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Time and How to Spend It

Time and How to Spend It

In his latest book, cultural commentator and bestselling author James Wallman explores how to appreciate and utilize our most precious resource, time.

Bursting with original stories, fresh takes on tales you thought you knew, and insights from psychology, economics, and culture, Time and How to Spend It  reveals a seven-point checklist that’ll help you avoid empty experiences, and fill your free hours with exciting and enriching ones instead.

We recently sat down with James to chat about the art of spending time wisely. We’re grateful for his time. Here’s what we learned; we hope it inspires you.

Tell us about your relationship with time and how it’s shifted and changed over your life.

James Wallman: I grew up before mobile phones, the internet etc. When you went somewhere, you were free. If I took a train to go meet a friend, or went on holiday somewhere, we were far less connected... it was much easier to be present. You'd turn up at a pub and instead of calling them asking "where are you?" you'd actually look for your friends, and spend real time with them instead of checking your phone. You'd catch up with the news later. You'd find out who won later. You wouldn't know what people were up to all the time.

So I think it was much easier to be in the moment, doing what I was doing, where I was doing it. I felt I had quite a lot of time.

(Of course, that also comes with being young: most of your life is laid out in front of you. But I think that's true for millions of us - Time And How To Spend It wouldn't have been relevant back then! But now, I think so many of us are hitched to our phones, busier than ever, and we need to re-think how we spend time...) 

But having 2 kids + being a writer + running a consultancy & the clients that come with that + failing at a startup (but I'm going to get back on that horse!!)... + of course, like millions of others I have a phone and a tablet (my wife's old one) and a Kindle and a PC and I use Twitter and email and news services and I like to keep up with what's going and there's Facebook and LinkedIn and Telegram and Instagram and I took a course at Cambridge University's business school recently... and I have a relationship that also needs tending to... wow! Life has got seriously busy. I've struggled to find time for friends & hobbies... bah! They all take a back seat, apart from sport & exercise. Plus my kids are young, so I want to spend as much time with them... I get to take them to school... So I feel pressed for time.

I think because I think about culture and how it's changing, I spend more time than most people thinking about the past and the future. And I'm aware that before 'clock time' and, perhaps more so 'factory time', and before electricity, humans operated quite differently. More in tune with daylight - we're diurnal creatures after all, and with the seasons. And before the industrial revolution, we'd have spend far more time with our families: the modern construct of five days work, two days weekend, and of four weeks holiday, is far more weird than most of us realize. When most people were farmers, we would have farmed with our families and our communities. Now, we sometimes only see the people who are most important to us at the tail ends of the day, and the tail end of the week, and in pockets. Not nearly as much as we'd like to! I've become even more aware of this since I had kids - of course! 

Plus, I recently turned 45. Tick tock... 

We’ve heard you say that living a great life requires three things: traditional and emotional intelligence, and ‘experience intelligence’. Tell us more about ‘experience intelligence’.

James Wallman: We used to think success required general intelligence, IQ. Then, from the 1990s, some psychologists (Salovey and Mayer, popularized by Daniel Goleman) realized emotional intelligence, EQ, was essential for success.

There's some fascinating research that's come out in recent years, ie in the 21st century, that strongly suggests that if you want to be successful, you also need 'experience intelligence', which you could call ExQ or simply XQ.

Here's how that works: 

Some social scientists have discovered that if you want success, you should first seek to be happy. Others have found that if you want to happy, you should spend your money on experiences rather than things. Simply put: experiences > happiness > success. 

Also, some other social scientists have noted that if you want success, you need to be resilient. So, how to build resilience? The American Psychological Association has a list of suggestions - and they fit almost like a hand-in-a-glove with the reasons why experiences are better than material goods at making us happy, e.g. relationships, taking on challenges. Simply put: experiences > resilience > success.

So, if you want success, you should aim for happiness and resilience... the best way to do that? Experiences.

So the question becomes: what type of experiences are best for happiness and resilience? Given what social scientists have now discovered about success, knowing the answer to that question is critical. I call this 'experience intelligence'.

So just as, in the early part of the 20th century, some social scientists realized that general intelligence was key for success; just as, at the end of the 20th century, other social scientists identified 'emotional intelligence' was key; so now, at the beginning of the 21st century, it's clear that experience intelligence is also critical for success. 

Just as we need IQ and EQ, so we also need XQ.

What’s preventing many of us from working with time in a more nourishing and joyful way?

James Wallman: So many things!

  1. We earn more, so our time feels more valuable.

  2. Important people are busy, so we think being busy gives us status.

  3. Mobile phones & the internet: millions of us are addicted to our devices and the internet, and spend far too much time on them.

  4. Too much incoming! Emails, texts, WhatsApp messages, 24 hour rolling news...

  5. So many possibilities: there's more things to do than ever before: TV shows to (binge)watch, pop-up restaurants to eat in, festivals to go to etc. 

  6. FOMO: not only so many things to do, but we're also more aware than ever before of what everyone else is doing (because they send us pics via their mobiles or post pics on Facebook or LinkedIn etc) so we feel like we might be missing out & worry about if we're spending our time the best way.

  7. 'Contaminated time' - just as we try to multi-task at work to get more done, so we try to do it in our spare time too - checking emails or texts or the news while we're at the park or restaurant with friends. We think this is smart, that we're getting more out of our time, but it makes us feel more time crunched. 

  8. Our culture values the skills of production, and undervalues the skills of consumption. People want an MBA and to be more productive and earn more. Who studies how they should spend their time?  

What’s one thing that we can start doing today to start getting more out of our time?

James Wallman: The one thing? Simple! Read Time And How To Spend It! Of course, you'd expect me to say that - but I didn't used to say that with my last book, Stuffocation. I used to say to people who asked - when I gave talks, when I talked with my friends or neighbours about it - that they didn't need to buy the book, that the idea was simple: less stuff, more experiences. But it isn't like that with Time And How To Spend It: there's so many, golden ideas in the book, big ones and small ones, ones you know already so it's good to be reminded, surprising ones you didn't know... that you can apply to all sorts of situations: tonight, this weekend, this spring, this summer, this year - and they do work! Everyone I know who's read the book has told me things they've taken from it...

OK, enough enthusiasm... you want one thing to do right now, besides buy and read the book... how's this? Put your phone down, get outside and spend some time with people you love and who love you. 

About James Wallman


James Wallman is a cultural commentator and trend forecaster, and the international bestselling author of Stuffocation. He has studied at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. He has lived in France, Greece and California, and currently lives in London with his wife and two children. Time and How To Spend It is James’ second book and will be published in April 2019.

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