168 Hours

How do you spend most of your time? If you’re like me, your immediate response is probably one of “working” or “sleeping”.

Is that really accurate, though?


In each week, there are  168 hours. Just for fun, I did some back-of-the-napkin type accounting of how I spend my time. I’d encourage you to do the same.

Of those 168 hours, I found that I personally spend approximately:

  • 45 working, commuting to or from work, and eating lunch at work
  • 60 sleeping
  • 12 cooking and eating when not at work

Which leaves about 51 hours every week for “other stuff”. That’s more time than I spend sleeping, and more time than I spend working. But for some reason, it never registered for me.

Catching the Time

And, if you’re like me, you might just look at your own numbers and say “my God, where is all that time going? What am I doing with it all? And what do I have to show for it?”

Here’s the thing. Every week, we all have 168 hours to do with whatever we want. That could be working, eating, sleeping, reading, exploring, exercising… whatever.

This is especially good news for scanners. That’s a lot of time to spend exploring your various interests. When I realized how much time I had, even apart from work and sleeping, I realized that I could pick ten different activities or interests, and spend 5 hours on each of them, every week.

Making the Time

Now that’s all well and good, but for as much as the numbers say I have that much time, I can’t remember the last time I spent 5 hours a week on something — never mind on ten somethings.

As I was re-reading The 4-Hour Workweek last week, I realized why. In the book, Tim Ferriss discusses Parkinson’s Law, which states

Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.

In other words, I spend 45 hours a week doing things related to work, and my work tends to fill that time (regardless of how much of it is really just shuffling paperwork around). I spend 60 hours sleeping, because that’s how much time is between going to bed and my alarm. I spend 12 hours cooking and eating because I eat fast and J does a lot of the cooking 😉

But I spend 51 hours “doing nothing” because that’s the amount of time allotted to “doing nothing.”

Now, we all need time to do nothing — to chill, relax, whatever. But I probably don’t need 51 hours worth.

Choosing Your Big Rocks

There’s a popular metaphor for time management, made famous by Stephen Covey. There are many variations on the story (and mathematicians will recognize this as a version of the Knapsack problem), but the gist of all of them is this:

Take a glass jar, a pile of rocks, a pile of pebbles, a pile of sand, and a pile of water. How can you fit the most of everything into the jar?

If you start by filling the jar with water or sand, and you won’t be able to fit anything else in. All you get is water or sand.

If you start with the pebbles, and then add water or sand, you’ll be able to get more in because the water or sand will creep in around the pebbles. But you won’t be able to fit in any big rocks.

The key is to fill the jar with the biggest rocks first. Then add pebbles, shake up the jar, and let them settle in the cracks. Then add the sand, and finally the water.

When all is said and done, you’ll have a very full jar — filled with the most of everything.

Jars of 168

If the metaphor isn’t already obvious, the meaning is simply this:

We each have week-sized jars that hold 168 hours. We can fill our time with one or two large rocks (work and sleep), one or two pebbles (eating) and then fill the rest up with water and sand (doing nothing).

And while the week will be full, it won’t have as much in it of the things we would want — like going for walks, reading books or catching up with friends. It will seem like there’s no time for doing what you want.

But if you first establish what you want your big rocks to be, and make time for them first, you’ll be able to fit them in. Parkinson’s Law will take care of the rest.

Note: for most of us, there are a couple of big rocks that seem fixed in size and importance: work and sleep. But there’s almost always room for one or two more — or, if you’re a scanner, you may not need more big rocks, but instead just focus on filling up your jar with lots of pebbles (small projects) before you add the sand and water. And maybe in the future, I’ll also write about some ways that people have been able to shrink the size of those biggest two rocks.

Making the Numbers Work for You

Take five minutes now, and figure out what your weekly breakdown is. Determine how much time you have, each week, to spend on things that you never seem to have the time for. Then make the time — book it off with yourself — and start making room for those pebbles and rocks.

Your numbers might be less (you may have kids, or work longer days, or have a longer commute), but the key is to realize that you do have time. We all have exactly the same amount, every week, to spend how we will. It’s our choice how we fill our jars and our hours.

What are you doing with your 168 hours?

One thought on “168 Hours

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