In July, I finally got around to reading 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam. It’d been on my list of books I wanted to read for a while, but I just hadn’t had the time (seriously). I wanted to read it because, at least in my perception, I have a serious time management problem. Basically, I want to do it all but often find time evaporating before my eyes and then find myself whining about it. I was hoping this book could help me change that.
Overall, I really enjoyed 168 Hours. It definitely changed the way I think about my time. In the early chapters, Vanderkam quickly points out that when we say “I don’t have time” we should actually be saying “its not a priority”. Certainly it often doesn’t seem that way, but when I thought about how much time I spend watching television or reading blogs or checking Facebook and then thought about how I complain about not having time to read or cook or work on my blog, it became clear that she’s right. It’s not an issue of time, it’s an issue of priorities and motivation. That point alone keeps echoing in my head.
The rest of the book continues on this theme. What are your priorities and goals and how can you best leverage your time to improve in those areas? Vanderkam recommends keeping a time diary for a full week (168 hours) and then totaling up the hours spent on different tasks and reflecting on where your time really is going. I kept the time diary and though I never analyzed it in the way she recommends, the activity alone made me very aware of how I was spending my time. It wasn’t pretty.
The part of the book I most enjoyed (because this is where I struggle most) was the focus on leisure time. Vanderkam writes, “When you do give structure and purpose to your leisure time, though—the equivalent of treating your weekend wardrobe with the respect you’d assign your weekday suit and tie –you can have the kind of full life that few of us think is possible” (pg. 182) She suggests scheduling leisure time, reducing television and computer use, and using our free time to work on those things that are important to us and have actual value (taking cooking lessons, training for a race, spending quality time with spouses/children, working on a hobby). Also included in this section was making good use of downtime by completing tasks that take less than 30 minutes and reducing multitasking to increase productivity.
The book includes questions and activities at the end of each chapter which helped me put into practice the concepts the book was promoting. It’s one thing to read about something, but another to do it.
There were also some things in 168 Hours that I didn’t like. Vanderkam’s section on the household proposes outsourcing household chores (cooking, cleaning, laundry) in order to enable one to focus on priorities. It makes sense because no one has “be excellent at laundry” as one of their goals and, in Vanderkam’s opinion, if it’s not a priority, it’s not worth spending any time on. At the same time, I feel like it should be possible to maintain your own home and not pay someone else to do it and still meet your personal goals. I struggled through the section on maximizing your time at work because, as a teacher, there’s little flexibility in how I spend my work day. Similarly, the chapter on parenting and time management were of little use to me.
All that said, I’m really glad I read this book and I highly recommend it for people interested in getting more done and reaching their goals. Vanderkam’s clear and practical tips and suggestions caused me to really think about the way I spend my time and, even more so, the way I talk about not having enough of it. With the new school year starting, I’m really going to try to adjust my personal schedule and emphasize the things I actually value. I just have to keep reminding myself that watching entire television series on Netflix isn’t actually one of those things.
image source: Barnes and Noble