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The Busy Person’s Lies (nytimes.com)
226 points by dwynings on Dec 1, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 191 comments

I did an analysis on my own time once, ignoring the breakdown of my work day and just focusing on overall time available:

  1130-0000 - prepare for bed, relax
  0000-0600 - sleep (roughly)
  0600-0700 - stuff (shower, shave, personal email)
  0700-1630 - work + lunch + commutes
So I had 7 hours each day I was "leaving on the table". Most of it was spent on TV or video games, possibly socializing. I felt exhausted from work so I didn't want to do anything. But realizing I was "wasting"[0] 35 hours a week of my time. Reprioritized, started going to the gym, setting aside the block between work and gym for language study or reading. By the time the gym is done, while I may be tired, I'm in a totally different mental frame from work and can actually get work done on my side projects or more reading or more socializing (that shower after leaves me feeling refreshed, even when I feel like I've been hit by a freight train after BJJ takedown practices).

[0] In the sense that I had things I wanted to do but they never got completed due to poor prioritization.

0000-0600 - sleep (roughly)

I must admit I am always a bit jealous of people like you who can function on 6 hours sleep every day. After 3 days of that I am wreck.

Me too. I only feel at my best if I'm consistently getting 8 hours. A few days of 7 hours and I start to feel overly tired. Turn that down to 6 hours and I turn into an awful person.

My wife hardly ever sleeps more that 6-6.5 hours so she basically gets 2 extra hours a day compared to me. This has been true for me as long as I can remember (36 year old male)

Is there any difference in your level of fitness? I need a lot of sleep as well.

The more physically active/fit you are the longer you have to sleep.

sources: http://hackerella.com/sleep-challenge/


You should start measuring the quality of your sleep using apps like Sleep Cycle. I used to be exactly the same way. Then I realized that the reason I was sleeping for 9-10 hours was because my sleep was "shallow" and kept getting interrupted. It all changed drastically after I optimized my sleeping environment: totally dark, 68 degrees year around, appropriate mattress type for my sleeping position, etc.

Now I can get by comfortably with 6-7 hours of sleep.

Apps can also wake you up at the right time, as opposed to during deep sleep. That makes it easier to wake up as well.

As an alternative to ear plugs, perhaps also consider noise _replacement_ instead (eg. vs. noise _elimination).

I use an app that plays various rain sounds. I have it linked to speakers via Bluetooth (and I have a 3.5mm headphone-jack-type extension audio cable that I've run to my bedside table as an option, if I'm feeling picky about the sound quality of my rain ).

It's very relaxing, and blocks most outdoor sounds. I live in NZ, and the houses here are usually pretty thin-walled and consequently offer almost no sound deadening. This mostly-fixes/avoids that.

Perhaps you don't like rain, and so different sounds might be appropriate... I don't like anything else really apart from maybe low volume white noise, but that's me... but yeah, regardless of which sounds you pick, the general approach is worth trying!

I always just used a box fan, but the apps are a good idea.

Yes, using ear plugs more consistently would likely help improve quality. Housing quality where I live (NZ) is abysmal, and you hear all outside noises very clearly. It's half between living in a well built house and living in a tent.

Would you recommend Sleep Cycle the most? Do they require the phone physically on your bed or nearby?

After an update about a year ago, it only requires being nearby (nightstand works for me) and uses sound to do the sensing.

Cool, I'll give it a try tonight!

I'm fond of Sleep As Android

I will admit, I am very lucky in that regard. Just comparing against the recommended amount of sleep, I get an extra 14 hours a week. And I can actually function quite well on less, but not sustained (and never deliberately try to reach that state, but bouts of insomnia have forced me to learn this).

I do tend to sleep in on the weekends though ("sleep" isn't quite right, more like lazily stay in bed until 0900 or so while drifting in and out).

I do this. Almost exactly. Asleep at 11 pm, up at 5:30. Lazy on weekends.

It's a double-edged sword. I go to sleep between 12 and 12:45 every night, and wake up almost exactly six hours later without an alarm. It's great when waking up for work, it's really irritating on the weekends that I want to sleep in on.

You can get used to it. In college, I had a semester where I was taking 6 classes, half of them project heavy grad classes. I only pulled one all nighter (that was on me) that semester, but I was regularly getting 5-6h of sleep when it wasn't Friday or Saturday. After a few weeks, it wasn't that bad until spring break came around. I got used to getting 8h again, so I had to readapt back to 6h.

The person was also exhausted every day, by their own admission. I feel pity, not jealousy.

I was exhausted mentally, not physically, from work. Which is why I've been able to maintain that and add in 2 hours (average) gym time each weeknight. Applying the same analysis to work allowed me to better manage those 8 hours a day as well, so my mental exhaustion from that almost entirely stopped.

Though I initially saw an increase in my time sleeping (to about 7 hours) when I started (and now, since I took a break out of laziness). After about 3-4 weeks, my body gets better conditioned to the level of effort and I go back to about 6 hours of sleep a night.

For context, my exercising is: 2x5k/week (~0.5 hour each), 2x1.5 hour BJJ class, 2x1 hour wrestling, 2x1 hour BJJ, 2x1.25 hour soccer games. So roughly 10.5 hours a week. Very physically exhausting to jump back into that full schedule, though I find the fatigue remarkably satisfying (knowing that it's been earned).

I used to make it on 6 hours a night, easily.

Then I started college and it went up to 8, for some reason.

Recently I stopped drinking. I'm back to 6.

In my experience, every beer adds 1 hour of sleep.

In my experience, this only happens to me is it is more than 2 beers, later than 10pm in the evening :)

One of the things I learned a while ago is that there is really no point in complaining about being busy -- because "busy" is so subjective and virtually everyone views themselves as "busy" until they start tracking their time like you did.

I had the same realization with respect to money some time ago, which partially motivated analyzing my time budget. Budgeting of resources is crucial to understanding what you have and don't have (and need and don't need). It's difficult to do when you're feeling stressed/pressured, however. Which leads to a downward spiral for many people (or a "just hanging in there" loop).

I can't squeeze more than 4-6 hours of intellectually productive hours out of a day. I may delude myself into thinking I can do more, but it's not sustainable.

That's why I go to the gym, or clean my apartment, or cook a nice meal for myself (GF lives in another country so currently solo-cooking most nights), and call my GF.

I used to have really bad habits with respect to keeping my apartment clean. Not dirty, but just generally messy (bathrooms were terrible though, I'll admit). And it was because of the time it would take to do it. Acknowledging my true time budget I now keep a nice, though not spotless, apartment because I take 15 minutes each day to straighten something up. Some areas need a Saturday morning to tackle. But the bathroom is cleaned once a week. The floors get cleaned throughout the month in segments.

If you've ever spent time on money management with tools like YNAB or Mint, it's very similar. You realize where your time is going, and what time is left available. You mete it out in reasonable amounts to the tasks that need to be done. When I'd only clean my apartment once a month (at best) it was a major undertaking. It was intimidating and I'd skip months because of that. Amortize the time cost across the month, it's now "easy", and my apartment takes 20 minutes to get ready for company in the worst case of short notice from friends.

Not all work is (or needs to be) "intellectually productive."

I see statements like this on HN a lot, particularly from developers (myself included), but most of them cringe at the thought of having 2-4 hours of administrative work every day.

What sort of work would you class as administrative?

Meta-tasks around projects. Communicating/coordinating with other people. In big-corp land, mandatory training and time spent on time tracking (a bit ironic). Dealing with git screw-ups by people new to it.

> Dealing with git screw-ups by people new to it.

I do this all the time. Of course, the person new to it is usually myself.

I think the problem is when such administrative work interrupts the intellectually productive work.

I think another key component of administrative work is that even if it's time sensitive, it's not urgent.

Software Design is intellectually productive. If you aren't, you are not designing and implementing software.

I actually disagree - maybe 60% of good software dev is really really thinking. A lot of it is automatic, based on learning the crafts good habits, repeating motifs, testing can be repetitive but is important to do as you go. Making sample data, talking to people writing emails - so there is a chunk that is not deep foo.

This correlates with my anecdotal observation that the smartest people can write bad code, and it takes them quite a while to absorb the stuff of writing good code.. a couple years at minumum perhaps. Its not just about raw thinking power - perhaps the important bits are, but not all of it.

