Book Notes: “Off the Clock” by Laura Vanderkam

My Rating: 4/5
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Synopsis:

Laura Vanderkam, an expert on time, offers several categories to consider how we use time along with easily-applicable ideas to make instant changes. While there is nothing earth-shattering, it’s worth the read. You can read a more in-depth summary here.

Notes:

Being off the clock implies time freedom, yet time freedom stems from time discipline. You must know where the time goes in order to transcend the ceaseless ticking.
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Honoring time requires embracing certain truths: that time is precious and time is plentiful. Time is finite, so we must make smart choices about it. But time is also abundant: there is enough for anything that truly matters.
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If six in ten people who are employed, or have children, feel pressed for time, that means four in ten people with similar responsibilities do have time for things they want to do.
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First, people who feel like they have enough time are exceedingly mindful of their time. They know where the time goes. They accept ownership of their lives and think through their days and weeks ahead of time. They also reflect on their lives, figuring out what worked and what didn’t.
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They scrub their lives of anything that does not belong there. This includes self-imposed time burdens, such as constant connectivity, that clog time for no good reason. Indeed, one of the most striking findings of my survey was the gap in estimated phone checks per hour between people who felt relaxed about time and those who felt anxious.
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They let go of expectations of perfection and big results in the short run. Instead, they decide that good enough is good enough, knowing that steady progress over the long run is unstoppable.
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medieval monks called memento mori—moments when we see how few are our days
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people allocate time to thinking and reflecting, and then they feel that they have more time.
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THE SECRETS OF PEOPLE WITH ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD 

1: TEND YOUR GARDEN

Mindfulness gives you time. Time gives you choices. Choices, skillfully made, lead to freedom. —Bhante Henepola Gunaratana, Beyond Mindfulness in Plain English
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I love to highlight a study finding that people claiming 75-plus-hour workweeks are overestimating by an average of twenty-five hours.
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Time passes whether or not we think about how we are spending it.
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get a time log template
NOTE: Check out her website
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At night, take a few moments to write a daily reflection in a journal. Answer a few questions: What did I like most about today? What would I like to have spent more time doing? What would I like to have spent less time doing? How can I make that happen?
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Becoming your life’s master gardener means deciding that you are responsible for how you spend your time. It means believing that much of time is a choice.
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2: MAKE LIFE MEMORABLE

When enough sameness like this stacks up, whole years disappear into memory sinkholes.
NOTE: The same thing over and over becomes one memory. All the extra time is lost.
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As philosopher and psychologist William James writes on time, “Emptiness, monotony, familiarity, make it shrivel up.”
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James touts this explanation: When we are young, life is the opposite of those thousand identical commutes. All is new. And not only are we seeing things for the first time, we’re figuring life out, and thus taking risks we might not take as an adult. This creates emotional intensity that likewise deepens time.
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The answer is that the “self” is really multiple selves: The anticipating self is wondering about, planning, and worrying about the future. The experiencing self is in the here and now. The remembering self thinks back to the past.
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Creating more memories—and hence creating more time—requires privileging the anticipating and the remembering selves above the experiencing self in ways that require serious self-discipline.
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Writes philosopher Robert Grudin in Time and the Art of Living, “We pamper the present like a spoiled child.” We indulge its whim to scroll through Facebook posts from people we never liked in high school anyway. Then this time is nothing. It disappears as if it doesn’t exist.
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If my anticipating self wanted to do something, my remembering self will be glad to have done it. Indeed, my experiencing self may even enjoy parts of it. I am tired now, but I will always be tired, and we draw energy from meaningful things.
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The Greek roots of “nostalgia” combine the words for homecoming and ache. Such sweet pain is a complex emotion, but a beguiling one. It is why we turn the radio up for songs that can conjure such wistful intensity.
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3: DON’T FILL TIME

