Laura Vanderkam’s subtitle for her book, Off the Clock, aptly sums up the book’s takeaway: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done.
The title comes from that euphoric feeling we get when we clock out from work.
Laura’s curiosity was piqued when she started a phone interview with a busy executive with the promise that she wouldn’t take much of her time. Her interviewee responded that she had all the time in the world. Most people aren’t so open-ended or relaxed about other people’s requests for their time.
Laura conducted a time-perception study, asking people to keep records of how they spend their time and then asking them questions about how they felt about the time in question. The book refers back to these studies, pulls from other time management experts, and shares examples from the lives of everyday people “with full lives who nonetheless see time as abundant” (p. 16). Laura has not filled the pages with excessive, minute, rigid rules for a particular system: she groups her findings under seven broad categories.
The first is “Tend your garden.” Here she does ask readers to keep track of their time for two weeks (which I confess I have not done yet…).
Being off the clock implies time freedom, yet time freedom stems from time discipline. You must know where the time goes in order to transcend the ceaseless ticking (p. 4).
Such a record opens our eyes up how we really use our time as opposed to how we think we do. Laura thought she worked 50 hours a week. Her records showed that her work week was closer to 40 hours most of the time. So she had to figure out what happened to that other ten hours. Some tasks, like loading the dishwasher, seemed to take great chunks of time but actually only took a few minutes, relieving her dread of that task. As the title of this chapter implies, once we’re aware of how we actually use our time, we can make decisions and weed out anything not useful.
A second principle is “Make life memorable.” The days that feel lost are those where we do the same routines over and over. Vacations or special days make time seem fuller. We can’t vacation every day, so Laura encourages small steps to make memorable moments in our days: taking a different route to work, visiting an anticipated exhibit, talking to a new coworker or neighbor, etc. One interesting fact here is that our “anticipating self” and “remembering self” focus on the memorable aspects of our plans. The “experiencing self” in the present is the one to see the obstacles and talk itself out of anything new: It’s raining; The kids are fighting; I’d rather go home and watch TV.
Conscious fun takes effort. This seeming paradox—Why should fun be work?—stops us in our tracks. So we overindulge in effortless fun (scrolling through Instagram . . .) It is the effortful fun that makes today different, and makes today land in memory. You don’t say “Where did the time go?” when you remember where the time went (p. 75).
Principle three is “Don’t fill time.” Allow for some white space. “With every activity ask this question: What is my purpose here?” (p. 96). See what you can eliminate or consolidate.
Strategizing boosts efficiency; planning your toughest work for the time when you have the most energy means a task might take one hour instead of two (p. 93).
Four: “Linger.” “Find ways to savor the savor of time where [you] currently are” (p. 119). “Consciously lingering in a pleasurable downtime reminds us that we have downtime. And that can make us feel like we have more time than when we let it slip through our hands” (p. 134).
Five: “Invest in your happiness,” time, resources, and when possible, finances. That may mean moving closer to work to avoid a commute you hate, hiring a lawn service (or neighbor boy) if you don’t like yard work, etc. Treat yourself—not extravagantly, but with a few set-side moments to read a book, savoring your favorite beverage while watching the sunrise, etc. Do what’s most important first.
Feeling harried and rushed is associated with feeling like you lack the time for the things you want to do. Doing what matters first opens up the time (p. 150).
I’ll just mention the last two: “Let it go”—when your schedule doesn’t work out like you want, just do the best with what you have (neat story about an artist here) and “People are a good use of time.” That last statement is what attracted me most to the book and made me want to read it.
Laura expands on and illustrates these principles from real life. Besides benefiting from the quotes and principles mentioned, I appreciated that Laura dealt in common-sense broad principles rather than a rigid system and that her examples came from home and family as well as work and career. This is a great book for learning how to “feel less busy while getting more done.” Highly recommended.