The book "your money or your life" would content that because work is exhausting you, in essence, it is "costing you" the work hours plus the hours to recoup. So count those all as work hours now...the real cost as it were :)

But it's also possible that you're just relaxing because you can or what not, dunno. Cheers!

The story seems to be that most people are under the delusion of being busier than they actually are, and if they just paid closer attention they would realize this.

To me the far more interesting question is, why do we feel so busy? I've made the observation to my family on numerous occasions that the most stressful and exhausting work days for me are the least productive, those days when I'm just sitting at the computer staring at the screen for 8 hours. After a day like that, at 5 o'clock I'm literally brain dead; nothing left. When I have some productive goal I'm working towards, my work has the opposite effect; I close my computer feeling energized & ready for whatever's next.

My theory, people feel busy because of stress/anxiety. Not necessarily the level requiring intervention, but just low level stress.

You have a bunch of tasks to finish this week at work. You get them all done, and properly accounted you realize they only took 30 of your 40 work hours. But you feel like you've spent much more time on it. You have, you've been thinking about it. Thinking about what to do next while you're going for your coffee break makes it not a break (mentally). This is why GTD suggests you get things out of your head. Once your tasks are captured, then you can focus on the doing and not the planning to do. You can also see the true scope instead of the anxiety magnified scope ("oh god, this'll take me ages", stress, stress, get to the time, it takes 10 minutes).

Maybe we can generalize this a bit, since you can definitely be stressed/anxious but not feel busy (e.g. when you have a big presentation coming up, and you're more worried about your performance than your preparation).

I would guess that knowing you have work to do, rather than actually doing the work, is what makes us feel busy. If I have 30 things to do today, I feel busy the moment I wake up, even if my morning routine is no different than usual. If I procrastinate for 2 hours and then spend 6 hours doing 20 of those things--pushing the last 10 to tomorrow--I still feel like I've had a crazy day even though I've done less than the amount of work in a typical work day. Then I spend all evening feel restless because I really should have finished up those last 10 things, so then my whole evening feels like work.

I don't think this is entirely an illusion. Thinking about work takes mental energy; often, it takes more energy than actually doing the work. This isn't just because of stress; it's because planning (even if that planning is ultimately pointless) is an active mode of thinking.

Perhaps the solution to feeling busy all the time is to refuse to think about work you haven't started yet (unless that work is specifically a thinking task, e.g. most coding). Easier said than done, of course. Personally, I know that constantly thinking about work to be done is what keeps me from forgetting about important things I need to do. My solution to the issue was to refuse to think about doing the work, instead only reminding myself that I had to do it. This "solution" actually caused me anxiety, because thinking through work made me feel like I had it under control. Not thinking through it made me feel like I was letting it slip away, which was actually a good thing, because entirely by accident it solved my procrastination problems. It turns out that "thinking through work" was enabling my procrastination by making me feel like I was being responsible when I was making no tangible progress. The anxiety of not thinking forced me to actually do the work, and for two weeks I was basically a workaholic while I caught up on all of the things I'd been procrastinating on. But, after those two weeks were over, something magical happened: I felt less anxiety than ever before, I felt like I had tons of free time, and I had far fewer things to keep track of. I didn't feel busy, but I also had no desire to become busy, because I knew I was still doing as much work as ever, if not more. The difference was entirely based on my thoughts outside of the time spent working.

True. Rereading my post made it sound like all busy people fell into the category I described. I didn't mean it to sound that way. Just that many of us who find ourselves busy aren't busy doing but busy worrying and doing. Removing or reducing the worrying changes a lot of how you perceive your time, resources, and workload.

To reduce the amount of time you think about work, capture it in a planner or app. Just record what needs to be done. Start prioritizing it. Turn this into a routine and over time a great deal of the mental burden is reduced. Initially it's quite stressful as you may feel overwhelmed by the amount of captured tasks. But once you start prioritizing and scheduling them, especially the repeated onse that only have to be captured and planned once, things smooth out quite a bit.

One reason I feel busy - there are a great many things in adult life that require attention, but are actually intractable.

For example, all the goods and services we need that are provided by a confusopoly (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confusopoly) of providers - phone plans, health insurance ("open enrollment" season), cable internet access, insurance, investments, real estate.

These are all areas of life that we must engage with, but are also huge time sinks - one can research for hours, days, or years, and not get anywhere further than a feeling of frustration and having been "busy", and we can't solve these things with any finality - next year, it's the same stuff all over again.

Mentally, this is so much worse than actual, proper work, where we can sit down, do it for a few hours, and at the end of it have something that is done, will stay done, and never need redoing.

The same is true for me. Not having work at work leaves me more worn out.

Or, possibly worse than having no work, having small amounts of annoying work, but nothing else. The worse is when all I have to do all day is this one annoying bug I havn't been able to figure out. It should take 2 hours to solve but it ends up taking three days.

I'm most energized when I start a new project and I have lots of stuff to build.

Sounds like you're a programmer too. I wonder if any other professions have this problem.

Believe it or not, I have the opposite perspective. I'd rather spend a whole week debugging something in a gnarly legacy system than architect/build one from scratch. I like being able to say, "it wasn't working before; now it works," and then get on with my life, rather than live with the consequences of a hundred wrong turns. Different strokes, I guess!

If you have a clear bug and you nail it that's a great feeling. But what's annoying for me is when you have a simple task of doing X, but you then realize that you need to replace Y for this, but A replacement doesn't work with B part and so on.. and when it's all done, few days later, all you've done is you just finished that simple 1 hour task.

That's what's killing me currently. Get a task, fairly straight forward, legacy system makes debugging a nightmare, end up spending a day or two on a task the output of which is < 10 LOC.

I definitely recognize this feeling. Some days everything fit and it's a clean implementation, but a lot of times there are tangential tasks that are never "seen" in the implementation. This can of course be reflected in scrum points or whatever, but is this an issue with our own psychology, with feature rewards or something else?

I don't know, and would like to know so I could work on it.

too of much of my day is spent on stupid stuff. Time must be guarded carefully--cut out all the crap

> To me the far more interesting question is, why do we feel so busy?

Positive/negative reinforcement? You enjoy being productive, and generally don't enjoy anxiety/stress (after a threshold). I'm not certain there's much a differentiation between undesirable stress and the sensation of being "too busy." My N=1 says they're identical and I've noticed it myself, that when I want to express how I feel about being too stressed, my mind tends towards the same vocabulary I used when I am too busy, regardless of how time consuming the stress is.

Imagine what it's like for those who actually have more than 40 hours of work to do each week. And hour and a half commutes each way.

I feel so busy because my work day is essentially 12 hours. Even at that, I know people who legitimately work more than 50 hours a week, every week. This is not sustainable. One great solution would be to start making companies pay overtime. Would create tons of jobs and a healthier society.

Let's take it a step further and make 35 hours full time. Time and a half after that.

It's the load on the back of your head (literally). If you are in a structured, predictable, organized environment with minimal interruptions - your performance is very high

Do note: the perverse case scenario for this is working at Foxconn

If at the back of your head you are processing what failure may mean, worrying about who will be upset, worrying about politics, etc. then emotional and cognitive load and stress in particular drains you out.

One thing that affected me was drinking coffee through the day, and then stopping in mid-afternoon, I found that from around 8PM to midnight that left me in sort of a zombie state. I eliminated caffeine for a few months and now I consume a smaller amount.

The author is clearly well into the upper-middle class financially, talking about nannies and "solo beach days" on both coasts. Wow, how out of touch is the typical New York Times writer these days.

Poor and working class people have truly busy lives compared to professionals. We should all remember that.

I think it depends a lot on the specifics. Of course, there are certainly lots of Americans who are both poorer than the author and work harder. But in the US, the very poorest people tend to be those who don't work at all, or only work part-time. People who live their whole life in a small town with one or two big employers, which move away when the economy crashes; people whose skills go out-of-date, and can't afford a retraining program; people who may be hard workers, but just really suck at interviewing, and always get rejected; people who want to work more, but their employer only gives them a few odd hours a day, and no one else wants to hire them when their schedule is unreliable; people who get job offers in other cities, but can't afford to move. This underclass doesn't work that many hours, and some would call them "lazy", but I think it's usually more like despair. It's terribly depressing to be broke, to not know if you can do anything other people see as valuable, and to have nothing better to do than watch TV or play video games.

