You Have More Time Than You Think - 168 Hours by Laura Vanderkam

Who is this book for

  • Employees trapped in demanding and unfulfilling jobs
  • Parents who want more quality time with their kids
  • Creatives struggling to pursue their dreams

Learn how to fit everything that matters into your life.

Do you regularly find yourself longing for more hours in the day? Do you wish you could spend more quality time with your spouse and children, regularly exercise, maybe write that novel, or even just take a break every now and then? 

All too often, the demands of work and family life are so relentless that there’s no room to add anything else to your calendar. So you battle on through each week, wishing the daily grind didn’t leave you worn out and unfulfilled.

The truth is, there is a different way to run your life, one that will leave you happier and more successful without having to compromise on what’s important. But to live this way, you need to rethink your idea of time – and take control of each 168-hour week!

In this summary, you’ll learn

  • how your dream job relates to your childhood;
  • why you should stop preparing your own meals; and
  • which unfathomable chores were once on every housewife’s to-do list.

You’re not too busy – you’re just not in control of your time.

Theresa Daytner leads a full life. The mother of six owns Daytner Construction Group – a company with twelve people on the payroll and a seven-figure revenue. But her life is far from all work and no play. Daytner coaches soccer, goes for regular massages, enjoys trail rides, and chills out watching the action-drama TV show 24.

You’re probably thinking, “Does she ever sleep?” That’s exactly what Barack Obama was wondering when he met her. But Daytner gets a solid seven hours of sleep, every night. Her secret to packing so much into her day isn’t Dr. Who-style time travel. It's a mindset. Daytner takes full ownership of her time, using it only on the things she values: her family, her business, and herself. Instead of thinking, “I’m too busy,” she asks herself, “Is that a priority?” If it isn’t, Daytner simply lets it go. That way, she can focus on what she does well, and on what enriches her life.

The key message here is: You’re not too busy – you’re just not in control of your time.

The pressures of modern living make many of us feel time-poor. We’re busier than ever, pulling long hours at work. Our smartphones keep us under constant pressure to be “on.” We hardly ever manage to squeeze in time for our physical and mental health, and we can forget about having a decent conversation with our spouse or kids. By the end of the week, we feel worn out, disconnected, and unfulfilled – with no hope of pursuing anything we’re truly passionate about.

But research has shown that we’re not as time-poor as we think. A study called the American Time Use Survey found that most Americans get eight hours of sleep each night, and that parents in full-time, paid employment work no more than 43 hours per week. That leaves 69 hours for everything else – ample time for chores, childcare, exercise, and hobbies. Yet somehow, few of us feel time-rich.

The good news is that you can take control of your time by changing the way you organize your life. But before you do that, you need to understand how you’re actually spending the 168 hours in your week. To find out, create a time log. Draw up grids with seven columns for the days of the week and a cell for each hour of the day. Then, spend two to three weeks writing down how you spend every hour. This will give you an accurate picture of what you’re doing with your time.


To live a fulfilling life, focus on your core competencies.

Jackie Camborde loves group fitness – a passion that led her to open the Santa Fe Fitness Studio in New Mexico. But Camborde wasn’t always into exercise. Her journey began in the 1990s, when she wanted to lose the weight she’d gained after she quit smoking. She was so enthusiastic about group fitness that her instructor encouraged her to become a certified teacher. Not long after that, she realized that teaching was her true calling. And a few years later, she left her fundraising job to launch her own studio. 

The most successful businesses are the ones that focus on areas where they outshine the competition. It’s the same with successful individuals. If you invest in the skills you’re really good at and love, you’ll end up living your best life.

The key message here is: To live a fulfilling life, focus on your core competencies.

Successful people intentionally foster their strengths. They invest as much time as possible in using them while deprioritizing activities that don’t align with those skills. For a skill to be a core competency, it must be meaningful to you. It must be flexible enough to apply to many areas of your life. And it must be something you do better than others. This could be something as simple-sounding as being a nurturing person; you don’t need to be a genius to live a fulfilling life. 

To identify your core competencies, write a list of 100 things you want to do before you die. Your list could include skills you want to develop, places you want to travel to, and experiences you want to have. You should also add personal milestones, like finding a partner, becoming a parent, or graduating. Add the dreams you’ve already achieved to your list too!

