This is a two-part blog post where I invite you to join me in two very different perspectives on how to use our time wisely. Part 1 (this post) is inspired by the book 168 hours and I focus on taking a critical look at how I actually spend my time. Part 2 will focus on what it looks like for my family to take a weekly Sabbath, taking inspiration from the book Sacred Rhythms.
I have always been a planner and organizer. I like to schedule my time and know in advance what I am doing for the day ahead. I don’t like to feel like I’m wasting my time. I get delight from achieving tasks, big or small.
I have been struggling for a long time with how to most efficiently use my time. No matter how meticulously I plan out my day, I can never seem to get it all done.
What is “it” you may ask? Well, I have my “must-do’s,” like working, taking care of my son, eating, sleeping, etc. And then I have my list of “I’d love to do these things if I had time” – if you’re familiar with The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, you may have seen this chart:
I find that I spend the majority of my time in Quadrants I and III, which are all the urgent tasks. Some urgent tasks are important, like taking care of my son or going to doctor’s appointments – but some are less important, and ultimately are just distractions (aka. checking email too often, taking phone calls, busywork, etc.)
Quadrant II is the “dream” quadrant. It’s all those things you want to make time for that easily get pushed to the side for the more urgent stuff. It takes intentionality and planning to live in Quadrant II.
For me, Quadrant II contains things like travel, exercise, writing, reading for fun, spiritual development, and relationships. These are certainly important, but if I don’t take time to do them, there are no immediate or terrible consequences.
Since having a child, (who is now 5 years old), I have found that I have to pick and choose which Quadrant II tasks to focus on. (Which really bothers me because I always felt like if I could just solve the time puzzle and schedule everything perfectly, I’d be able to do it all!) I have never been able to successfully do all my favorite Quad II tasks, I can usually manage to juggle about 3 at a time.
When exercise becomes a focus for me, I find it harder to make time to write. When I make writing a priority, (which usually means waking up early to do so), I find I’m too tired to workout. I’ve tried so many combinations and schedules, but have never figured out how to get all the plates spinning at the same time.
So I accepted defeat and just assumed that it couldn’t all be done, or at least couldn’t all be done well.
Then, I came across this book: 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think
The synopsis on the back of the book reads:
“Vanderkam [the author] shows that with a little examination and prioritizing, you’ll find it is possible to sleep eight hours a night, exercise five days a week, and take piano lessons without giving up quality time for work, family, and other things that really matter.”
Here it was, exactly the solution I was looking for! The answer to “how can I do it all?” It felt like this book was practically written just for me. The author really got on my personal level when she referenced the idea that many working women are likely to believe that “being a successful career woman and being a good mother are mutually exclusive” (p. 4). Yes, I’ve consistently felt like I’ve been playing tug-of-war with those two identities for a long time.
So, I read the book. There were a lot of great ideas in it. Firstly, the idea that we have more time than we think may actually be true. The author claims that most people overestimate how much time they spend working, and underestimate how much time they waste (on things like t.v. and social media).
The book encourages a lot of self-reflection. It asks you to think about what goals you would like to accomplish in your 168 hours each week, and then to prioritize them by importance. It asks you which tasks you are best at, and also which tasks you are spending time on that others could do better.
The most eye-opening exercise (in my opinion) from the book was doing a detailed time log for an entire week. This was so different from my planner, where I write out the tasks I want to do (or should do). It was an account of what I actually did with my time.
Some of the things my time log pointed out to me were humbling. I realized that most of the “quality” time I spent with my husband Dean consisted of watching t.v. together (like 80% of our time!) I realized that on weekdays between the hours of 3-5pm, when I told myself I was going to spend quality time with my son, I was actually spending quite a bit of time cleaning and doing chores instead.
I took my time log and separated all the tasks I spent time doing into categories (for example: sleep, work, family time, cleaning, personal time, etc.) and then calculated percentages for how much time I spent on each category.
There was some good news: I was averaging about 31% of my time sleeping (which is close to 8 hours a night). I also only spent about 1% of my time running errands (possibly because we order so much online these days). I did, however, realize that I spent just a bit more time cleaning and doing chores than I did on activities with Calvin (or activities all together as a family). I spent more time cleaning than I did on personal “me” time, and even on time devoted to spiritual development.
It was enlightening to realize this, and moving forward I think I have two choices: either be okay with the house being a little more cluttered and dirty, or hire a housecleaner to help out. I don’t want to feel like chores and cleaning are taking away from the things that are more important, like time with my family.
After reading 168 Hours, I’m still not convinced that I really can do all the things I want to do if I just tried harder or made them a bigger priority. Sometimes you’re in a season of life where it’s not possible to do everything you want to do (says this full-time working mother!) As some would say, saying “yes” to one thing means saying “no” to something else.
Though it didn’t give me the miraculous answer to my time puzzle, I did still find the book valuable because of how self-reflective it encouraged me to be. I do think I have a better grasp now of how I actually end up spending my time each week.
Stay tuned for part 2, when I share a little about our family’s experience of participating in a time of Sabbath rest.
Thanks for reading.