We tend to think about life in 24 hours. Most freelancers complain about needing 40 hours just to get everything done. But imagine all the things you could do if someone handed you 168 hours to spend however you pleased?
Go ahead. Take a minute to think about that. A whole 168 hours… what would you do?
Want to know a little secret? You have that 168 hours – everyone does.
When I picked up a copy of 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam, I did so because a Canadian Business reviewer had written, “I hate Laura.” He hated her because she seemed to have the joy-filled lifestyle everyone wants.
Laura has the time to do the things she loves to do – and she does them.
I want a life where I do everything I love to do too, so I bought the book. I wanted Laura’s magical secrets to 40-hour days and a life full of tralalaing in the sunshine.
It sounded nice.
When I began reading 168 Hours, I worked 16-hour days. I slept six hours a night. I felt guilty my kids weren’t getting enough of my time. (Well, the five-year-old, at least. The teen’s certainly not complaining about her newfound independence in the city.)
I didn’t have enough time to work on projects I wanted to start. I had even less time to work on projects I needed to finish. I had no time for gourmet meals every night, and getting to my guitar and vocal lessons was always a rush. Friends? What friends?! I had no time for friends!
Ugh. 168 hours indeed.
There’s a small but extremely important fact of human perception that I’d learned long ago but that I’d forgotten: people suck at time.
We don’t suck at it because we’re badly mismanaging our available time (even though that’s true) and we don’t suck at it because we constantly scramble to get everything done (even though we do).
We suck at time because we’re terrible at estimating how much time something takes to do. We underestimate badly (how many times have YOU realized you’d never make that deadline you committed to meeting?) and we overestimate incredibly (you think you spend 4 hours doing laundry, but you don’t).
We basically have a very poor concept of time beyond what we think we know of it.
The reality? Totally different.
168 Hours points out that fact succinctly and clearly. It’s not a time management book (though it can certainly help you manage your hours). It’s more of a “wake up and open your eyes, you twit,” kind of book. Or, for those who prefer the gentler version, it’s the sort of book that says, “Isn’t this interesting? Look at how much time you really have. Now what are you going to do about it?”
168 Hours is also a book that has a lot of facts in it – the staticstical, percentage-style kind. 7% of people do this. 48% say that. 92% claimed this. I’ll admit I skipped over all those statistics, because numbers don’t really turn my crank. (If they turn yours, you’ll love this book.)
What turned my crank were the unspoken challenges I found in 168 Hours. The book laid out a few, and my eyes gleamed. I’d show Laura where my time goes! 168 Hours? Ha! I need 397!!
I filled out the grid provided in 168 hours (you can also grab an Excel download here). It helps you track what you’re doing for every single half-hour in a full week. I carried a notepad around and religiously scribbled in it, paying careful attention to what I did and how long I spent doing it. Busy! I was busy, look at that!
When the week was over and I had The Life of James In a Nutshell, I sat back and…
…realized I had it pretty damned good.
Those 16-hour workdays? 6 is more like it. My afternoons are usually spent outdoors in the sun with my daughter. I’d kept her company at the pool while she swam, we’d gone to the park, and we’d enjoyed walks and bike rides in the evenings. We read a lot together too. Good times.
We’d eaten great meals 6 days out of 7, and that last one had been a supper out at the restaurant with friends. Actually, I spent a lot of time with friends – I kicked back and hung out with all sorts of people nearly every day.
I slept 7 to 8 hours each night. I never rushed to my guitar lessons – in fact, several of them went well over the one-hour mark (a sure sign we’d been enjoying ourselves). I read often for pleasure and housework was just a drop in the bucket.
(Relatively speaking, of course. Laundry around here is more like a flood than a drop.)
I’m not telling you this so that you’ll sigh with envy and wish you had a life like mine. (Though it’s perfectly natural, I know. I live a great life. You may feel jealous now.)
I’m telling you this to show you exactly how we constantly get time all wrong.
See, there’s two ways of looking at your life: either you’re spending your hours doing most of the stuff you want to be doing, having the time of your life (pun intended), or you’re not doing any of the stuff you want to be doing.
So here’s the important question: Why aren’t you?
You have 168 hours. Surely you can take just 5 of those and devote them to something you really want to do. You can learn to sing. Or play the flute. Or read a book. Or take a bath. Or nap. Or go to the gym. Or spend time with your partner. Or work on that project to bring in some passive income.
Come on. What’s 5 hours? You still have 163 hours left. That’s plenty of time.
In fact, if you read 168 Hours to the end you’ll realize that you probably spend a lot of your time doing stuff that doesn’t really matter, when it’s all said and done. Stuff that doesn’t get you anywhere. Stuff that doesn’t make much difference in your happiness level. Stuff that doesn’t get you closer to the life you really want to have.
Why not do something meaningful instead?
When I looked over my Life of James report, I realized I spent nearly an hour every night on sleepy, absentminded, random surfing. Just sitting there, browsing away, with no real purpose and no joy gained. And yet there it was: “random surfing” showed up in the report day after day.
Well now, that’s just dumb.
I decided to repurpose that time. That hour was much better spent relaxing with a good book. Something fun – not a business book. Books that gave me mini-vacations and that helped me rest my mind.
You can do that too. When you know where your time actually goes, you can see exactly what you could repurpose so you can spend time doing something more effective or more pleasurable.
Here are a few ideas to help you get started:
- Take an hour of Twitter time and spend it sending email to new contacts (much more effective than that “connecting” and “relationship building” you’re doing now).
- Group the time you spread over four different projects and focus it all on only one of them – get it done, finally!
- Cut 4 hours of email down to 3, and spend the other hour taking an online course that’ll help you earn more money instead.
Think about what you want. Think about the life you’d love to have. Think about the business you want to build. Think about the activities you want to enjoy. Think of everything you’d do if you had more time.
Because that’s the point of 168 Hours: you really do have more time than you think.
If you have a book you’d like me to read and review, let me know in the comment section!