Among some of the most influential books for me as I began my journey to a simpler and more meaningful life was Laura Vandekram’s 168 Hours – you have more time than you think. Vandekram studied the time diaries of ordinary people and unpacked the many ways we spend our time each week. Building upon the idea that we all have the same 168 hours to work with, she showed the many ways that people build a life they desire with the minutes and hours of their days.
One of the most memorable parts of the book was when she described a Real Simple article about what people would do with an extra 15 minutes a week. People had all sorts of ideas – yoga, reading, writing. And Vandekram set out to show that we all have authority and power over our time. And we have more than we think. Our choices determine the way we use our 168 hours. Even if we work many hours a week (and she challenges that not every hour spent at work is actually work) we still have many hours for leisure each week. How will we choose to spend them?
I was eagerly anticipating her newest book “I know how she does it” where she would work with the time diaries of successful women who balance “big” careers (100k or more a year etc) and a family. What I love about her work is that it is research based, and she uses the data, the hard numbers of how we spend our time, to challenge the stories we tell ourselves about time.
So many of us lament being busy. Too busy to spend time exercising, playing with our kids, pursuing our dreams. Much like the first time you track your spending, tracking your days in 30 minute increments uncovers many of the ways we are spending time doing things that do not align with our values.
I am absolutely guilty of the thought that 10 minutes here and there scrolling through my phone is nothing. But added up over the course of weeks, I can see that that time might be spent more wisely writing, reading or doing other activities that would leave me feeling more fulfilled and closer to my dream of being a writer one day.
Some of the best tips gleaned from this book for me were:
1. Reclaim your commute – However long or short your commute, you can reclaim that time by using audiobooks or podcasts to fill that daily time on the road. I have a beautiful commute, and though some days I chose to drive in silence and take in the country scenery, most days I can be found listening to an inspirational podcast (On Being, Dear Sugar, and Big Magic are faves) or listening to an audiobook. It's amazing how quickly that time adds up, and how lovely it is to be listening to something beyond traffic reports as you drive.
2. Don’t allow housework to take up so much time – I love reading and researching habits and routines, especially as they pertain to housework. I love to have a tidy and clean house but I don’t love the thankless work of hours of cleaning, erased by mere minutes of two children playing, and touching every wall with dirty hands. Vandekram challenges the idea of daily housework tasks, and also tells everyone to let up a little on the standards (whew!). For me, I’ve decided to put housework into a box. I will spend 1.5 focused hours each Saturday vacuuming, mopping, cleaning bathrooms and washing those darn walls, but after that I stop. I haven’t decided if I’ll ditch daily laundry in favour of a once a week blitz, but I love the idea of keeping housework to a minimum and opening more space for fun during the week and on weekends. We will continue with our daily tidy up before bed (10 minutes to walk around and put stuff away in closets etc because a tidy house is important to me, and I love waking up to everything in it’s place)
3. There are no typical days – We need to start looking at the bigger picture of a week rather than 24 hour chunks. When you reflect on 7 days worth of data, you realize that you did actually spend quite a bit of time with your kids, spouse, maybe even got out with friends, and made a bit of time to exercise.
4. You have the time – Perhaps after 7 days of data you see that you could give up some meaningless pursuits (endless social media scrolling, TV bingeing) to create more space for doing the things you love. Vandekram trained for a marathon, both because she loves running, but also as an experiment to see if she could make the time. And she did. When you are doing something you love, the hours appear. And she hasn’t run a marathon since, not because she doesn’t have the time (she proved to herself that she did, even with young kids) but because she doesn’t want to. And isn’t that freeing? The stories we tell ourselves are so powerful, and rewriting the scripts is a move towards more freedom and clarity in our values.
5. Time spent is a reflection of your values – back to the budgeting parallel, our time spent truly is a reflection of our values. When we looked at the money we spent vs our core values, we found it easy to make changes (start saving for vacations, make sure there is fun money for hobbies, spend less on crappy clothing and save up for better pieces etc) and tracking time is the same. When you are faced with the cold hard data, we claim the power to change our choices, and ultimately change our lives.
If you are interested in tracking your time, I am currently using a passion planner, but you can download the time tracking sheets from Vandekrams website, or a free PDF of the passion planner here.