Next, read through your list and identify anything that’s easy to do. Action those items as soon as possible, and then reflect on how much you enjoyed them. Over time, you’ll get a sense of what you’re really good at and what you have fun doing. These activities reflect your core competencies.

Once you’ve identified two or three core competencies, you can use them to evaluate how you spend your time. In the snippets that follow, we’ll look at this in action, both at work and at home.





Choosing a job that uses your core competencies energizes your entire life.

After 40 years of working as a marine biologist, Sylvia Earle was still passionate about her job. She’d endured demanding hours, grueling travel, and blatant sexism in the science sector. But at 62, Earle was still thrilled by the prospect of living in an underwater ocean lab, 60 feet below the surface, so she could study marine life. She’d reached the average age of retirement in the US, but retirement wasn’t on Earle’s agenda. Her job was a source of intense joy.

Books like The 4-Hour Work Week might be best sellers. But in 2002, the General Social Survey found that most people would still choose to continue to work in some capacity, even if they didn’t need to. If, like Earle, you’re passionate about your job, you’ll want to work more than four hours a week. Now you just need to find that job.

The key message here is: Choosing a job that uses your core competencies energizes your entire life.

Deep down, you probably know what kind of job excites you. It’ll be one that makes use of your skills and creativity while motivating you by speaking to your values. Often, the things that excite us the most can be traced back to our childhoods. In her memoir Sea Change, Earle recounts becoming bewitched by the ocean after a wave knocked her down when she was just three years old. If you’re having difficulty imagining what your ideal job might be, look through your list of 100 dreams. Do any of them echo a childhood passion? That dream might act as a clue to finding a job where you can thrive.

_Flow is another useful indicator that you’ve found the right job. _Flow is the state of being so absorbed in an activity that all other concerns fall away. It occurs when you’re being challenged at just the right level, and it fosters a wonderful sense of happiness. The happier you are, the more productive you’ll be.

If you don’t experience flow at work, spend some time reflecting on whether you experience it at other times. What are you doing in those moments? Can you think of a job that would involve similar activities? A job that incorporates these will draw on your core competencies, transforming your work life from a means of making money into an experience you love.


To become time-rich you must control your work calendar.

Biologist Carol Fassbinder-Orth makes a habit of excusing herself from meetings. Many of us would be too nervous to speak up, but Fassbinder-Orth takes another view. If she realizes a meeting isn’t relevant to her, she recognizes that it’s a waste of her time. And that time would be better spent pursuing activities that advance her career.

Fassbinder-Orth is a master at effectively using time to achieve goals. She earned her PhD in avian immunology without putting in the usual 80 hours a week. Since she’d had her first child during her first year at graduate school, she simply couldn’t spend every hour in the lab. Instead, Fassbinder-Orth learned how to structure her schedule to maximize her progress. Within five years, she’d completed her PhD, secured a professorship, and was eight months pregnant with her second child. 

The key message here is: To become time-rich you must control your work calendar.

To follow Fassbinder-Orth’s example, identify what you want to achieve in your career. Once you’re clear on that, you’ll be in a better position to evaluate your priorities. A single year equates to around 2,000 working hours. While that’s not an infinite amount of time, it certainly gives you room to pursue your dreams.

Working back from where you want to be in five years, set an annual goal, and then break it down into monthly milestones. Each Sunday, write a list of goals for the week and work out how long each task will take you. Schedule those activities into your calendar, and commit to doing them – no matter what. 

To help you stick to your commitment, you’ll need to get comfortable with dumping activities that fall outside of your core competencies. Doing tasks that you’re not good at means you’re wasting time better spent on something else. If you can’t abandon a task entirely, minimize how much time it takes up in your calendar. Team meetings, for instance, suck up a huge amount of your working day. To create more efficiency, ask your boss if the number of multi-person meetings can be replaced by one-on-ones between relevant employees. That way, the rest of you can get on with the tasks that really matter.

Remember, you don’t have to do everything just because you’re capable. If someone else is better at doing something than you are, try to shift that task onto them.




To achieve a career breakthrough, combine strategy with story.

