168 Hours…For The Rest of Us

“168 Hours” is a time management book by Laura Vanderkam.  The basic premise of the book is that we all have 168 hours in the week and most people don’t manage that time very well.  From some reviews on Amazon,  I gathered that many of the “solutions” for managing time better require money and a lot of flexibility.  While I doubt the author blithely assumes that everyone can afford cleaning help or good daycare, the media does tend to focus on high-powered women when addressing the issue of time and work/life balance.  See Atlantic’s recent “Women Can’t Have It All” article or any issue of Working Women magazine. 

The focus on high-powered executives and especially on successful women makes sense on some level.  Women are still expected to deal more with the juggling of household chores, childcare and work.   Even if the chore and/or childcare split is 50/50, it seems that women devote more time thinking and managing these chores.   The assumption is that if CEOs university professors and magazine editors can make it work, the average women can certainly learn time management tricks from them. 

The problem is that this trickle-down theory is often not applicable to those lower in the ranks.  For example, a magazine’s Editor-In-Chief has to answer to the publisher and certainly has high demands placed upon her.  However, it’s unlikely that she has to ask permission for leaving early or for vacation time.  She has more influence over company culture than those beneath her.  She can work after the kids are in bed.  If the average employee wanted to do that, he/she would have to convince the boss that they are actually working after work hours.  Good luck with that…

My normal tendency is to write a short post and include a list of tips geared toward people in the middle-class.  However, I wanted to explain the origins for this post and also acknowledge my own privilege.  While I can’t really set my own schedule, work from home or easily pay for cleaning help, I am a white-collar professional working in an office setting and I do enjoy more flexibility than the average retail store or restaurant employee.  For this, I’m lucky.  Before you say that it’s also your ability, education and hard work, I know many who work just as hard with just as much ability who just happen to have less understanding bosses or a more nose-to-the-grind corporate culture to contend with. 

How can you carve out valuable time if you’re not the 1% (or top 10%) with money and flexibility? How can you manage if you really don’t have the resources to outsource? I’ll try to answer this in Part 2 (coming soon).

5 responses to “168 Hours…For The Rest of Us

  1. Great post. My parents could answer this one. Time is never an issue for them. Part of it is that they plan things pretty far in advance and lack the ability to procrastinate.

    They’re are at retirement age and are/were certainly never top percenters – they were white collar, non-professional, middle manager types in 9-5/M-F jobs. They were both home for dinner every night and never had to work weekends. They were occasionally somewhat worried about losing their jobs but neither of them ever got fired in 35-odd years, which is remarkable actually.

    How they did it — They chose careers that allowed decent balance but weren’t prestigious, didn’t pay extremely well, and didn’t demand much other than consistency and rule following which is natural to their personalities. They chose to only have one child (that certainly freed up a lot of time and gobs of money for them). They both did their own housework, cooking, home repair, and yard work and made me do it, too. They lived near some family who could have stepped in to babysit me (though I never recall that ever happening). They also weren’t big spenders. They did not go out much. They watched a lot of TV. Not everyone’s dream life, certainly, but they definitely had a handle on their time.

    • I wish I lacked the ability to procrastinate! But I think you definitely gave a pretty good picture of the average lives of average folks..the relative job security of past generations was also key for the middle-class but now that is pretty much gone.

  2. I think it’s about prioritizing, for sure. What’s important to spend time (and money) on? Being really cognizant of where the money is going and what it’s doing for you can “buy” a lot of freedom, actually.

    One example – in my 20s I liked getting my hair highlighted, but it cost $250 each time and I had to get it done at least quarterly. I realized after a few times that I didn’t really want to spend that time or that kind of money on it, so I just stopped. It was a “nice to have” but wasn’t enhancing my life that much, and i can honestly say I don’t miss it now…

  3. Social networks are really important. DH’s family lives near family and can get help for last minute childcare needs and other kinds of emergencies.

    When I was growing up, we didn’t have that, but we had family friends who could step and and we would step in for them as well. The single moms I know as an adult have the same kinds of set-ups.

    As part of the 10% we rely more heavily on paid help. (Or actually we don’t, as our kid is extremely well-behaved and can be dragged places if we both have to be somewhere, but that’s where we would look first.)

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