When everyone’s in meetings all day, people wait to make decisions until they get to the appointed time on the calendar.
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The average person worked 8.3 hours. Those who felt like they had the least time worked 8.6 hours; those who felt like they had the most worked 7.6 hours.
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Time is a choice; work hours often have nothing to do with how much you could be doing.
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If you feel like you keep getting busier as time goes by, understanding this one particular truth about schedules can transform your life: few things are meant to continue in perpetuity.
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Time is a choice, with the understanding that you must deal with the consequences of your choices.
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A better question when asked to take on something in the future: Would I do this tomorrow?
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Rather than scheduling meetings at 9:00 A.M., 11:00 A.M., and 1:00 P.M., you might be better off pushing all these meetings and phone calls into one window of 1:00 P.M. to 4:00 P.M. (with some space in between them to avoid running late), and then having 8:00 A.M. to 1:00 P.M. open to deploy as you wish.
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Three important things a day is fifteen important things per week. Over a year, that’s 750 important things.
NOTE: Write my daily tasks on a small post-it. Limit priority by space.
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Calling something “work” doesn’t make it a more noble use of time than anything else. Work that doesn’t advance you toward the life you want is still wasted time.
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If you get a lot of emails from people seeking to “pick your brain,” you could spend an hour creating a list of answers to frequently asked questions about your industry. Then, when someone emails asking for advice, you send the FAQ list, and invite them to send you back any follow-up questions.
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To start building this capacity into your life, study how you spend your time. When you do an activity, ask yourself two questions: Will I ever do this again? If so, is there some system I could develop or something I could do now that would make future instances faster or easier?
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4: LINGER

People who feel like time is abundant approach the present in two ways. First, the practical: they learn to be where they’re supposed to be in enough time that they can relax. Then, the more daring psychological feat: they find ways to savor the space of time where they currently are, even if the present does flee, gone in that moment of becoming.
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Gretchen Rubin outlines in her book about personality types, The Four Tendencies.
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(Obligers, the final tendency, meet outer expectations but not inner ones. These are the people who could show up daily for track practice in high school but can’t make themselves run as adults.)
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“Ways of Savoring Checklist,”
  • You can think about sharing the memory later with other people, or consciously taking in every scent during the event. 
  • You might remind yourself how long you had waited for this event to happen, or think back to a time when the event hadn’t happened and you really wanted it to. 
  • You might try to become more alert, take deep breaths, or slow down. 
  • You might tell anyone else there how much you value the moment and how happy you are that the other people are there with you. 
  • You could remind yourself that nothing lasts forever. And so, you must enjoy this moment now.
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And because noticing is part of the definition of savoring, it follows that a savored moment doesn’t pass unnoticed.
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5: INVEST IN YOUR HAPPINESS

When you can reduce time spent on things you don’t enjoy doing—activities that have you counting the minutes, hoping they will be over soon—and increase the time spent on things you do enjoy doing, then you will feel like you have more time. When money can achieve this, then it is often money well spent.
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If you wait until the end of the day to see what time is left over for the important stuff, the odds are good you won’t have the energy to do anything but collapse into bed. If you’re managing people—employees or little ones—even waiting until the middle of the day can result in you feeling pulled in many directions. Feeling harried and rushed is associated with feeling like you lack the time for the things you want to do. Doing what matters first opens up time.
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In her old schedule, she didn’t have time to do the work necessary to build her platform. By investing her peak work hours in this work she wanted to do, she created time. Progress is motivational, and makes time feel expansive.
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Whatever the weather, they get outside, experiencing the known mood-boosting effects of fresh air. There’s a saying that there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.
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Being good at suffering means that even in misery Boone finds things to enjoy. “One of the best ways to pass the time is to engage with your competitors around you. You’re moving at a slow enough pace in really long races that you can actually learn about other people and talk,” she says.
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The discipline of joy requires holding in the mind simultaneously that this too shall pass and that this too is good. This alchemy of mind isn’t easy, but the good life is not always the easy life. Happiness requires effort. It is not just bestowed; it is the earned interest on what you choose to pay in.
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6: LET IT GO