Leah Ingram is the author of _Suddenly Frugal, _a book that explains how American families can save $25,000 a year. To an outsider, her journey of getting published may look sudden. In November 2008, her agent pitched her book to publishers; by the end of the month, she’d landed a contract and attained the breakthrough she wanted.

But this “breakthrough” came after two years of blogging every day about living frugally. Back when her family moved to their dream home in New Hope, Pennsylvania, they discovered they were facing huge maintenance costs and had to tighten their belts. Bored of her usual gig covering weddings and etiquette, Ingram decided it was time for a change and committed to blogging about living on a budget.

The key message here is: To achieve a career breakthrough, combine strategy with story.

Ingram understood that the gatekeepers of her dream – publishers – would want evidence that she was a sound investment before offering her a contract. So, during that first year of blogging, she focused on building an audience. By Year Two, her blog was getting 5,000 visitors a day. By being strategic and committed, Ingram was able to present potential publishers with metrics that suggested her book would sell.

If you’re looking for your own career breakthrough, think about the metrics that will impress your industry’s gatekeepers. That might be a respectable portfolio, audience attendance figures, or fundraising outcomes. If you’re unsure, find a gatekeeper and ask them what benchmark you’d need to achieve to take your career to the next level.

A compelling story will also support your cause. Put aside an hour to reflect on what a journalist would write if they profiled you in the_ New Yorker_. For instance, did your business career start when you were an industrious kid who checked the weather and then sold lemonade on hot days? A story like this creates a hook that grabs people’s attention.

Of course, there’s always an element of luck involved in making a dream come true, but jumping at opportunities can shift the odds in your favor. Get into the habit of putting yourself out there, whether you feel ready or not.

You can improve your relationships with your children by focusing on your core competencies.

In the 1950s and 60s, chores like “iron electric blankets” and “vacuum ceiling” appeared on the to-do lists of everyday women. During this time, most American mothers spent 34.5 hours a week cleaning. Thankfully, today this figure is closer to 16 hours.

With many mothers now also in paid work, there simply isn’t time to clean with the same vigor. And while parents spend more time with children now than they did in the 1950s and 60s, it might surprise you how little time that actually is. In the US, full-time stay-at-home moms spend about 22.5 hours a week caring for children under the age of six. This amounts to just over three hours a day. So if that’s all the time you have to nurture your child, you’ll probably want to make the most of it.

The key message here is: You can improve your relationships with your children by focusing on your core competencies.

Nowadays, many parents feel pressured to go the extra mile. They send their four-year-old to Pee Wee football, craft Valentine’s gifts for every kid in the class, or whip up baby food from scratch. But these activities don’t necessarily foster a loving relationship with your child.

As a parent, nurturing your child is one of your core competencies. Remembering this can help you get the most out of family time. If you’re not into baking, buy a cake to have as a treat. You can use the time you’ve saved in the kitchen to read to your child, using funny voices to bring the story to life.

Seek out shared passions between you and your child by asking them to write their own list of 100 dreams. If you both love swimming, schedule regular trips to the local pool. A love of music might mean singing together. Older children are more likely to participate if you are doing something you both enjoy and they see that you sincerely want to spend time with them. Remember, this means treating that time as valuable by turning off your smartphone.

Consciously make plans that take you away from the TV. Being a couch potato won’t do anything to foster a deep connection, or leave you with a sense of fulfillment.

Outsource housework that doesn’t align with your core competencies.

Software developer Sid Savara is great at playing the guitar. What he’s not great at is grocery shopping and cooking. The health-conscious 30-year-old was doing his best to avoid the pitfalls of takeout. But because he wasn’t planning ahead, he was wasting hours after work going to the store or waiting for chicken to defrost.

So Savara came up with a plan. He posted an ad in Craig’s List for a personal chef. A mom who’d recently quit her day job responded, and they agreed she’d make him 12 to 15 basic meals for $60 per week, plus the cost of groceries. While this added another item to his budget, Savara’s credit card bill decreased because his chef knew how to shop economically and didn’t impulse buy. More importantly, Savara won back almost ten hours of time per week! That’s ten hours he could use to play the guitar.

The key message here is: Outsource housework that doesn’t align with your core competencies.

