Our society is obsessed with time — or, more accurately, our lack thereof. Work takes up most of our time. (We regularly read that Americans work over 60 hours a week, and that’s still considered too little.) We don’t spend as much time as we’d like with our families. We rarely have time for our hobbies, and many of us can’t even spare 15 minutes per day.
But, according to Laura Vanderkam in her book 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, the idea of some time crunch is a myth. (In fact, her first chapter is entitled “The Myth of the Time Crunch.”) We actually don’t work as many hours as we think and we do have many pockets of time. And, most importantly, all of us have the same 168 hours a week.
She presents convincing statistics to back up these assertions along with examples of very busy people who find time to do the things they love on a regular basis. And these examples are compelling. For instance, she opens the book with a woman who spends some of her weekday mornings hiking for hours, sleeps at least seven hours a night, coaches soccer, excels as the owner of a seven-figure revenue company and is mom to six kids!
The takeaway? As the book title declares, “You can choose how to spend your 168 hours, and you have more time than you think.”
The book is broken up into three parts: Your 168 Hours, At Work and At Home. In each section, Vanderkam offers practical tips to make time for activities that you love. First, she helps readers figure out how they’re actually spending their week by recording their time in a spreadsheet. Next, she helps them better understand what it is they want out of life with an exercise called the “List of 100 Dreams.” (She suggests kids create one, too, which is a fantastic idea.) She underscores the importance of focusing your days on core competencies or the activities that you do well and minimizing, ignoring or outsourcing everything else.
Vanderkam devotes an entire chapter to having the right job, because she believes that it’s key for time management, productivity and a joyful 168 hours. She writes:
“If you love what you do, you’ll have more energy for the rest of your life, too. If you’re trying to build a career while raising a young family, you will have more energy for your children if you work 50 hours a week in a job you love than if you work 30 in a job you hate.”
She features anecdotes of people who not only are doing what they love, but have overcome obstacles and worked hard to get there. She also talks about how to reach a career breakthrough and lists thoughtful career-related questions for readers to ask themselves.
In the section on home, she provides helpful tips on outsourcing housework. For many people housework isn’t just time-consuming but it also suck precious time from more important activities like being with family, exercising or enjoying other more meaningful activities. As one mom told Vanderkam: “I don’t want to spend less time with my children…I want to spend less time doing housework.” So many of us shudder at the thought of someone else doing our laundry or cleaning our house. The main reason is that we think it’s pricey. But as Vanderkam writes, “The only reason we consider household outsourcing expensive is that we, as a society, largely expect women to do these things for free.” She also explores how housework has changed throughout the years, and again, offers useful insight into saving time at home.
Such advice and anecdotes feel liberating and empowering. But throughout the book, I did keep wondering how we muster up the energy for all these activities day in and day out. For instance, I do have the time to work on my very neglected personal blog, but after I’ve been writing all day, the last thing I want to do is brainstorm clever ideas and form complete sentences. Instead, the first thing I want to do is veg out in front of the TV and not think.
Similar to that, I felt overwhelmed at times, particularly at the thought that we need to schedule essentially every part of our day. For instance, according to Vanderkam:
“While waiting for items to heat up in the microwave, I am now in the habit of dropping to the floor and holding a plank pose or doing push-ups instead of flipping through the Pottery Barn catalogue…You can pray while waiting for the elevator, or write in your journal while waiting to pick up your kids from school.”
This implies that we can’t just be. Instead we have to cram activities into every nook and cranny of our schedule. Vanderkam’s point about fitting in activities you enjoy into small bits of time is a wise one. But it’s important to also remember that doing simply nothing, just catching your breath, savoring the silence or taking in the scenery in the time it takes popcorn to pop or your kids to come to the car is perfectly OK, too.
Overall, though, 168 Hours makes you think differently about your time. It empowers you to consider what you really want to be doing. So often we feel like we’re shackled to our to-do lists and time is running us—and running out. But we do have a choice. And this book gives readers not only lots of food for thought but also many valuable and practical ways to incorporate meaningful activities into your life. It’s filled with interesting statistics and tidbits and inspiring anecdotes. Vanderkam writes in a conversational and engaging style, which also makes for a great read.