Review: 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam

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My friend Kirsti recommended 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam to me, and I checked it out from the library after she returned it. It gave me quite a few things to think about, a few things to rant on, and a few things to immediately act upon.

Her primary thesis is that if you look at your time in week-long portions, you, well, have more than than you think. You are not actually as busy as you think you are, she claims. She gives examples of highly productive and effective people and examines how they do it — and her answer is not that they are a breed apart. Her answer is simply that they make different choices than the vast majority, but anyone who wants to can make similar choices, stop wasting time, and devote time to what is meaningful to them. I do agree that choices, decisions, and awareness are a differential that people can learn (that I need to learn), but I also do think there are people with simply more energy, more ideas, and more drive than others, and each is responsible for using the resources, personality, and ability (not to mention context and circumstances) God has given them, without striving to be comparable to someone with different giftings.

She laments that people often think getting more done means cutting in on their sleep time, which she highly discourages. She even encourages naps! Of course she runs the typical “cut your television time” instead, which is less than helpful if you already don’t watch television. She is on the “there is no such thing as multitasking” bandwagon, encouraging instead devoted chunks of focused time, with a purposeful break or change of activity when focus wanes. I do agree, but it’s a rather difficult concept to apply to a mother and homemaker’s work rather than to desk work.

Which brings me to the rant I have. Her primary audience is working mothers who believe they have to work part time or otherwise hinder their career if they want to raise a family well. The author insists that a woman can have a family (some of her examples do even include mothers of 5 or 6) and a “Career.” She demonstrates the time needed to devote “quality” time with children as well as how little time one can (and should, she says) spend cleaning house (not an important thing to do), concluding there is plenty of time left in a week for a fulfilling and expanding Career. A 1950s-esque housewife, she says, was simply wasting time doing silly homey-creative (and she did give some ridicululous examples from women’s magazines of the time) things because she had to fill her dull life somehow. Instead, a woman today should raise her family intentionally and well while also working a fulfilling vocation. Of course her schedule for a working mother expects that the kids are in school (a woman can put in 40 hours with school time plus after-bedtime time), so I suppose I should shrug her off and say homeschooling is my Career. But she also goes to great lengths to show that cleaning and caring for the home is mostly a waste of time that should be minimized or just ignored, and that cooking is overrated and part of the tradeoff of having a fulfilling, meaningful Career is that you get to pay others to do those dull, useless things you don’t want to do anyway, like cook and clean. And, if you like to cook or clean, then make that your Career and pay people to do whatever it is you don’t like to do, just as many men pay to have their lawn mowed or their cars fixed. Women, she says, are too reluctant to hire out responsibilities, unlike men.

As someone who has had to fight internally to accept that house cleaning is significant and not something that is best ignored, reading her housekeeping chapter was like reading either a “what I could have become” or at least a temptation back to the dark side. I had to read with my guard up, knowing I would actually like to believe her, but that I must hold onto my hard won and still infant assurance that keeping house is not a waste of time and that it is important and significant.

My perspective was aided by my amusement throughout, as she wrote in a tone of one with authoritative information, that she is my age, with two daughters in preschool, and a freelancing writing career that she not only clearly loves, but also that allows her autonomy to, say, take a nap in the middle of the morning. And her answer to an indightment of that sort is mostly, “Well, if you want to be able to do that, just make it happen. Just do it.”

I think more spin-off posts are likely to come on this book, as long as I get the time to write them. As my real-life friends Kirsti & Elly could tell you, this book had me thinking and spinning. I don’t want those thoughts to die and fade before being developed and solidified in my mind, so that means I need to write them out. As far as time management goes, she did have great thoughts and ideas that I would do well to incorporate. As far as respecting mundane, never-finished homekeeping tasks, her opinion gave me opportunity to defend my recent (well, of 3 or 4 years) change of heart. Up until now, I have sought out and read and mulled on writings by those who do respect it, and responded as the one needing to change (which I do). This book gave me the opportunity to see where I was, or at least was heading, and be the one defending rather than receiving.

In all, her point that we do have enough time to do what we should do, however we might define that, is an important point and one we would all do well to heed. How do we use the precious gift of time?

One Response

  1. Meredith_in_Aus

    Good to hear your thoughts, Mystie, and to see that, while her thesis may be good, your wisdom is beyond hers. If she has written this book with two young school children, she has much to learn about how much ‘quality time’ she will need to give to her children when they become adolescents with all the changes to their worlds that comes with that age. And I’m not even talking about out-of-the-ordinary (rebelliousness or illnesses) things, just run-of-the mill stuff – like keeping up with their friendships, and other time related activities that mum no longer has as much control over. The fact is that, as a mother, we are raising persons. And persons are “inconvenient” and life is “unpredictable”. We can organise ourselves as best we can (which does include having a clean, orderly, and welcoming home :o) ), but if we forget that our primary responsibility is our children (not our own little dreams of total self-fulfillment), we do them (and ourselves) an injustice. Of course, I’m not saying that we totally forget ourselves blah, blah, blah but I think you (and your readers?) are wiser than that.

    Look forward to hearing other things that you’ve learned from the book.

    In Him