Even if you’re a full-time parent, it’s unlikely that household chores qualify as one of your core competencies. What took Savara ten hours a week only took his chef four. Clearly, Savara was better off outsourcing his meal prep. Similarly, if you’re prioritizing household chores over quality time with your kids, you’re potentially cheating yourself of the opportunity to nurture family relationships. It’s always worthwhile assessing whether there’s room in your budget to pay for these services.

To win back time through outsourcing, look back at your time log and identify which household tasks are eating up your week. Typically, food preparation and housekeeping are the biggest culprits. Most parents who work full-time spend a combined nine hours a week on keeping the family fed – but only three hours playing with their kids. Shift this balance by hiring meal delivery services, like Nu-Kitchen or Jenny Craig. If this isn’t in your budget, start grocery shopping online. That way, you’re cutting out the commute and queuing times, and can shop after-hours. Setting up lists of staple items will also streamline the task.

Next, adopt a new attitude toward cleaning. Constantly tidying up toys steals quality time. Liberate yourself by letting go of being house-proud. Investing time in your core competencies is far more important than keeping the house spick-and-span.

Plan your leisure time to increase its value.

Take a moment to estimate how many hours of leisure time you have each week. For some, this figure may be zero. For others, maybe it’s just one or two. Most people will say they don’t have enough – that with the pressures of work, parenting, and chores, there’s barely any time left to socialize, let alone follow a dream or volunteer for a cause.

But studies have shown that the average American has 30 hours of leisure time a week. That’s four whole hours a day! The problem is, it doesn’t feel that way. Because we don’t plan our leisure time carefully, we end up slumped in front of the TV. And we do this for an average of 20 hours a week. Imagine what you could achieve if you invested even half that time in doing something you love.

The key message here is: Plan your leisure time to increase its value.

To prevent your leisure time from slipping away, sit down with your schedule and plan it out. Block out time for a few exercise sessions, that fun hobby, socializing, and self-care. These activities come first. Then you can use any leftover time to watch TV or surf the net.

Choosing one or two activities to focus on can help shape your leisure time. Author Laura Vanderkam loves choral singing, which means she uses several of her leisure slots to rehearse. By dedicating the time each week, Vanderkam is able to pursue a passion that injects her life with joy and energy.

Be conscious of which time slots in your schedule will best accommodate leisure activities; otherwise you’ll find it difficult to commit and end up back in front of the TV. This is especially important if you need to plan childcare. Vanderkam also loves running to stay fit. As someone who works from home, she finds it best to jog late in the morning or early in the afternoon, using exercise as her lunch break and then eating at her desk.

If you’re finding it difficult to make room for leisure activities, try combining them with socializing. Ask a friend to go cycling with you, or volunteer together at the local food bank. Even grocery shopping together can transform a mundane chore into something fun. Before you know it, your week will be sprinkled with joy-inducing moments, and your life will be all the more rich. 

Final Message

The key message In this summary:

**It’s easy to become a slave to the demands of modern life. Work, family obligations, and household chores have a way of filling up our calendars, making us feel like there’s no time left to engage in the things that make us happy. But we can take ownership of our time by constantly evaluating whether or not an activity is a priority. If it’s not, we can choose to minimize it – or abandon it altogether. This will free up time to focus on things that bring meaning to our lives. **

Actionable advice: 

Win family time by creating a mini night shift.

Working parents often find it difficult to spend time with their children during the week. Overcome this by blocking out 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. in your calendar every weeknight – and view this as sacred family time. Counter your shorter day at the office by working from 8:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. a few nights a week. By doing this, you’ll maximize your time together while the kids are still awake. Otherwise, you’re more likely to waste your evening leisure time in front of the TV. 

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What to read next: What Successful People Do Before Breakfast, by Laura Vanderkam

As we’ve just explored, planning your week according to what matters most helps you take control of your time. Now that you know what your priorities are, taking advantage of your mornings may be the key to maximizing your success – both professionally and personally. To find out how to make the most of those early hours, check out the snippets to What Successful People Do Before Breakfast, by Laura Vanderkam.

About the Author

Laura Vanderkam is an author and productivity specialist whose work has appeared in the New York Times, the_ Wall Street Journal_, _Fast Company_, and _Fortune_. She is a co-host of the podcast _Before Breakfast_, which features ideas from her other books on time management including _What Successful People Do Before Breakfast, Off the Clock_,_ _and _I Know How She Does It. _