Off the Clock | Laura Vanderkam

Summary of: Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done
By: Laura Vanderkam


In the fast-paced world we live in, people often struggle with managing their time effectively. Laura Vanderkam’s book, ‘Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done’, addresses this struggle head-on by offering insightful strategies that help maximize productivity without sacrificing leisure time. Through anecdotes and data, Vanderkam explores our perceptions of time and demonstrates the importance of tracking our own time usage, creating memorable experiences, maintaining a balance between work and relationships, setting realistic expectations, and using money wisely to enhance happiness.

Where Does Our Time Go?

The author tracks her time to understand how she spends it and makes positive changes in her life.

Do you know how you spend your time each day? The author is obsessed with time and how people pass it. She logs how much time she spends on different activities, and the logbook reveals how little people know about their daily routines. Many of us claim to work more hours than we actually do, and a study by the Bureau of Labour Statistics found that people overestimate their work hours by up to 25 hours per week. Where does our time really go then?

Some people resist the idea of tracking time because they fear it will reveal the hours they waste on unimportant things. Others dread the anxiety that arises from the realization that time on earth is limited. However, the author found that rigorous time tracking allowed her to recalibrate her life and make positive changes. For example, she discovered that she spent 327 hours per year on reading trashy magazines, and she was motivated to carve out time for quality reading.

The author’s experience highlights the importance of knowing how we spend our time. It provides a deeper understanding of our weekly routines and helps identify areas where we can make positive changes. Instead of mindlessly passing time, tracking it can help us optimize our activities to lead more fulfilling lives.

The Art of Creating Time

Our perception of time is shaped by our memories, with more memories leading to a richer perceived experience of time. The depth and novelty of our experiences directly impact our brain’s ability to remember them as unique events. Our routines often go undocumented in our memory banks, but stimulating and exciting experiences, such as traveling and adventuring, can help stretch our perception of time and ultimately create a more fulfilling life.

Embracing White Space

Learn to value a clutter-free schedule and embrace productivity through strategic scheduling, as opposed to filling time with unessential meetings and activities.

Feeling overwhelmed by a packed calendar is a common sight in the modern workplace. However, it doesn’t have to be this way. A senior director in a technology company, Jeff Heath, shows how it is possible to keep blank spaces in one’s schedule by adopting the right mindset. While most professionals assume that staying busy is productive, Jeff sees white space on a calendar as an opportunity for creativity and problem-solving.

Too often, people fill their schedules with meetings and unessential activities, sacrificing quality, uninterrupted work time. Jeff warns against the fallacy of automatic importance given to scheduled events, pointing out that unscheduled events can be equally or more important. It’s time to learn to say no to meaningless meetings and grow comfortable with white space in your calendar.

Many people feel guilty declining meetings or leaving their schedule unscheduled, but the truth is, meetings often take up more time than necessary. Rather than valuing busyness, it’s time to start valuing productivity brought by carefully scheduled events. Stop automatically filling your schedule and embrace white space to enable creativity, problem-solving, and overall better productivity.

Friends and Time Management

The notion that time management is incompatible with leisurely time spent with friends is a common misconception. In fact, prioritizing friendships can enhance time management skills. Devoting more time to important relationships not only makes individuals happier, it can create a perception of having more time. Spending time with loved ones can produce a feeling of relaxation and evoke a sense of having all the time in the world. On the other hand, spending time on social media platforms like Twitter won’t produce the same feeling. Additionally, research has shown that people with stronger social connections tend to have a longer life expectancy than those without them. Good friends and close family encourage individuals to look after themselves, as they care for them when they get ill. These healthy aspects of friendships mean that maintaining tight relationships is approximately equivalent to stopping smoking.

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