Writing a post about Laura Vanderkam’s latest book, Off the Clock, has been on my to do list for an embarrassingly long time. I could say I didn’t have the time, but that isn’t true – and claiming it was would run counter the ideas in the book. The truth is that I prioritized other things, mostly for good reasons.
I’m not going to write a review, because – full disclosure – I consider Laura a friend. We met when she sent me 168 hours to review, and have stayed in touch via blogs, email, and an occasional in person visit. Anyway, writing book reviews isn’t really my thing. I’d rather talk about the ideas in a book. In fact, this is the first post in what I hope will be a long running series in which I read a book and then write about what I learned from it.
I’ve read Laura’s other books and am a long-time reader of her blog, so the general gist of this book was not surprising to me. Her goal is to explore ways to make time feel more expansive, so that you get more done and enjoy yourself more while doing it.
Since I’ve done a lot of thinking about how I want to spend my time, some of the ideas weren’t new to me. For instance, there is a section in chapter 3 about how time use tools that have a physical limit help you prioritize your time. The example in the book is writing your to do list on an index card, but longtime readers of mine will recognize one of the reasons I like a physical Kanban board. Imposing a work in progress limit can have the same effect, but it is much harder to cheat on a physical limit. In fact, I also write my daily to do list on a relatively small piece of paper: I use a 3″ x 5″ memo pad.
She also discusses phone use, and how much time we can mindlessly pour into staring at those little screens. I am certainly guilty of that sometimes, too. This section of the book is titled “Get Off Your Phone Already,” but although I do take social media breaks (usually in conjunction with an actual vacation), I don’t find avoiding my phone a strategy that works for me on a day-to-day basis. My more usual approach could be called “Use Your Phone More Purposefully” (or something catchier but along the same lines). What this means is that I bookmark short stories to read in the little periods of downtime when I might otherwise just scroll through social media, and for playtime, I tend to turn to Duolingo rather than games. I also use social media (primarily Twitter), but I’ve tried to curate my feed and set up lists such that it feels useful and educating, and not like a time sink of overwhelming negativity. That is a hard balance to get right and I have to reevaluate and tweak things periodically, but overall, it has made me feel like my phone time is a net good in my life.
There were also some ideas in the book that were new to me. This isn’t surprising: I’ve found new ideas in each of her books. My favorite three new ideas from this book were:
Looking at your calendar and asking “what’s my purpose here?” about all the items on the schedule. I like this both because it can help identify things that can be dropped and because it can help reframe commitments that I choose to keep. For instance, I spend almost every Saturday morning at one of our local YMCAs, watching my kids’ gymnastics classes. I can get a little resentful about this time, because my husband spends the same time period out getting his chosen form of exercise. But this arrangement is one I’ve chosen: I could equally well ask my husband to alternate weeks with me, for instance. My purpose in being the one who goes almost every week is two-fold: (1) I get to see all the details of this activity, both the triumphs and the struggles. I have found this useful in parenting, and (2) I have made friends with one of the other moms who is usually there at the same time, and I value spending time chatting with her.
Taking a short “vacation” every day. This is not an idea I have fully incorporated into my life yet, but I really like it, so it will eventually make its way in. The idea comes from Fred B. Bryant and Joseph Veroff, and the goal is to spend 10-20 minutes each day on something you can savor. It can be as simple as watching the sunset or enjoying a lunch with a good book at a favorite cafe. I like the idea of finding a few minutes to really enjoy each day. Now, I just need to start doing it!
Paying yourself first. This idea is analogous to the common money management advice to put aside your savings first, before you start spending your paycheck on other things. When applied to time management, it means putting the things for yourself early in your day, before other demands crowd your time. It can also mean to put the work that can grow your career long term early in the week, instead of always prioritizing the day to day work that pays the bills. This feels counterintuitive, but you’ll make the time to get the bill-paying work done, while the more speculative, growth-oriented work is easy to just put off for another week.
There are a lot of other ideas about time use in Off the Clock, so if these few that resonated most with me pique your interest, definitely grab a copy of the book. And then come back and tell me what ideas resonated with you in the comments!
Disclosure: Laura sent me a review copy of Off the Clock. Links to Amazon in this post are referral links. Neither of these things influenced what I wrote.
As I mentioned, this is the first post in a series of posts about books and the ideas in them that resonate with me. I’d love it if other people read along with me and discuss the books! The next book I’m reading is Lost Connections, by Johann Hari. I hope to write a post about it in mid-August. I’ll put these posts in a new “book club” category I’ve created.