By Laura Vanderkam | May 31, 2011
Everyone seems to be busy these days. And so, we’re all looking for some life hack that will free up time and make our lives run like well-oiled machines.
In the year since my book, 168 Hours (out in paperback today), was published, I’ve been asked for my fair share of these tips. Should I run my errands in a certain order? Should I file emails a certain way? Should I buy a quicker washing machine?
Well, you can. If you really want to achieve a time breakthrough, though, you can try this. When I talk about my book, I give the audience a copy of a spreadsheet with 168 hours on it. That’s the number of hours in a week. The sheet is blank. The idea is that the person will fill in the cells with her schedule over the next few days. But first, I tell the audience to ponder the sheet’s emptiness. Why?
Because the next week is as much a blank slate as that piece of paper.
Time will pass. It will be filled with something. You have to sleep and eat. But in our free and prosperous society, what else transpires during that time will be a choice. It will be a result of a choice you make during that week, or the result of a choice you made at some point in your life and are executing on now.
Realizing this is the most important time management tip there is: minutes and hours are choices. If you are unhappy with how you spend your time, you can, over time, choose differently. There may be serious consequences to different choices — socially, economically or otherwise — but that doesn’t mean they aren’t choices.
Realizing this changes how you view time. If minutes are choices, no longer do you fantasize about the wonderful things you’d try if only you could find another 15 minutes in the day. An extra 15 minutes in a day comes out to 169.75 hours per week instead of 168. If you’re already choosing those 168 hours, why would the extra 1.75 be any different? You no longer try to “find” that extra 15 minutes, perhaps by doing your errands in a different order, and squeeze the life you want into that space. Instead, you start by filling your 168 hours with the things that matter to you and those you care about — those high-impact activities that nurture your career, nurture your family, and nurture yourself — and spend as few of your 168 hours as possible on anything else.
Of course, none of this means the process is easy. Getting to a place where you are happy with how you are choosing to spend your time takes work. You may need to change jobs or careers. You may need to renegotiate family roles. You may need to say no to things you’ve long been saying yes to, or say yes to things that sound risky.
But there’s little point in trying to save minutes when you’re wasting hours. I also think the fact that we can choose how to spend our hours makes us incredibly blessed. Rather than complain about our busyness, we can build the lives we want in the time we’ve got.
Have you ever made a big change in how you spend your time?