Time is of the Essence: How to Have a Good Relationship with Time and Create the Life You Want
Do you know anyone who seems to have time to do everything they want, plus they have a demanding job, a family, keep fit, and have extra time for their friends? When I encounter one of those rare specimens, I can't do anything but admire in awe. It never occurred to me that I could be one of those people until I learned of Laura Vanderkam, a time management guru, and became equally fascinated and hooked in her methods.
Laura Vanderkam is one of those rare individuals who lives a crazy busy life but does it so efficiently that she still has time left over at the end of the day. She is a mother of five children, runs daily, sings in a chorus, and is a prolific author of books, blogs, and podcasts. Today, I want to talk to you about the key message of her book, 168 Hours. The key message is that there is time for anything that matters so long as you efficiently organize your time.
Mindful Time Management
The main lesson I take from 168 Hours is the importance of mindful time planning. Our week is made up of 168 hours, and we have to choose how to spend that time wisely. Time spent doing one activity automatically means that it is time not spent doing another. The strategy behind wise time management is taking life as 168 hour chunks of time, essentially meaning that we should plan hourly every week.
Vanderkam eloquently wrote that "A lifetime is simply 168 hours repeated again and again." Our responsibility is to choose what matters most to us and make it a priority in our schedule.
Time Slipping Away
What stops the majority of people from having a good relationship with time (what I translate to as having the rare feeling that there is an abundance of time) is that most of us have no idea where the time goes. The days just slip by one after the other! We might think we know where the time is going because we work x hours, sleep x hours, and so on. However, if we start tracking how we spend our time in 15 minutes chunks, most of us would be surprised.
“Being busy has become the explanation of choice of all kinds of things,” Vanderkam says. Yet, are we really that busy? Making the most out of your weekly 168 hours takes discipline in a world filled with endless distractions from the pings of text messages to social media alerts to everything else that draws our attention. Research has shown that North America's average individual spends over two hours a day on social media! It is easy to get stuck in the vicious cycle of endless scrolling through social media, but, in reality, it is a mindless activity that's time could be better spent elsewhere.
168 Hours explains that the first step to creating mindful time management is understanding where your time goes. Then, you must analyze what your life dreams are and decide what to do with your time. We will get into that in a moment, but first, let's talk about managing our time at work and home.
Work Life and Time
Throughout 168 Hours, Vanderkam speaks extensively about the importance of choosing a career that makes you happy. Vanderkam highlights the importance of selecting a line of work that fills your soul. She states that "If you choose your life work well, something bewitching can happen through you laboring it. Each hour you log can be a source of joy." To analyze this, Vanderkam proposes the 400-million-dollar question: if someone offered you 400 million dollars to walk away and never do your type of work again, would you take it? Most people would! However, the real question is, would you have to think for a minute, and would you grieve the loss of the job? If the answer is yes, you are on the right track for a career that makes you happy.
Vanderkam defines work as a series of activities that help you accomplish your career goal. First, though, you have to know those career goals. It is vital that you take the time to think and determine what you want to accomplish during your career and the steps you must complete to achieve it.
It would help if you asked yourself these questions;
· What do I want to accomplish professionally in the next year?
· What actionable steps will these goals require?
· How many hours will these steps take? Are my goals reasonable within this time frame?
· What do I want off my plate at work or home?
· What can I ignore, minimize, outsource?
· How can I get better at my professional craft?
One Year List
Vanderkam recommends making a one-year list where you write down every action you have to take to achieve a year-end goal that will further advance your career. You will need to determine what steps you to undertake, how long each step will take, what actions you can outsource to others, and how many hours you are willing to dedicate of your 168 hours to achieve this goal.
It is important to envision what the next level of your professional life will look like as you continue to progress towards your career goals. However, it is also essential to be open to new possibilities and opportunities. While having a plan is critical, it needs to have some wiggle room because rigidity could actually impede your progress or cause you to ignore a fantastic opportunity. The best way to do all of this is through proper time management.