The historical trends of leisure-time vs income are very interesting. Lots of different economic forces at work there -- http://www.economist.com/news/finance-and-economics/21600989...

I come from poverty. There is a big difference between poor and working poor. The poor get handouts, the working poor get fines because they can't afford Obamacare. Then people wonder why the poor don't struggle their way to working poor.

I also come from poverty and in my experience there can be a dangerous area making just enough money to be disqualified from receiving assistance where you're just a few mistakes or irresponsible decisions away from having serious money issues. But there are also a whole lot of people that qualify for all kinds of assistance and don't ever even bother to check because they are hard working people and take pride in that.

I think the solution is pretty simple: raise that income maximum well past where you would normally put it and make it trivial (like sign up on the internet trivial) for anyone who qualifies to receive assistance and make it just as simple to stop receiving it. Someone should be able to sign up and receive assistance on the next distribution cycle. This makes it easy for people in that dangerous spot to get assistance because you remove it and those with pride can get it quickly, easily and as temporarily as they want with no humiliation.

Here's why: Today you must commit a lot of time and effort as well suffer humiliation to get assistance. You have to stand in line, wait in a waiting area, fill out forms and finally talk to a worker about what a fuck up you are. If you have kids and can't get/afford a babysitter your kids are right there with you losing their minds. If you can't take time off work you don't get assistance because this government office is closed in the evening and on weekends. It may be hard to imagine something worse than the DMV but that's exactly what this is. And then you have to deal with doing it all over again because they are looking for the tiniest possible reason to turn off your assistance and force you to appeal.

Why is it so painful? Because welfare queens, drug dealers, drug users, lifers and frauds can't be allowed to get assistance even if the cost in terms of dollars and opportunity are much greater to prevent them from doing so. We've let it become about who we deem "deserves" it rather than a simple monetary calculation.

Whoever downvoted this comment doesn't understand it at all.

The working poor are a revenue source. By keeping people indebted, they remain predictable consumers and fixed-income assets, like a human bond.

The impoverished are effectively trapped by the welfare system itself, because it reduces benefits as incomes rise at a faster rate than can be made up by the equivalent amount of work. If the minimum wage was a living wage, like in Australia, then this wouldn't be a problem. But instead American welfare/min-wage clearly incentivizes staying just poor enough to keep getting benefits, or else you are actively making yourself poorer by working more.

This is why so many Walmart employees are on food stamps.

> the poor get handouts, the working poor get fines

> many Walmart employees are on food stamps.

Are you implying that Walmart employees are not 'working poor', or is the first sentence a dramatic over-generalization that doesn't contribute to the conversation?

Minimum wage Walmart employees are often working poor.

Poverty depends on perspective. Most Revolution-Era Americans were living in what we today would call extreme poverty. But you can have a tv and a smartphone today and still be quite poor, because of the difference in consumer cost between things we need and things we don't need.


Yes, I agree that Walmart employees are the working poor. I don't understand how you can recognise that and also argue for the validity of this statement

>There is a big difference between poor and working poor. The poor get handouts, the working poor get fines because they can't afford Obamacare. Then people wonder why the poor don't struggle their way to working poor.

I suspect you guys agree. I don't think he is saying there is a big difference in that they are both poor. The difference is that the poor are are being rewarded (transfer payments) while the working poor are being punished (they have to work, but still get fined, and pay taxes).

Poor, working poor, lower middle class, they're all crude definitions for people who are struggling. Arguing over who is more or less struggling or deserving is to play the oldest rich person's game of fight-for-scraps.

The argument isn't about who is struggling more, or is more deserving, it is how you might use different policies to help working poor vs the poor who can't even get a job, and how policies that intended to help one might inadvertently hurt the other.

Walmart pitches social programs as part of your compensation package when you apply. They dont exist to help the poor, its there to subsidize wages for the benefit of corporations.

The impoverished are effectively trapped by the welfare system itself, because it reduces benefits as incomes rise at a faster rate than can be made up by the equivalent amount of work

This isn't true. The CBO extensivesly evaluates changes in benefits and taxes to calculate effectice marginal tax rates across the income distribution to make sure that you never make less money from working more. There are a couple of ranges where you will lose money from working more, but none of them are larger than 25c/hr.


Some tax credits disappear faster than the rate of increased income. The only federal ones I'm familiar with are on the upper-middle-class portion.

California has some incentives that cliff at around $40k per household, no graduation (e.g. renters deduction).

The document you link to says:

  The marginal tax rates include the combined effects
  of federal and state individual income taxes, federal
  payroll taxes, and benefits from the Supplemental
  Nutrition Assistance Program and cost-sharing subsidies
  for health insurance, generally on the basis of 2016 law.
Unfortunately, SNAP and ACA health insurance subsidies are not the only means-tested welfare bits, and the other ones are _not_ being included here. Most prominently missing are Medicaid, TANF, and Section 8 housing, but there are a _lot_ of means-tested programs (e.g. Pell Grants) that only apply to certain households.

Now I do think it's true that the income ranges where the effective marginal "tax" rate is over 100% are fairly narrow for most households. But the ranges where the rates are less than 100% but not much less are far wider. And that gives you an effective take-home hourly wage that is tiny. If you happen to have kids, it almost certainly doesn't cover daycare costs, for example...

The analysis does include Medicade and TANF. Does not include section 8 because only a very small percentage of the non-elderly non-disabled poor receive section 8 housing subsidies.

Granted is there some small(~1-3%) portion of the poor who have a marginal effective tax rate greater than 100%. Probably. Are they representative of the vast majority of the poor? I don't think so.

> people whose skills go out-of-date, and can't afford a retraining program

United States job training programs do not work - they are a 1980s Reagan-era privatization scam to funnel tax dollars to private scam "training" and "job" centers that do not provide effective training or result in any meaningful employment outcomes: http://www.cornellpress.cornell.edu/book/?GCOI=8014010004030...

Job training needs to be stopped being mentioned as a realistic or viable option - it is a Republican distraction to free public universal vocational and university schooling in certified and accountable programs with qualified instructors: "why do we need free trade schools, we already have job training!"

Sorry, I think there's a semantic confusion here. By "retraining", I was also referring to vocational education and trade schools in general, not just a specific US government program. It sounds like you're not anti-retraining (as I was using the word), you just want it to be reformed and brought more under federal control.


Oh boy, I couldn't agree more... I, too, feel rage at this state of things. What makes it particularly awful is I just don't see any way out of it.

People are pathetically easy to manipulate for the most part. The poor are the demographic that most frequently votes against their interests. The fascinating part is, it would be easy to conclude that perhaps these people are simply not very clever. Well, that's certainly true for some fraction of them, to some extent... but I really don't think that this is the main factor (or even in the top 3), no - rather, I just think that it's a combination of their being credulous, and not particularly predisposed toward a special type of socially-strategic thinking. Like, the sort of thinking that manipulating psychopaths use to bend people to their will. Like you said, the poor are often plenty clever and useful, they often just get manipulated and used.

What I don't know is whether this is just a matter of education (and so long-term improvement is viable) or whether it's more of a societal-cultural values thing... or even, I guess, a biological thing (there is probably at least _some_ component of this but probably very minor relative to the others).

I'd want education to include a kind of mental self-defence component, so people can protect themselves against mental infiltration by virulent memes (eg, religions and other ideas which abhor and resist attempts of inspection and eradication) and demagoguery... as well as a heavy focus on critical thinking in general. Learning _how_ to think - not_what_ to think.

"that most frequently votes against their interests"

This itself is a meme. Shouldn't we sometimes vote against what's technically in our own narrow interests in favor of what's in everyone's interests or that of future generations?

