The Myth of the Time Crunch
Updated: Oct 16, 2019
Lessons from 168 Hours—You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam
A short while before a recent vacation, one of my mentors suggested I improve my time management and task management skills. Naturally, at first, I balked at the idea. So, there I was in the Himalayas, where time stood still, reading up on time management. Took a few moments to laugh at myself, and life.
The book I was reading up on those mountains was 168 Hours – You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam. It came with a disclaimer not to be the solution to all my woes, and refused to exclusively be earmarked a self help or project management book. It did delve right into rich examples, stories, of individuals who lived the lives they wanted to without the stress that many of us carry around. The first realization came as the truth that everyone – everyone – on this Earth has 168 hours per week to live, function, love, and play. No exceptions. Some people do have less control over their time, such as those who lack basic human rights or live in impoverished or threatening circumstances; but this probably is not the case for most of us.
What is the myth of the time crunch?
That we don’t have time to do the things we want or need to do.
Take in this fact: according to Vanderkam’s research, the average person claiming to work 70 hours per week, when tracking her/his time, logs roughly 52 hours per week. Hm… This self misrepresentation combines, much to our detriment, with the collective association of workaholism, success, and what it takes to “be a winner.”
Looking back to my last project go-live, I worked truly full days. No idle time, no non-working lunches, and what seemed like around the clock amounted to between 12 and 14 hours per day. Even then I was “only” in the region of 60 hours per week. Very, very few people work as much as they might claim or believe.
You might think, “What about the rest of our time? Being busy prevents having time for areas like family, leisure, learning, and health.” It doesn’t have to be the case. Have a look at a “somebody’s life”:
Somebody’s Life (Hours / week)
Work - 50
Commuting - 14 (2/day)
Family time - 21 (3/day)
Sleeping - 56 (8/day)
Groceries - 5
Cooking - 5
Household chores - 1
Total = 126
“Left-Over” = 32
What would you do with 32 hours per week? Below is a more realistic example. There’s no such thing as a typical week, but I felt there might be value in an average. Here are two weeks in my life, right after my vacation:
Average hours / week
Work - 40.38
Development - 29.63
Meetings - 6.25
Email - 4.5
Reading - 5.5
Household - 4
Commute - 4.75
Leisure / Socialize - 36.63
Sleep - 54.5
Exercise - 8
One-on-one with loved ones - 14
Television - 3
A slough of useful data jumps out right away, which is great, and exactly the point of keeping a time log. For example, although these weeks were low-ball outliers for meetings and email, the project culture at my current client does not suffer from meeting redundancy. The real kicker though is how much leisure I have outside of quality one-on-one time. 168 hours is a ton of time, and so are 37 hours of relaxing and fun. Reducing that by 10 hours per week would open a whole range of possibilities.
Parting words from 168 Hours:
“When you say ‘I don’t have time,’ this puts the responsibility on someone else: a boss, a client, a family member. Or else it puts the responsibility on some nebulous force: capitalism, society, the monster under the bed.”
If you were to keep a time log, would there be areas you might be happy to cut down on? Could that time be put towards achieving your goals and dreams? Get started: