based on actual days, as opposed to how people recollect "typical" days, it is more accurate than most surveys that ask people about time. The 2012 ATUS results were just released. Among the interesting findings? While the work gap between men and women (the number of hours worked per day) has narrowed in the last decade, it's still with us. Among full-time workers:
  • men work 8.3 hours per day on their workdays, and
  • women work 7.8 hours.
That's a difference of 0.5 hours per day.

Another interesting finding: the time gap for "household activities." These are chores like laundry, cleaning, cooking, etc. If you look at employed people without kids at home, women spend 1.74 hours per day on such chores, and men spend 1.24 hours.

In other words, a gap of 0.5 hours per day. (For those with young kids at home, it's no different: a gap of 0.5 hours per day. For those with school-aged kids, it's closer to an hour gap between men and women who are both employed).

Are the two related? Probably not in an explicit fashion. I doubt many people say, "Oh, I'm not going to make those last two sales calls because I need to get home to do the laundry." In many cases, people's total number of work hours are not something they would be able to change in the short run in a way that would advance their careers. Perhaps women are more likely to work in industries where the work day is 8 to 4 with a half-hour lunch; perhaps men are more likely to work in manufacturing where overtime is sometimes mandated.

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But at least from a white-collar mindset of professional work and schedules, I've long wondered if this half-hour gap in hours worked for pay -- and not for pay -- has at least a little something to do with the pay gap, and the smaller proportion of women in the "highly visible/thought leader" ranks of professions.

I've written several times about the op-ed gap -- the limited number of op-eds in national newspapers written by women. It's not that the editors there harbor secret sexism. It's that they run what they get, and many times, they run a higher percentage of op-eds by women than what they receive by women. If 80% of the submissions you get are from men, it's hard to hit 50-50. The trouble is that writing op-eds isn't in most people's job descriptions. Writing and submitting them requires investing extra hours -- outside your normal job -- in a highly speculative venture. You make that choice because you want to make your name known and feel you have something to add to the conversation. Often, that means working extra hours. That last bit of time, invested right, can have pretty high returns.

So what keeps people from working up to the point of diminishing returns? Pure preference may be one part. Or perhaps it's competing duties outside of work. If my husband is traveling, I know that I can't spend all my energy cranking out something very intense right up until 6 p.m. because, once the workday is over, I have 3 hours of intense solo childcare coming up. Broadly, men watch more television than women. Maybe they spend more energy at the office, knowing there's not as much work waiting at home. Maybe women preserve energy instead.

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Part of preserving energy is not taking on projects that are highly likely to be a "waste" of time. Think pitching new publications, or researching a potential new project, sending extra emails to potential contacts or even meeting them for a drink. These activities don't pay off immediately, and may never pay off. But in the aggregate they aren't wastes -- these are the things that ultimately move your career forward. So that's the big deal about the half-hour problem. That last half-hour may be where the magic happens.

I've tried to strike a good "balance" myself (oh, that word!). I usually go back to work after my kids go to sleep, and get another hour in there. I carve out time on weekends while my husband takes the kids. I try to go to good networking events, even if the logistics are complex. I feel these strategies keep me relatively close to the point of diminishing returns, even as I spend big chunks of time with my little ones.

But what I'm most curious about is the difference in "household activities" -- that is, non-market work that's not childcare -- among people without kids at home. Women without kids work fewer hours than men without kids, and they spend more time cooking and cleaning. Is it preference? Expectations? I don't know. I'm often struck by the finding from an informal survey the Count Me In Foundation did of women business owners in their program whose revenue had crossed $1 million/year. All these women were getting their groceries delivered. If you're interested in earning big bucks, investing 30 minutes to an hour in your career on a regular basis is more likely to get you there than spending that time pushing a grocery cart around.

Could you advance your career in an extra half-hour a day?

Meg Whitman: Triage Your Life


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