Some people seem to be blessed with more than 24 hours in their day. You know who I’m talking about. We all know one woman like that. She works full-time, works out regularly, spends quality time with her family, arrives on-time to church every Sunday, volunteers, and even has real hobbies!
Is that even possible? That is the premise Laura Vanderkam started with, when she began researching and writing 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think.
About the Author
Laura Vanderkam is a Christian mother of 4, Blogger, writer, runner of marathons, and choir singer. Doesn’t she sound just like the superwoman in the first paragraph? Her book 168 Hours is an excellent, data-driven, inspirational, self-help book. It is well-anchored by statistical analysis, and features numerous profiles of high-achieving mothers and fathers.
The Book Structure
At regular intervals throughout the book, there are assignments to measure and analyze your time. Constructive questions rouse the reader at the end of each chapter. Vanderkam also offers free online spreadsheets, and resources to complement the book assignments for her email subscribers. She is committed to providing people the tools they need to succeed.
People don’t have a time problem; they have a priorities problem.
The not-so-secret secret to making your dreams a reality is time well spent. What you do in one week directly reflects what you will accomplish for this season of life.
Most people are not at all intentional with their time. We have some scheduled event, maybe a lot of scheduled events, then spend the rest of our time doing whatever. As if the life we dream of will just happen. Pro tip: It won’t! You have to make it happen.
You cannot try to improve without establishing a baseline. The first step is to keep a detailed, one week time log. Record the time in blocks of at most 30 minutes. 15 minutes is better. Vanderkam recommends 6 minute blocks as the gold standard of time logging. Our retrospective evaluations are grossly off the mark, so don’t phone in this step.
The things that earn their keep in your week are what Vanderkam calls “core competencies.” She invites readers to ask themselves “What do I do best, that other people cannot do nearly as well?” 168 Hours is devoted to building lives based on core competencies, not happenstance and the vagaries of fate.
168 Hours is primarily a book for working parents. While the suggestions for increasing work productivity while reducing butt-in-chair hours were interesting, the 9-5 is beyond my purview. Thankfully, Vanderkam includes in her case studies a number of women with distinctly non-traditional career paths. I especially enjoyed the study of a woman launching her lucrative creative blogging career in midlife.
The author also breaks down a productivity benchmark known as diminishing returns. At a discrete point, more work does not translate to proportionately equal results. The trick to working smarter not harder, is learning to identify the point of diminishing returns. Then you can put in the work where it counts, and bravely buck the tide to bow out when it no longer contributes to success. That’s a lesson anyone can benefit from, no matter what the profession.
A topic near and dear to my heart: cleaning. I do find Vanderkam’s assertions on historical homemaking suspect. She believes midcentury housewives were bored, so instead of playing with their 12 kids, they vacuumed the ceiling. I consider societal expectations a more likely impetus for these ridiculous cleaning standards. Nonetheless, Vanderkam and I subscribe to the same school of thought. People clean too much, and for too little in return.
As a society, we have no problems with outsourcing and centralizing childcare. Why not extend that social acceptance to other unappreciated (or unenjoyable) domestic tasks? I live in Mississippi y’all, and even I can shop for my groceries online with free click and pull. All I do is pick it up.
Almost anything can be outsourced. Light cleaning, deep cleaning, yard work, home maintenance, even laundry and cooking services exist for those able to pay. Not all of us can, but eliminating the most despised household chore could be worth a cut in the budget elsewhere. What’s holding you back? Availability, or societal expectations?
168 Hours closes with Vanderkam’s “time makeovers”. You can read real people’s time logs, in their entirety, and the follow-up after implementing her suggested interventions. Parents can restructure their lives. When you give priority to the most important things, it improves the whole family.
Why this book?
168 Hours is more scholarly, cerebral, and aspirational than other mom-management books. While most in the genre focus on the Everywoman, succeeding in achievable manners, the interviews in 168 Hours present lofty goals. Vanderkam’s vignettes cover CEOs and businesspeople well on their way to the top. High performers. Her book is not absolvatory and nicey-nice in the slightest. We all know what tiny changes look like. If you need that to feel validated, read elsewhere. If you are willing to put in the work, 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think could change your life.
If you liked this post, read as I go into more detail in How To Find Your Core Competencies.