168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think
By Laura Vanderkam
Review by Shayna Manchanda
Vanderkam’s 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.
She argues that we misuse the majority of our time during the week, through excuses, sacrifices or misplaced priorities. It’s not just the time we waste doing unimportant stuff; it’s that we spend time being productive towards ends that are not very high on our real personal priority list and values. Consequently, we find ourselves not having time for the activities that are genuinely important to us, leaving us feeling stressed and unfulfilled.
This book is more about figuring out how to focus on things that matter most to you and align with your values rather than a traditional time management book. Vanderkam uses the 168 hours figure (i.e total number of hours in 7 days) because our natural rhythm and schedules are often made up of weeks more than individual days. 168 hours seems like a lot more to play with and is a bit more flexible than a single day.
The best part of the book was Vanderkam's argument that we will be more successful and happier if we are mindful of how we spend our time and focus on those activities that align to our 'core competencies'. She recommends that we begin by assuming that all 168 hours of your week are free. Then start to fill in activities according to their true priority for you.
When the week is full, find ways to ignore, minimize or outsource everything else. To spend time more mindfully and congruent to your values: at work, do the things which only you can do. At leisure: do things which are important to you and which fill you up. The book club agreed that it’s probably (very likely!) true that we are guilty of exaggerating how busy we are and could do with spending our time more mindfully.
This book is geared towards upper-middle class professionals who can afford to outsource their laundry, dishes, housework, etc. However, for someone surviving pay check to pay check, or living in smaller locations where such services may not be available, some of Vanderkam's 'solutions' could be impractical.
Also, as a freelancer working from home, her work day was different from many of ours, as it did not take into account commuting time that is a key factor in many Londoners’ working week, which can limit time for exercise, leisure, book clubs, and other extracurricular activities.
Vanderkam is a big proponent of ‘multi-tasking’ – she brags about doing yogic poses while the microwave heats up her food and how she works out on the treadmill, reads and returns phone calls simultaneously to save time. I was exhausted just reading about it! And it did make me wonder if this was in direct contradiction with emerging research and other books we have read as a book club, about multi-tasking being inefficient? Multi-tasking or using time well? You decide!
A lot of the studies in her book showcase women who "have it all." The woman who runs a multi-million-dollar business, is raising 5 kids and hikes every week was one of the people Vanderkam used as an example of someone who uses her 168 hours very wisely. I find the whole concept of striving to be a woman who can “have it all” one that creates enormous psychological pressure.
She believes in quality over quantity time with children. She recommends scheduling exciting dinner outings with your children a couple of days a week. The parents of book club did also point out that there is research that non-scheduled play time has been shown to also have a positive impact on children’s development. We discussed that some of our fondest memories of our own parents were routine every day inconsequential times they spent with us, rather than short bursts of time.
One final point, personally for me, a crucial part of time management is energy management. Something that Vanderkam doesn’t address at all. At one point she mentions waking up and going to bed earlier since "nothing meaningful" gets done after 10pm anyway. Except, everyone is different. Not all high achievers are early risers; and not all early risers are successful. Knowing and working with your own energy patterns can help you be more productive and balanced. (Also, as a night person, at this point I feel compelled to point out that your chronobiology and sleep patterns are evolution at play. Research shows that morning versus evening types show a classic left-brain versus right-brain division: more analytical and cooperative versus more imaginative and individualistic. Further pushing people too far out of their natural preference can have negative physiological consequences).
All in all, this book inspired us to take a critical look at how we spend our time and encouraged us to use our 168 hours wisely. Some of the book club members logged their time and found the exercises very insightful, and many of us are now looking for cleaners!