Wednesday, December 26, 2012

168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think

A group of friends and I started a book club this month dedicated to self improvement.

Our first book, 168 Hours by Laura Vanderkam, revealed some harsh truths about how I was spending my time (and how much of it I was wasting).

Spend More Time on Things that Matter

To get the most out of life, the author argues that we should spend more time using our talents and less on lower priority tasks.

The premise makes sense. We can't reach our goals if we're spending all of our time on mindless work. But I did encounter some challenges in putting her plan into practice.

1. Keep a Time Log

First, you're asked to keep a log of you're spending your time for a week. I kept a time journal for about three days before I realized that my forgetfulness had rendered it virtually worthless.

I started over by limiting my time log to work hours, when I'm at a computer all day and could easily track my hours.

2. Make a List of 100 Dreams

Then, came the fun part: making a list of 100 dreams, things that you want to accomplish in your life. Dreams can be small, like reading a certain book, or they can reflect larger ambitions. With such a long list, I had a mix of both.

For larger projects, you're to create a list of actionable steps and how long each might take, in terms of hours. I didn't analyze my dreams in this way. The most I did was highlight them in a spreadsheet.

3. Identify Your Core Competencies

After you make your list of dreams and try a few that don't require much time or money, you're asked to decide what you're good at, your core competencies.

Ask yourself, "What do I do best, that other people cannot do nearly as well?

The question of what I do better than anyone else threw me, because the scope isn't defined. When I consider that question, I think of it in terms of the world. What do I do better than anyone else in the world? Nothing. How could I? I haven't devoted myself to any one thing to have attained that level of expertise.

If I were considering that question in terms of the people I know, I might have an answer. But are they the people I should be comparing myself to? If I want to pursue photography, for example, shouldn't I compare myself to other photographers? If I do, I'm always going to fall short because the professionals make the top of the list.

4. Ignore, Minimize, or Outsource the Rest

"People who get the most out of life spend as much of their time as possible on core competency activities, and as little as possible on other things," Vanderkam writes.

Her solution to getting rid of other things: ignore what doesn't matter, or minimize or outsource them. Ask yourself: what do I need to do to get those tasks off my plate?

Outsourcing came in the form of hired help: hiring someone to cook for you, for instance, or to clean your house. She admits that paying someone is out of reach for some, and I was a little put off that she spent more time on paid solutions than on ones that most of us could implement.

My Life Changes

After looking at the many administrative tasks I complete at work, tasks that virtually eliminated the time I could spend doing the things I love, I came up with a plan to minimize them. The plan isn't fully implemented yet, but that I'm making time to write this blog post says something about my shift in priorities.

At home, I'm watching less TV. I'm trying to get down to an hour a day, although I find it a challenge.

I've also cut down on housework. A lot. I'd been afraid that if every inch of the apartment wasn't clean, people would judge me for it. But cleaning the window sills or dusting the books isn't going to get me any closer to my dreams, so I've settled for spending fifteen minutes a day on clean-up.


The book is a dense read – I feel like I could read it twenty times and still not fully absorb it – but these are the things that have stayed with me:

Replace TV with Meaningful Leisure Pursuits: "Many people wile away the hours from 10 p.m. to midnight watching late-night TV. Television doesn’t really relax you. It doesn’t make us feel particularly happy or rejuvenated. Go to bed instead and shift that free time to the morning, when you’ll have more energy to tackle a workout or a novel-writing or painting session."

You're Not Working if You're Not Doing Something Meaningful: “If you’re not getting anything that matters done, then you’re not really working."

Dream Jobs Aren't Found in the Classifieds: "You can change your job description and working conditions in a million ways that will get you closer to the right job."

Even though I haven't completed the book's exercises step-by-step, I'm more aware of how I'm spending my time and I'm better able to prioritize. This book gave me the push I needed to focus on doing what I enjoy without feeling guilty.


168 Hours is available from several Buffalo library branches: Central (downtown), Clarence, Clearfield, Julia Boyer Reinstein, and Orchard Park. Click here to search the catalog.

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