That view that it it's "terribly depressing to be broke" and all the despair the poor in America feel because they can create no value could only be thought up by us smug hacker news software creators. I know first hand that much of the poor are content to live off the government, never had any aspirations and ultimately don't need much to survive and be content enough. They don't know what they don't know and therefore they don't suffer from the despair of not being the next Steve jobs. That was never on their list. They are truly ignorant enough to be content with video games. I'm not talking everyone but this probably is the majority. Things work and all you need is to be able to hold a minimum wage job for a few years at a time and when you get fired you can take a few years off while another friend or family member is on deck, meanwhile you're contributing food stamps the whole time, 6 months of an unemployment check, money from a few scams here and there, electricity bill deductions and many other such benefits you can get if you are below the poverty line. These are all meaningful contributions you can contribute well past the 6 months of paid unemployment. You have to understand you also have old people in the household collecting social security at $1k per month. There are not only other people not working, but other non-workers coming up with money and resources. It becomes just as normal for a working-age male to not be working as grandma. After all we aren't talking 1 person or couple cramped into an over priced San Francisco apartment. In short, the family doesn't need as much money and everyone bands together, and can go for a very long time bringing in very little money. And though totally in the hands of the "public" health care system whose bills they will never pay if they get into an accident, they are more than content with tv and stolen movies/shows via apps like "ShowBox" until that happens, and even after. They have near zero ounce of fight in them for anything more, certainly not to be the prolific CEO or CTO of a tech company. That's far out of their field of vision. I am one that believes to not aspire to something is not healthy. So for now ignoring the other psychological issues surrounding the more privileged all feeling disproportionate pressure to be somebody, I'll just say the opposite extreme we are discussing now is worse and it's out of ignorance. An ignorance most here can't understand or have forgotten. A true "ignorance is bliss" syndrome. To us it may look like that as a result they are content to live in squalor. The truth is the squalor of those living standards have risen. It all just feels normal to them. What I call "poverty trap sweet spots" certainly do exist in America.

... I barely know how to respond to this. If you think the most poor people are content being poor it's hard for me to craft a rebuttal given how out of touch you are with reality. I grew up poor myself. Like lived on the streets for 2 years, spent time in the state grouphome system, had shoes held together by safety-pins level of poor and I now make six figures. On my way from there to here I spent a lot of time with other poor people and the vast majority of them were extremely unhappy in their situations. A lot of them were working hard to get out of that situation, others had given up because they realized they didn't really have the aptitude or mental temperament or the resources to bootstrap to anything better. I met only a very-very small handful of people I would have described as "content" or "eager to game the system forever". Your disdain for the poor is frankly disgusting and sounds like it comes from a place of having never had to scrap and scrape for your next meal or make hard choices about which bills to pay this month because you can't afford to pay all of them. I can promise you it never feels normal to be just a few dollars, or one mistake away from homelessness.

How did you get out of it? Or are you still in that situation?

Hard work, a healthy serving of luck, and a decent amount of hustle. Luck in that while my living and financial circumstances sucked, I won the genetic lottery on the intelligence front, so learning has always been both fairly easy for me, and something I'm naturally inclined to pursue. On the hard work front I basically gave up my social life for the most part and instead focused on learning everything I could, and made myself available to move should any opportunity come up. At 35 years old I've moved over 20 times almost always in pursuit of opportunity. I also make a point to always be available for my clients or for my boss if I'm working for someone. This helped me build a decent sized network of people who say nice things about me which makes tracking down those new opportunities easier. Currently going on my 6th year in six figure territory and my 8th for doing better than 80K a year. Not bad for a previously homeless guy with a GED eh? :-)

It's good to hear about your experiences, but please don't make personal attacks on HN. Usually, commenters here are quasi-anonymous; even when they're wrong, it's bad to make assumptions about who they are as people, since in most cases you just don't know.

It's deserved, he painted a broad segment of working class folk as welfare queens. Why bother with that computer shit when there is a next to zero chance of it ever being useful? God help you if you want to progress into a field where the knowledge is locked away in the ivory tower or behind expensive texts/journal memberships.

Quite frankly it's disgusting and repulsive. Community rules be damned.

I'm not convinced "out of touch with reality" is a personal attack

Well, what about the attack on how the poor are "as people" in the parent comment?

He didn't make a personal attack, he attacked his position.

The reality is there are many "realities." That said, THERE IS A LARGE GROUP THAT LIVES LIKE I DESCRIBED. We can squabble over percentages all we want--it's large and that's all that matters.

Call them the "lucky poor" or whatever you want. Come to Las Vegas (not the strip) and see for yourself. Unfortunately, I'm living it first hand right now, coding away on my own self-funded project--yes, making decisions about which bills to pay etc.

I'm an anomaly. You are an anomaly. Perhaps you went from one anomaly (extremely poor) to extremely rich, and along the way missed the common scenario I'm bringing up. I'm simply stating the welfare state IS REAL (yes, even if they offer far more in Europe) to make my initial point that: the aforementioned group of people are NOT CONSCIOUSLY AWARE of the value they cannot create, and that it's "out of touch" to think they are. For the group I'm talking about, that's simply not their pain point.

We tech people are obsessed with creating value and assume for the majority its the same. We are projecting ourselves on to them, yet we are very different. They aren't seeing life through the same lens. If we really want to help people, we can't go from 0 to 60--we cant take people that aren't thinking about creating startups, tell em to their face "if only they created value they would be happy" and tell em to climb a mountain to do so. They won't make even the first step. We can't help bring others up unless we truly understand what they're dealing with, and what the initial baby-steps actually would be. So I apologize for my insensitive tone. It's a sensitive subject and I expressed some of my own frustrations with such people that I'm dealing with on a daily basis, which from my standpoint seems to be everyone but me. That all said, I think opportunities to create value is the answer--just, we must recognize we can't sell them a better future by telling them: "you aren't creating value, if only you were, you would be happy." That's as condescending as it gets.

Ultimately, it is hard to teach old dogs new tricks. Education and more opportunities for future generations is the best we can do. That's my current standpoint. My perspective is that it is very impractical and unlikely to teach a 50 year old cashier anything else. If we could magically produce statistics it wouldn't be looking good. This is reality. There's legions of people with minimum wage jobs that will have minimum wage jobs their whole life. One group may be in utter despair because of it, and another (the lucky poor) might be able to make it work well enough. The best we can do is show future generations the satisfaction, pride, etc that comes from the mastery of skills and creating things. The problem is in these communities there isn't the role models for success like in NYC or LA/SF. I grew up in NYC. I'm living in Las Vegas now. I see the difference in mindset daily. In NYC everyone is a hustler and about something. In Las Vegas once you get away from the strip and people who service it, virtually nobody is. Young people are absorbed with being wannabe gang-bangers and are not thinking about creating some enterprise or becoming an artist or whatever. I AM IN THIS DAILY and see this first hand. Have nephews and family members living like this.

NOW FOR MY RESPONSE TO YOUR PERSONAL ATTACKS: It sounds ultimately like you have lived your life siloed in an elevator from the bottom to the top and barely took a second to look around. It seems you care more about telling us all about how far you've come and how much money you now make. That's your ego at play. For you, it was very stressful being poor. So stressful you did something about it. What I'm saying is that for many it's nowhere near as stressful for them to do as much as you did about it. Put that in your pipe in smoke it, what do you say about that. There's no much you can say. It doesn't sound like you did very well at being poor. It sounds like you got one taste and as soon as you were of age, you headed for the hills. It's a common story. No shame in that. And I'm happy for you. However, I'm doubtful that in your later more inevitably conscious years you were around much to watch it first hand. Whatever it is, your words don't help. I'm apprehensive as to how much you actually do want to help. Typically the words you have shared--about how far you've come and how much money you now make--serve no purpose but to make you feel good about how far you've come. So for those that actually do want to help, THERE IS A PROBLEM: people are under-educated, are not surrounded by models of success, and perhaps if they were actually conscious of how little value they are creating and how accessible it is to create value, they might. But to pretend like they are all aware of this lack is completely unproductive. If they were they would be taking the first step to clawing their way out of that dead-end scenario.

NOW FOR A SOLUTION: well for one, there never is a silver bullet. This is a large country overseen by a bloated stagnating government that each year wastes a larger percentage of taxpayer money than the last. That likely isn't changing any time soon unfortunately. We can't rely on them to overhaul our schools. Technology has become cheap--and as poor as everyone is--they all manage to have modern phones and TV setups. Education technology is simply the key. Not necessarily in the traditional sense, but that too. As technologists it is our mandate to bring as many opportunities as possible to small screens in people's hands. I think we also--going along with the theme of this discussion--need to put pressure on people to be somebody. Simply put, many people are not growing up with any urgency to do something great, be somebody, call it whatever you wanna call it. If you don't grow up with the urgency to hustle, you likely won't. As a controversial of a point as it is, it's just the reality. The people in this forum--us--got the "do something big" bug. I think it can be taken to negative extremes, but overall I think it's a positive thing. So I'll just sign off by saying abstractly that through our apps we need to convey this vision, this mandate, so future generations between LA and NYC are inspired.

