A personal initiative to live more appreciatively

Sunday, March 11, 2012

#107: Laura Vanderkam: 168 Hours and All The Money In The World

The first time I ever heard of Laura Vanderkam was when she was being interviewed on Today for what was then her new book on time, 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think. After watching her interview I thought to myself, "I need to read this book." Within days I bought a copy, and read it a second time last summer. I plan on making it a tradition-- to read it once a year-- because it has truly had a huge impact on my life, how I think about and spend my time. Just last week her current new book, All The Money In The World, was released. I purchased it, read it within a few days, and can say that again, Laura Vanderkam has had an impact on me, specifically in how I view my finances.

In both 168 Hours and All The Money Vanderkam avails the power of choice. Time and money are likely two of the biggest stressors in one's life, largely because we feel these are areas of our life over which we have little control. Vanderkam refutes this, and points out the large degree to which we can, in fact, control not only our time and money, but how we spend and feel about both.

Her book on time is entitled 168 Hours as that is the amount of time in a single week. With just this simple acknowledgement, Vanderkam begins to strip away commonly held misconceptions of time. She advocates not thinking of time in the standard, daily 24 hours, but rather a 168 hour weekly allotment. By reflecting on your time in a larger schedule construct, it's easier to find the time to do all that you want to do in a given week. It also begins to release you from the nagging thought that I used to always have, that "there's never enough time in the day." It's easy to argue "it's hard to find time" to exercise daily. It's harder to claim you can't find 4 hours out of your 168 to do so.

168 Hours espouses the importance of setting one's priorities, because through that one will know how to spend those hours. She's demystified the exaggerations of time-- such as how much we overestimate how long things take us (like chores) and underestimate how much time we have for what we want to do in life (like sleep). One of my greatest takeaways is Vanderkam's encouragement to let things go. If it's not a priority, and you don't have time for it, don't do it. Your time is too valuable and is likely better spent doing something else.  Realizing not only that I had time, but that I was in control of how I spent that time, was empowering.

I've taken many things away from 168 Hours. Some are very simple changes. For one, it doesn't bother me as much as it used to that I don't straighten or even blow dry my hair most days. Sure it's wet for the morning, but I prefer the natural curl I get once it does dry, and I save tons of time every day eliminating those hours of "hair maintenence". Since "hair maintenence" couldn't be less of a priority in my life I don't want to spend much of my 168 hours on that. On a broader scale I am a happier, less stressed and ironically more efficient person, now that I no longer stress about time as much. Every day used to feel like it was flitting away...that my life was passing by faster than I could keep up...and at the end of the day, there was still stuff left on my to-do list! Now time feels more manageable, and I feel like I live in it presently. I am much calmer, and am enjoying the 168 hours of my life much more.

All The Money In The World is predicated on the idea that, if you had all the money in the world, how would your life change, and how would that money buy you happiness? Vanderkam wants you to consider both the dream purchases and the practical, everyday impacts that money would create...and then find the ways to start building that life here and now, with the money you currently have. In a similar vein to 168 Hours Vanderkam illustrates the control we have on our finances-- that how we spend our money is choice, that one dollar spent on something is one dollar not spent on something else. This mindset enables one to think more carefully about where their money is going, and if it is being used to build a happy life. Vanderkam starts almost immediately with reframing the idea that money can buy happiness....if you make smart, personal choices with it.

While Vanderkam avows that she is not a financial guru, her book still gives practical, sensible and usable advice on how we get, spend, share and feel about money. She encourages people to  play "offense and not defense" with their money-- thinking how you can make more, rather than how you can scrimp to cut spending. "The Joneses" become a target-- as Vanderkam forces us to question whether the stereotypical major purchases of modern life really bring us happiness, or are we just buying what we think we should be buying, because society encourages us to have big houses, shiny new cars and overflowing closets. I am someone who has always focused on the allocation of money-- from as young as I can remember, when I used to sort my babysitting money in envelopes for spending and saving. I've always also attached a lot of guilt to money, being hypersensitive on every dime I spent, always worried if it was a necessary purchase, or if I could have gotten it for less. This work has reframed my thinking of my finances, and given me the freedom to believe that, if this money is buying me happiness and helping to build the life and world I want to live in, then it is money well spent.

I argue that both of these books are companion works. Both are built on the same foundation: we don't think we have enough time, we don't think we have enough money, but if we analyze and rethink some aspects of our lives, we will find that we do. I also found that they echoed each other in many places. You can buy time with money, and time well spent can earn you more money. I am so thankful that I've read both of these works. I feel like I am smarter and more sensible as a result, but more importantly, happier.

If you're interested in learning more about Laura Vanderkam or getting a glimpse into her advice and perspective, check out her website. She has a great blog I enjoy reading regularly: www.lauravanderkam.com

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