168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think

168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think

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!

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

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  1. Can use http://loggingit.com to see where your time goes. — Stephan

  2. Sounds like an interesting book and like it helped you out a little bit 🙂

    But yeah I think you’re right about humans and time. We’re a bit like dogs on that matter, we have absolutely no idea about time… Not sure if I’ll try out this book yet or not, I might check to see if it’s on iBooks or Amazon Kindle, so I can get it on the iPad.

  3. Oh, man… You are SO going to be bombarded with pitches from book publicists 😉

    There are like 50 points in this post I want to address but don’t want to overstay my comment welcome. Basically, I feel you on the “random surfing” aspect. I have this nifty little Firefox plugin called Read Later so every time I find myself with more than 10 tabs open I just close the ones that aren’t helping me be productive and put a check off the ones I don’t need now but want to get back to. This has been a HUGE help in terms of cutting down my distractions.

    I also recently came across the Pomodoro Technique. It’s been incredible for making me focus on ONE task (not 4 or 5) for 25 minutes at a time. Then you break for 5 minutes and work on one thing for another 25. Easy peasy and has been hugely helpful in terms of getting things done. I also use Teux Deux for my To-Do List.

    When I look at where my time goes I find I spend a lot of time taking breaks, and that’s okay with me. The work that needs to get done, gets done. I go for walks, I make a proper lunch, sometimes I bake or go to a new London coffee shop. Sometimes I take the afternoon off and go to Hyde Park.

    Anyway, will stop the comment vomit now. Loved this review!

    • Okay, I’m totally going to check out that Firefox plugin, because I do the same as you – I currently have 13 browser tabs open so I don’t forget to come back and do what I wanted to do there in the first place!

      I’ve heard good things about the Pomodoro technique, and I do know that it works for me (though I just kind of do a “okay, get started” versus the whole technique).

      Breaks are FANTASTIC. We need those. Take those.

      And yes, send book publicists my way 🙂

    • Interesting. Pomodoro Technique sounds similar to Focus Booster. That’s what I used to use, but I’m considering starting up again. I just spend way too much time on breaks, reading blogs and doing all sorts of things when I should be focusing on my work. As a result, hours in the day come and go. Before I realize it, it’s already 10pm and I’ve wasted an entire day!

      Sure, I may get some work done, but usually not as much as I’d like. I completely forgot about Focus Booster before reading this comment. I can’t remember why I stopped using it, but I’m definitely going to start using it again.

  4. I really like your new more personal style! Great to hear that other people have kids too, sometimes I think they have been air brushed out of the business world.
    I am going to leap in on the point about getting off twitter and actually e-mailing contacts and potential clients. I waste too much time on twitter when I could be narrowing down leads.

    • LOL, thanks, Lucy. I’ve gotten more email lately about my “new” voice than anything else, and I have to say I’m pleased. I wanted to offer more… well, personal posts, so win for me, eh!

      And yes. Kids. I have them, they’re not airbrushed out, and they’re definitely part of my world to stay. (Though I do downplay that I have them. Business is business, after all, and family time is personal time.)

      Now go email some of those leads!

  5. Thanks for taking the TIME to read this book and sharing your thoughts. I love TIME and playing around with it. Batching tasks is a real time saver…you are in the zone and stuff gets done faster. I will be sharing this post with my peeps who are always looking for ways to make the most of it…TIME that is.

  6. That looks like a fantastic book, but I’m not sure I want to log my time – that could be very revealing! LOL

    And ooh! I can get it in Australia too! *whips out the credit card* Thanks for the recommendation James!

  7. Hi James,

    You’re right. We have way more “quality time” available to us in a week than we think. If we fritter it away, then we have less quality time. Certainly 168 hours is more than enough time to get things done, even when you subtract sleep from the mix.

    Corporate cube dwellers have a slight disadvantage. Even if their work is done they still have to sit there and stare at the cubicle walls — something that made me almost go insane and never made sense if you want engaged employees.

