Consider the plane ride.
Here are dozens of busy people, many of them probably traveling for work, the kind of people who might lament that their crazy schedule doesn’t permit them time to read a novel or, heck, even sleep enough.
And here are people watching Netflix. Fiddling around on Facebook. Refreshing their inbox. All while they’ve got a block of solo time without interruption. Really, people?
This is the image that stuck with me long after reading Laura Vanderkam’s Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done. It’s perhaps Vanderkam’s best example of the way we humans can unwittingly sabotage our own ability to enjoy life, specifically by mismanaging our time.
Time is Vanderkam’s area of expertise: She’s already written multiple books about it, including What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast and I Know How She Does It. And clearly, she practices what she preaches: The woman has been building her journalism career (and managing to go for runs several times a week) while she and her husband have been raising four young kids.
In Off the Clock, Vanderkam expertly weaves together interviews with experts, anecdotes about her own personal life, philosophical musings, and scientific research. My favorite part of the book is the middle section, which frankly offers the most readily accessible strategies for expanding the time available in the day.
Some of that necessarily involves (gently) calling readers out on their excuses about not having enough time. (See the plane ride example above.)
Vanderkam quotes Jeff Heath, general manager of Matrix Applied Technologies, saying that people like having meetings because it makes them feel busy — and therefore useful.
As Vanderkam puts it just a few pages later, our fear of boredom is the culprit behind so much wasted time. And a few pages after that: “We are all less important than we think we are. Earth will keep spinning on its axis regardless of how the majority of us spend our time.”
Vanderkam also urges readers to challenge their “stories” about why they don’t have time for everything they’d like to do. For example: “I’ll never replace the income if I let go of this annoying freelance gig.” Is it possible you’d have more income if you ditched the freelance gig because you’d perform so much better at your other job(s)?
There’s also the option to essentially trick yourself into feeling less bogged down by understanding the way your brain perceives time. Vanderkam invokes the work of behavioral economists and a neurologist when she divides every individual into an anticipating, experiencing, and remembering self.
The key to happiness is to placate the anticipating and remembering selves by doing things that may feel uncomfortable in the moment, for your experiencing self. Browsing social media posts? Out. Visiting a museum exhibit with friends? In. Why? Because you’ll look forward to the latter experience for days and potentially remember it for years.
In her previous work, Vanderkam encouraged readers to question how much time they really spend at the office. (Spoiler alert: It’s probably not as much time as you think.) In Off the Clock, Vanderkam helps readers utilize the time they do have outside of work hours to do things that make them happy — namely, to invest in their relationships.
Based on her own research with more than 900 people, Vanderkam hypothesizes that being with friends, family, and coworkers makes us feel like we have more free time. As she puts it, “people expand time.”
So Vanderkam tells readers to make social activities not an afterthought — if you have time and energy left after making dinner and putting the kids to bed, you’ll return that call — but to approach relationships with as much discipline as they apply to other areas of life.
We should all have relationship goals and priorities, the same way we have goals and priorities at work, Vanderkam says. With that shift in mindset, she writes, social activities go “from something you do when you have time left over to something that happens. It switches time to kill to time to live right there.”
Originally published on www.businessinsider.com.
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