Time management: how to make the most of your weekly 168 hours


When discussing time management with a friend the other day, I asked her whether she has enough time to do everything she wants to do. “Everything I want to do?” she replied. “I don’t even have enough time to do everything I have to do!”

I had to tell her about a book I read several years ago, the lessons from which have stayed with me ever since. When American journalist and author Laura Vanderkam became intrigued with how some people manage to have successful careers, happy families, manageable inboxes and even time for, believe it or not, hobbies, she decided to investigate further. Why is it, she wondered, that the rest of us don’t manage to do so much? We’re all given the same amount of time each week – 168 hours, to be exact.

So what lessons can we learn from the people who seem to be able to fit everything in? To find out more about how those happy few manage to achieve balance, Vanderkam conducted dozens of interviews. The result was 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, published back in 2010.

In this boook, the author guides you step by step through an examination of how your life is now, how you would like it to be, and how to get from Point A to Point B. One thing Vanderkam discovered is that dealing with emails one by one is a very inefficient way of handling them.

While the nature of customer service work means that many of us need to make regular inbox checks to see if anything urgent has come up, you will handle your email much faster if you save response-writing for later. Unless you are on call to deal with chat queries, set aside specific blocks of time for answering email. Don’t drop everything to reply as soon as a message comes in. Yes, fast customer service is important. But think about it: 60 minutes is still a fast email response time.

Be warned though: this book is not a collection of handy hints. It’s a practical guide which takes you back to the bare bones of what you’re actually doing with your time. Most so-called ‘essential’ things in life are either a time-sucking collection of useless tasks, or (as with email management) essential tasks carried out in an inefficient manner.

As soon as I began following Vanderkam’s instructions and keeping track of exactly what I do with my time, ‘like a lawyer billing hours’, I realised that she’s right. Although I was getting a lot done, I wasted time in between the productive periods. Time that was my potential leisure time! Once you can determine your true priorities, you can claim them, using the evidence and examples collected in the book as your guide. Then you can guiltlessly let go of the things that are not a priority to you – even when it’s not politically correct to admit to them. As the author explains: “It requires more courage to say ‘I don’t read to my children because it’s not a priority’. And yet that process of determining and owning your priorities is essential to staking your claim on your time and, subsequently, your life.”

As with most worthwhile things, 168 Hours doesn’t offer any quick fixes. However, following Vanderkam’s evidence-based advice will take you a lot further along the path of leading a happier and more balanced life, without sacrificing your career. Sound good? Then read this book. Even though it was published over 4 years ago, its proven time management methods are still used by a great many peoplewho enjoy well-paid work, fulfilling hobbies and time with their lovedones. As well as empty inboxes. All of this, dearreader, will lead you to a happier life - and with it, to more happy customers.