I love time management books. And Crystal reviewed this one positively. Plus Laura Vanderkam was in my college class and it’s good to support the team. But even if you don’t love time management books, or if you don’t read Money Saving Mom, or if you don’t feel the need to bolster the class of 2001, I really think you should read 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think.
We don’t think about how we want to spend our time, and so we spend massive amounts of time on things – television, web surfing, housework, errands – that give a slight amount of pleasure or feeling of accomplishment, but do little for our careers, our families, or our personal lives.
You have time for children and a career and a personal life “without feeling frazzled, sleep-deprived, and pulled in ten directions at once.” Sound good? It did to me too.
Prior to reading this book, I thought of time in the context of days. I often felt down on myself for not spending enough time on my priorities in a given day. And then I’d feel overwhelmed by how many priorities I have and how the days seemed to get away from me. The helpful premise of 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think is that time management is a lot easier if you think in terms of weeks rather than days. There are 168 hours in a week and if you chunk them up in different ways you can find space for your priorities.
I know, you’re thinking well of course there are seven days in a week, and it’s still hard to fit things in. Bear with me. The author recommends tracking your 168 hours for a week to see how you’re actually spending all of that time. You can print out a copy of a time sheet at Laura Vanderkam’s website. Even if you don’t read the book, I really encourage you to try this exercise. I bet the results will surprise you.
I thought I was fairly on top of my schedule, but I realized that there were significant pockets of time I was wasting on tasks that don’t further my goals and aren’t enjoyable to me. Seeing the evidence right there on paper gave me the impetus to deal with that and free up more time. I also realized that when I look at my time on a week by week basis, I actually do put significant time toward my goals. I spend more time talking to my husband than I would have predicted. I spend more time on homeschooling than I thought. And, as I look at my week, I can see that all the little bits of writing I do for work and personally really add up.
The week-long exercise was so helpful that I’ve continued it. I think for me it works like a food diary – I’m less likely to eat something unhealthy if I know I have to write it down, and I’m less likely to waste time if I know I have to write that down. Do I really want to document in black and white that I spent an hour aimlessly browsing Facebook rather than working on my novel? Um, no.
Another helpful aspect of the book was the author’s application of the concept of “core competencies” to personal life. I was familiar with the idea of core competencies from a business perspective – the idea that every organization has a limited set of things it does really well, and it should focus on those core competencies and outsource everything else – but I thought it was helpful to apply that framework to my individual personal and professional development. For example, I write well and get paid well to write. But I am the world’s slowest food chopper and I don’t enjoy chopping food. So it makes a lot more sense for me to spend my time writing (getting better at it and getting paid for it) than to spend my time chopping onions. I can pay an extra few cents and buy pre-chopped frozen onions. It makes more sense for me to prepare my homeschool co-op lessons (which helps my own kids’ education and which I also get paid for) rather than clean the kitchen floor on hands and knees. Core competencies are not about saying “I’m too good to wash windows,” rather the point is to admit, “I’m not an expert at washing windows, and I don’t enjoy it. Other people wash windows for their business, and it’s better for them to do their core competency and me to do mine.”
I appreciate the emphasis 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think places on being focused with your goals and your life’s work. I was challenged to think deeply about the ways that I can use the gifts I have – to think of the things that I can uniquely provide for my family and others. What if I focused on those things, and doing the work that matches my gifts and brings me joy, rather than all the myriad other activities that tend to fill up a day and keep me from achieving my goals? This calculation will look different for each person, but I think it’s a valuable thing to think about. We all have 168 hours a week, and we should use them well.
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