168 Hours Challenge, Day 1

The act of observing something changes the thing being observed. That principle of physics has applications to our lives. If you've ever kept a food journal, you know that sheer embarrassment can keep you from writing "ate 3 donuts in 30 seconds while standing over sink." Likewise, recording our time makes us aware of its passing. I started logging my time this morning, and quickly realized that it's easy to flit between things. I can focus for a while in the mornings, but in the afternoon, I find it difficult to carve out concentrated time. Knowing this, however, I can start to choose which projects I tackle in the mornings, and which I tackle later.

Here's what today looked like:

7:25- awake, lie in bed for 5 minutes. This is later than normal, but last night was a late one with our weekend house guests having their flight canceled and coming back from LGA at 11:30PM.

7:30-8 - Jasper comes into bedroom, get dressed, go pick up Sam out of crib. Feed kids breakfast, snuggle on the couch with them, talk to houseguests about plan for day.

8-8:45 - work while eating breakfast. Try out Reporter Connection for a Fortune story, send emails to people for City Journal parks story.

8:45-8:50 - check on progress of 4-year-old getting ready for school (nanny is helping him). Normally I walk him to school, but Michael is still here so he walks him. Make sure birthday thank you cards and homework (!) are in backpack. Yes, he is 4.

8:50 - start to hear back from earlier emails.

9-9:30 edit guest post for Men with Pens (part of publicity for paperback)

9:30-9:40 - email

9:40-11:15 - revise USA Today column. This was my longest period of concentration on anything today.

11:15-11:30 - call person who had inquired about a webinar on 168 Hours.

11:30-11:40 - snack.

11:40-12:20 - work on guest post for Michelle Rafter's Word Count blog (paperback publicity again)

12:20-12:30 - email

12:30-12:40 - check weather, note lull in rain, decide I can run outside, change into jog clothes. Note that I have not showered yet today. The joys of working from home!

12:40-1:20 - run outside. Rain holds off. 3.5 miles.

1:20-1:30 - talk with house guests who have just returned from their bonus day of exploring/shopping in NYC.

1:30-1:50 - newspaper reporter interviews me for story on making most of summer

1:50-2 - prep for 2pm call re parks. Person is not available, so table for later.

2-2:15 work on webinar proposal.

2:15-2:35 - lunch. Heat up soup. Brown toast. Eat.

2:35-2:50 - finish up various guest posts.

2:50-3:15 - email/Twitter/prep for later interviews

3:15-3:25 - shower. Desperately needed by this point.

3:25 -3:55 - Read Op-Ed Project submission (I volunteer with mentor-editor program) and send comments to author.

3:55-4 - phone conversation with husband and get house guests out the door to try to make rescheduled flight.

4:00-4:15- cuddle with baby

4:15-4:30 - prep for next interview (parks)

4:30-4:45 - phone interview for City Journal parks piece

4:45-4:55 - start prepping for next interview, winds up moved to tomorrow, answer emails.

4:55- 5:15 - start blogging about my day! Yes, this feels incredibly narcissistic, but hey, blogging is narcissistic in its own right. I guess it's all a matter of degree.

5:15-5:50 - haul out keyboard and practice music for choir concert in less than 2 weeks.

5:50-6 - Decompress. Breathe. This is my "commute"

6-6:25 - kid time! Much pseudo wrestling. Puzzles. Realize baby has learned to whine for Dora the Explorer. "Dor! Dor! Dor!"

6:25 - Dora. Sigh.

6:40 - Michael home. Talk with him, start dinner -- his concoction of rice, shrimp, seafood bisque soup. I heat up veggies in a bag that steams right inside the microwave.

7-7:20 - eat dinner.

7:20-7:55 - Playing remote control cars and other games with my 2 little boys and one big one.

7:55-8:25 - we all watch home videos of when kids were marginally littler together.

8:25- 8:55 - all four of us building train tracks, playing with Thomas & Friends set.

8:55-9 - PJs, potty, diaper change, brush teeth.

9:00-9:10 - stories.

9:10-9:15 - various kids hungry, eat bread, need teeth brushed again, much whining, mommy gets exasperated.

9:15-9:20 - crank out one email and then...

9:20-9:25 - FreshDirect shows up with groceries. Put them away.

9:25-9:35 - rock baby who is still shrieking. He finally calms down.

9:35-11:15 - work. Catching up on emails, reading through manuscripts returned by beta testers, etc. Now blogging about it, and heading to bed in next 20 minutes.

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8 Responses to 168 Hours Challenge, Day 1


  1. vk says:

    I think this all a really great start. We don’t realize how much time we waste, but we also don’t appreciate how long some tasks actually take. As i look through time logs just to see others live, I’m confused and still struggling with time management.

    A – many people show getting up and getting ready for work averaging 10-15 minutes. I must either have learned it wrong but to shower (shampoo/conditioner but not shaving legs), blow dry my hair (no style), get dressed (no make up usually, v. little if i have a big meeting) doesn’t happen in less than 30 minutes. W/ husband and child underfoot its 45.

    B – on what planet can you show up to the office or start work after 9am? I started my own business so don’t have to physically be someplace everyday but before (and now) I usually have breakfast meetings at least 2 days a week starting at 7 am. Our executive office started scheduling the day at 8am so you had to be at the office by 745 at least.

