I have been reading the book You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam. Well, re-reading because I originally started this book back when my kids were younger, and I think I just gave up. My time was just so unstructured and at their mercy at that point in my life that it was too frustrating to try to act like I had much control over it.
This is the first year that all of my kids are in school, and I am not working outside the home. If ever there was a time that I could put some structure around my time, this is it. So I’m turning to Vanderkam’s book once again for help.
The thesis of the book is twofold: Given that there are 168 hours in a week, “you can choose how to spend your 168 hours and you have more time than you think.”
The first exercise the book asks you to do is to track your time for a week. You account for every hour of the day, including when you are asleep. According to Vanderkam’s research people sleep a lot more than they think and work a lot less than they think. We overestimate time spent on things we don’t like to do, such as emptying the dishwasher or paying bills, and underestimate how much TV we’re watching. We tend to avoid activities that take initiative or thought, things like spending quality time with our kids or exercising, and we try to squeeze these things in as after-thoughts, making us feel pressed for time. When actually we aren’t.
Vanderkam poses the question: “what if we viewed every minute as a choice?” How would we spend our time differently?
It helps me to think of time as a concrete thing, like coins or tokens. Let’s say you have 168 tokens for a week. How would you spend them? Would that make you think differently about spending an hour mindlessly clicking on Container Store storage baskets you will never actually purchase? Ahem, just to give an example.
So, I logged most of my time for a week and learned a lot. One thing I learned is that I really don’t get enough sleep. I get about 6 hours a night. Life with teens starts early in the morning and goes until late at night when our oldest is still completing homework. She has A LOT of homework. She then also has to get up at 6 am to be at school across town at 7:30. So, in order to have a little time to myself before she wakes up, I get up at 5:45 am. When you go to bed at 11:30 and then read for 30 minutes as I have been doing, this is not enough sleep. So this is an area where I am not spending enough of my time tokens, and my body feels it big-time. I am really dragging most weekdays.
Another thing I learned is that I spend way too much time cooking dinner and cleaning up after dinner. I enjoy cooking. And I enjoy eating, so I don’t mind spending some time tokens in this way. But there were several days last week where I spent 3 hours cooking and cleaning up dinner. I’m not even sure how that happened. I think I made more complicated stuff than I normally do. I get interrupted a lot, which makes any task take longer. I always seem to want to add one more roasted vegetable, which requires 10 minutes to wash, peel and chop, or I think to make a salad “real quick,” which turns into looking up a salad dressing recipe I remember reading about online, printing it out, oops, printer’s out of paper, where is the laptop? Who left the laptop unplugged and open so that the battery is drained, etc., etc. Somehow a little salad that no one will eat but me has cost me 30 minutes.
Want to know the dinner my family absolutely loved last week? Quesadillas. Those took about 15 minutes. They were a desperate plan b when my Instant Pot French Dip sandwiches took about 2 hours longer to cook than I expected.
In other words, I could spend a lot less time on cooking and spend it sleeping instead. The world would keep spinning on its axis if we didn’t eat such elaborate meals, and I would probably be a happier, more well-rested person.
Also, and this is painful for me to admit, for someone who has big dreams of publishing a novel, I spent a whopping one hour writing last week. Sad face. I’m not a total bum, I promise. I spent my would-be writing time doing other, good things. I made a meal for a friend who lives an hour away who just had twins. I spent two hours driving and two hours holding babies. About three hours went into shopping for and making the meals and I would do it all again in a heartbeat. I also went on a Silent Retreat my church offered. I spent two hours driving and talking with a friend and three hours of silent prayer, journaling and Bible study. These pursuits didn’t result in additional chapters in my novel or a cleaner house, but they time well spent in my opinion.
I’m not here to beat up on myself or congratulate myself for how I used my time, but looking at the raw data of how I spent 168 hours has already inspired me to make some changes.
An exercise that Vanderkam recommends doing once you’ve completed a week-long time log is to make a list of 100 dreams, a list of activities you’d like to try or accomplish during your life. She encourages you to cross off the ones you’ve done and note how they made you feel. Here’s a few entries from my list:
Run a marathon This made me feel like I can do anything if I just keep putting one foot in front of the other and don’t quit.
Write a novel. This made me feel like I am a “real” writer, not just an aspiring one.
- Publish a novel.
- Spend a week alone writing, reading and being outside.
- Travel to a foreign country with my whole family.
- Go on a family vacation at a working farm.
- Have an organized, clutter-free house.
- Run a 50-mile race in a beautiful location.
- Have close, authentic, fun relationships with each of my children and my husband.
- Write a book of essays.
Start a gardening program at our elementary school. This made me feel empowered and made me feel like I was making a meaningful difference in a place that is very important to me.
- Create a beautiful native landscape on the hill in my front yard.
- Do a pull-up!
- Blog about topics that help other people grow and feel empowered and more joyful.
- Read the whole Bible.
- Raise kids who grow up to make the world a better place.
- Go to the Grand Canyon.
- Learn how to snowboard.
- Have a regular front yard gathering with our neighbors.
- Ride my bike rather than take my car.
- Have fresh flowers around the house.
- Go on a trip with each of my children individually.
- Host more dinner parties.
- Start a supper club.
- Live in a foreign country.
- Rent a house somewhere completely different for one month in the summer.
- Have a big garden that could feed our family.
Next, Vanderkam says you should answer these two questions:
What do I do best, that other people cannot do nearly as well?
Well, no one else can write my novel or have close relationships with my kids. That’s only something I can do.
What things do I spend time on that other people could do, or could do better?
Someone else can cook, clean, do landscaping projects, make cookies for the bake sale. I don’t have to spend time on these things unless I choose to.
Since this is sort of a secret blog at this point, I forgot to publish this post and am coming back to it a few months later. I think I’m doing much better with how I spend my time. Like, for example, I’ve figured out how to get myself to write everyday and I’ve been making some good progress on my novel. Two of my writing group friends are fashioning a silly hat that I will have to wear at the coffee shop where we meet to write if I do not write 500 words a day. Talk about motivating! I am not a silly hat person, so this is working like a charm! Also, the last few times I’ve brought a meal to someone who was sick, I have brought them takeout. I used to think that wasn’t allowed, but then I thought, would I mind if someone brought me takeout if I were sick? No, I would not mind one bit. In fact, I might prefer it actually. Anyway, these are some small changes. Letting myself off the hook in some areas, and then not not letting myself off the hook in others.
The key mindset change for me is realizing that I do not have all the time in the world. I have 24 hours in a day, 168 hours in a week, 8,760 in a year. Now this is starting to sound like a song from Rent, but you get the idea.
We only have so much time, but how we use it is up to us.