10% Happier

Summary Written by Brittnei Gaudio
"It turns out that there is a fundamental flaw in the data used to support the claim that we suffer from time poverty and overwork: we lie."

- 168 Hours, page 19

The Big Idea

Filter time decisions through your core competencies and dreams

"When you focus on what you do best, on what brings you the most satisfaction, there is plenty of space for everything else."- 168 Hours, page 12

Vanderkam lays the groundwork for the rest of the book by getting the reader to think about what they are really good at—both at work and in their personal lives. She states that by focusing your time on what you do best and minimizing all other activities, you’ll have a greater sense of satisfaction and have time for other pursuits and hobbies. This concept is not unlike what Timothy Ferriss purports in The 4 Hour Work Week, though I feel Vanderkam presents in a more accessible, less entrepreneurial fashion.

In addition to identifying your core competencies, Vanderkam recommends taking the time to make a List of 100 Dreams. These are the activities that you would like to use your 168 hours for, be it things you want to try or accomplish. This list is subject to change over the course of your lifetime, but Vanderkam notes that it is the compass on your time allocation journey. I found this exercise to be very liberating, as it was not solely about career goals but looking at your life on the whole. I was even surprised to find myself list such things as: achieve fluency in French, complete a 90-day yoga challenge and speak at a TED conference. It’s a reminder that life is made up of more than just a vocation.

Insight #1

Keep a time diary

"The problem isn’t that we’re all over-worked or underrested, it’s that most of us have absolutely no idea how we spend our 168 hours."- 168 Hours, page 21

Vanderkam is quick to call the reader’s bluff and make them question how they really are using their time. For instance, if you’re working 40 hours a week and sleeping 8 hours a night, you still have 72 hours for other activities. That’s a lot of time! But have you ever thought about what you’re specifically doing during each of those 72 hours?

To tackle this, Vanderkam suggests keeping a detailed time diary for 1 to 2 weeks to get a sense of what you’re doing, even setting a timer for every 30 minutes to log your activities. You can find a copy of the time log here.

I went through this exercise and was very surprised to find out how much time I was actually working. As a freelance writer and consultant, it can seem that I’m working all the time, especially since I work from home. But upon closer examination, I found that I worked 31.5 hours and spent approximately 9.5 hours travelling to and from meetings. That second number seemed especially high, and so I’m now making an active effort to have one day a week dedicated to off-site meeting day to reduce my travel time to 3.5 hours per week. Since I usually take transit, I take advantage of that time by doing a lot of reading. The upside, of course, is that I now have an additional 4 hours that I can spend on billable client work.

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Insight #2

Evenings and weekends

"When you give structure and purpose to your leisure time, though - the equivalent of treating your weekend wardrobe with the respect you’d assign to your weekday suit and tie - you can have the kind of full life that few of us think is possible."- 168 Hours, page 182

As someone who has long struggled with how to use leisure time, I appreciated Vanderkam’s candid approach to making the most of our leisure time. It boils down to the fact that “we don’t use the time we have well”. I certainly noticed this as I kept my own time logs. There are studies that suggest that Americans watch as much as 30 hours per week of TV. I was happy to find that I only spent about 7 hours watching my favourite programs. But in light of reading Vanderkam’s book, I had to wonder if this was really the best use of my time. Especially on weekends which are ripe for spending quality time with family and friends.

Vanderkam suggests a 5-step process to improving leisure time use:

  • Choose a small number of activities that bring you the most happiness (one of these has to be exercise).
  • Create blocks in your schedule for these activities.
  • Commit enough time, energy and resources to make them meaningful.
  • Use the principle of alignment to build in more time with family and friends, or for leisure generally.
  • Use bits of time for bits of joy. There will always be the odd 10 or 20-minute block of time available. Make a list of compact activities that you can do that will bring you joy.

I’ve read a number of books and articles on time management, but I have to say that this is by far my favourite resource. It’s written in an engaging fashion and gives the reader tasks to do along the way. Best of all, 168 Hours is not just about providing you with the well-known tips like stop checking email so often or don’t attend meetings. It empowers you with a proactive mindset to approach your 168 hours to live a meaningful life.

How do you use your 168 hours and what would you like to make time for?

Read the book

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Dan Harris

Dan Harris is a correspondent for ABC News and the co-anchor for the weekend edition of Good Morning America. Before that, he was the anchor of the Sunday edition of World News. He regularly contributes stories for such shows as Nightline, 20/20, World News with Diane Sawyer and GMA. Harris has reported from all over the planet, covering wars in Afghanistan, Israel/Palestine and Iraq, and producing investigative reports in Haiti, Cambodia, and the Congo. He has also spent many years covering America’s faith scene, with a focus on evangelicals — who have treated him kindly despite the fact that he is openly agnostic. He has been at ABC News for 13 years. Before that, he was in local news in Boston and Maine. He grew up outside of Boston and currently lives with his wife, Bianca, in New York City.

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