Every week has 168 hours, how will we use them?

Laura Vanderkam wants to dispel the modern-day myth of the “time crunch”, that nagging (sometimes painful) sense that there is simply not enough time in the day to get everything done.

In her book, 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think she shares 3 powerful ideas that can transform the way you work and may help you accomplish much more than you thought possible.

Idea 1: You have more time than you think!
It doesn’t matter whether you’re the President of the United States, a member of the Royal Family or a high-powered executive at the XYZ corporation—we all get 24 hours in a day and the consensus seems to be that this isn’t nearly enough. So we respond by racing through our days at a frenetic pace, multi-tasking, stressing out, feeling anxious, eating junk food and scoffing at the idea of slowing down. We have no time for big-picture thinking or to go out for a 30-minute  jog!

And all the while, our work-week has allegedly swelled from 40 hours to 50, to 60!  Sadly, 60 hours in some corporate cultures is akin to working “part time”! People claiming to work 70, 80 or even 90 hours are all around us.

But can this be right?

It turns out, maybe not.

According to research conducted at the University of Maryland in the 1990′s, people are really bad at estimating how much they actually work, or how much time they devote to any activity for that matter. Mrs. Vanderkam sums up the research by stating that:

The average person who claimed a 70-hour workweek was underestimating.

Indeed, the average person who claimed to work more than 75 hours per week generally logged about 55. The average person who claimed to be working 60-69 hours per week was actually logging 52.6, and the average person claiming to work 70,80, 90 more hours was logging less than 60. When you add up these overestimations of time engaged in work, housework, and other activities (like child care and exercise) you can see why some studies have found that people’s accounts of an average week add up to 180 or even more than 200 hours. (Vanderkam, p.20)

That said, Vanderkam gets straight to the point:

…the time-crunch narrative doesn’t tell the whole story. The problem is not that we’re all overworked and underrested, it’s that most of us have absolutely no idea how we spend our 168 hours. We don’t think how we want to spend our time, and so we spend massive amounts of time on things—television, Web surfing, housework, errands—that give slight amount of pleasure or feeling of accomplishment, but do little for our careers, our families or our personal lives. We spend very little time on things that require more thought and initiative, like nurturing our kids, exercising, or engaging in the limited hours we do work in deliberate practice of our professional crafts.

Idea 2: Think in terms of 168 hours
Part of being more effective with our time involves changing our focus. We’re used to thinking in terms of the 24-hour day, but few of us ever think about the 168-hour week. The latter is probably a more useful unit of measurement and when you get down to it, it’s actually quite a “vast” amount of time.

Think about it this way:

168 hours minus 56 hours (for sleep) minus 50 hours for work (including a 2-hour commute each day) leaves you with 62 hours to spend however you wish.

And in those 62 hours you can:

  • Spend real quality time with the kids: 7 hours (the average parent averages less than half that time)
  • Exercise: 7 hours (a small price to pay for health considering that the average American spends more than 20 hours a week watching TV)
  • Household chores: 17.5 hours (this is what the average working Mom spends doing this each week)

And after all that,  you’d still have 30.5 hours each week to spend however you see fit.

As you can see, 168 hours is a lot of time. The trick is to use those hours as wisely as you can and the first step is to find out how you’re currently using your time. Mrs. Vanderkam provides a handy-dandy Time Log spreadsheet which you can print out to log how you spend your 168 hours in 30 minute increments. I used that Time Log and discovered some pretty interesting (if not disturbing) things about myself. For example, I discovered that I was spending almost 10 hours a week watching episodes of the sitcom Cheers on Netflix!! Somewhat ashamed, I have since slashed that by a few hours (hey, it’s a fun show!).

Keeping a time log is eye-opening and it’s the first step in using our time more wisely.

Idea 3: High performers use their 168 hours (quite) differently
Whereas most of us aren’t very sure about how we use our time, high performing people are very careful and deliberate about how they invest their minutes and hours. They plan their work ahead of time and focus on the things that only they can do and delegate (or outsource) all the rest.

I’ve found that these people focus, as much as possible, in the work and personal spheres, on what I call their core competencies. These are the things they do best, and that others cannot do nearly as well, or can’t do at all. Effective people outsource, ignore, or minimize everything else.

Core competencies are the things that only YOU can do.

You can’t outsource exercising, reading a book, or playing with your kids. And at work, focusing on core competencies means focusing on being truly productive (as opposed to merely busy).  It means working on tasks that add lasting value to you, your customers and your organization. Usually these tasks are related to your strengths and the ways in which you add unique value.

In the book, Mrs. Vanderkam interviews high-powered CEO and mother of six, Theresa Daytner and her answer about how she manages her time differently from most people is telling:

Here’s what I think is the difference. I know I’m in charge of me. Everything that I do, every minute I spend is my choice. If I’m not spending my time wisely, I fix it. Even if its just quiet time.

Armed with such conviction, it’s amazing what we can accomplish when we start focusing on work that really matters and on using every minute of our 168 hours on purpose.

So let’s get started. Don’t waste another minute without downloading the Time Log. Free yourself of the the “time poverty” narrative by taking a hard look at how you’re spending your most precious resource.

What you find, may change your life.

photo courtesy of Leo Reynolds


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