Book review: 168 hours (Laura Vanderkam)

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This is one of my favorite books about time management. Laura Vanderkam, who also has a blog, is a mother of 4 children and has written several books about time management. Her book 168 hours is aimed to show you that you have more time than you think.

Book review: 168 hours (Laura Vanderkam) # time management book

The myth of the time crunch

For this book, Laura Vanderkam used time diaries filled by voluntary participants but also the results of national surveys. While analyzing the data, she found out that  people are actually working much less than they think. Many people who claim to work more than 70 hours per week are actually working a little more than 50 hours a week. She also found out that even people with a demanding job and big family could manage to find time for self-care and hobbies if this really mattered to them.

The title of the book, 168 Hours, refers to the number of hours in a week. Indeed, a week is more representative of your life than only one day. Many activities in your life repeat themselves every week, like workdays, yoga classes or dinners with your family.

What people who seem to be able to do everything they want have in common is that they focus on their core competencies. Core competencies are the things that you can do best and that other people can’t do as well. Learning to identify these core competencies and your objectives in life are very important aspects of time management. 

Managing your hours at work

Laura Vanderkam dedicates one part of her book to time management at work. You spend a lot of your time (in average 30 to 50 hours) in the workplace and therefore what you re doing there should help you to reach your goals. This is the reason why it is important to have the right job. Being able to focus on your core competencies at work makes you happier and gives yo more energy for the rest of your 168 hours. 

The right job is the job fulfilling these three conditions: leveraging your core competencies, giving you autonomy and offering the right level of challenge. As you won’t find the perfect job in the newspaper, you should create it. You can either get hired in a company and then create your own job in this frame, if you find a company that is flexible enough to enable you such a career move. Or you can choose to be self employed and create your own job independently. If you are already rather happy with your job, you can simply adapt it to maximize the time you spend on your core competencies.

The book defends here the idea according to which reducing work time is not the best way to reach family/work balance. Indeed, the better you get at your job, the more you can decide yourself of your priority and agenda. To succeed in your career you do not have either to work more hours than everyone else. If you identify the really important steps to the next career level and concentrate on them, you can work efficiently and still have a private life.

Managing your hours at home

According to Laura Vanderkam, identifying core competencies is not only useful for your work life but can help you at home too. Actually, there is a domain that most mothers today recognized as a core competency: taking care of their children. As mothers were still mostly at home, they did spend a lot of time on housework. The standards for housework were accordingly high. However, the time spent with their children was not as high as you would think. As mothers entered the workforce, the time they spent on housework decreased significantly. However, the time spent with their children increased! Mothers in 1965 spent an average of 10,6 hours on child care whereas mothers in 2000 spent 12,9 hours on child care.

The book contains several ideas to decrease the time spent on housework. Some are unusual like for instance outsourcing your laundry. Some are practical ideas like fast meals ideas or efficient shopping tips. 

My opinion about the book

I liked this book very much because I found it both useful and interesting. What I really liked is that there are many real life examples: you can even read the time diaries of some of the participants. Reading about how other people manage their time is fascinating and inspires you to make some changes in your habits. There are also exercises that can help you to manage your time better.
Some important points of the books are the following:

  • you have more time than you think: you might not be able to do everything you want in one day, but in a week, this is possible to find some place for everything that is important.
  • If you do not make time for something, then it is probably not really a priority of yours. Be honest with yourself regarding what your priorities really are.
  • Be aware of the time you spend. Can you use the time spent waiting for your turn at the supermarket or watching television for something that really matters to you?


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