May 27, 2010
You have more time than you think -- really
My to-do list is seven pages long. I have laundry I haven't washed since 2008, e-mails I haven't answered since 2007, and stories I started writing in 2006 and have yet to finish. If anyone's guilty of thinking she doesn't enough time in the week, it's me. That's why I was thrilled to discover journalist Laura Vanderkam's new book, 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, which promises to discuss "where the time really goes, and how we can all use it better." Vanderkam was kind enough to answer my questions via e-chat this month. Here's what she had to say.
Q. Your book asks people to track their time for a week to see where it goes. What can they expect to find?
A. Most of us spend our hours pretty mindlessly. What people usually discover is that even if they're working pretty long hours, they still have open spaces of time that they could be using for those activities that they've been telling themselves they don't have time for: reading, exercising, really playing with their kids. [Note: You can download a free time-tracking spreadsheet from My168Hours.com.]
Q. You also ask people to write a bucket list, which you call a List of 100 Dreams. What surprises might they find here?
A. Thinking of a list of 100 things you'd like to do or have is harder than it sounds. Even if you include things you've already done, like having kids or living in a certain city, you may be stumped and have to come back to this project several times. You may discover that your desires are both vast (win a Nobel Prize) and small (keep a nice stash of Trader Joe's dark chocolate covered caramels readily accessible).
Q. How can this list help people use the 168 hours they have each week more effectively?
A. Many people don't use their time well because they don't know what they want to be doing with it. Having such a list helps two ways. First, it helps you figure out what activities would bring joy to your life. Second, you may learn that certain items have no business being on the official List. We all have something we've told ourselves we'd love to do, if only we had time. Caroline Ceniza-Levine, the career coach who suggested this exercise to me, used to tell herself she'd love to sew. She spent lots of her spare time looking through craft magazines. Finally, she got around to taking a sewing class -- and discovered she hated it. That's now mental energy freed up for other things.
Q. Many of us spend too much time communing with our TV, computer, and smartphone. How else do we fritter away our precious downtime?
A. The biggest way we fritter away precious downtime is by not being aware it exists. If the carpool is 20 minutes late bringing your kids home from soccer practice, that's free time. If you're on hold for 20 minutes, that can also be free time. We can choose to use this time deliberately for what I call bits of joy. Have that novel you've been dying to read on hand. Keep a notebook around and record your musings, or use that time to pray or meditate. All of these activities are more meaningful than checking your iPhone for the twentieth time. We also fritter away our free time by sticking stuff in the middle of it. On weekends, try to approach housework, shopping, and errands in a more consolidated and less haphazard manner so you maintain open time to relax.
Q. You suggest that people who claim "If only I had 15 more minutes a day, I'd get in shape/write a novel/take my kid to the park" are probably kidding themselves. Why is this?
A. Let's look at the math: If you work 40 hours a week and sleep 56 (8 hours a night), that leaves you with 72 hours a week to do other things. This is a lot of time! Why would you need an extra 15 minutes a day (or 1 hour and 45 minutes a week), when you could more carefully reconfigure the time you already have? If you're not living the life you want in 72 hours per week, I don't think having 73.75 is going to change anything.
Q. Does all this go out the window when you become a parent?
A. Not necessarily. When I was a new mom, people kept telling me that there just wasn't enough time to build a big career and a big family. I set out to write about this time crunch, but as I started talking to people with full professional and personal lives, I learned that many of them didn't feel that pressed for time at all. Becoming a parent is obviously a transition, and if you weren't good at managing your time before, it's not going to get easier when you throw a bunch of little people into the mix.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
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