How to Hack Time to Be Happier & More Successful: James Wallman (Transcript)

Full text of author James Wallman’s talk: How to Hack Time to Be Happier & More Successful at TEDxManchester conference. In this talk James shares the 7 secrets to spending your time in ways that lead you to be happier and more successful.


James Wallman – Author of Stuffocation

So I’m James. I’m super excited to be here today. It’s a real honor.

And I’m going to be talking about time and how to spend it. And our time here is coming to a close, so I’m going to begin by introducing a person with a problem.

His name’s Woody. He’s my son; he’s five years old. And a few weeks ago, he had a specific problem. He fell, he banged his head on this step. And I kind of did as any parent would, and I kind of grabbed him up into my arms. I held him back, and he had blood pouring down here. I thought he’d banged his eyes, I was just sort of panicked.

But my wife calmed me down. We got into the car, and we did what… you know what any good parent would do. We took a picture.

And then as I was putting him into his car seat, you know doing it up, he looked at me, he said, “Daddy, am I going to die?”

And I did…. look to him, just… “Yes, but not today.”

And the reason I tell that story is we all have that same problem. We’re all going to die… hopefully not today. Hopefully not during this talk.

So imagine a bank account that gave you £86,400 every day. But at the end of the day, any money that you hadn’t spent was wiped, what would you do? You’d spend it all, no? Some people wouldn’t spend it all. Anybody know why it’s £86,400? It’s the seconds in a day, exactly.

The clock is ticking and there will come a day you’ll go to the time bank and there will be no more time for you. So how you spend your time is vitally important. If you don’t spend it well, it’s the same as burning money. And you don’t do that; do you?

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Today’s world I think we’re surrounded by all sorts of distractions and things that take up our time. You know, one of the things is the emails that we get, the texts that squeeze, the 24-hour news coverage, it’s kind of constant incoming, you know the TikTok, the WhatsApp, the Facebook updates, all this incoming stuff we’ve got to keep up with.

And one of the problems is our mobile phones. I call them the weapons of mass distraction. How many people here check their phone within 15 minutes of getting up? One of the first things you do. Some of you are liars; that’s good. That’s healthy.

Okay, more than 85% of people check their phones first thing.

How many of you charge your phones in the bedroom? Let me see a show of hands. Okay, so you guys if you take nothing from today, apart from this, if you charge your phone somewhere other than your bedroom, this is what the data says: you will sleep better and you have more sex.

You’re welcome.

Okay, so we’re so addicted to our phones that one in ten people check their phones during sex. That was research conducted at a very well-respected university in the States and it was published in The Economist, which makes it a fact in my view.

So there’s about 2400 people here, that means it’s about 240 people here today who checked their phone during sex. Can those people stand up please and tell us how you do it; you weirdos.

I did actually give a talk somewhere, much smaller, about 50 people. And this guy said, yeah but you can’t cut it because the screen lights up. Let’s leave that.

Okay, so but the thing is get this: With food we know there’s a difference between junk food and good super-foods, healthy foods, right?

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And because of that, we tend to eat… we try to eat more good foods, correct? But with time we don’t know the difference. If you didn’t know the difference between healthy food and junk food, you’d eat more Donuts; wouldn’t you? Wouldn’t you? All right, only me.

If you want to be happier, spend more on experiences and less on stuff, okay. And people would say to me, “Okay, James, that’s great. I should spend more on experiences; what kind of experiences should I choose?”

And I didn’t know the answer. I had an opinion: there are things I like, things I don’t like. But I wanted to have a proper answer. So I did what any curious person would do, who doesn’t really know. And I went talk to people much cleverer than me: economists, psychologists, anthropologists at places like Harvard and Stanford and Cambridge and Oxford and the LSC and MIT and NYU and Tokyo University.

And what I discovered was that just as there are junk foods — so and there are super foods — there are junk ways of spending your time and superfood ways of spending your time. So there’s ways of spending your time, that will increase your odds of being happier, more resilient, more creative and more successful.

Now as you know, we may know that eating healthy food is a good idea. But when someone turns up at work and you thought I’m not going to eat too much, but someone turns up with a box of donuts and they’re free and says do you want one, we don’t always choose the right thing; do we?

And then there’s a Friday night, and you say I’ve got two drinks and go home. We don’t always make the best choice. So therefore we need like checklist things to be memorable, to help us, to not just think about the five a day idea, to encourage us to do the right thing.

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So I put this together into a checklist, this idea and if you follow this checklist stories, as you can probably read their STORIES, if you follow this checklist, if you aim for each of these things, they’re all backed by science, you are more likely to be happy, resilient and successful.

I’d love to talk you through all of them, but we’re going to focus on a couple today. And we can focus on story. So but rather than just tell you about it, I want you to play a game.

So if you can stand up, in a moment, I’m going to get you to stand. And you’re going to talk to someone that you haven’t talked to before. And you’ve got one minute to tell a story. It should have a beginning, a middle and an end.

Okay, here’s the hard part. It should be about a time when something went wrong for you or you did something bad. Who here now wishes they hadn’t come to this talk?

Just so you know I’ve done this quite a few times over the past year and it works, you are going to enjoy this. Just so you’ve got a little chance to think about the story you’re going to tell, I was at one event and this girl, about 23 year old, told a story about how she was in a boardroom with her boss. And they were presenting to their key client. She had their presentation on a laptop. She plugged it in, she opened it up, and what was on her laptop came up on the big screen. What do you think it was?

There are some people in this room with some very bad ways of thinking. It was a letter applying for a job.

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