    As for quality time, I learned awhile ago to put myself at the top of my “want to do” time list. And actually make it a “want to do” list rather than a “don’t want to do list.”

    A lot of our time gets devoted to things we don’t care about when you come down to it.

    Good topic!

    Off to send some personalized in-the-flesh thank you notes, something I really like doing.


    • I remember a job I had once working for one of the governmental ministries. My supervisor advised me to bring a book to work.

      “What for?”

      “So you have something to do when you’re done your work for the day.”

      I spent every day working two hours and reading for six. After five months, I quit. I had better things to do with my time.

  8. Maybe I’m a strange exception, but I’ve always been pretty good at estimating time. I don’t wear a watch, but can usually tell you what time it is to within 15 minutes. I can go out on my bike and return home in exactly one hour. And my copywriting projects almost always come out close to my time estimate. Does the book have any stats for people like me … or will we be rounded up and experimented on?

    The exception is doing the manly stuff, such as house repairs. As everyone knows, every DIY project takes 3 times as long as you think even if it’s just changing a light bulb. Maybe that’s why there are all those jokes about how many people it takes to change one.

  9. I am absolutely in love with this post James!! I feel like I just went through this discovery process with you. I often feel like I am working sooooooo much – but as you described what you discovered, I was reminded of how awesome my life actually is. I may work for a long span of hours during the day…. But in that time I also ride bikes with my kids to and from school. Hang out with them throughout the afternoon making memories. I make a full dinner just about every night and we eat together and talk and laugh with no sense of rushing. I hang out with my keraoke friends every Thursday…. And so much more!

    I am starting to think that our routines get us into this rut. A few weeks ago, we spent the week in Utah. I had no idea how I could possibly manage this vacation when I feel like I’m usually slaving away 10-12 hours a day. I did a few hours of concentrated work in the morning and at night and then we spent the days hiking and tubing and visiting attractions. “Magically,” I got everything handled. I’m not saying I could stick to that schedule for good just yet because I wasn’t doing proactive project work, but it hinted to me that maybe there was something else at work.

    You and Laura have given me one of the greatest gifts…. Time! Or at least, a new awareness and appreciation of it, which it just as valuable 🙂

    • Aw, now you made me grin. That’s the thing, eh? Even if no one reads the book, it’s just the fact that we DO have more time than we think, and that most of us have pretty awesome lives, if we bother to really consider the good parts of them.

      I’m glad. Thanks so much for your comment.

  10. Great way to start Monday morning. Maybe next Monday’s post should include a followup to see if any of us actually changed our attitudes about time and felt better about what we accomplished this week–even if the accomplishment is enjoying ourselves more.

  11. Love all of the comments and the post. Even though I am a productivity expert by trade and by the way I live, I still struggle to have enough time for my kids and the things I want to do. Sometimes I wonder where it all goes. This book is on my reading list now. Thanks!
    In the meantime:
    – I do use the Pomodoro technique also, currently with “Focus Booster” on my laptop.
    – I schedule time on my calendar for each of my kids (i.e. 15 minutes reading time with my 11 year old before school and 30 minutes after work to talk and catch up on school.)
    – I also set my timer to limit my email and social media time. Working on reducing the # of times per day I check my email!

  12. A few months ago, I decided to start thinking deliberately that there is plenty of time to do the things I want to do. Each time I feel a rising tide of deadline-panic, I try to remember that there is plenty of time. It’s actually led to me being more productive – or realizing that I am pretty darn productive already. Instead of checking off the things I didn’t get done each day, I list the things I did accomplish.

    Now, if only I could apply the same technique to money…

    • You know what else I tell myself? If I didn’t have the time to do it, I probably subconciously didn’t want to do it in the first place, so double-win.

      Also, if you find the trick about money, let me know. I’m sure we could monetize that in some way…

  13. Hey Marian,

    Thanks for the tip about Read Later. I’ve been looking high and low for something like that.

  14. I definitely want to look into this book. Sounds like a great review/experience challenge of the book, a practical look at what actually happens when you apply it and not just read it.