    C – How does dinner only take 20 minutes (I believe this was one of Laura’s own schedules) Even with my husband, the best in the world, who does most of the dinner work, prepping even pre-cooked or leftovers, sitting and sharing a conversation and then clean up is 1-1:30. Add a kids bath and three tries at the potty before finally going to sleep and it’s over…I’m not getting back online until 9pm.

    D – What am i doing wrong that I can’t possibly answer emails or online work stuff or return phone calls in 15 – 30 minute blocks. Real email takes at least 10 minutes each (not talking about “where’s this file”, “do you have sue’s phone number”, “what’s the eta on final documents”, “can we meet in 20min to discuss the candidate we interviewed yesterday” which also eats up a lot of time) I mean real stuff like, we received this proposal or project outline, what are your thoughts and what kind of timeline can we expect from you…. I have 3-5 of those a day now that i’m working for myself (used to be closer to 7-8 when I had a real job:) But seriously they take time to read and respond.
    Phone calls – (and i’m not a big a chatter and hate chatterers who feel the need to tell me every detail of their morning commute before we get to business), but even professional calls with focused conversations are 30 minutes. If I return even 3 calls a day (which is lite) its 2 – 3 hours if you add the pre-call prep to make sure it is an efficient call. Post call follow up (here’s what we discussed and the article i said i would forward…etc) adds another 10min to the call related work.

    And then there’s the actual work – writing briefs/proposals, developing strategies and project plans and all the research.

    So what am I missing? It’s not that different out on my own now. The work load, hours and meetings are about the same as before. And, I’m not complaining about the tasks. Its my job, my work, my family, my life; its what I love. I just don’t understand how to get enough done in a day/week/month….

    • Denise R says:

      I am with you on this one! I can’t get ready in under 25 minutes, and as you said, add kids and forget it.
      My dinner, prep and eating take longer too, especially b/c it’s the only time all four of us connect at once. We have to rush breakfast to get to the bus stop; but I suppose since time with the family is a core competency for me, I should just accept the dinners, since we are all together?

    • Laura says:

      @VK: maybe you are sending much more thoughtful emails than the rest of us! I type fast but they’re also very short. So I can return 10 in 15 minutes. Phone calls — I am often asking for people’s time to interview them, so I try not to ask for more than 15-20 minutes and hold myself too that. If person goes off on tangent, I steer them back. Depending on person I can get away with 10 minutes of prep (if I know the subject). If I don’t, I will block in half an hour.
      I start my workday at 8AM – but take a break at 8:45 for the preschool walk. I have occasionally scheduled stuff prior (breakfast meetings, or when I have morning speeches or need to travel) but that involves a lot of coordination with husband/nanny so it is often easier just to push people to 8.

  2. Cara says:

    Ahhh..Dora, we love her we hate her. I was going to log time but I’m on Weight Watchers, which btw totally totally works — I lost 2 pounds last week writing down what I eat and running 1/2 hour every day… and a pound a week just writing down, kind of unbelievable to think it could be that simple in such an obese and excess food society as ours. very empowering but also a lot of work.

    I notice you go back to work at 9 p.m. or so — I have mixed results with this and have become a big advocate of say a 5:45 a.m. wake up time but going to bed as early as possible..
    i agree totally with very very simple food for young toddlers.. my kid had iron-fortified coca puffs and juice for dinner last night but this a.m. ate two blueberry pancakes with water — we kill ourselves but they do eat in spurts and often iron-fortified cereal is as good a dinner as any (we are trying to work on my daughter’s iron)

    I also think one shower after a workout a day or not showering every day does save dome time and is one of the benefits of a home office… a note about home offices — for women entrepreneurs this can be a mixed blessing, for me the home office is amazing but for me to hire an employee I sort of need to turn the garage into a separate entrance office or rent office space… would be good to read more about women entrepreneurs and their first office and first hire — to me that is one of the first big steps and I’d like to read more about that step and financing of it and the lifestyle choices involved

    • Laura says:

      @Cara- I’m turning 2 rooms of my new house into my office area, and yes, one is going to be for meetings/video interviews, etc. No one uses a formal living room anyway, so why not make it part of Vanderkam Inc?
      Congrats on the weight loss! It’s so simple, really. Write down what you eat and exercise every day. Not sure why we try to make it complicated!
      As I’ve been looking at time logs for the BNET makeovers I’m doing, I can totally see that the working at home thing is key for saving time, not just with commuting. I can absolutely get myself showered/dressed/presentable in 35 minutes, and if I have to do it in 45 with the kids, I can do that too. BUT I know I am very low maintenance, and some people have make-up routines in the double digits, lots of hair care, etc. Perhaps I should pay more attention to these things when I do go out, but it’s hard to make myself bother.

  3. Denise R says:

    Congrats on your weight loss.
    I like to get an early start too, I get the most done before everyone wakes up.
    I am letting go of food issues too. I figure when I’m back at work it’s OK if my kids eat hot lunch every day until I get settled, since I will (hopefully) be providing a healthy breakfast and dinner. It’s time to do more outsourcing. Cereal is often a good dinner for us too.

    • Laura says:

      I love cereal for dinner. Actually, I usually have it as a bedtime snack. Probably not good to eat right before bed!

      • Denise R says:

        I eat cereal before bed too. If you remind yourself that cereal is a better bedtime snack than ice cream, there’s no problem.
        My husband doesn’t believe in breakfast food for dinner, so we do it when he’s away.

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