I don't think it's likely that I'll convince you otherwise, but my experience -- having grown up in a very poor community -- could not be further from yours.

Despair is exactly the word I would use to describe the feeling of not being able to make your bills and not being sure if you'll ever be able to save enough to afford moving to a more prosperous place. I'd say the majority of my friends and acquaintances at the time felt that way, too. The only reason I was ever able to escape was luck; my grandparents had to rescue me from a variety of financial disasters that would be extremely minor for somebody not on the edge of being able to make rent. It's amazing how much damage getting a $25 parking ticket because you had to work late can cause when you're working a minimum-wage -- (at the time: $5.15/hr) -- job. Lack of aspiration is definitely not the problem; lack of hope definitely is, though.

I don't mean to engage you in a debate about this, though; it seems like you have already made up your mind. I just don't want your comment to go un-challenged.

> That view that it it's "terribly depressing to be broke" and all the despair the poor in America feel because they can create no value could only be thought up by us smug hacker news software creators.

I think that's the view that's easy to come up with for smug HN software creators.

I've lived in poverty while working a minimum wage job, and while it was only for a couple years, it utterly destroyed my morale. There was no reliability; nothing I could count on. If something happened; if I got sick or if something broke down, then I would have had to go to a loan shark. Not because I was stupid or because I didn't understand that I'd never be able to pay the loan back, but because there would simply be no other option.

Long story short, I escaped that situation largely through luck, but I try to keep reminding myself of what it was like in the days where I had to double-check my bank balance before agreeing to go out for Chik-Fil-A.

> They are truly ignorant enough to be content with video games.

While I understand the sentiment and may have even expressed similar feelings when younger, the reality is a bit more nuanced.

It's more like they hit walls and repeated failure when trying to move up the ladder and eventually just gave up. You may not have been around for that, but it did happen.

And yes, there are plenty who are so persistent that they never stop trying and eventually do experience some level of success ... but that doesn't excuse a society which is openly hostile to those who want to do better and instead shoves a government check in their mouth.

Have that happen to you often enough and you'll choose to play video games instead too. At least with video games, success is just around the corner. They were designed with you winning in mind.

Imagine you are born into a glass room. Others are already in the room. Initially your focus is within the room. You don't really notice anyone outside the room. But eventually your mind starts to imagine other possibilities. Looking around, ,none of the others are trying to break through the walls, even though they can see others outside those walls. You ask about this, but are told there's no point - the walls are impervious. You start focusing outside those walls. At some point, you decide to have a crack. Yet no matter how you try, the walls are indeed impervious. You stop trying. You accept your lot. Are you happy? No. Would you rather it were different? Yes. Are you doing anything to try and bring about a difference? No. It's futile.

I could also add, that very few on the outside are truly looking into the glass room. Some will be aware of it and its inhabitants, but of those most are uncomfortable or even offended. For some those feelings arise when considering the inhabitants; for others considering the glass room itself. "I did not create the glass room", they think. "I did not put those people there". While they may feel some sadness at this state of affairs, they do not at all see themselves as causally connected to the glass room or its inhabitants.

Some of the inhabitants of the glass room may try and communicate their presence and their dissatisfaction to those outside the room. But largely, those communications are either misunderstood, or ignored. Many of those that tried to communicate conclude that the minds of the "outsiders" are as impervious as the glass walls of the room itself.

To those on the outside, it does indeed seem as the glass-room dwellers have lost any fight. "How can we help those that won't even help themselves?". "Knowing nothing other than the glass room, perhaps that is where they are most suited to stay. They seem content enough."

Perhaps the walls contain an unknown but fatal flaw? The walls seem able to absorb vast quantities of anger without exhibiting any faults. Yet upon reaching a (very high) threshold, that pent up anger may cause the walls to suddenly shatter. I wonder, how much fight will the glass room dwellers will show then?

Edit: grammar fix.

Is this more about The Matrix, Great Expectations, Good Will Hunting, Dead Poets Society, or What Dreams May Come?

I condense your analogy to the aphorism:

Until people realize they can change, they won't try

Love the compression ratio ;-)

However, I think your version could be subject to misinterpretation. When you are referring to change, are you implying "themselves", "their circumstances", or both?

In the story above the glass room dwellers did change themselves - from aspirational to resigned.

So perhaps, the compression was "lossy" after all ;-)

>I know first hand that much of the poor are content to live off the government, never had any aspirations and ultimately don't need much to survive and be content enough.

Well, I know the opposite first hand. The idea that poor are content being poor is totally out of this world, especially in the US where the welfare and "handouts" for poor people are a joke (compared to Western Europe, nordic countries, etc).

>Things work and all you need is to be able to hold a minimum wage job for a few years at a time and when you get fired you can take a few years off while another friend or family member is on deck, meanwhile you're contributing food stamps the whole time, 6 months of an unemployment check, money from a few scams here and there, electricity bill deductions and many other such benefits you can get if you are below the poverty line.

This is crazy talk compared to all the people I've known and listened in such conditions. This is much closer to how poor people working such "minimum wage jobs" actually live:


Yup - it's hard to imagine a more out of touch viewpoint. Straight out of "talking heads present one type of franchise blockbuster reality fiction that manipulates you into betraying your fellow humans and yourself" land.

The life you're describing doesn't sound nearly as bad to me as it does to you. The people in this picture have family, community, people watching their back and taking care of each other. They may not have money, but they're wealthy. I don't think that describes anything like the majority of poor people though.

Despite what you intend to mean, I think you describe the "lucky poor", those who have a functional family and community. I think there is some truth to what you say; nobody on HN considers early retirement/FI as something to be depressed about. There shouldn't be anything wrong with banding together as a community to pool resources, work together, and enjoy leisure.

Yet you are actually addressing a different point than the commenters in this thread. The rest of the commenters are talking about the unlucky poor, those who are trapped and aren't able to live comfortably with the support of family and friends.

As to what proportion of poor are the unlucky vs the lucky, this is less easily discovered. I imagine the "unlucky" poor are at least half. I don't have any data for that.

I don't think I've read anything this condescending in years.

The author makes it abundantly clear the article is for working professionals, particularly women. I don't see any suggestion in the article that a single mother with three jobs has time for swing dancing lessons and hiking trips.

And that's kind of the whole point of the article, isn't it?. The poor and working class people in my life don't complain about how "busy" they are nearly as much as the more well-to-do, despite being so much busier than the middle-class-and-up. They don't talk about it like that, because they're much more grounded in reality. Meanwhile, many college students, lawyers, doctors, engineers, programmers, etc. are acting like they can barely spare a minute because of how busy they are. Maybe these people are busy, in a sense, but the whole point of the article is that they're not nearly as busy as they believe they are.

I think there's a deeper issue at play that the article doesn't touch on: that acknowledging you're not busy is perceived as laziness. There's a certain culture of shared misery, where we all agree to tell each other that we're all so busy, and then we can all feel good both about what we do and about what we don't do.

Here's an anecdote (that's meant to illustrate a situation, not talk myself up): when I was in school, on more than one occasion I had someone tell me that I must be "so busy" because of my major and programs I was enrolled in (and the fact that I was pulling off good grades). When I told them that no, I really wasn't that busy, they were incredulous. There always had to be some explanation for why I wasn't busy, like that I was cheating or taking easy classes or something. The problem was that they thought they were busy, and they figured I must be doing at least as much work as they were, so by deduction I must be busy too. Well it turned out I was doing just as much work as they were; I just didn't think that qualified me as "busy." One person, after drilling me on how much time I spent on school work, scoffed: "Oh, so you are busy then," and thought I was just trying to act cool or something.

I don't believe that you're not allowed to write about a social phenomenon just because there are people in world to whom it doesn't apply. It's very clear the types of people the author is talking about.

Wow, no kidding. I have ZERO kids, and am well aware of the couple hours of free time I have in the evenings before bed. I make sure I get enough sleep most of the time.

That said, free days on the beach? Midday naps or sleeping all morning on a hotel room while traveling? I sleep less on business trips, and can't fathom just sitting around the beach all day.