    • You know, that’s exactly why I wanted to do a book review – MY way. I see so many slap-dash reviews tossed up that could’ve come from just reading the table of contents, and they’re short and empty. I don’t like those – it’s just an “I didn’t bother to read this but feel I should post it because the author is a buddy.”

      No sir. If I’m going to review a book, I’m going to read it cover to cover and see what I can learn from it, and what OTHERS might like about it, and what I can teach to those who don’t want to buy the book but still want to take something away from the review.

      So… yeah. I feel strongly about doing good reviews. Glad you liked!

  15. I am constantly surprised as I realize that the busiest people I know–myself included–are also the best at fitting more tasks in. There’s often more time than willingness to acknowledge that fact!

    • One thing I took away from 168 hours is that we’re busy doing things we love to do. We’ve built busy lives full of good stuff we enjoy, and we know how to get the other stuff done so that we can get it out of the way quickly.


  16. The thing is that you must learn how to leverage your time by outsources work, so this will give yourself an better work day cause your task are being completed..you need help to be able to grow.

    “TrafficColeman “Signing Off”

  17. I’d love to grab a copy of that book as time is managing me instead, not the other way around. I would love to have free time for life and take even a 30-minute off to stop and smell the roses. If I can just

  18. I’d love to grab a copy of that book as time is managing me instead, not the other way around. I would love to have free time for life and take even a 30-minute off to stop and smell the roses. If I can just do that, I’m the happiest freelancer alive. Thanks!

  19. Great review!

    Like many people, I often find that there’s not that many hours in the day to get all of the work done that I want to do. I checked out that spreadsheet, and what a great idea! I’m going to think seriously about what I have been doing with my day each hour and record it on the spreadsheet. I think my main problem is that I’ve been spending all of my time surfing too many blogs. Email also seems to be a problem, and I should probably cut down on that.

    Several months ago, I started using a FireFox plugin called LeechBlock and it has helped me block major distraction sites during certain hours of the day. That helped save quite a bit of time, though I still think I’m lacking.

    I think your idea to take the hours you’re distributing on multiple projects and put those hours into ONE project is an amazing idea! There are so many projects that I want to get done. By distributing my time into each one on a daily basis, none of them are really making progress. Focusing on one at a time sounds like it will be the better way to go.

    I also like your suggestions of cutting off an hour of email or Twitter to use on other tasks that need to get done. While Twitter really isn’t a problem for me, email and forums are, along with blog surfing. Cutting off an hour from each should free up a lot of time for other tasks.

    Love the review! I’m going to try purchasing the book sometime this week!

    • Take a page from my book and carry around a little notepad and pen for a week. Be really concientious about tracking your time – make a mission of it, a real challenge.

      As for the ONE project focus, I’ve been doing more of that myself and it’s really getting projects out the door like mad. And I’ve been able to notice more which projects I’m procrastinating on… which usually means they aren’t the right projects for me.

      So it’s been smart, overall, and useful!

      • Thanks James! I’ll try your notepad suggestion.

        As for the one project idea… For the past week or so, I’ve been focusing on one project before moving to the next. It’s really working. I’m getting a lot more done.

        I can thank you and your book review for that. 🙂

  20. I love the shift of thought, from 24 to 168 hours of available time. I downloaded the Excel document and am doing it.

    Initial impressions: Productivity increased dramatically, more free time. I surf for about an hour a day too, and that’s diminishing nicely.

    Thanks for the post James!

    • The shift in perspective was fantastic – I loved going form 24 to 168. All of a sudden the world just opened up.

      Ooh, and you’re doing the sheet? You’ll have to keep me posted on that. I’m curious as to how it’ll go!

  21. Thanks for the tip! The past few weeks I feel like I have no time for anything, I’m gonna try this out 🙂

  22. Sounds like a good book. I’ll have to check it out. I can always use more time saving tips!

  23. Interesting angle on time. I’ve recently been guilty of that old chestnut – “I don’t have enough time to do xyz”. I need to start recording it and then seeing how much I’ve been deceiving myself. Thanks for the wake up call!


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