11 August 2017 | Uncategorised

Tracking hours

Planning time business concept or wasting minutes as a group of timepieces or clocks shaped as a human head as a health symbol for psychology or scheduling pressure and dementia or loss and aging as a 3D illustration.

If I were to ask you if you wanted more hours in your day, I bet you’d say ‘Yes!’

I’m sorry, I don’t really have any hours to spare but Laura Vanderkam has written a book called 168 hours – you have more time than you think which can help you find those extra hours.

Vanderkam is a New York writer who was interested in the changing ways people spend their time over the last few decades. She asked many people in a variety of professions with a variety of interests to keep log books, recording their time for a week. Of course, everyone says there is no typical week! But a relatively normal week can illuminate the truth on how you spend your time.

I followed her idea, and have kept a timesheet for a week, logging how I’ve spent my time in fifteen minute blocks. (Yes, it is tedious!)

It has been eye-opening to discover how much time I spend on writing, reading, other writing tasks like blogging and reviewing, work (I work part-time as a freelance editor), housework, cooking, sleep and how much time I spend with my kids, husband, friends and family. I don’t watch a lot of television, if any, so my exercise hours were higher than my tv hours. I do spend a lot of time cooking and grocery shopping – I’m happy to spend the time cooking because I enjoy it and like to cook from scratch, but I’d love to spend less time in the supermarket! I spent far more time on housework than I thought. But as I’m someone who spends five school-hour days working from a desk at home, it’s beneficial to me to get up from my desk and quickly vacuum around the kitchen for ten minutes.

There are 168 hours in a week, and while some of that time can’t be negotiated – we all have to sleep a certain number of hours, turn up to work, look after the kids, prepare meals – there is a certain amount of choice in the time we have left.

Vanderkam is definitely a big fan of outsourcing. She outsources childcare, laundry, cleaning and some cooking. Even though she goes into quite a lot of detail about how the benefits can outweigh the costs, if you were not financially able to afford all this outsourcing, her suggestion is not helpful. There’s also the question of values – perhaps it goes against your values to put your children in childcare or perhaps you value home cooked meals from scratch rather than processed food.

She argues that the average full-time worker can assume 56 hours for sleep (8 hours per night), 60 hours at work (although many people don’t work that long) which leaves 52 hours for everything else in life – family, exercise, friends, tv, hobbies, personal care, commuting etc. It sounds like quite a lot, doesn’t it?

It can be tricky to classify your hours – when Mr 8 does taekwondo for an hour every week, I spend that hour in the room for parents, reading a book or writing but putting my head up every few pages to watch him. When I do watch tv, it’s usually with my kids and husband to watch a kids’ movie, so I’m spending time with my family and sewing my quilt at the same time. And as any parent knows, you’re often supervising homework while cutting up vegetables for dinner. I always listen to a writing podcast when I iron school shirts so even if I can’t write, at least I can think about writing.

Vankerkam talks about unequal hours – it’s so true. I’m pretty useless after 8pm, so I don’t write or work after then. Year 8 maths is also beyond me at that time! I’m better off doing small admin jobs than trying to edit a client’s website. Vanderkam suggests identifying your core competencies, the things that you do best, and making sure that you allow plenty of time to focus on them. She also advises identifying your goals, and checking that you’re spending enough time working on them.

I have kept on logging my hours for another week, because I’m curious to see whether this first week was typical. I’m also trying to cut down on the time I spend on housework – hints welcome!

I want to be as intentional as I can with my time. Because how we spend our hours is how we spend our days. And how we spend our days is how we spend our years. And how we spend our years is how we spend our lives. I want my kids to have the stability of knowing that I’m around for them, and that there’ll always be a home-cooked meal on the table. But I don’t want them to talk about ironed school shirts at my eulogy. I want them to remember me as someone who sewed them quilts and clothes, taught them how to cook, was a constant presence in the background during the teenage years, read them stories and wrote a few of her own. It’s that pull-push between the urgent (the school notices to be signed, the muddy sport uniforms that need to be ready for tomorrow) and the important (writing books and being with family).

168 hours – let’s make them count!

PS. Remember National Bookshop Day tomorrow – spend an hour in a bookshop and buy a book to support your favourite writers and booksellers.


Ovarian cancer day




It would be interesting to contrast the above with people at the other end of the spectrum who might say that there are too many hours in the day and they haven’t enough to meaningfully occupy their time. Just an unavoidable effect of ageing or a matter of attitude and personality?

August 11, 2017 at 8:18 am

    Karen Comer

    I don’t know whether it’s a matter of ageing or personality, David. Certainly, I’m looking at this from the point of view of a mid-forties woman with kids, a part-time job and a novel to write. When you take those responsibilities away, of course there’s more time. But is it easily filled – I’ll have to report back in twenty years!

    August 12, 2017 at 5:56 pm

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