Review: Off the Clock by Laura Vanderkam

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I have a love/hate relationship with Laura Vanderkam’s work. The topics and angles she chooses are always fascinating, but I am not her target market, so I end up resentful about some of her advice. She’s targeting women of certain means with certain resources available to them…and I don’t make the cut.

Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done is no different in that it opens with the author taking a cross-country solo trip–while her mom and aunt watch her kids. Which sounds awesome. But…

That is not my life, friend. Family is 14 hours away and we’ve never paid for a babysitter (we’re finally at a point financially where we could, but we’ve become kind of tightfisted…). I’m glad for others to have these opportunities, but it always brings a little jealousy out, if I’m honest.

Despite the opening, this is hands-down my favorite Vanderkam book to date. The prose is elevated without losing the practical insights, which, in this book, are more applicable to anyone, which was a treat.

For several years, Vanderkam has written about time and its usage. The most fascinating aspect, in my opinion, has been how she tracks her own time on a spreadsheet and has for two years (I think?) now. She can measure how much time she spends sleeping, playing with her kids, working, and even reading magazines, and that leads to getting a bigger picture of where your time goes.

The book is split between practical applications and philosophical thoughts on the passage of time and, with it, life.

Instead of me yapping, I’ll share six of my favorite quotes from the book and a statistic. I’ve taken to marking interesting passages with a book dart and then going back through and writing each on a 3×5 index card. It’s like my high school research class all over again, except this time, I’m loving it.

For Off the Clock, I ended up with 32 index cards total. I haven’t been at this note card thing long enough to know what significance that holds. For now, it’s like Who’s Line Is It Anyway? points.)

“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.” (pg. 4)

“It’s not that people who have more free time have the time to reflect. After all, people with low time-perception scores actually spend more time on social media and TV than people with high time-perception scores. Instead, people allocate time to thinking and reflecting, and then they feel that they have more time.” (pg. 15)

This has been really helpful for me. I spent the past week off social media and feel like I have so much more time and feel more clear-headed. But we’ll discuss that another day.

“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.” (pg. 70)

Going back to the previous quote about allocating time to reflect, I’ve taken to going out on my own first thing Thursday mornings for a Mom Meeting.

My husband is still home, I leave breakfast out on the table for the kids, complete with a juice box, which makes it a special treat. They get to watch TV while I go out to breakfast with my planner and think and plan for the next week. It’s simple but glorious.

“Conscious fun takes effort. This seeming paradox–why should fun be work?–stops us in our tracks. So we overindulge in effortless fun (scrolling through Instagram posts about dinner parties), and underindulge in effortful fun (throwing a dinner party ourselves)…It is the effortful fun that makes today different, and makes today land in memory. You don’t say ‘Where did the time go?’ when you remember where the time went.” (pg. 74-75)

A statistic on page 108 shocked me: a survey claims that average users spend 116 minutes a day on social media. Vanderkam wonders “Where did the time come from?” considering this avenue didn’t even exist 15 years ago.

“Some suffering–the kind we must learn to be good at–is inevitable. But other suffering is self-imposed. In particular, we suffer when expectations exceed reality. This suffering is a major cause of wasted time. Mental anguish and rumination eat up hours. They also keep us from enjoying the time we have.” (pg. 173, emphasis mine)

I’m not perfect at this, by any means, but I like to think I’m improving. Picnic plans got rained out last year and I got back into the car sulkily. Matt pounced, desperate to make me feel better, but I told him, “I’m trying to tame my inner two-year-old. I just need a minute.”

And just like that, instead of stewing half the day, I was able to acknowledge my disappointment and let it go. We made other plans and the day was saved.

“Wanting the best seems like a positive character trait. My children should such mantras in karate class: ‘I am on a quest to be the best!’ No one is going to build a career as a motivational speaker by announcing, ‘I settle! I settle all the time!'” (pg. 175)

There’s more to this quote/thought, but can we just stop and acknowledge the brilliance of this quote? Are you picturing tiny karate kids shouting about settling? I’ll give you a minute.

Okay, here’s the rest of the quote, pulling from Barry Schwartz (another favorite of mine):

“Yet Schwartz’s research finds that satisficers tend to be happier than maximizers because they don’t waste time ruminating over choices or expectations. People who want the best tend to be prone to regret when their choices turn out not to be perfect in some way.”

If you aren’t familiar with Barry Schwartz, I highly recommend The Paradox of Choice or his TED Talk on the subject if you have less time.

I would love to hear what you’re reading! (And if you’re on Goodreads, you can add The Wardrobe Fast to your to-read list here!)

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