Do you start every day scrambling for time to get everything done? Do you end the day exhausted and wondering where all your time went?
There are people (myself included) that fight the same losing battle with time almost every day. However, there are others that, despite similarly hectic schedules, finish each day fulfilled and victorious in the battle against time.
If someone offered you the opportunity to switch sides, would you take it?
Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done by Laura Vanderkam, an expert on time, offers key principles that we need to understand and seven focus areas to free ourselves from the constant battle against time.

The Bottom Line

There are some basic principles that need to be understood right from the start:
1) Being off the clock implies time freedom, yet time freedom stems from time discipline. You must know where to time goes in order to transcend the ceaseless ticking.
2) Time is precious AND time is plentiful. Time is finite, so we must make smart choices. Time is abundant; there is enough time for what truly matters.
3) Abundance of time is largely a mindset; however, there are different actions that we ourselves can take to increase or decrease that perception.

Seven Areas to Increase Time Abundance

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
From one cited study, people that claim to work 75+ hour workweeks overestimate by an average of twenty-five hours. That’s a FULL DAY, EVERY WEEK gone, lost, and unaccounted for!
To create accountability and time awareness, you can: 
  • Use a time log and track your time over a period of a few weeks to accurately identify where your time actually goes.
  • Reflect daily in a journal.
    • What did I like most about today?
    • Where would I have liked to spend more time?
    • What would I have liked to spend less time doing?
    • How do I make it happen?
Before you can make conscious choices of your use of time, you need to create an accurate awareness. When you figure that out, you can start to make informed decisions and re-prioritize.

2) Make Life Memorable

“Emptiness, monotony, familiarity, make it shrivel up.” — William James
What William James is referring to is those times you go on autopilot and, just as automatically, all memories of that time are gone. This could be the drive to and from work. Maybe it’s the entire day at the office. Or a routine dinner with your family.
To increase our abundance of time, we need to take notice of it in the first place. If you have no memory of it, did it really happen? 
That’s lost time.
One way to do that is to balance your three internal “selves”:
  • Anticipating self: this is the part of you responsible for dreaming, planning, and worrying about the future.
  • Experiencing self: this is the self in the present moment.
  • Remembering self: this is the self that thinks back on the past.
We are constantly rotating through the three selves; however, we spend the most time in the  experiencing self as we proceed through our day. That self is selfish — it’s the voice telling us, I really don’t want to do this now. Maybe later. And, it’s the self that we unconsciously operate out of most of the day.
To create more memories (and time), we need to expend more effort listening to our anticipating and remembering selves above our experiencing self. If our anticipating selves wanted to do something, our remembering selves will be glad to have done it. Ignore the pain of the present; we’re always going to struggle against being tired or not in the mood — giving in to the present self often brings regret. Instead, recall the excited anticipation that you felt when scheduling an activity and the satisfaction that will be remembered afterwards.

3) Don’t Fill Time

Work that doesn’t advance you toward the life you want is wasted time. If you continue to get busier, remember that few things in life are meant to continue in perpetuity.
When planning for the future, ask yourself: “Would I do this tomorrow?” to be more discriminating. Then start each day with three daily intentions that, if accomplished, would make you feel like you got a lot done.
If you can complete 3 important things every weekday, that’s more than 750 important things every year.

4) Linger

People that have feelings of time abundance frequently do two significant actions: they get where they’re supposed to be with time to relax and they enjoy the current moment, wherever they are.
They linger rather than rush. How often could we make life easier for ourselves if we just left home a few minutes earlier? We deal with the same, predictable traffic every day. And yet, we often still allow it to get the best of us.
Those people with time abundance also savor time. In order to savor time, it must be noticed (again, the opposite living life on autopilot). Here are some ideas to help us linger in the moment:
  • Think about how you might share a memory later.
  • Remember the anticipation and waiting for this moment.
  • Slow down the moment — take a deep breath and enjoy.
  • Share your enjoyment with others.
  • Remind yourself nothing lasts forever, enjoy where you’re at.
Personally, journaling and thinking about what I’m going to write has been huge for me, whether for a day, a race, or hiking on the Appalachian trail. Those memories are still sharp in my mind and a quick read-through restores all the nostalgia.