Beware of False Productivity
People, especially when working, are masters of false productivity where they hustle and bustle around while feeling super busy. In all reality, while many individuals feel constantly busy, they might just be working inefficiently. Yes, they are still accomplishing tasks, but they may not be as productive as they think.
When you get that feeling of being super busy all the time, your next course of action is to say that you "don't have time" for other responsibilities or tasks. This then puts the pressure onto someone else, whether it is your boss, client, family, or kids. However, it isn't that you don't have time; your time management is off. When your time management gets off, your priorities get jumbled. At this point, you must recognize the failing, regroup, and choose to have control over your life and your 168 hours.
Home Life and Time
In 168 Hours, Vanderkam also dives into the importance of time management at home. Life can get crazy when juggling a spouse, kids, pets, and chores as well as working out, spending time with friends, and attending events. Vanderkam quoted a study that found dual-earning couples could find only 12 minutes a day to talk to each other. Yikes! If you are feeling this lack of time to talk to each other, I recommend you get my book "Relationship Questions for Couples: Guided Conversations to Cultivate Curiosity, Communication, and Connection" and block time regularly to have the conversations proposed. Your romantic relationship will improve!
As with work, it is vital to establish goals and priorities at home. These goals and priorities are your core competencies. Before we continue, let's pause for a moment to look at an example. Say that you are a parent; being a parent comes with a long list of parental tasks such as cooking, cleaning, and laundry but also taking the time to develop your child in their mind, body, and soul. However, you need to ask yourself, does continuously cleaning the house or spending hours in the kitchen actually make you a better parent? Could you not instead hire a cleaner to clean the house and then use free time to be with your children and forge valuable connections? I often suggest to my clients to hire a cleaner; Vanderkam agrees with this idea, stating, “by hiring a cleaner, you are not buying a clean home, you are buying your weekend back.” If hiring a cleaner is not an option, can you lower your cleaning standards or make of cleaning the house a fun family project?
People often find themselves living like the lists of obligations are overwhelming and leave no time for leisure. We do the things we must do and push asi
de what we want to do. We forget to recognize how well we are doing and soon feel claustrophobic in our own lives. We feel the pressure to be a “model parent or spouse,” but wouldn’t it be better to be a good enough parent or spouse?
How can we prioritize our core competencies? We begin by recognizing what is most important to us (our core competencies), and then delegate, ignore, or postpone everything else. We then devote time to our core competencies and turn off the distractions.
Choose a small number of activities that bring you the most happiness and use them to fill your leisure time. No, this doesn't mean bingeing on Netflix! It means creating meaningful activities that promote constructive relaxation. What exactly this means depends on your life, but a few examples could be joining an exercise class, reading a book, playing a game with your kids, or going on a date with your spouse. By committing time, energy, and resources to these core competencies, you will promote healthier relationships and find alignment in your life where you are relaxed and happy.
I know that this may sound a bit overwhelming, so just think back to your 168 hours. Make sure to schedule these precious moments into your hours so that they never get overshadowed.
Do you have a dream, a goal that you want to complete in your lifetime? Good! Are you working towards it at this very moment? Vanderkam acknowledges that time is a non-renewable resource; we only have so much, which is why it is crucial that we carefully budget our time to include reaching our dreams along with our work and home goals.
In 168 Hours, Vanderkam recommends making a list of 100 dreams that you wish to accomplish in your lifetime. After identifying those dreams, you must break them down into manageable and actionable steps as a series of long-term and short-term goals. Even the biggest goals can be broken down to life as we live it, that is, by the hour.
As you work towards your dreams, what actions can you take this year, over the next five years, and the next decade to achieve it? Once you commit to spending a certain number of hours on a task, you must stick to it! Embrace your inner strength, determination, integrity, and drive to follow through. Before you know it, you will be checking off those goals in your 100 Dreams list!