168 hours. That is how many hours are in each week. Did you know that? I certainly did not; I never thought to do the math.

Someone recently recommended the book, “I Know How She Does It” by Laura Vanderkam. Truthfully, it is written for a specific group of people (women who are mothers and have successful careers), so the book will not be everyone’s cup of tea. However, the idea of being more intentional with our time is something that we could all benefit from.

By no means am I suggesting that we never relax or enjoy ourselves — just the opposite, actually. The author’s whole point is to make sure your downtime is truly restorative. And yes, I think “The Bachelor” (don’t judge, we all need our guilty pleasure) and social media can be relaxing at times. But hours and hours each week on these things? This is probably a time suck more than beneficial.

The author suggests you track your time for a week in 15- or 30-minute increments. Before I started, I did a rough estimate of how much time I spend working, sleeping, traveling, reading, doing housework, etc. I am fortunate to be in a career where I can work ¾ time. My boss is pretty understanding that way (I happened to be self-employed). Prior to the week I tracked, I thought, “Wow, 168 hours! I only work about 30. I have it made. I am going to find all this extra time I am wasting that I can start using more productively.”

Now, to be sure, I did have some hours that were “wasted.” By that I mean I was engaging in an activity that I do not feel was beneficial for me professionally or personally, nor was it truly relaxing to me. But do you know the main thing I found? Everything takes a lot more time than I thought it would.

Case in point: I had estimated about an hour for dinner. We do quick meals on the weekdays, often already prepared, so that was about right. However, on weekends it took upwards of an hour and a half or two hours. Cooking time was longer (we get Blue Apron — I would highly recommend this service if it is feasible for your family). Mealtime was longer as well because we visited and talked more as a family compared to weeknights, and then clean-up was a bit more involved at the end. My husband and I switch off but whoever is not cooking/cleaning is looking after our three-year-old, so it is certainly not “me” time.

I was encouraged by how much time I had with my daughter and as a family. I also think it relieved a bit of pressure in terms of all the household projects that are still screaming to be done. There just MIGHT be paint swatches on our kitchen wall that have been there since before my daughter was born (maybe I should say we have a 3-month-old child instead of a 3-year-old; that would be far less embarrassing). However, would I rather spend the weekend at the pool with my family or at Lowe’s seeing if we can finally agree on a paint color? Yes, I know the wall still needs to be painted but, for the most part, I felt better about how I spend my time than I thought I would.

That did not mean I did not find areas for improvement. I would highly recommend tracking your schedule and free time for a week. It was very eye-opening, and I did find pockets of time that I felt l could use more to my benefit. Here are a few steps I took to take back control of my “time-sucking” activities:

  1. I deleted the Google app from my phone. I can look up specific subjects on safari and it does not have articles and ads vying for my attention.
  2. I am actually spending the time to unsubscribe from all those annoying email lists. I like having a “clean” inbox and this has drastically reduced my emails. Yes, it took me a bit of time upfront but has made my mornings better.
  3. I unwind with a book. The biggest time period that I started engaging in a “time suck” activity was when I got into bed, trying to relax but not sleeping yet. I now make sure to always have a book that I am engaged in to read as I decompress from the day. I have to read fiction books during the day because I may have found myself staying up until 4 am on more than one occasion. But “self-exploration” books, such as the one I mentioned above, I can read at night because they should be read in short increments anyway to give you time to digest the information.
  4. I keep my small laptop (just for writing, no work) beside my bed in case I get late-night inspiration. That way ideas don’t just keep looping around and around in my head.
  5. I have drastically reduced my social media use to once a week at most. For those that don’t want to cut it that much, using the “App Limit” feature under “Screen Time” on the settings of your phone allows you to get a reminder to get off after a period of time that you designate.

I, of course, still find myself going down the internet rabbit hole at times. But overall, I have become more intentional with my time, and I truly enjoy my relaxing “me” time.