I'm not saying my life is harder than hers, it's almost certainly not -- I'm just saying if I had 1 kid, let alone 4, it would put that to shame.

Why does a busy life put a less busy life "to shame"?

I'm not sure if you meant it literally, but I do know a lot of people who do. They literally get offended and defensive if I suggest they have some free time to do something.

But there really isn't anything shameful about successfully budgeting time, just as there isn't anything shameful about having spare money left over from your paycheck. Quite the opposite, actually.

I think it was quite obviously meant to be figurative.

As a parent of four kids myself, this seems ridiculously low:

"I spent a mere 9.09 hours weekly on housework and errands"

How is that possible? Housecleaner? Personal shopper? Nanny?

We spend 6-8 hours each week shopping around trying to save money on just groceries, and that's not including clothes or haircuts etc.

I wonder if your hours may be a bit off -- are you logging them like the article author? 6-8 hours a week on just groceries is an hour a day, that seems quite high. Personally we just spend an hour at the grocery store to purchase everything for a week in advance, and maybe anotehr hour to pick up things we forgot later in the week.

Averaged to an hour a day sounds about right actually. If you go to a couple of stores and don't just buy everything at one place it adds up. Every time I go shopping with my Dad or brother its a 5 hour jaunt with various excursions during the week.

Nanny and husband, per the article. She said she travels a lot for work, so travel weeks will also bring down the average significantly.

We spend about an hour per day each on household chores not counting grocery shopping and non-everyday things like cleaning gutters or putting furniture together which I have some unopened Ikea boxes from 2 years back lol. Oh yea, no kids :)

As a stay-at-home dad with twins, I spend about 2 hours a week shopping and probably an hour a day on average on housework. We cook lots once a week and microwave it; I run the dishwasher every day and do laundry perhaps 3 times a week.

Of course I spend a lot of time with the kids, playing, dressing them up, changing diapers etc. All day basically. But that's more like hanging out than housework.

> We spend 6-8 hours each week shopping around trying to save money on just groceries

Curious, How much money are you saving in exchange for that effort?

It's worth noting that the writer of this piece isn't a New York Times employee; she's an author doing a guest spot. It seems unlikely that the typical NYT journalist lives a similar life.

It seems that at least a few journalists at the top end of their profession do make "rich" level money, based on an article I seem to remember reading about one such journalist making over $200k and realizing he was out of touch with most people. But certainly it doesn't seem common.

Yes it is very similar to another guest spot writer who wrote about retiring in Manhattan: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/04/opinion/sunday/for-a-long-...

HN Comments here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12429693

Specifically my comment on the guest writer being fairly privileged: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12433360

...You know cause everyone can easily retire to Manhattan...

Have you ever shopped for child care as one of two working parents?

Have you priced day care centers vs nanny shares? You do realize that most people using a nanny would trade that arrangement for quality government child care in a heartbeat? It is not uncommon for several dual-income working families to be sharing the services of a nanny making $20/hour, very often under the table, meaning there are all kinds of potential liabilities and risks for both the parents and the nanny.

Imagine a working middle class family just trying to be modestly successful. They go to college, they move to where they can make the most money. There is no extended family nearby. They end up shelling out a huge portion of their income for child care.

You're right, the poor have it worse. And you're probably right that the writer is on some level "out of touch." But god, it has nothing to do with the fact that she is "talking about nannies." Nannies are not some luxury thing in this country; due to the near total lack of government support, there is huge demand for them, which is often met by vulnerable workers (immigrants) connecting with other vulnerable workers (parents essentially forced to turn to unvetted nannies if they want to both work an keep their head above water).

Who do you think reads the New York Times? Writing for your audience isn't the same as being out of touch with everyone else (though they may well be).

Her husband, Michael Conway, is the managing partner at McKinsey's Philadelphia office.

> Poor and working class people have truly busy lives compared to professionals. We should all remember that.

Except it's not true. The poor and working class have a lot more financial stress and less power to change.

That doesn't make them busier or mean they work harder.

FWIW, she's an independent contributor, not an NYT journalist. Other NYT contributors (e.g. Paul Krugman) are not regular folks either.


Laura Vanderkam : Princeton

her husband: high up in McKinsey & Co

1%ers or 0.1%ers? maybe even 0.01%ers?

People who can make a living as writers generally have a spouse who makes much more money, more regularly. It shows.

>Wow, how out of touch is the typical New York Times writer these days.

I'd venture they are approximately as out-of-touch as the people who give the poor and working class those extremely busy schedules in the first place.

I agree with you, but the author is trying to pass a message, that we are not so busy as we think we are. People from all social classes could potentially measure their days to realize that.

Yeah but the difference between working class $50K per year, and professional $500K per year, is tiny in comparison to the difference between millionaire and billionaire.

A billionaire can buy a new Mercedes Benz every day, and burn it to the ground in a pile of $100 bills at the end of that day, and not run out of money their entire life. So...

Is it really? At $50k/year, planning to save for things most people have to deal with is hard. You have to actively plan for it, and still might not be able to. At $500k/year, it's easy. At a million or a billion, it's still easy. Yeah there are large differences, but not in terms of day to day life relative to a normal person.

Yes, exactly. If we're going to talk proportions, then both "sides" need surfacing. If you're on lower income, otherwise "minor" fines, fees, surcharges etc can become life threatening or at least highly disruptive. The cost of failure is so high that it becomes very difficult to take the sort of risks that are sometimes needed to get ahead.

> Yeah but

Most professionals have a financial safety net the working class do not. That is a huge psychological difference.

One just adds one zero, the other adds three. The proportion is correct.

I've heard a great saying once: "Happiness is the difference between expectation and reality." The more time I think about it, the more I agree.

I am starting to see that it applies to time as well. I used to feel like I have no free time. However, after thinking about it, it feels like that because I have big ambitions. I just want to do a lot.

I want to do my job well, work on my side project, spend quality time with my wife and kids, keep the house in good shape, get myself into better shape, help those around me, cook and eat healthy, grow my tomatoes, develop my mind, entertain myself, read books, keep up with the news, socialize with friends, call mom and dad, travel the world, and also have time to be by myself and cultivate calmness through solitude.

That is a lot. I've realized that I was demanding too much from myself. I made a conscious decision to lower my expectations of myself. I will still do all of the things above, and likely many more. I just won't try to do them this week, this month, or perhaps this year.

>I've heard a great saying once: "Happiness is the difference between expectation and reality." The more time I think about it, the more I agree.

In a similar note. I believe that it is has been shown that happiness is believing that the future will be better.

So it more important to have positive expectation of the future than your present reality. Because you adapt to your present reality whatever it is but you always need to know that things will be better.

Part of it is that constantly being busy can create a lot of physical and mental fatigue and stress, making it difficult to do things you might otherwise even if there is some free time. "I never have time" can technically be a lie, "I can't do all this and stay sane" usually isn't.

I've found even the thought of worrying about work I need to do in the near future can prevent me from participating in hobbies, despite having ample time for those hobbies.

As a fairly new parent, I have had a similar realization. I have some free time, but because of the lack of sleep and exhausting nature of the work I am doing, I can't do the productive things I want to do in my free time. I am simply too tired to give the mental or physical energy required.

The article seems to assume that context switching takes no time. If that were true I have a lot of free time.. it's just never contiguous.

And so much time getting from thing to thing!

Drop the kids at school by 7:30, go home and shower and eat quick, run downtown to work, pop out for a meeting and get back, stop home and eat, off to grocery store -- well, two actually because neither one has the entire list -- then back, quick nap (timer, 15 min), edit kid's essay draft, keep cats from killing each other, run out and pick up first shift of kids after school, home to let in furnace repair guy, back out to get kid's hair cut, stop to buy batteries and get cash and gas during haircut, pick up second shift after school, back home, do last night's dishes and make dinner, take kid to evening activity (an hour in traffic), swim while he's there, shower at the Y, pick kid up, and home again to eat dinner at 9.

Partner's in NY at work til late, but this is a very typical day of no-research-accomplished-whatsoever, and really I ought to fit in "make tomorrow's dinner" later tonight because tomorrow looks too full already.

