We all have the same number of hours in a week – how to make the most of them

Go Confidently speaker Laura Vanderkam shows us how to build the life we want — one week at a time.

Have you ever uttered the words, “If only I had more time …”? Of course, we all have!

No matter your lifestyle, family unit, professional or personal demands, you’ve no doubt been overwhelmed by feeling like there aren’t enough hours in the day.

We caught up with time management expert and bestselling author Laura Vanderkam for some quick tips on how to make the most of the time we have. She’ll be dishing out a lot more during the March 12 installment of Norton Healthcare’s free Go Confidently speaker series.

Mastering the balancing act

Time management is something most of us have struggled with.

Even Vanderkam is no stranger to the struggle. About 10 years ago, the then-new-mom was faced with a challenge: How do I master the balancing act of parent and professional?

“I knew I wanted to do both things,” Vanderkam said. “I was drawn to people who were doing both — succeeding personally and professionally.”

She set out on a mission to slow the proverbial flying of time, or at least better manipulate it.

“There’s no perfect hack to free up all kinds of time in your life; no special trick with email or special thing around the house to make chores magically take less time,” Vanderkam said.

No one particular thing will change your life completely, but Vanderkam suggests a number of strategies you can implement to make the most of your time.

Identify what’s important to you

“What will change your life is deciding, even though the house is messy, I want to read this book,” Vanderkam said.

Many people wait until everything else is taken care of before doing the things they want to do. Ringing phones and overflowing inboxes are just a couple things that demand our attention.

“If you spend all of your time on those things, the day can get away from you — the week, month, year — and then you never spend time on the things that are important but not necessarily clamoring for attention,” Vanderkam said.

Think about what you want to spend more time doing, and do it.

“That unread email will still be there, but you will have made progress on the thing that is important to you,” Vanderkam said.

Journal your time

Vanderkam says one of the best ways to get a sense of where your time is going is to write it down in a journal. People generally think they have a good idea of where their time is going. Until they journal it, they don’t have a realistic sense of how it’s being used.

Once she started tracking her time, Vanderkam discovered that even though she works from home, she was spending a lot more time on the road than she thought.

“I realized I was spending about an hour a day in the car for various things that weren’t a daily commute, and I wasn’t doing anything with that time that was meaningful to me,” Vanderkam said.

She decided to make better use of her time in the car by listening to audiobooks and podcasts.

Build space in your schedule

Saying that you don’t have enough time is an excuse. If something is a priority, you will make time for it. If it’s not a priority, Vanderkam reminds us that it is OK to say no. You are in control of your time.

“Time is a choice,” she said. “Of course, there will be terrible consequences if you don’t make certain choices, but in the long run it is a choice.”

Many successful people Vanderkam has studied have a surprising amount of open space in their schedules.

“Being busy is not a badge of honor,” she said.

Open space invites opportunity in a way that a cluttered calendar just can’t do. It’s about realizing that we don’t have to do everything.

Plan, plan, plan

Planning is key. It’s something Vanderkam didn’t do earlier in her life.

“I realized that people who were having fun weekends, as opposed to weekends that were all chores, were thinking ahead to make sure they had time for things that were fun and rejuvenating,” she said.

Thinking through her weekends ahead of time is a strategy Vanderkam adopted when she became a mother. Scheduling activities in advance helps ensure everyone’s needs are met and the things that are important to us actually happen.

Planning doesn’t mean you have to relinquish spontaneity in your life.

“You just need to get the structure in place and then you can be spontaneous within it,” Vanderkam said.

For example, if you and your partner have a babysitter for the night, you can create spontaneity within that planned evening away from the kids. Maybe you choose to walk or drive around a neighborhood and spontaneously select a spot to dine for the evening.

Think in terms of 168 hours

You may feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day, but there are plenty of hours in the week — 168 to be exact. Vanderkam challenges us to stop pressuring ourselves to accomplish it all within 24 hours and start thinking in terms of 168 hours.

“Many people find this to be a complete breakthrough in terms of no longer feeling like they are failing at everything,” she said. “Just because something didn’t happen today, we don’t have to say it is not a priority in our life or it is not important to us.”

One example of how this can yield positive results is with exercise. If you didn’t exercise today, you’re not a failure. Just make sure you find time for it within the 168 hours. Maybe you choose to exercise four times per week — you’ve got a full seven days to make that goal happen. There won’t be a perfect time every single day for exercise. You have to make it happen when you can.

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