168 Hours {Book Review}


“168 Hours: You have more time than you think” by Laura Vanderkam is a book about time management and life balance. But it’s also about career management and volunteering. And it’s about productivity and being fully present.

“168 hours” is a collection of essays — food for thought, if you will. This is terrible if you’re a smash and grab reader (get in, get out, move on), but wonderful if you love to look analytically at your life and ponder ways to make it better (as I do).

She starts by talking about Core Competencies:
– Things we do best that others cannot do nearly as well.
– Things that are important and meaningful.
– Can be leveraged across multiple spheres (profession, family, volunteer work, etc.).

Laura includes many anecdotes, which probably doubles or triples the length of the book, but helps to hammer down specific concepts. In an effort to show how our views on housekeeping have changed, she shares tidbits from a 1970s magazine, which involves a cake that takes two days to bake (I’m lucky if I have two hours!) and tips for saving time by using kitchen shears to cut raisins. Along the same lines was a story of woman mocked for having dust under her bed. Our housekeeping standards are changed so much than we don’t see any dust under the bed…because we never look.

Recently, I reviewed “Sidetracked Home Executives,” a book from the 1970s about home management. While I’ve found benefit in using the system, my complaint was that it seemed like I was spending all day cleaning instead of the reason I chose to be a stay at home mom — spend time with my son. Reading Laura’s research from time use studies showing that we spend about half the time on housekeeping than we did forty years ago gave me perspective on “Sidetracked Home Executives.” I’ve since reworked the system to fit my needs (i.e. being okay with sweeping my kitchen floor once per week instead of once per day).

Speaking of time use studies, I loved the research the author did with large scale time use studies, mainly the American Time Use Survey, which measures the amount of time individuals spend on various activities, such as work, child care, leisure, etc. I’m a statistics nerd, so I found it fascinating to learn that people who claim to work 60 hours/week most likely don’t, most career advances require you to work at least 30 hours/week, and stay at home parents on average only spend a small chunk of time more with their children than working parents.

My favorite story was about Sid Savara, a software developer who hired a personal chef to make meals in bulk, saving him 15 hours of work each week (over doing it himself). Shopping for and prepping food is one of the major headaches in my life. As I wander the aisle figuring out where the peanut butter is this time (I swear it moves) I can feel the life being drained out of me. I would love to outsource this task to someone who loves to shop and cook (and is most likely more efficient than I am at both tasks), so I can focus on my core competencies of raising a wonderful son, researching and planning events, and reading and sharing my thoughts on books.

Outsourcing (meals, laundry, lawn work, house cleaning, etc) is a seemingly controversial topic in other online reviews. Outsourcing seems highly unpractical for the vast majority of people. When we first moved cross country into our new house, we outsourced lawn care at $45/week to take the burden off of us so that we could focus on other things pertinent to selling a house several hundred miles away. It did take the burden off, but it also added up to a pretty penny over our first summer. While I agree with the author’s point of view that there’s a problem when we spend on average 3x as much time on household chores as we do with our children, I just cannot justify paying for certain household chores to be outsourced.

To give you an idea of the cost, if I were to outsource lawn care ($45/week), food shopping and meal preparation ($60/week+cost of groceries), laundry ($35/week) and house cleaning ($100/week), it would cost $960* every month. This is about 30% of the average household take home pay. Yikes! [*Note: this figure does not include the cost of groceries, since you’d have to pay for it either way.]

Nevertheless, Laura does bring up some great points of view. Are luxury items like cable TV, new clothes and fancy cars more important than spending time with our kids? If we spend all our money on vanity items that we are forced to spend all our free time on household chores, we’re missing opportunities. We’re missing out on the things that could truly make us happy.

I encourage you to go and read this book. So much more than a time management book, it’s a life management book. It calls for you to look at yourself, find the holes and work to patch them. Since this book covers a wide range of topics, the items that I focus on will not be the same items you focus on. Please read it, and let me know what you learned so I can learn from you!


How I found this book: I was looking for books on time management and stumbled across “168 Hours.” Familiar with the author (I also read Laura Vanderkam’s book, “All the Money in the World.”), I looked it up, and lo and behold, my library had a copy! Both of her books are worth a read.


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