We all know the Spoon Theory and it is all about usable hours. Pacing and limits. We have limited pain tolerance, limited energy, and we have to engage in the world with those limitations.

So how many usable hours are there in the average person’s day?

It can vary depending on what that person sleeps. Some of us need 8 hours. Some 9. Others 7.

Usable hours and productivity

However, for the average healthy person their usable hours per day range somewhere from 10-15 hours. Some of which are taken by work. So about 7 possible usable hours outside of work. Some of that is commuting to and from work. Some are things like using the bathroom (which is why I subtract an hour off of the max usable hours of 16… an hour for things like eating and bathroom breaks. But working is something the average person chooses to do. It is part of their usable hours in a day. So let’s stick with 10-15. Healthy people even look at the whole 24 hours as usable in potentiality. But the fact is most often the number is 10 and some people get over that a little. But the average is ten hours for work, for errands, for socializing and chores.

The chronically ill do not have that many usable hours in a day.

Recovery from activity and rest time can take up a sizable chunk of our day.

We have to pace everything. We have to rest when needed. We have to do things we need to do for our illness to just literally maintain it.

So how many functional, usable hours do we Really have?

It varies. It can be 2 one day. 4 the next day. This is why the spoon theory helps explain usable hours. A healthy person starts with dozens of spoons. We may start with 5 for the whole day and we have to use them wisely.

My usable hours have been low because with the vertigo I need a lot of rest, naps, laying down. Any activity then needs recovery.

Let’s say our usable hours are 5. Half that of the average person.

And you pace and spread those hours through the day. For absolutely necessary things. And for our own personal wellbeing, some of that is just for us and activities that improve our mood, self-worth and distract us from pain.

And we know this. And this is how we engage our day. Weighing and choosing what we can do from day to day depending on our health.


  • We feel guilty we couldn’t get more done
  • We feel we Should be able to get more done
  • We do not feel ‘productive’

And this is why we need to view productivity differently

Best case scenario we have half the usable hours than the average person. Therefore, logically our productivity in whatever we do is half that of the average person.

And when you understand that your total potential usable hours and time you have to function and do all the things the average person does… you understand you will get done less. Simple as that.

When you have a 10 hour yardstick for viewing your functionality and productivity we are always going to feel insufficient, non-productive, worthless, and guilty.

When we view things on our yardstick for that day… it just makes sense and you can’t have guilt for that.

No guilt over my usable hours being disabled

I had 3 usable hours yesterday and I:

  • Vacuumed the space carpet in the living room
  • I vacuumed my computer room
  • And I unloaded and loaded the dishwasher
  • Then I did some writing and blogging for me

And that is very good for a 3-hour productive day. I rested a lot. I slept more than 8 hours because of the vertigo… so I sleep in sometimes just to help with symptoms. I took my two necessary naps in the day. I was glad I got that done. I made me feel good.

We just have to understand productivity isn’t the same because our usable hours are not the same.

We are literally doing what makes sense given the usable hours we have in a day. Some days we have 0, straight up laid out days where we have to focus on getting through and self-care.

So when you think about your productivity I want you to think about how many actual usable hours you had that day. And you will see you are productive. And you do get a lot done within the confines of the hours we can use. And this is how I stopped feeling guilty about what I couldn’t do. I didn’t have the hours to do all the things I wanted to. I was, in fact, productive with my usable hours.

Also remember it takes us longer to do any task, so that eats up more of the usable time faster than it would any other.

We are productive, people, it is just a different sort of productive. We also rank in our productivity other things. Things for our well-being like our hobbies. A healthy person thinks of productivity and usable hours only in terms of the workforce. We think of it as all the things we can do in a day. Not just dusting the house. But things that maintain our wellbeing as well.

Other posts to think about:

Sometimes it just takes a lot of energy to exist

The Unseen cost of pain

Chronic illness and the art of pacing

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

7 thoughts on “Usable hours and productivity

  1. I am very familiar with the spoon theory now. We’re all spoonies. This is an interesting way to look at that though seeing that 8 hours of the day are gone with work leaving us only 2 hours to do the stuff we really need to do but it’s hard to explain that when you live with a chronic illness you haev even less and I know I often feel unproductive.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Or that working can overextend us such that we cannot do anything else. That is what work does to me. Just wipes me out and raises pain, so I couldn’t do anything after if I wanted to.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a great argument for the ‘relativity’ of productivity and an excellent way to frame ‘what I did today.’ Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like this as well because it frames what actual amount of time a normal person has available vs what we do for anything we may choose depending on symptoms… so we can see our productivity realistically


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