I first read 168 Hours almost exactly two years ago (apparently something about having a new baby makes me think a lot about time or lackthereof) and mentioned it briefly in this post about dream jobs.
Somehow I never got around to writing about it, but when I read All the Money in the World by her earlier this year, I decided to re-read 168 Hours.
My mom was reading it when she came out after Star’s birth and we spent a considerable amount of time talking about it over the week. (If I were still in a book club, I would totally pick this because there is just so much to discuss).
168 hours by laura vanderkam
168 Hours starts out with a discussion of the common modern narrative about how nobody has enough time. She strongly disagrees with this, arguing that 168 hours a week is enough time to fit in a robust career, a strong family life, exercise, hobbies, and enough sleep per night. If you’re one of those people who feels like that’s impossible, you probably are raising an eyebrow at her assertion.
A few of her main points:
- Keep track of your time, hour by hour, for a week or two so you can see how you’re actually spending your time. One woman called it “one mortifying experience” when she realized how much time she was actually spending checking Facebook while at work and how often it derailed her from getting actual things done.
- Figure out what your core competencies are and spend your time doing those. What are you best at? Writing? Cooking? Nurturing relationships with our significant others and children (hopefully no one is better at that than you are . . . ). Maximize your time doing those things and minimize how much time you spend doing other things.
- Stop doing pretend work. Lots of us spend a lot of time being busy but doing things that aren’t actually that valuable. Are you spending a lot of time doing meaningless housework, or setting up elaborate organizational systems or having long conference calls that could be finished in ten minutes if you got right on task? Whether this is in your home life or your work life, you could probably get the “have to” things done a lot faster and more efficiently than you do. I basically always spend the entire two hours of nap and quiet time at my desk, but I often end up wasting so much time trying to multi-task between screens, doing fairly unimportant busy work (spending the last $15 on a gift card or trying to clear my inbox) that I end up having to work in the evenings too and then I feel like I spend all my time “working.” Since I finished this book, I’ve made a list each day of what I needed to get done and then I just put my head down and work, not getting distracted by the other maybe-should be things that don’t matter nearly so much or could get done later at a less focused time.
- Decide what you can off-load. She’s an enormous fan of outsourcing as much as possible, whether it’s laundry, grocery shopping, house cleaning, lawn care, etc. She argues that
- Pick 2-4 hobbies or activities you want in your life. You may be saying you want to sew more or read more books or volunteer with an organization you care about or run a marathon, but then you end up squandering your free time doing really low-investment things like watching TV (which is draining and not nearly as fun as you think it is). Figure out what you want to do and then when you can fit them in and make the happen. You’ll be rejuvenated by doing the things you’ve always meant to do and the lure of the Internet and TV will be reduced. She also says one of your hobbies really should/must be exercise. When you consider doing 30 minutes, 5 days a week, that’s only 3 hours out of your entire 168 a week. You can probably (almost certainly) fit it in.
I love that she doesn’t argue that it’s easy to make it happen. It takes a lot of planning and discipline to make your life look like you want it to, instead of just piddling your life away running errands, checking email, and watching TV.
And she has such an engaging writing style – I think she’s somewhat similar to Gretchen Rubin, with a lot of anecdotes, discussions about what she does well herself and also where she falls short, and an ability to make all sorts of data and statistics really engaging.
There are certainly things I don’t agree with her on. I’m not willing to let my housekeeping slip to barely passable to get back a small chunk of time; I’m not the world’s best housekeeper by any means and the time I spend cleaning is fairly minimal, but I don’t keep things tidy because I care what other people think – I keep the clutter to a minimum because it makes ME crazy when there are piles of things on every surface.
And she doesn’t seem to enjoy cooking like I do – yes, I could probably reduce the time I spend cooking by making easier meals or doing grocery delivery, but I’m not looking to outsource those things and I like to cook.
And having been in schools, I totally disagree with her hypothesis that school lunches are way improved from days of old and that it’s well-worth having your kids just buy a lunch for a few bucks (also, having just read Slim by Design, I know that people who pack their lunches tend to eat more healthily than those who buy because you pack your lunch when you’re usually not terribly hungry (after dinner or breakfast) and so you make fairly good choices, whereas if you buy lunch when you’re starving, guess what you buy? Not salad).
This book gets slammed in some reviews for being aimed at middle-class or upper-middle class, and I suppose there is some truth to that – if you are barely paying your rent, you’ll probably not be thrilled by a suggestion to get a lawn service so you don’t have to spend your weekends mowing.
But I think no matter your situation, you can benefit from looking critically at how you spend your time, both work and leisure, figuring out what you want from your life and what you’re really good at doing, and organizing your life more efficiently to fit those things in.
I love that reading 168 Hours makes me feel like I have plenty of time to do what I want with my days and weeks, that I’m not too busy to exercise or get enough sleep or spend time with my family or run my blog and freelance write.
Whether or not you’ve read 168 Hours, I’d love to hear what things you want to fit into your life (right now I’m focusing on exercise and reading) and what things you’d be thrilled to off-load (actual cleaning – bathrooms, floors, etc – would be top of my list).