If you are filled with desire Your sorrows swell Like the grass after the rain. But if you subdue desire Your sorrows shall fall from you Like drops of water from a lotus flower.
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paradoxically, low expectations in the short run, if met consistently, are what lead to great things in the long run.
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The second domain in which problematic expectations cause time-wasting anguish is goals.
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Better to focus on process goals, which are habits by a different name. These are within your control, and when done regularly tend to lead toward the desired outcome over time.
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Indeed, if you want to sustain a habit over time, I’d recommend making the process goals as doable as possible. Make them small to the point where you feel no resistance to meeting them. Set them so you can exceed them with ego-boosting regularity. These little goals are simply “better than nothing.” As a friend noted to me, we could call them BTN goals.
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As I study prolific people who seem relaxed and yet get so much done, I see that this is often their secret: small things done repeatedly add up. You do not have to work around the clock. You simply put one metaphorical foot in front of the other, achieve your small goal, then do it again.
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Done is better than perfect, because there is no perfect without being done.
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7: PEOPLE ARE A GOOD USE OF TIME

What is your friend that you should seek him with hours to kill? Seek him always with hours to live. —Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet
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This requires incredible mindfulness. It requires deciding, in a busy life, to give people the attention they deserve. That is a splendid choice; in general, people are an excellent use of time. Unfortunately, it is a difficult choice amid work and family demands. Without conscious intervention, nurturing relationships will almost automatically fall to the bottom of the to-do list.
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While the average survey taker’s log showed seventy-two minutes actively spent with friends and family, people in the top 20 percent of time-perception scores spent ninety-six minutes, and people in the bottom spent fifty-two minutes. Again, it wasn’t that the people on the bottom of the scale had less time than anyone else. I believe the equation goes in the opposite direction: time with friends and loved ones tends to feel relaxed, and good, and hence makes you feel like you have more time.
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If you make a bucket list, create three categories: career, relationships, self.
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If you set quarterly goals—which, incidentally, I have found to be a much more effective approach than creating New Year’s resolutions—use the same three-category rubric. Each quarter gets a career goal, a relationship goal, and a self goal, giving you twelve major intentions for the calendar year, with the deadlines nicely spread out.
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When you do your Friday planning for the next week, bring all three categories out again. Using a three-category list reminds us that there should be something in all three categories. It’s hard to make a three-category list and then leave one of the categories blank!
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Few people would show up at work at 8:00 A.M. with no idea about what they’d do until 1:00 P.M., and yet people will come home at 6:00 P.M. having given no thought to what they’ll do until they go to bed at 11:00 P.M. This is how people will claim to have no time for their hobbies, even though they’re clearly awake for two hours or more after their kids go to bed.
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If you’ve got a one-on-one meeting with someone, suggest moving it to a coffee shop or going for a walk. Changing venues changes mind-sets, and that can allow for genuine engagement.
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Understood well, networking is nothing more than building authentic relationships with people whom you want to see succeed and who feel the same way about you.
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Job security is best defined as having a handful of people who’ve told you, “If you ever think of switching jobs, come talk to me first.”
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The best advice I’ve heard on this—strengthening a network among people you don’t see frequently—is to reach out to one person every day. Molly Beck, author of the book Reach Out, calls this the “RO” habit. Every Friday while you’re planning your week, make a list of five people you’d like to reach out to. These can be: “Re-ROs,” who are people you’ve met in the past and wish to keep in touch with. “Follow-up ROs,” who are people you met recently at events and want to establish ties with. “Borrowed Connection ROs,” who are people your friends and colleagues think you should meet. “Cool ROs,” who are people you don’t know but think are interesting.
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I was lamenting on my blog that I wasn’t reaching out or networking as often as I should, when someone pointed out that for the past fifteen years I’ve been writing at least one article a week for various publications. This generally involves interviewing at least two people. So I was reaching out to at least one hundred people a year in a professional context, both experts and “real people,” and I was getting to know them, and following up with them, and writing about them again, and talking about people’s books and projects. That is networking.
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Meeting a friend for breakfast every Friday morning turns time with him from something you’d like to have happen to something that most likely does happen.
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After tracking your time, look back over your schedule and ask yourself a few questions: What do I like about my schedule? What would I like to spend more time doing? What would I like to spend less time doing? How can I make that happen?
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Create daily intentions. If you did nothing else today, what three accomplishments would make you feel like you got a lot done?
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Look at your time log and figure out particular pain points in your life. When are you counting the minutes? What could you do to move minutes out of this category? What are your favorite treats? Could you put these into your life more frequently? Which activities make you happiest? Could you plan these into your schedule first, either by blocking them into mornings or by scheduling them for the beginning of the week?
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