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168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think. By Laura Vanderkam


Economists often talk about something called “returns to scale,” which basically means how much additional benefit you gain from additional inputs. Because most activities involve start-up costs, there are often increasing returns up to an optimum point. After that, returns diminish, because demand is not infinite, and the inputs can be more profitably used for other things.





















No matter what your line of work, you, too, can spin a story about it that will help take your career to the next level. Carve out an hour or two of your next 168 hours to ponder this question. How do you want people to perceive you? If someone were to write a profile of you for a company newsletter or, for that matter, The New Yorker, what would you hope it would say? Ask your trusted friends and family members what they see as your story.


Do you know anyone else who has achieved a similar breakthrough? What steps did he/she take? Who were the decision makers? What do these people care about?



At night, he and his wife divide their five boys into four book groups—the five- and seven-year-olds together, then the nine-, eleven-, and thirteen-year-olds separately. In recent years, they’ve tackled great literature for boys of all ages: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and other classic works. This reading time gives the boys a window into different parts of the world, with the promise dangled out there that when the boys turn thirteen, Andersen will take each of them, individually, somewhere they want to learn more about. For example, he and his oldest son read a lot of World War II books, so they planned to go to Normandy to see the site of the D-day landings.


Ask your kids to make a “List of 100 Dreams,” too, and try to figure out which activities they value and enjoy that can be done as a family.



Fly Lady’s Web site ( Her colorful suggestions include the “27 Fling Boogie,” which means going through your house with a trash bag and throwing out twenty-seven things. Why twenty-seven? It’s a big enough number to make progress, and an odd enough number to make it a game, especially if you boogie to some music at the same time. Spend 15 minutes each day for a month tackling some horizontal hot spot. Anyone can find 105 minutes in their 168 hours, particularly if you break it up into 5-minute chunks.


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“I find it so interesting that it is commonplace in our society to outsource child care, but the burdensome routines of keeping house are, for the most part, not outsourced,”



Think about that. If the average person started exercising every time he was tempted to turn on the tube, he could be doing triathlons competitively within a few years.


They found that people were happiest when they were completely absorbed in activities that were difficult but doable,to the point where their brains no longer had space to ruminate about the troubles of daily life. Time seemed to warp, as Csíkszentmihályi wrote in his 1990 book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.


There is a two-part business case for doing work you love if you can. First, happy people are more productive and successful than unhappy people.


“Happiness,” they wrote, “is an important precursor and determinant of career success


One recent University of Maryland study found that unhappy people watched 20 percent more television than happy ones. Unhappy people like to escape. They don’t spend their time solving problems or thinking their way around personal obstacles.


If you like something enough, you will find a job in an organization that you think will be flexible and open to your talents, and then you will figure out a way to concoct your dream job within it, remembering that it is often easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.

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What do I love so much I’d do it for free? How can I get someone to pay me to do that? If there’s no obvious job title in an organization doing what I love (and often there isn’t), what’s a low-cost way I could start a business doing that, and get the cash register ringing quickly?


Does my job tap into my intrinsic motivations (things I loved as a kid or would do for free)? Does my job give me a reasonable amount of autonomy? Am I challenged regularly to the extent of my abilities? Do my work environment, organization, and coworkers encourage my best work? If the answer is “no” to any of these four questions, what can I change? In the next week? In the next year? Can I create the right job within my organization? Another organization? Or will I need to go out on my own?



This is the 168 Hours principle for work: Ideally, there should be almost nothing during your work hours—whatever you choose those to be—that is not advancing you toward your goals for the career and life you want.


If you would, then it’s time to ask a follow-up question. If you did land a windfall, and could still do the stuff of your job, what parts of your job would you change? Given that you’d never have to work a day in your life, what would you do more of and what would you shove off your plate?



There is a four-part process for doing this: 1. Seize control of your schedule. 2. Do not mistake things that look like work for actual work. 3. Get rid of non-core-competency tasks by ignoring, minimizing, or outsourcing them. 4. Boost efficiency by getting better at what you do.


If you want to use your 168 hours effectively, once you make a commitment to yourself to spend a certain number of hours on a task, keep it. Never miss a deadline. Follow through on anything you say you’ll do as a matter of personal integrity.


We tend to define all these things as “work,” but the big breakthroughs in efficiency come with learning to see the difference between real work and not really work. I define “work” as activities that are advancing you toward the career and life you want. If they aren’t, then they are not work. This is true even if they appear on your work calendar or you’ve always done them, and


If you’re serious about your career, it should not be hard to find two or three senior people in your organization or industry who honestly like you. But it is your responsibility to seek these people out. Figure out who might share your general attitude toward life, and set up opportunities to work with them. It is also your responsibility to give these people a track record of results they can point to while pounding on the conference table.






The majority of people who claim to be overworked work less than they think they do, and many of the ways people work are extraordinarily inefficient.


But within these three priorities, she has found a little secret: when you focus on what you do best, on what brings you the most satisfaction, there is plenty of space for everything.


Americans in general also watch a lot of television—more than 30 hours per week, according to Nielsen,


In other words, when it comes to daily life, the time-crunch narrative doesn’t tell the whole story. The problem is not that we’re all overworked or under-rested, it’s that most of us have absolutely no idea how we spend our 168 hours.


Leave aside, for a while, the obligations and complications of the life you currently have. Picture a completely empty weekly calendar with its 168 hourly slots.


When I created a spreadsheet with 168 entries, the first thing that occurred to me is that, when you start with a blank slate and fill in the major components, 168 is a surprisingly vast number. In 168 hours, there is easily time to sleep 8 hours a night (56 hours per week) and work 50 hours a week, if you desire. That adds up to 106 hours, leaving 62 hours per week for other things.


People who give generously of their time to causes they care about tend to be happier and healthier than other people. Yet only about a quarter of Americans volunteer.


From interviewing people who love their lives, I’ve found that these people focus, as much as possible, in the work and personal spheres, on what I call their core competencies.


“A job is, in essence, a bundle of tasks that have been clumped together and assigned to an individual,” Troy Smith and Jan Rivkin of Harvard Business School once wrote. A life is likewise a bundle of tasks and activities an individual takes on. Some, like sleeping and eating, are required, but the rest are simply combinations of choices each of us makes, bundled together for one reason or another, and as Smith and Rivkin wrote, “there is no reason to assume . . . that tasks must continue to be bundled together in the future in the same pattern they have been bundled in the past


An individual’s core competencies are best thought of as abilities that can be leveraged across multiple spheres. They should be important and meaningful. And they should be the things we do best and that others cannot do nearly as well.


“List of 100 Dreams.” Here’s how it works. At the end of this chapter, after the section where you can record your weekly hour tallies, I’ve provided a space to start writing down a list of one hundred things you’d like to do during your lifetime. “This could be something as simple as ten places you want to visit, ten books you want to read, ten restaurants you want to try, skills you want to learn, or ten financial goals you have for yourself,”


But here’s the fascinating part: if you love what you do, you’ll have more energy for the rest of your life, too.




Unexpected Strategies


Letting go; the flip side of choosing whats most important is knowing what to relinquish.  Letting go is perhaps the most difficult challenge of all especially for the high achiever in all of us.

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