2012 Reading books reading Resources

Reading 2012: 168 Hours

August 22, 2012

After reading Laura Vanderkam’s short personal productivity book, What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast, I was excited to read her lengthier guide, 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think.

However, I was somewhat surprised when reading her book. While I found many helpful ideas and solutions in this book, my guess is that many people who aren’t in Vanderkam’s specific social strata are going to find her personal productivity ideas condescending or impractical. Not everyone wants to or is able to outsource cooking, cleaning, and laundry so they can be more productive in a career, or spend their hours devoted to doing “what matters” with their children. (Maybe cooking and cleaning with children is one healthy way to teach them that you can’t always just pay someone else to do the chores that you don’t like or that “eat your time?”) Some stay-at-home-moms will also likely feel slighted by Vanderkam’s suggestion that there is no reason for mothers not to “have it all,” and to have both a successful career and  motherhood; and homemaking is definitely not a necessary art in her book. I don’t feel that this same tone is prevalent in What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast, and I wonder if her life experience (including adding a second child to her family) helped her to write for a broader audience.

The book, however, is not merely a time-management book. Vanderkam covers a variety of topics, which at times seems she is attempting to squeeze too much into the book, and at other times provides genuinely helpful rabbit trails.

One focus I found helpful was her development of the theme of understanding and focusing on your “core competencies” — those areas in which you excel or need to excel. Those are the building blocks of time use. The book makes a big push for understanding core competencies in relation to career decisions, and then only working in a “job you love,” and touts it as foolish for those who are in careers they don’t enjoy. Clearly, this is not always an option for those outside the high-earning aristocracy.

She advocates finding ways to outsource or minimize time spent on areas which are not core competencies, and though I may not go about (either by choice or necessity) doing so the same way as she, there were nonetheless areas in which I benefited from hearing anecdotes of how she, her friends, or researched people did so. For example, while I may not be able to hire a personal shopper (since choosing clothes is not a core competency) like Vanderkam did for outfitting her maternity wardrobe, I could still follow her more practical advice for solving the clothes-buying dilemma: find a store where you like the style of clothes and the fit, and then look at what they have displayed on the mannequins and then buy the entire outfit, including jewelry and handbags. This is like having a fashion consultant at a fraction of the price. While I’m currently on a clothes-buying moratorium, this sounds like a hopeful idea for the future. At the same time, there are non-core-competency areas that I will continue to do and will also instruct and train my children to do, as well. Time-consuming or not, they are an essential part of life and to having a deepened understanding of life and labor. At the same time, I hope I can continue to grow myself and instill in my children the ability to choose to do but a few things so that we can do those few things well.

In spite of the negative issues highlighted here (and there are more), I still consider this to be a helpful time management book. Prioritization is an oft neglected skill in a culture that sees busyness as a sign of worth. We end up burning out and heaping up loads of guilt while having accomplished very little. There are parts of most of our lives that are taking up far more time than its worth, and a simple trade off could leave us freer to pursue the areas we truly need and want to.

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  • Johanna Hanson August 22, 2012 at 6:51 am

    I completely agree. One thing I found with all of her books is that she is writing to a specific socio-economic group. Though I did feel that in her money book she was a little more realistic (though still very different from most people I know). That is probably because was expecting her 3rd child by then and had moved from the city into the suburbs.
    I did find lots of helpful encouragement to think about how I spend my time, though.

  • Catherine @ A Spirited Mind August 22, 2012 at 7:26 am

    I agree with you about the perspective issues, but I still found it helpful to actually consider the tasks I do just because I’ve always done them and think about whether or not they were really necessary. For example, I used to spend a lot of time clipping coupons and going from store to store for sales. Granted, I was saving money, but I was using time that I could be working (I work from home and have a good hourly wage). I really enjoy my work, but I keep it to the hours when my children are napping or sleeping, so for me, it turns out to be better to stay in my core competency and make enough money to skip the couponing and grocery/drugstore games.

    Really the most helpful thing for me was keeping the time diary. That was very illuminating. I still do it from time to time and always find it helpful.

  • Charity August 22, 2012 at 8:55 am

    Although I gleaned a bit from this book, I found it overall quite disappointing. It had been “talked up” so much I was really expecting something quite different. 🙁

  • Keren August 22, 2012 at 10:10 pm

    I probably should have included more specific examples of both negatives and positives, but, Catherine, your couponing scenario is an excellent example that I think this book helps readers consider. (This is an area that we’ve decided to spend less time on, as well–I used to be a very committed couponer.)

    I really did find the book helpful, but still kind of surprised at how much she advocated outsourcing. But then, I don’t live in NYC. 🙂 I am sure our ancestors would have been surprised that we’d outsource so much of what we do today, but there are admittedly several areas in which I’m still uncomfortable doing so. (Though, having just read George Washington’s biography, pretty sure he outsourced way more than most of us do. :))

    Other areas are really dependent on a a lot of factors and are going to look different for every person and situation, and aren’t just a simple time vs. money comparison. For us, my husband could pay someone to mow our lawn and he could work during that and still come out ahead financially. But for him, he fits it in his “exercise time” slot, and since he sits at a desk for working, it’s actually something he enjoys doing. Additionally, most of our closest neighbors mow their own lawns, and so this is an area where we would feel (in our neighborhood) doing lawn work helps us feel like we’re in this together.

    I also have a friend who is in the process of building a business that takes a huge chunk of her time right now. She hired someone to watch her oldest son (still below school age) in the afternoon while her youngest child napped. Previously, she tried to work all day long, and felt like both her time with her children and work suffered. By hiring someone for childcare, she was able to focus on family in the morning and work in the afternoon and give both much better time. Her situation has since changed, but it’s one that I could foresee myself being in in a similar situation.

    At the same time, I do want my children to know the basics of homemaking. A lot of that will come from them learning alongside me and my husband. Vanderkam mentioned that teaching her son obedience is not one of her core competencies, but it is for his preschool teachers. Regardless of core competency, I’d still classify that as a parental responsibility. 🙂