Best selling author Laura Vanderkam lays out strategies for productivity and pleasure. When we make good choices with our time, we really can have both.
Do we all Really Have the Same Amount of Time?
There are 168 hours in each week. Yes, we all have the same 168 hours. But what about the quality of those hours?
Some things beyond our control can infringe on the quality of our hours. But let’s talk about the hours we do have control of. Even if we feel over scheduled, overburdened and under-supported, we still have some choices in the way we manage our time. It’s these differences in time management that make us feel more or less productive and happy.
After studying people who feel they have time to be both productive and relaxed, Vanderkam developed seven principles to feeling like we have more time:
- Tend your garden,
- Make life memorable.
- Don’t fill time.
- Invest in your happiness.
- Let it go.
- People are a good use of time.
How Can I Improve My Productivity?
The first step is to understand where your time goes. I’ve been told to track my time before, but it always seems to cumbersome. Plus, I’m sure I’ll forget and have huge gaps rendering it completely useless. Vanderkam, queen of time, guesses that it takes her three minutes per day to do this. She has been doing it for years and recommending other people do the same. She doesn’t include a lot of details (work, driving and eating are all complete explanations). I think this is something I want to try. I’m making it a goal for January to track my time for one week. Feel free to hold me accountable! I’ll post my results on the blog!
Vanderkam has a time tracker on her blog that is free to download. It’s broken down by the half hour and the small spaces help me feel it’s more accessible than I ever believed before. I would love to add this as a bullet journal page for a few weeks during the next year.
Knowing where our time goes allows us to make informed decisions about our activities. We are then in charge of our time and productivity. We own both our time and our choices. Structuring our days so we are free from work obligations by five or ensuring we get a cardio workout every day is possible when we know our priorities and make informed decisions about how we spend our time.
This “tending our garden” allows us to make the best decisions possible with our time. If my time log shows chunks of time lost to the pit of Facebook, I want to reclaim those hours and use them for something that is actually pleasurable and valuable to me.
Productivity Mixed with Pleasure
Even when our schedules are full of necessary commitments, we can find time for pleasure. And this is what makes life worth the effort. Making time for the things we enjoy and the relationships we value will make even the most stressful times seem more bearable.
Additionally, these positive memories give us something to hold on to. Spend time thinking about the things in the past that were fun or pleasurable. Most memories are more rosey than the reality was anyway. Our last summer vacation was a bit of a wreck. My eight year old ended up in the emergency room on our first day with stitches which prevented him from swimming for the rest of the week. But when I think about that trip, I remember the boat ride on the lake and my kids squeals at an amusement park. I tend to think much more about big smiles of awe at seeing Niagara Falls instead of the incessant whining about having to walk too much that day.
Cultivating these memories and the positive feelings they keep bringing are important to feeling happy on a regular basis.
Because people are a good use of time, investing in family and friends creates great memories as well as the rush of pleasure that helps us measure a day as good. Note that the maxim is not that all people are a good use of our time. Certain people are draining rather that revitalizing. Making time for the people we enjoy being with will always be a good way to spend our limited time.
Productivity and Pleasure are Investments
Planning out our days and aiming to get the most important things done first are essential to productivity. It takes some time to make a plan, but if I know that I wake every morning at 5:30 and immediately grab my journal, it will become a habit. And habits are the basis of lessening the need to make extra decisions, possibly bad ones, later in the day.
Planning for time to invest in myself and others are just as important. Making sure I’m taking care of my own needs for self care and relationships will help me enjoy all of my time more. Our time will fill. We can chose to be intentional about what we fill it with, but those 168 hours will pass regardless.
Setting reasonable goals and tasks to fill our working hours will allow the other time to stretch and we will feel free to linger with friends and family. Or to enjoy a walk in the woods. We won’t feel the need to rush a colleague through a question or berate a child for walking too slow. This planning will really let us feel “off the clock” during our down time.
My One Step Productivity and Pleasure Plan
The one change I’m going to make based on the ideas in this book has to do with planning. I do want to track my time for a week to evaluate how I’m using my time.
Until then, I also want to plan for pleasure. Vanderkam also has four children. As any mom of many can tell you, there is never a perfect day. If one kid has the best day ever, another is exhausted, hungry and disgruntled. After several trips of running ragged trying to make everyone happy, she did the math (and I’m going to take her word here, because I can do lots of hard things, but math isn’t one of them). If her children were happy 75% of the time individually, that meant there was only a 30% chance of them all being happy at the same time. As a parent to a tween, I can guarantee that 75% of the time is very generous for some kids.
Even at her inflated numbers, only one in every three trips will be a fun time for everyone. We parents do an awful lot of planning and work to fail the Fun Test 70% of the time.
However, if she took just one kid at a time, there was at least a 75% chance of a great day. In fact, it is probably higher because that kid gets a bigger say in what happens.
I want to build into my schedule time to do things one-on-one with each kid. I’m adding to my bullet journal a tracker for this next year. Even it it’s just a quick trip to the mall or going out for a snack, I want each child to get some one-on-one time each month. It’s good for the child to get this time, but it’s good for creating positive memories and stretching those good feelings for me too.
Because investing in people is always worthwhile, we’ll all benefit from this small investment.
What can you do to take control of your time? How can you make the investment in yourself and others?
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