168 Hours, ten years on

My first time management book, 168 Hours, came out in 2010. I meant to write a ten year anniversary post at the beginning of summer but time — ironically — got away from me.

In any case, here we are. I rarely read through my books after they’re published. I’ve been so deeply involved with them up to the point of publishing them that revisiting them tends not to rise up the priority list. So looking through 168 Hours over the past few weeks has felt a little strange — like conversations with an old friend where more comes back the more you talk.

I had forgotten writing some of the stories. But I still use a few key points in much of my writing and speaking now. I really do think that these three messages can change how we see time:

1. We live life in 168 hours. A day has 24 hours. A week has 24 x 7 hours, which is 168. People say “24-7” all the time, yet no one multiplies it through! We often think of our lives in days, but we live our lives in weeks, and looking at the whole of the week gives us a more holistic perspective on time. For one, it shows that a full time job doesn’t actually take the full amount of one’s time. If you work 40 hours a week, and sleep 8 hours per night (56 per week) that leaves 72 hours for other things. This is good to know for those of us who want full lives outside of work. But beyond that, thinking “168” not “24” reminds us that things don’t have to happen daily in order to count in our lives. Three to five times a week is often plenty, and that removes a lot of pressure.

2. “I don’t have time” often means “it’s not a priority.” The world has plenty of difficulties, but for many of the people who pick up a time management book, much of time is about choices. Things we are not doing may just not be important to us right now. If they became important (for instance, if someone handed out gobs of money contingent on learning French, writing that novel, practicing the piano four times a week…) we would probably do them. This mindset can be challenging, especially when the larger world keeps insisting that certain things should be priorities, but ultimately this mindset is liberating. It puts us in charge of our time, and our lives.

3. To spend time better, figure out where the time goes. In 168 Hours, I suggested that people track their time for a week. I continue to believe that this exercise is life-changing. That’s why I’ve tracked my time for 5.5 years now! No one else needs to do that (not everyone finds joy in hundreds of spreadsheets…) but doing a week once or twice a year keeps us honest. It’s easy to tell stories about where the time goes, but these stories are shaped by feelings, energy, and larger cultural narratives. When we know where the time goes we can make rational choices, rather than assuming that time is scarce, or that no one can have it all.

If you’ve never read 168 Hours, I would be honored if you’d pick up a copy. I like all my books, but since this was the first time management title, the material all felt very new and exciting. Plus I found it fun to read about my now teenaged son’s 2-year-old antics!

38 thoughts on “168 Hours, ten years on

  1. I read this book in December of 2010 (after you were interviewed on Gretchen Rubin’s blog) and I’ve been following you ever since. I’ve read all your subsequent books (including All the money) and it’s my favorite book of yours. I often think about the points you mentioned when thinking about my time. Happy 10 years!

    1. @Linda- thank you! And I’m so happy that you happened upon Gretchen’s blog on that day. We’ve all been blogging for a long long time!

  2. I read this book in the last several years and also really enjoyed it. One of my pet peeves is when people say to me, “I wish I had time to read” or “how can you possibly read so much?” Before having our son in 2018, I had many people tell me that I would never find time to read after having a child. That turned out to be completely false – I actually read more book (over 100) last year than I had in any other year. People forget that we all have the same number of hours and the day and it’s all about what you prioritize. I’m a passionate reader so of course I was going to find time to read. I haven’t been as good about fitting in exercise but I’m hoping I will be able to WFH more in the future which will make it way easier to fit in (when I worked in the office, we all left the house at 6:50 so pre-work workouts just weren’t going to happen). I haven’t time tracked before but I feel like I have a pretty good handle on how I spend my time so it hasn’t felt necessary but I would like to try it some day.

    1. @Lisa- yep, if reading matters to you, you will make time to read. Whether there is a kid involved or not. Kids can become excuses for all kinds of things that people don’t really want to make a priority. I’m not saying they aren’t time consuming…they are! But one of the cool things of writing about what I write about is that over the years I’ve met all kinds of people in very challenging situations who are still making time for the things that matter to them. It’s incredibly inspiring.