Funny thing I noticed: when you start a family and have kids, you are forced to get better and better at the _skill_ of context switching quickly. You learn how to be productive with twelve 15-minute slots divided by interruptions instead of a contiguous 3 hours. Being able to do this is a skill like any other. I no longer buy the whole "in/out of the zone" thing as if it is some fundamental law of nature.

I have been practicing it for years now. Sure you can switch and get things done but everything seems to suffer by doing so. Either the time with the kids is distracted or the task is done while annoyed. There are seemingly very few practical things that don't require some setup and teardown that you can't just do in brief snippets.

> Funny thing I noticed: when you start a family and have kids, you are forced to get better and better at the _skill_ of context switching quickly.

While basically true it's been 6 years since we had our first kid (we're have two now) and I'm still not very good at context switching.

But what are you actually doing in those 15-minute slots? What is your standard of productivity? I've never met someone with kids who was able to work as effectively as I am at the subjects I work on in the presence of their kids.

I mean, I have a girlfriend I only see on weekends, and that's already a huge drain on my productive time. It's made me noticeably dumber.

I just constantly find myself out of the zone with a family/kids around.

Hence the utility of having some people in a family specialise in staying in the zone, and others specialise in handling child-based interrupts, not entirely different from having one CPU devoted to main processing tasks and other processing units handling ancillary tasks.

During the nuclear-family era, the idea was that dad would specialise in in-zone work and mom would specialise in interrupt servicing, but both before and after I think it was rather more fluid.

Prior to that children were vastly more independent as well.

Contemporary (starting in the 50s at least) suburban living styles makes letting your kids be that independent very difficult. Not just the hyperbolic fear that some have about child safety, but just what they can do locally without needing a parent or older sibling to drive them.

Setting aside rural/country living where your neighbors were miles away, urban (large or small city) living was more centered around local shops, parks, and other environments. Now they live in a sea of houses, and have to travel way outside it to get to other activities or free space like woods and parks for play.

Are you attempting to imply that cities did not exist 50 years ago? I'll think you'll find that not only did they exist children were far more autonomous in them. The fact is helicopter parents have won the day.

The explosion in suburban-style living happened (in the US) largely post-WWII, [EDIT: starting] in or around the 1950s. That's the shift I'm referring to. Living in suburbs makes it easy for kids to wander the streets (parents feel it's safe), but the design (or lack thereof) of many of them make it difficult for kids to be "independent". It's hard to be a 12-year old who wanders to the local candy store to spend your allowance when the nearest shop like that is 10 miles away because of suburban sprawl. Some areas did a better job than others of trying to make their suburbs more like towns with local shops, theaters, and such. But many did not.

Cities certainly have existed for ages, and they did allow for children to be quite autonomous. It's the post city move to the suburbs (setting aside the helicopter parent cultural shift we've had) that created a large impact on the availability of options for kids to act as independent people.

Additionally, for teens, suburbs make having their own jobs very challenging (though it can reward the entrepreneurial few who start their own service businesses like lawn mowing or raking). Again, short a car, suburbs make life difficult for them, they require the assistance of their parents or others to transport them around, which reduces their autonomy.

I've never gone full log analysis on this question but several times in my career I've wondered "Am I really getting less done than I used to or am I mis-remembering the past?"

Doing a surface analysis of that highlighted lots of places where I was doing something I wanted to do and later counting it as "wasted" time. So for example if I spent an hour watching a television show and later felt I had wasted an hour watching TV, I could go back and re-score that to "I wanted to watch television and I did, why are my priorities for that time different now than they were then?"

And for me, there were two things that were key to me getting better with my time. One was to be explicit about my priorities, and the other is the bin packing problem.

If you spend three hours on things, separated by 15 minutes between hours, you end up "losing" 45 minutes because 15 minutes is too short to spin up a new task but long enough to be meaningful.

If I wanted to address the bin-packing problem then it meant being a lot more thoughtful about planning my use of time. And doing three one hour things back to back (with a plan to switch tasks at the earlier of "I'm done" or "it's been an hour" that coalesces the three 15 minute chunks into one 45 minute chunk which is enough time to watch an hour long TV show if you can skip all the commercials.

I keep track of my own time quite well and don't really agree with the article at all in fact I started coming up with my own outlandish solutions. One of them is that I segment my sleep like people used to do before the Industrial Revolution. When I get off work I sleep for 2-3 hours and then go to bed much later for 3-5 hours. I've found that I used to waste more time preparing to try and sleep for 8 hour blocks than doing anything else. Now I just go to sleep when I'm actually tired along with the creativity boost you get between 1-3am when you segment your sleep. I'm not distracted during those hours because no one is still awake to distract me and the time becomes more useful.

What system do you use to keep track of your time?

From the article: "I think that time tracking deserves a try. A life is lived in hours. What we do with our lives will be a function of how we spend those hours, and we get only so many."

It's high-status to be busy. Time tracking, while useful for some, is more likely to be a way for people to play the status game.

I agree on the status point - talking about how 'busy' you are is basically bragging about your status.

I suspect the working poor or people who actually have less control over their time are more likely to say they're exhausted/tired/overwhelmed than 'busy'.

Busy to me is someone just advertising they're important.

In my experience, It's never time which is the problem, it's mental attention. Having 4 hours of free time at the end of a tiring day is meaningless if you don't have the mental energy to actually use it.

There's quite a few money-budgeting apps out there (Mint, YNAB, etc...) to help you figure out where your money is going, but I haven't seen much for time-budgeting apps.

I know I wasn't great with money until I counted every cent for a while, I wonder if the same effect could be replicated for people who don't spend their time as effectively as they'd like.

YNMT (You need more time)?

Offer a similar "budgeting" experience as YNAB, but constrained (you literally have 24 hours a day, no more, no less). Create categories and subcategories. Work - Programming, Meetings, blech; Meals - Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Preparation, Shopping; Kids - Transport, playing with, working with; Home - Bathroom, Kitchen, Floors, Mowing; Financial - Bills, Budgeting.

Open the app and log your time, specifying the appropriate category. Reallocate time. You wanted to spend 24 hours at the lake this month (rented a cabin, camping), but you needed to clean the gutters and forgot about it so you go to the lake later on Saturday, not first thing in the morning.

Would be able to generate reports at different levels of granularity, like a budgeting/accounting app can. Generate a daily, colored, chart so you can see where in each day you spend time (or don't for unaccounted for time) and identify trends and problems (I go to bed between 8pm and 11pm, maybe I should make that more regular).

I started using toggl for personal time tracking this week, and so far it's working really well. For just a local android app, I used aTimeTracker before and it was unobtrusive enough to get in a habit of using it.

We are trying to do this at Smarter Time with 99% automatic tracking. We just launched our first version (on Android) so there are still some rough edges, but this is our end goal.

I've fallen into the busy trap pretty often lately.

Busy to me - paradoxically - is correlated with not getting shit done. It's one thing to have a lot to do, and get 90% of the tasks done, and another to have a lot to do, and get 10% of the tasks done, with the other 90% rolling over onto the next day.

It's the roll-over that's really the stressor for me, when I feel most "busy", and that creates a self-fulfilling prophecy for the next day, when you have that much more to do.

Nice! We have a lot of time. Hey morons, stop whining and work more.

This article represents a crazy mindset. We are not in the middle of the Industrial Revolution. Nobody should have to work so much any more.

BTW. She has 4 weeks vacations.

“To me, ‘busy’ implies that the person is out of control of their life.” – Derek Sivers

Well, I am out of control of my life. Because I need money to live, and so does my family. So I'm slaving the days away.

Sure. People that need to work to feed their family (as opposed to working by choice, on things they like at their own terms, and having the financial support to not work for years on end) are out of control of their life in that regard (they have to be somewhere for 8+ hours each workday, they cant change places unless they found a job at the new place, etc).

He sounds like he's great friends with whoever said "let them eat cake instead".

Derek's wrong, of course.

The lack of time is really a perception caused by mental overload. Most people I know have extra time. They're just incredibly overwhelmed with the background noise of work. They have time, but extremely little of it is mentally useful time.

I have a time tracking code called "HN". 33.19 hours logged so far this year. I think it's time well spent...

What kind of systems do you guys use for time tracking, priority organization, and achieving goals/finding meaning? I've flittered around with various systems, but never settled on anything. (Planning out my week in advance, time tracking from 15 minute intervals to morning intervals with what I have during the day, to do lists organized by urgent+important // important // urgent // neither, etc. It can be overwhelming, but I strongly suspect a system that makes me cognizant of my behavior, decisions, and where I am adding/finding the most value is superior to having no system at all.

