From Knowing to Doing

I always love getting reader mail. Now that many 168 Hours readers have kept time logs, I’m getting this question a lot: what do I do with this information? How do I go from knowing what I’d like my 168 hours to look like to actually achieving that?

It is one thing to know that, in 168 hours, you can find space for 4 1-hour exercise sessions. It is another to actually, you know, exercise four times. Because life gets in the way. You may intend to go for a run on Thursday morning, but you’re at a client site on Wednesday, and they ask you to stick around for another day. You may decide that you want to carve out time at work to think through your long term projects, but what if your boss asks if you can pop in to her office during this time?

Getting your plans to align with reality is a process. So here’s a realistic plan for going from knowing to doing.

1. Figure out a small number of changes you’d like to make. Yes, it is within your power to get a new job, to move, to go back to school, to train hard enough to do triathlons competitively. But if that seems overwhelming, recognize that something is better than nothing. In Chapter 9 of 168 Hours, for Kathryn Murphy, we identified just a few tune-ups: spending morning time with her daughter, cooking twice per week, and using her commute to reflect.

2. Look at your schedule Sunday night, and block your changes in. Yes, your schedule may change frequently, but that’s no reason not to try. In fact, it’s a reason to block in more than enough time for your priorities. If you want to exercise four times, find six slots where it can potentially work. Then, if one falls through, you can make up the time during the next slot.

3. Make things as easy for yourself as possible. If you plan to exercise first thing in the morning, set your clothes out the night before. If you’re going to need to exercise while on business trips, pack your shoes and stay in hotels with 24-hour gyms, or take up swimming (the lightest sport for packing: swimsuit, goggles, possibly fold-up flip-flops).

4. Don’t make things easy for others to shove you off track. You can ask for your family and your coworkers’ support. Address their concerns (who will provide childcare, who will cover anything urgent that arises). Then practice strategic defense. Code your calendar as unavailable or turn off your phone or whatever is necessary to devote time to your priorities. Be prepared to push back a little bit. Chances are, earth won’t crash into the sun if you do.

5. Practice, and tune-up as necessary. One of the problems with most makeovers that you read in magazines is that the subject gets very excited about the changes, but then you don’t hear what happens 2 weeks later, 2 months later, 2 years later. Did the changes stick? In writing a book, one faces this problem as well. For Kathryn’s time makeover, I checked in with her several times over two months to see how things were going. Choosing to be mindful during her commute was relatively easy. All she had to do was do it. Cooking twice a week was the next easiest change.

Getting morning time with her daughter, though, was harder to implement. The first time I checked in, work had gotten incredibly busy and so she was racing out the door in the mornings. But the next time I checked in, things had settled down a bit and — into her second trimester — she wasn’t so tired anymore, so she could carve out at least an hour in the morning most days. Over time, it became more of a habit, and so will any changes you want to try in your 168 hours.

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