Ever wish you had more hours in the day to get everything done?
When I was a girl, I remember watching a TV movie called “The Girl, the Gold Watch, and Everything.” In it, this guy had a magic watch that could stop time. I was completely mesmerized, because even as a child I fantasized about all the things I would do if I just had more time.
And yet here we are — every single last one of us — stuck with a measly 24 hours a day in which to try to get stuff accomplished.
You Have More Time Than You Think
Recently, I read the book I Know How She Does It by Laura Vanderkam, which outlines how women spend their time.
Vanderkam has also written two previous books, 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think and What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast (only $2.99 on Kindle). All of her books are based on the premise that there are 168 hours in the week and everyone has access to those hours.
Time is the great equalizer.
The book takes a deep and honest look at how we fill up the time we’re given, and how we actually do make time for the things that matter.
Vanderkam calls her research “The Mosaic Project,” because when she first began tracking time on a paper chart, the squares filled up with different activities, creating an overall “picture” of what her life looked like. She decided that instead of viewing her time as fixed cells on a spreadsheet, she could be an artist who arranged and placed different tiles in her life’s “mosaic.”
After reading the book, I was inspired to track my own time for a week. I’ve read time management books before that recommend scheduling and managing every single minute of every day, and I simply cannot handle it.
This book is different, though, because the author insists that time be spent on important things, as well as recreation, relaxation, and even what I call “farting around.”
You know–wasting time.
For one week — 168 hours — I tracked everything I did. I didn’t try to make any efforts to use my time more wisely than I normally do. I simply went about my normal activities and wrote them all down.
Here’s what I learned from time tracking:
1. I work more than I thought.
In 2000, shortly after giving birth to my first child, I quit my full-time teaching job and became a stay-at-home mom. As the years progressed, I started adding part-time freelance work into my schedule. I taught Kindermusik classes, began accompanying school choirs, and briefly taught piano lessons.
Once all four kids were in school, I added more work to my schedule, and started blogging a few years later (which I count as work even though I don’t make any money at it!). The week I did my tracking was a light week as far as piano playing was concerned, but I made up for it in writing and blogging hours, and logged an impressive 33 hours. And that’s not including my volunteer work as a BSF leader, which takes several hours each week.
In addition to that, I spent over 15 hours doing household chores and nearly 12 hours driving to school, church, and my own work destinations.
2. Sometimes multitasking actually works.
Multitasking gets a bad rap. The so-called experts say at best, it’s inefficient and ends up taking more time. But Vanderkam says that’s not always true. If you’re doing something that can be done on autopilot, while also doing something that requires concentration, multitasking makes tons of sense.
For example, I like to fold a bunch of clothes all at once while watching TV.
If I folded each load as it came out of the laundry–which is technically the more efficient way to do it–I wouldn’t have near as much to fold at once. But I also wouldn’t be doubling up on that time.
On the Saturday during my tracking week, I folded about six loads of clothes while watching a movie. I finished the folding about an hour in. If I had folded each load individually, the folding itself would’ve taken the same amount of time, but I wouldn’t have chosen to watch a movie in such short increments.
By saving up the laundry and doing two things at once, I actually freed up time in my schedule and shaved an hour off my movie time.
I also listened to an audiobook while I cleaned house and worked in the yard, and racked up several hours of reading.
3. Making use of unexpected moments is a key to using time wisely.
I absolutely despise waiting in the carpool lane. My kids usually ride the bus in the afternoons, but every Monday I pick up the youngest and drive him to piano lessons. I’ve found the waiting goes much faster (and I enjoy it more) if I read a book while waiting for the bell to ring. Even if I only get through a few pages, I’ve accomplished something.
I try to be prepared with small odd jobs or errands that can be done during unexpected “found” moments. And I always — ALWAYS — have reading material on hand.
4. Cleaning out my inbox isn’t necessarily the best use of my time.
Neither is washing a sinful of dirty dishes. Of course, these things need to be done regularly.
But what Vanderkam found in her research is that people who stuck religiously to a routine and did things on a strict schedule, simply because they felt they were “supposed” to, ended up with less time for the things they actually enjoyed. In other words, sometimes it’s best to let the dishes sit in the sink overnight and just clean them up the next morning after breakfast, so you can spend some time reading in bed.
As Vanderkam says,
Like email, chores will fill any time you give them. No matter how organized you are, there will always be something else you can do.”
So do what you can, when you can, but don’t sacrifice your leisure time to the taskmaster of daily chores. If the floor doesn’t get swept or the dishes done, it’s not the end of the world. The mess will still be there tomorrow. Learn to let some things go.
5. You don’t have to do everything.
I wish I could go back in time and tell this to my 30-something self! I thought I had to do it all.
But what I’ve learned over the years, and what this book reinforced, is that I simply can’t and shouldn’t try to do everything.
For example, I don’t make my kids breakfast anymore. Granted, my kids are old enough to make their own breakfasts. But they’ve been old enough for years now, and even just last year I was feeling pressured to make daily breakfasts and guilty when I didn’t get it done.
What is important is to fill my days with things that matter. Which means I can’t do everything.
So, now that you’ve heard how my experiment went down, are you ready to try it? You can get a free time tracking spreadsheet at Laura Vanderkam’s blog. Fill it out for 168 hours, and see what you discover!
More on Time Management:
I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time by Laura Vanderkam
What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast: And Two Other Short Guides to Achieving More at Work and at Home by Laura Vanderkam
168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam
Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown
21 Days To A More Disciplined Life by Crystal Paine
The 7 Minute Strategy or How I Get Major Projects Done a (very) Little Bit at a Time — blog post by Meredith at Penelope Loves Lists
The Power Hour — blog post by Gretchen Rubin
Toggl — online timing tool and app
Whatever you do, don’t let time slip through your hands and end up regretting how you used — or didn’t use — it.
Remember, the berry season is short.
So fill up your basket with good things.