168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think - Laura Vanderkam

I’m always trying to get the most out of my time — as I’m sure many, if not most, of you are as well.

As parents we want to raise kids who are intelligent and kind and courageous and healthy. We want to pass along our own passions and encourage them to find their own. We want to read them our favorite books and get them hooked on our favorite games. All of this takes time — quality and quantity.

As geeks, we all have our obsessions, whether it’s keeping up with our favorite TV shows that are facing cancellation again (curse you, Syfy and Fox!) or playing games or tracking down the latest shiny gadget, our hobbies and passions take time, too.

Of course, some of us balance this with full-time or part-time jobs; others have their hands full with laundry and dishes and cooking. Homeschooling adds another dimension because it’s automatically spending time with your kids but there are specific and definite goals in some of the time spent.

How often have you lamented in the past week — or even in the past 24 hours — that there just isn’t enough time in each day?

Even though my life largely consists of activities that I’ve chosen for myself, I frequently find myself sacrificing sleep to get some more things done. And I’m certainly guilty of snapping at my kids to stop bothering me when I’m in the middle of doing something — even though spending time with my kids is certainly one of my top priorities. Some people have trouble living within their means financially; my problem is apparently living within my means temporally. What I want to do with my life simply takes more than 24 hours per day.

This is where Laura Vanderkam comes in. Her new-ish book (okay, yeah, it was published last spring but it took me this long to finally getting around to reading it) is titled 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, and its main argument is right there in the title. If you feel like you don’t have enough time for everything, then chances are you’re not making the best use of your time.

Now, before you brush this off as just another strategy that will never work for you, hear me out.

I’ll admit that I was skeptical myself: even while reading through the book, there were times when I wanted to respond “But you shouldn’t expect to be able to do everything. It’s not human!” And I bristled every time she pointed out that, however you organize your time, making sure you have time to exercise is a non-negotiable. (Yes, I know I should — but quit telling me that!) Some of the time I found myself frustrated because some of her methods would be impossible for my doctor wife, and sometimes I was disappointed that she didn’t take into account stay-at-home dads.

But despite all of that, I found Vanderkam’s approach to time-management quite attractive in terms of how to think about time. Also, 168 Hours is not your typical time-management book, because it’s not just about suggestions for improving your workflow or helping you keep your inbox at zero. It’s more about the big picture, about figuring out how to focus on your “core competencies” and minimizing the rest. The reason Vanderkam uses the 168 hours figure is that twenty-four hours seems like such a short amount of time to cram everything in, but our lives are often lived out a week at a time. Our natural rhythm and our schedules are often made up of weeks more than individual days, and 168 hours seems like a lot more to play with and is a bit more flexible than a single day.

Core competencies is a concept borrowed from the business world: essentially, it’s the things that you do best that nobody else can do as well as you. For example, as parents, one core competency is spending time with your kids — because although you can hire that out to some extent, you yourself do not get the benefit unless you do it yourself. That’s also why she says exercise is a non-negotiable: nobody can do it for you. Laundry, on the other hand, is not necessarily a core competency for most of us: we do it because we have to, not because we think we’re awesome at it or because nobody else could do it as well as we do.

Once you’ve figured out what your core competencies are (and Vanderkam offers some advice on that), then you ignore, minimize or outsource everything else. This is the part I found most fascinating, at least as it pertains to housework, though she also describes using these techniques at work. In a chapter titled “Don’t Do Your Own Laundry,” Vanderkam makes a pretty compelling argument for outsourcing things like laundry and cleaning and even grocery shopping and cooking. Now, I’m not going to go out and hire a maid or a personal cook now — for one, I live in tiny town where that’s really not much of an option — but it got me thinking about when it makes sense to buy back some of my time so that I can spend it instead on things that really matter to me. Obviously, if your core competencies are not income-generating (playing with your kids, for instance) then it’s not always an affordable option, but Vanderkam also shows some of the areas where it can pay off.

The other option, though, is ignoring things—she describes the decreasing standards of home-cleaning (how many of us still vacuum our drapes?) as a good thing. Sure, the average house today is probably messier than thirty years ago, but the average parent also spends much more time with their kids today.

The biggest exercise in the book is to actually track your hours for a full week. After my scrubbed experiment in record-keeping, I was loath to give it another shot, so I haven’t actually sat down and done this yet. I’m sure it would offer some more clarity in how I’m using my time now and where I’m wasting it. I do feel like I manage to get a lot of things done during a typical week, but there’s always more I want to be doing. I know I spend increasing amounts of time on Twitter or playing Angry Birds that could be spent doing things that are arguably more worthwhile — and in fact more enjoyable.

Here’s the thing: making good use of your time isn’t always easy, and the book doesn’t pretend that it is. There are tough choices to make, and sometimes it means cutting out things you like to make room for things you love. Vanderkam is particularly harsh on TV-watching because that’s where the typical American loses about 20 to 30 hours per week — which, if you think about it, is enough for a part-time job. While I still have my doubts about the idea of “having it all,” I do think that with some practice and attention I should be able to fulfill my responsibilities as a dad and husband, have time to read books and play games, write lengthy posts about things I care about and still get to bed before midnight.

If you frequently find yourself feeling like you simply don’t have enough time for everything in your life, take a look at 168 Hours. Yes, it will take time to read the book and put it into practice, but maybe it’s worth giving up a couple hours of your life in order to get back so many more. For more info, you can check out the 168 Hours website.

Note: This review was originally written for GeekDad.

Fed to jonathan's brain | February 18, 2011 | Comments (0)


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