  3. Tracking my time 2-3 times per year has been life-changing for me. The first week I tracked my time was in September 2016. I had 4 kids 8 and under. I had committed to Laura to track a week for her to review as part of a future book. Then it turned my whole household except the 8 month old (who was pretty bald) got lice!!! My time log was full of entries called “Lice combing.” MY big lesson was not that there is always time for lice combing, but rather I was spending a lot more time with those kiddos that I realized. It just wasn’t the type of time I wanted to spend. I ended up increasing my childcare hours to be able to spend more quality time with them. That has also allowed me more time for exercise. Now I track my time each time our schedule changes–Back to School, winter/spring, and Summer.

        1. @Gillian – I feel like I am begging the gods to strike me down here, but since March there has been zero vomiting in my house, and my husband is the only one who’s had an URI type thing (Covid negative)…This infection control stuff works! I may be wearing masks on airplanes for the rest of my life.

  4. I bought this book at the airport years ago and you’ve been my time management guru ever since. Strangely enough, you’ve appeared in my Google feed twice in the past two days.

    1. @Jane – very curious what I was in the feed for! And glad you found me on a layover – hope it made the time more pleasant 🙂

  5. I fully agree with these points. i haven’t read your books but follow daily your podcast(S) and feel resonated and find your tips very creative.
    can you share how do you do time tracking yourself? i want to start but don’t want it to take up too much time.

  6. Laura,

    I have read this book, as well as “I Know How She Does It.” Thanks so much for all your insights–thinking of the entire week as a mosaic of 168 squares, rather than only thinking about 24 hours, was mind-blowing.

    I’m a true believer that we make time for the things we prioritize. Would ever consider writing about multi-potentialites/Renaissance Souls/Scanners who feel passionate about multiple hobbies? Specifically, only have X numbers of hours to spend on hobbies/projects per week (let’s say, for example, 3 hours), how does one rotate through on-going projects/hobbies over time?
    (In my case, I have home decor projects, closely listening to music (i.e. not as background while doing other things), reading books, and drawing.)

    Thank you for all you do!!

    1. @Kenia – thank you! And interesting question re having multiple things of interest. I used the metaphor of a Ferris Wheel recently in a post — the idea that your daily tasks could be viewed as a Ferris Wheel, always spinning, with new things coming up day to day until you got to everything in turn. It could work that way — this week is music, next week is home decor, next week is drawing. Or we do it slot by slot. In the morning I read, in the evening I draw, on the weekends I do home decor…

      1. @Laura–I took a look at your Ferris Wheel analogy and it makes total sense!

        After looking around for solutions for how best to keep track of all those ferris wheel carts, I’ve decided to create a “Rotating Priorities Board” on Trello. I even picked for the board’s background photo, a photo of a ferris wheel!

        Thank you!
        Cheers, and wish me luck. 🙂

        1. @Kenia – the Trello board sounds like a good idea. If you find it works, I might recommend to others with a series of hobbies/interests.

  7. I read this book while nursing my newborn wondering how I would do it all and this book showed me how and gave me language- it’s not a priority. I am forever grateful.

  8. I bought this book when it came out and I was a young attorney with a baby (my son was born in November 2010). I found it so helpful in setting up a fulfilling work and family life, including later serving as a local elected official while working full time as an attorney and a mother. (There’s some speculation that I may be the first woman in montana to give birth while holding elected office.) I still quote your advice to women who want to keep powerful jobs after kids, as well as to those who sorry they need to go part time. Thank you!

    1. @Katherine – thank you, and congrats on breaking barriers! I definitely think we need more parents of young kids serving in office.

  9. I guess I’ve lived under a rock for so long – I just discovered your book earlier this year. I loved it so much, I read it again. I then read I Know She Does It, and then read 168 Hours again! And then finally went on to read all your other books (though I haven’t read The Cortlandt Boys yet). As a working mom, aspiring to be a physician, I LOVE listening to BOBW podcast. Like a previous commenter, I also cringe when I hear people say “I don’t have time” and have become extremely cognizant on how I verbalize such statements. I have yet to do a full week of time tracking, but it’s definitely a goal of mine to complete before the end of 2020.
    Anyways, this year has definitely been the year of “Laura Vanderkam” for me as I’ve discovered your books, blog, and podcasts. You are truly an inspiration and I love following along your journey! I’m extremely excited for your upcoming book – Congrats!