I've found that a rough version of GTD has really helped me focus on "getting things done" when I feel i need structure because I am pulled in many different directions.

Don't worry about all the self help material, it really is a simple workflow:


From an overall "how to think and act effectively" philosophy, the original is still the best IMO: "The Effective Executive", by Peter Drucker, written in 1967. It contains very simple ideas, but I've found them to be tremendous life lessons on how to do the right things, rather than just doing things right.

Are there any suggestions for time tracking apps? Start-stop timers don't seem to fit me very well: I fall off the wagon real quick. I also tried reporterapp (www.reporter-app.com) but that didn't last long either. Any advice?

Fascinating. But there is something wrong with this analysis and I can't quite figure out what it is. Maybe there's a presumption that efficiency leads to happiness - it's not explicit but I'm sure it's hinting at it.

I'm a big believer in not trying to fit too much in. As the author says, there are only so many hours in a life time, so actually experiencing it rather than trying to fill it is perhaps another way to look at it.

nice article, but i think its the wrong metric. as others on here have noted, its energy not time that is the true finite resource. i have only about 3-4 good hours of focus per day. who cares about free time when thats the bigger constraint?

Is there a Chrome extension or program that does something like mentioned in the article, asking you every half-hour "what did you do this last half-hour?" I think that would be an effective way to get me logging my time.

Reading this made me want to watch an episode of Real Housewives.

Reminds me of the WSJ's infographic of tax-hike impacts and the forlorn expressions on their faces.


We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13082545 and marked it off-topic.


I hear your point about detaching, and I agree that these are cases where it has gone too far. It's a balancing act, and when we bump up against the edges we're more than happy to hear from the community and adjust. We don't always make the right calls, but when we don't we need the feedback to be constructive. Obviously we can't have this kind of commenting here on Hacker News.

It's not just that they threw in a token retired AA couple and token hardworking Asian businesswoman. It's that they think those people will be making, respectively, $180k per year (that's three times the income of a well-off middle/working class person!) and $230k/year (that's maybe 98th percentile). Oh, the poor girl, she has to pay another $2k (1% of her income) in taxes! Call the Red Cross!

It's unimaginable that we're supposed to pity the family which rakes in more than half a mil per year, and almost as much after taxes. $650k is more than plenty of C-suite executives make in a year, and places that dude and his poor wife and four kids in the 99.5th percentile for income.

We're supposed to feel bad for these obscenely wealthy fake people?

I have seen same thing in Indian newspapers where concerns of of many 0.1% of nation's richest are frequently discussed as the biggest issues of populace.

That is shockingly out of touch.

Wow, those income numebers are insane. Was that a sarcastic infographic or was it serious one?

It was from this article on the upper middle class: http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2016/06/21/not-just-the-1-the.... The HuffPo article conveniently omits "upper".

Well, that convenient omission sure changes the context enormously. People can have different opinions on the definition of "upper" but that is certainly worlds away from the point HuffPo was trying to make.

Irresponsible from HuffPo, but, what do I expect from people trying to get clicks?

I wouldn't call that upper "middle" class, I would just call that upper class...

Upper class is when you no longer have a salary, just investments. Upper middle is when you have a high salary and some investments, but your main source of income is still leveraging time and skill for money.

So ... the retired couple (top right) is upper class then.

That's a good question. I don't know.

I guess it depends on what kind of retired you are. If you're living off of $1000 of dividends per month, or a $600 pension, then you're probably not upper class. At $4000/month like the couple in the picture ... borderline?

Maybe once you retire you just stay the class you were before you retired?

> Maybe once you retire you just stay the class you were before you retired?

That's how I've always heard it, for what it's worth. The middle class, including the upper middle class, earns salaries; the upper class pays them.

So a CEO with a seven figure salary is still upper middle class? I think not.

If said salary is their main/only source of income, why not? Afaik as long as you need a salary to maintain your lifestyle, you're middle class.

Grey areas abound of course. Whichever definitionwe write down, someone can find an example that doesn't feel right.

Like, what if your 7 figure CEO is 8 figures in debt and all their assets are leveraged to the brim and if they lose their job it's all getting foreclosed by the bank and they're homeless in a month?

What if a 5-figure small business director/owner lives a comfy life well within their means and has 10 years of fuck you money?

Life's weird.

I don't think you can consider someone "upper class" if they aren't at the point where they can comfortably work for their own enjoyment without needing to draw a wage from someone else.

Can't find a direct non-paywall link, but here's the discussion with links: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/16/wall-street-journal...

(A bit suspicious now; none of them have direct links to the article.)

The original article was talking about specifically how this tax increase would affect higher earner families. It was not the intent of the story to describe these as typical of the general population.

So the sad, sympathy-inducing facial expressions was just ... what? Something the artist independently decided to do?

The article's scope was only higher earning families. Of course the facial expressions were sad-- no one likes tax increases, merited or not.

The artist isn't implying that the increases are unfair, but is simply depicting the effects of the cuts.

I personally wouldn't be so upset if I were the woman.

Not sure I understand what you are trying to imply? I think the artists intent was to show distress at having to pay large fines. I think that regardless of income people can(and usually do) feel distressed at having to pay thousands of dollars in fines. I personally wince at 20 dollar parking tickets, and probably always will despite my level of income.

Do you also wince at paying money for your groceries?

If I feel like what I am obtaining from an exchange of money for some thing, is less valuable to me than the amount of my lifetime/mental and physical energies I spent to acquire that money originally, I am probably not going to feel good about the exchange. This seems like common sense to me?

It makes me feel even worse on general principle when the exchange is coercive, using my example, I parked in a place that was designated by "random person with authority" at "random point in time" as not to be parked in, so if I don't pay my locally sanctioned protection racket I will be penalized. I will never see this as a positive thing.

EDIT: Also, it should be said that with things like taxes there is a distinct psychological effect/cognitive bias where people see less value in things where the effect or value of the transaction cannot be easily seen.

How much are paved roads, fire trucks, city administrators, and hospitals worth to you?

You are on the verge of straw-manning me, I am absolutely not some anti-tax advocate. I willingly pay fees based reasonably on a fraction of my overall income to pay for those services, and I see nothing wrong with that. But wanting these services for other people in the use-pool, and my personal use-level of the communal service-pool are two different things.

The 'wince' from paying taxes comes from the psychological disconnect between my actual use-level of the services, it isn't logical, but it is definitely there. This psychological disconnect is where libertarian positions come in, people want to pay for what they make use of, and no more. I don't personally believe that individualistic positions make much sense, but I experience why people would advocate for them in a visceral way when I pay for services that I don't use.

I have never once broken a bone or been a patient in a hospital for any reason, I have still paid for it.

I have never once used a fire service, nor can I think of a single person I know that has off the top of my head, yet I still pay for it.

The roads in my city are a great example because in my city the money has been mismanaged and they have not patched any pot-holes for over five years now. My morning commute to work across my city is as bumpy as rural country roads. And yet I am still paying for something?

These things add up to that wince when I pay money, but that isn't to say that we shouldn't pay for the upkeep of these services and I would never advocate for people not acting collectively. I think the 'wince' is more of a symptom of how disconnected we are from the other people in our community.

When we don't see the fruits of our monetary subsidies because we are disconnected from all the people around us we lack the positive stimulation our brains require to tell us we made a good purchase with our taxes.

This is going to be devastating to feminists:

"I have found that for women especially, it is the best antidote to the pernicious narrative that professional success requires harsh sacrifices at home."


"... a narrative of craziness, the sort professional women in particular tell one another as we compete in the Misery Olympics,"

How so?

Well, think about it:

These quotes minimize the legitimate problems women face. It authoritatively relabels the real concerns women have in communicating their struggles as "crazy" and a "misery olympics." It tells women their experiences are a superficial social game rather than actual problems.

Feminism has been trying to instruct the world as the seriousness of women balancing careers and family life, but this article tells them these stories, based on real experiences of learning and coping are just "pernicious narratives."

After reading this article, they're going to have to battle uphill to regain ground lost by this (ironically) woman telling them the issues they face are "lies."

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