Business Book Series: Who’s Got the Time?


Need to learn strategies for time management?  Read on for some tips!



It’s me again with another pair of productivity self-help books to examine. This week, I’m putting two books next to each other that have to do with squeezing the most out of your time.


Book 1: 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam


About the Author: Laura Vanderkam is an author and speaker who has built her career around expertise in work-life balance and time management. She has several books around these topics, including more recent titles like I Know How She Does It and Off the Clock.


Book Synopsis: 168 Hours gets its title from the amount of time we each have in a week. Vanderkam believes that measuring our lives in this increment — rather than, say, 24 hours in a day or 8 hours in a work shift — gives us a better chance at finding some real balance. She also makes the argument (repeatedly) that we “have more time than we think” and that 168 hours is “plenty” to achieve all of our goals.


She makes the case for this assertion by digging through data of time use surveys of many successful people and then extracting their habits as advice the more frazzled of us can apply to our own circumstances.  


Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash


Why I Read It: Time is my biggest hurdle. I always feel like it’s running out on me. I will wake up in the morning already feeling like the day isn’t long enough to fit in everything I want to do. I feel like there’s a race going on where I missed the starting gun, and I’m always trying to catch up. This book seemed like a possible solution — or at least some insight.  


Key Takeaways: This book was just so-so for me. There are some legitimately helpful and immediately applicable tips. Here are some of the ones that stuck with me:


  • If you don’t plan out what you want to do, time will slip away from you, and you may end up resenting it. The most efficient thing is to plan everything — even your leisure time.
  • Figure out your big goals (even the ones that feel too big to achieve) and then break down the steps it would take to get there. If all you ever look at is the mountain peak, you won’t learn how to climb.
  • Small scraps of time are still valuable. Have a list of those small steps that will help you achieve your ultimate goals (personal, professional, family, whatever). Some of them can be done even in 20-minute (or even 10-minute) blocks. Take advantage of time when it appears!


At the same time, I was frustrated with parts of this book. Vanderkam repeatedly says that we all have the same 168 hours, but she acts as if time is of the same quality no matter when it appears. I don’t know about you, but 60 uninterrupted minutes in the morning is way different than six ten-minute blocks at the end of the day when I’m exhausted.


There was a kind of “you’re just not trying hard enough” gloss to this book that irked me and ignored very real disparities in people’s lives and requirements on their time. Someone who spends all day doing hard physical labor with no breaks is going to have a different experience of their nightly “free time” than someone who was able to meditate at lunch and sit down when their back hurts, you know?


How it Helped Me: There were real, applicable tips about how to think about time that are valuable and useful.  


Who Should Read It: Someone who feels like their days just get away from them, and they’re not sure where the time went.


Who Should Skip It: Someone who is seriously pressed for time because of life demands and will find an upbeat but somewhat condescending voice telling them they’re not trying hard enough demoralizing.  



Book 2: Getting Things Done by David Allen


About the Author: David Allen is a productivity consultant who has authored several books, but Getting Things Done is his flagship text and the heart of his branded method for time management.


Book Synopsis: Getting Things Done promises to offer a step-by-step method to making life more manageable. It provides a straightforward process to handling time without a lot of fluff or personal anecdotes.


Photo by Renáta-Adrienn on Unsplash


Why I Read It: As I mentioned above, time is like the boss monster at the video game level I can’t seem to beat. I always feel like we’re in a battle to the death … and I’m not winning.


How it Helped Me: If I could only recommend one productivity self-help book to anyone, this would be the one. Allen is non-judgmental in his advice. It’s like a math problem rather than a personal failing.


There are a lot of meaningful, practical takeaways from this book, and I cannot possibly summarize them all here, but I will say that the single biggest thing that stuck with me is about our cognitive function.


The human brain is good at processing information, but it’s not good at storing it. Depending on your brain to remember things is a recipe for disaster. Externalize your information with lists and ways to track your next steps.


Along these same lines, Allen provides compelling tips about keeping a list of the next steps for your project so that, when you do have time to work on them, you’re not stuck trying to figure out what to do next. You already know, and you just follow the list to do it. In other words, separate out the planning from the doing.


Plan. Write it down. Then do.  


Who Should Read It: Honestly, I think there’s something in here for everyone. I plan to have my kids read it as they get older and start figuring out how to manage their own tasks. It’s general enough to apply to just about every goal, and it’s so straightforward that it’s more like a manual than a traditional “self-help” book.  


Who Should Skip It: If you’re really looking for a personal memoir that feels like someone is sitting down and having a coffee with you, this one might disappoint. The tone is not particularly personable or warm.


Final Thoughts 


Time management is a foundational element of business success. You may have the best ideas in the world, but finding the space to execute them is the difference between the people who dream it up and those who get it done.


The idea that we all have the same 24 hours in a day, however, isn’t accurate. We don’t all have the same forces working for or against us, and resources (financial, emotional, cognitive, social) create a very different landscape as far as how we use our time.  


Any book that purports to “solve” time management for everyone is lying and wrapping itself up in slick marketing. I appreciate something much more pragmatic that gives us a different way of thinking about time rather than trying to prescribe a particular schedule or routine.


Both of these books do that in some form, and both are worth a read, but Getting Things Done does it better, in my opinion.



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