    1. @Pankti- thank you so much! Glad you’ve enjoyed the books and podcasts. I’m really flattered about the idea of a “year of Laura Vanderkam” – ha!

  10. I read 168 Hours after a college friend mentioned it (thanks Ginger!) in a blog comment and I was hooked. I love your writing style Laura, and it was so refreshing to read a time management book by a woman with kids vs all the outdated “master of the universe”-type time management books who assume the reader has a wife at home to take care of all that messy “life” stuff. Also, it’s entirely Laura’s fault that we picked up and moved my family to our dream house in another state, because why not? One can work from anywhere with good Internet 🙂

  11. One of my favourite books! Got me thinking on how I spend my time and more importantly relishing the time I spend with friends, reading etc. While I don’t have kids yet, I feel confident knowing that I won’t become someone who has no time for her personal priorities. Thank you for being a role model!

    1. @Patithra – thanks so much. I really do believe that we have time for what matters to us. Whatever stage of life we happen to be in!

  12. Hi Laura, I read almost all your books during nursing my twins. Gave me sooo much motivation for the future with now four kids. I will soon start working again, so the pile with your books is on my desk – to work through again. They just changed my way of thinking about time. Certainly you leave a positive footprint in this world. Congratulations from Anke from Germany
    PS: would be so great to have your books in German as well!

  13. I was just thinking about some of the ideas from this book this week. I’m a teacher and had family conferences late into the evening a few nights this week. I felt sad not to be able to put my daughter to bed a few nights this week or have time together in the evening, but thinking on a 168 hour scale instead of 24 hour scale gave me good perspective and helped me to focus on work and connecting with students and families without feeling guilty for being away from home.

  14. Your work has changed my life–honestly. I read 168 Hours for the first time 2 years ago. Since that time I have taken on a number of projects, including graduate school–getting my doctorate!–that I would have thought previously impossible. As a working mom with a day job and a side job in graduate school who also homeschooled–before the pandemic! I could not have concieved what I do without you. My present schedule is somewhat exhausting but it has an end date. Both your books on weekends and what to do before breakfast were hugely valuable to me in constructing the schedule I now keep, along with the bullet journal method book by Ryder Carroll. Your book on money brought me to grocery delivery before the pandemic hit–another huge timesaver. Thank you SO much for this practical help that really makes a better life possible, particularly for women.

    1. ohh, i love the Bullet Journal book too! Another working, pre-pandemic homeschooling mom here, but there’s no way I’d attempt school on top of that 🙂

  15. I read I Know How She Does It and 168 Hours maybe 5 years ago. I have been tracking my time for a little over a year, and it is so helpful practically and emotionally. I color code for different activities, which enabled me to discover two major features of how I spend my time:
    1. Some family/house time is pleasant and some is most definitely not. I color less pleasant time: getting out the door, rushing to make dinner, washing dishes–in red. Pleasant time–playing games, reading, walking or hiking, most excursions, just sitting with a child while we each do our own thing and chat–is lavender. Pleasant time exceeds the unpleasant time, and this is very good for me to be able to see in down moments.
    2. It takes me 15 minutes to gather everything to get out the door. This is whether I am going with 1 child or 3 or even by myself. If I want to be on time, I have to build that 15 minutes into my schedule. If I stop working at 5, I won’t be leaving until 5:15.
    So helpful! Thank you!

  16. 168 Hours and I Know How She Does It have changed my life. I read them during my PhD around 3-4 years ago, when I was also pregnant with my third child (I also have a set of twins). It was a difficult time and a lot of times I felt I am not good enough and that I should quit one of the many roles of my life. The book sets a new perspective for me, that I could do anything I choose and think important, and that nothing is perfect all the time. Distractions/disturbances/sh*tty times will eventually come up, so what is important is getting back on track and not lose hope. I have since finished the PhD and work as university lecturer. Thank you, your books are gifts to all women, especially for the confused and exhausted working mom I was.

  17. I’ve read the book before, but have been struggling with managing my time with some new roles at work and at home lately. I had already decided to track my time for November, but just bought the e-book for a refresh to get my head in the right place!

  18. This book was life changing for me, I can’t believe it’s already ten years old! It’s my go to recommendation for any one struggling with time management. Congrats!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *