Managing Time – The 168 Hours Experiment

Did you know that there were 168 hours in a week? I didn’t until I read Laura Vanderkam’s book ‘168 Hours.’ That doesn’t sound like a lot does it?! But Vanderkam points out that it is! Effective time management skills are crucial particularly if you are in grad school, doing your Phd and/or are a working parent. In this post, I discuss the 168 hours that make a week and how to manage time wisely.

Jump to: Tips to Effectively Manage Your 168 Hours

To manage time effectively, you have to first understand HOW you spend the 168 hours that make a week.

But why do we want to think of time as a weekly measure instead of the usual 24 hours of a day, you ask? Good question! Because:

A. Most our tasks are continuing or recurring activities that often extend more than a day (especially if you in grad school or you are involved in long-term project like writing a book). So the best way to schedule your day is to first see that day as part of a full week. I have more on weekly scheduling and free week planner template in this post.

B. Many activities such as sleep, spending time with your kids, or working out are best measured as a weekly average because categories of time for such activities vary day-to-day and so it’s best to think of having weekly goals rather than daily ones for these activities. For example, you can set a weekly goal that you will sleep an average of 7 hours each night. This means that if you slept only 6 hours on Monday and Tuesday, then you know you have to get two hours of extra sleep over the weekend.

C. A week is a good amount of time to monitor your activities. A day is too short of a span of time to effectively understand how you spend your time.

For my 168 Hours Experiment, I tracked many weeks worth of time. And I used Toggl app to do it. (I love LOVE Toggl. No, this is not sponsored–I just simply love the convenience of it. And it is FREE!) If you want to know how exactly I track on Toggl, I have a video up on my IGTV feed at @productivephdninja.

Below, I provide a breakdown of an average working parent’s 168 hours. This will give you an idea in quantitative terms of WHERE we as students, writers, scholars, parents, teachers, what have you, spend our precious time.

The average well-performing employee works at 
least 35-40 hours a week. 
168 - 40 = 128 hours 
Let's say this average employee is smart 
about their health so she sleeps about 8 hours 
each night for a total of 56 hours. 
128 - 56 = 72 hours 
Commute to work takes about 1.5 hours, lets say. 
So that's 1.5 x 5 = 7.5 hours. 
72 - 7.5 = 64.5 hours
Eating takes about 1.5 hours and cooking about 
the same on average per day. So that's 3 hours 
per day x7. 
64.5 - 21 = 43.5 hours
If her house is anything like mine, let's say 
it takes about 5 hours per week to keep it 
nice and clean. 
43.5 - 5 = 38.5 hours
Let's say this average employee works out 5 
days a week, knowing that it's important to 
move the body as much to rest it via sleep. 
So that's an hour for 5 days. 
38.5 - 5 = 33.5
May be she has kids who are older than 5 and 
goes to school. And she expects to spend about 
an hour of quality time on weekdays with them 
(does not include the yelling and nagging that 
goes on forever in a household with children). 
She also spends at least 2 hours of quality 
time with her kids each day of the weekend. 
So that's a total of 9 hours. 
33.5 - 9 = 24.5 hours
She still needs to take a bath and other sundry 
everyday activities so that's a total of 7 hours. 
She also needs time scheduled for groceries and 
other weekly errands that says, let's say, takes 
3 hours.) 
24.5 - (7+3) = 14.5 hours
She spends an hour with her partner to keep their 
relationship happy and healthy, 7 hours.
14.5 - 7 = 7.5 hours

To put in perspective, 7.5 hours is almost a full work day! So, if you manage time wisely, there’s a good chance you will get at least one FULL 8 hours worth of time for yourself each week. Even if you don’t get it each week, you should be able to schedule time for yourself every couple of weeks.

As you can see from the little scenario I set up above, if you have kids, or you are in a relationship, a lot of your time is not yours. That’s the nature of the game! Just roll with it. Conversely, if you don’t have kids, or you work from home, you will have a lot more time to yourself or to spend wisely on other activities.

So how can we best use the 168 hours of our weeks? How can we strategize to make enough time for ourselves as much as we devote time to our kids, our partners, our parents and friends? Based on my tracking, I have a few tips on how to manage your time effectively at work and at home.


1. Track at least a week’s worth of how you spend your time

If you don’t know how you spend your time, how will you learn how to save it! Monitoring each and every one of your activities while awake for a week sounds daunting but trust me if you use an app like Toggl, it will become second nature to start/stop the time on the tasks. Apps like Toggl make it easier as they are available on the cloud, accessible on your phone and desktop. They even send you weekly reports that you can download and use.

2. Use time-blocking and re-engineer your schedule

Once you have a rough idea of how much time recurring activities in your life command–sleep, bath, cook, eat, play with kids, commute, groceries–you can reverse design your week by blocking off those times in your calendar so that you know when and where you are already booked.

This would also be a good time to give a lot of thought to how you are using your time. Do you manage your time wisely? Are there activities (*cough* social media browsing *cough*) were you unnecessarily waste your time? If yes, then figure out a strategy to stop spending your time on that activity.

Watch out for the social media category when you track! You will be SHOCKED at the amount of time wasted on this activity!

3. Check for activities that you can cut or reduce time spent on them

When I did my 168 Hours Experiment, I found a lot of activities in my schedule that were planned ineffectively. Streamline your schedule by either cutting out activities or by effectively re-organizing your schedule to save time. For example, I identified that I take longer work breaks that was decreasing productivity. So now I keep a timer for 5 mins whenever I take a break so that I come back to my work desk on time.

There are other activities that you can delegate to your partner or to an online service such as grocery shopping or taking the car to the wash. You can also choose to reassess your lifestyle: do you want to go out drinking every Friday night? Would it better to restrict shopping for clothes online if you waste a ton of time browsing instead of buying? Eradicate or restrict activities that make you use your time ineffectively.

4. Plan ahead

Planning ahead of time (preferably the weekend before a week officially begins) is CRUCIAL to managing time in college, at work, and at home. Check out my post on weekly planning if you haven’t already.

Also, plan according to your organic internal focus clock. I have a great technique that I call The Conscious Choice Method to find out what your ideal periods of concentration are. You can read more about this method on this post.

5. Try to think of your life as an integrated whole

By now, I hope the myth of “work-life balance” is well and truly busted for everyone. There is no work-life balance. Nada. Zip. BUT, what you can have a life outside your work and at the same time not give up on your career goals by considering an integrated life approach. If you want to learn more about what integrated life means, Third Path Institute has a good website on it. You can start planning on your integrated life using their downloadable PDF handout.

If you are a working parent who works from home, check out this post as well that discusses an integrated work from home life.

Share your ideas for an effective week in the comments below!