5) Invest in your Happiness

The first key point is to start your day by doing what matters FIRST. If you wait until later in the day to complete your most important tasks, you’re likely to have lost some of your vigor, if you’re not totally derailed by the tasks of the day.
For me, that means doing my mentally challenging work earlier in the day like adding to my blog before fatigue and my faltering will power relent to the temptation of the couch and social media abyss.
Now, if we plan our workdays, we also need to plan our free time, otherwise we leave it open to the threat of autopilot. Or another evening of binging Netflix. Instead, plan worthwhile, happiness-inducing experiences like cooking and sharing a meal with your partner or playing a board game with your family.
Altogether, the big goal is to re-appropriate time towards things you value and away from those tasks that you don’t. Using money to reduce those undesirables is money well spent. That might mean paying a maid occasionally to do the deep cleaning you dread or having your oil changed by professionals instead of making a mess to save a few dollars.
Worth noting is that even in periods of suffering (such as doing something challenging and demanding), you can (and should) still find enjoyment engaging those people around you. Running long races, I’ve bonded more deeply in a few hours with fellow runners than over the course of years with other acquaintances in my life. Crazy.
Lastly, the discipline of joy requires holding two thoughts simultaneously: this too shall pass and this too is good. Stay invested in the moment. Don’t let it slip away too quickly.

6) Let it Go

Often, we set expectations that only set ourselves up for failure and disappointment. Vanderkam states that achievement goals are often problematic and bring time-wasting anguish. Instead of focusing on big goals, we’re better off focusing our efforts on process goals (which are the equivalent of habits).
  • Use “Better Than Nothing” (BTN) goals that are so small and easy, there is no resistance and they are easily sustained over time.
  • Low expectations in the short run, consistently met, lead to great things in the long run.
Instead of setting impossible goals like reading 24 books for the year when you barely read four or five the year before, focus on a simple goal such as reading for 10 minutes each day. Often, you’ll exceed that goal, but it is small enough that you’ll easily repeat it each day. Through repetition, the activity becomes habit and builds positive momentum each time you complete it. At the end of the year, those 10 minutes (or more) each day will add up to something significant. If you did the bare minimum, that’s 3,650 minutes or nearly 61 hours!
Similarly, running or walking just a single mile a day (10-15 minutes) results in 365 miles traveled. How many did you do last year?
Most importantly, done is better than perfect, because there is no perfect without being done. In the words of Nike, “Just do it.”

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
Often the last priority on our to-do lists are relationships, we need to make a conscious effort to give people the attention they deserve and cultivate relationships. More time spent with friends and family increase our perception of time abundance.
When planning, Vanderkam recommends we use three categories:
  • Career
  • Relationships
  • Self
We also need to redefine how we look at networking. We should be building authentic relationships with people we want to see succeed and vice versa. Not superficial.
In order to maintain and deepen relationships, one suggestion was to create a “reaching out” habit. To do that:
  • Identify five people to connect with during your weekly planning which could consist of old acquaintances, new people you’ve recently met, or people that you want to meet.
  • Reach out to one person a day during the week, even if it’s just a quick email.
  • That’s over 250 people a year!


Overall, I enjoyed the book. It was a fairly quick read and left me with practical and applicable strategies how to improve each of the seven areas that Vanderkam identified, especially silencing my experiencing-self a little more frequently.
I already identify my three priorities each morning and I’m trying to focus more on process goals such as spending 100 minutes each day on my most important work (which currently means working on this blog) and running at least one mile each day. Anything additional is a bonus.
However, where I fail most often is not putting my daily priorities first before life gets in the way. I’m also extremely guilty of putting relationships at the bottom of my to-do list. I’m going to add the reaching out habit as a standard part of my weekly routine.
What do you do well and where can you do better? Are there any practical ideas here that you can implement immediately?

About Scott

Grow intentionally. Give generously. Run stupid far. To learn more, visit my Start Here Page at

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4 Comments on ““Off the Clock” by Laura Vanderkam: Lessons to Gain Freedom from Time”

  1. As someone who is self-employed, time management is a huge issue for me. I can do what I want when I want to do it. If I waste time and energy doing too much of the personal stuff, I don’t get paid. Great post and very relevant to me. I subscribed to Vanderkam’s blog post “Before Breakfast”. Thank you!

  2. Great insight. I like the idea of structuring one’s free time to make the most of it as well.

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