- The Washington Times - Monday, June 21, 2010

Laura Vanderkam admits that the information in her new book “168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think” is a lesson in time management for more than just her readers — it’s one for her as well.

In it she gives a re-evaluation of how Americans use their time through examples of everyday people who live happy, fulfilled lives. Everyone has the same 168 hours each week, she says, and whether or not you are happy with how you use them comes down to priorities. The following are excerpts from a recent telephone interview with Mrs. Vanderkam from her New York City office.

Q: What is the cultural perception about the time and priority sacrifices involved in being a working mom and why do you believe it is wrong?

A: We have this idea that there isn’t enough time to be a good mom and to have a career at the same time. I think if you look at the entirety of 168 hours, just doing the math, that just doesn’t seem quite right. If you’re working 40 hours a week and sleeping 56, that leaves 72 hours. If you look at the American Time Use survey done by the Bureau of Labor Statistics you’ll see that moms not in the work force don’t spend anything near that amount of time doing child care.

Q: Do women get offended when you show them these statistics that say they don’t spend as much time with their kids as they think they do?

A: I’m talking about the average … and that doesn’t mean that there aren’t amazing caregivers out there. So many moms say, “Well that’s not true because I do this,” but that doesn’t mean that the average woman does.

Because of a lot of media articles we have this idea [of stay at home moms] being highly educated white woman who are opting out of high track careers … and that’s not actually the case. It’s more likely to be younger, less-educated women who are not in the work force because there’s nothing they could do that would pay for the child care, so that’s affecting the statistic.

Q: Why is it that some people, as you say, “manage to be fully engaged in their professional and personal lives,” but others don’t?

A: I think that people who are fully engaged … make a point of only doing the things that really matter. In the book, I talk about core competencies being the things that they do best and other people can’t do nearly as well. This really carries over to all spheres of life. At work, you focus on the things you can best contribute … at home, you focus on really nurturing your kids, playing with them, really building a good marriage as opposed to doing a lot of housework. In your personal life as well, no one can really sleep or exercise for you, unfortunately. I think many of us suffer from being too scattered and the people who really use their time effectively … focus on a small number of things they do best and they really go all in on those.

Q: How do you suggest readers approach rearranging their schedules and re-evaluating their lives in order to have time for the things they wish they could do?

A: The first thing I tell people to do is keep a log of their time for a week, if they can. I’ve had dozens of people do that for this book and pretty much all of them found an eye-opening experience.

If you’re working 40 hours and you’re sleeping 56 where did the other hours go? And most of us have no idea. Keeping a time log will help you see when you have these open periods of time. You can then start scheduling some of the things that may be priorities. I tell people to make a list of everything they’d like to be doing with their time. Time management is not just about saving five minutes here and there, it’s about filling your time with things you want to have there.

Q: You make this all sound really easy. Is it?

A: It isn’t easy. If it were, everyone would be doing it already. But it’s definitely worth it. Because, really, most of us have no idea how we’re spending our time and if we’re thinking about it we can spend our 168 hours the same way.

Q: You ask this question in your book and so I’m going to ask it of you what does it mean, in a nutshell, to use the working part of your 168 hours effectively?

A: It means to accomplish the goals that are advancing you towards the career you want. So, for example, for me, one of the things I want to do this year is to bring “168 Hours” to a wide office. So if it’s a project that does that then I’m using my 168 hours effectively.

Q: How does the concept of “core competencies” apply to managing your home?

A: It doesn’t cost anything to lower your standards. Most people, when they hear about trying to get chores off your plate, the first thing they say is “I can’t hire a maid.” But that doesn’t mean everything you’re doing right now has to be done.

Q: You have strong feelings on the way Americans spend time watching television. What are they?

A: I’m going to be careful with how I say this because I’m potentially appearing on television shows, so I don’t want to say throw out your television sets … and I don’t say that because you can abuse your computer just as equally. I think the key thing is to make sure you are watching television in a way that works for you and your goals and family so that you are controlling it instead of it controlling you.

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