Tuesday, September 20, 2011

168 Hours

I think the phrase "this book/movie/song changed my life" can be overused, but I have to apply it, at least lightly, to this book:

I'm a person who likes to accomplish a lot every day. I have a full-time job, but I also write every day: I work on my novel, I journal, I blog, I research. I teach private music lessons 2 afternoons a week. I exercise at least 5 times a week for an hour or more. I keep the house clean. I prepare healthy meals for myself and my husband. I call and spend time with my loved ones. I play my flute. I read (obviously). I get 7 hours of sleep a night. All of these things add up, and even though I don't spend a lot of time watching TV or other non-essential activities, I often find that I can't keep up with my own expectations. But instead of lowering my expectations, I read this book.

Laura Vanderkam reverses a lot of oft-repeated American beliefs. Using the American Time Use Study, a very accurate annual survey of how thousands of Americans spend their time, she proves that our country's citizens are not nearly as overworked as we think. The study shows that many people who spend large chunks of their week at work are not actually working for a lot of that time. If they could find a way to schedule their time more wisely, they might not have to be at work so many hours. Even if a person does spend 40 hours a week at work, Vanderkam invites us to see how low that number actually is. Everyone gets 168 hours per week. No more, no less. Most of us work 40 hours or less. (This is verified by the American Time Use Study). Most of us also sleep more than we claim (about 7.5 hours per night). That's about 52 hours per week. So between sleeping and working, we've used up about 92 hours out of our 168. Which means that we have 76 hours to use for the rest of our life activities. When you think about that, an hour a day of exercise, or two hours a week to spend with an elderly relative, feels like a simple commitment, if one could only schedule it properly.

Vanderkam also challenges the social stigma that many middle-class families have about things like hiring a maid or getting groceries delivered. These services sound decadent- why should we hire someone to do something we could do ourselves?- but she points out that if the time we save could help us increase our income in some way, or even if it simply increases the pleasure we take in our lives, it is worth it. Again, she emphasizes, we all have a finite number of hours to use each week. She also questions the fact that we feel awkward about sending out our laundry, but we don't mind hiring someone to watch our children. Can anyone else really raise our children better than we can? Can anyone else do our laundry better than we can? Vanderkam's answers are "No" and "Yes."

You may not agree with all of her conclusions, but I guarantee this book will get you thinking about how you spend your time, and what your priorities are. After reading this book, I don't have any trouble fitting in all of the activities I desire.

Laura Vanderkam is also an accomplished blogger at http://www.my168hours.com/. And the woman does know what it's like to budget your time- she holds down several jobs, writes regularly for national publications, and is raising three children.

Thank you for spending a small fraction of your 168 hours reading this blog!


  1. Holy Moly, you sure cram in a lot in one day! I definitely don't feel like I have enough time to fit in everything I might like to do, at least not without cutting down my sleeping time. If I break the television set I may get a few more hours each week...haha.

    I love reading this blog--keep it coming!

  2. Oh my gosh, I know this author! She was part of a choral group (The Young New Yorker's chorus) that I was in during their first few years. Wow! I knew the name sounded familiar. Small world.

  3. She writes about the Young New Yorker's Chorus in the book! It's something she's very passionate about. I believe she's even on the board and is involved with commissioning pieces for the group. Crazy that you sang with her!

  4. You've piqued my interest with this book Leanne, as I never feel I have enough time for all the things I want to do (or NEED to do). I will definitely have to read this one. Thanks!