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A Homeschooler Discusses the Book, 168 Hours

How many hours are there in a week?  168.  According to author Laura Vanderkam, this number is very important in a successful life.  We should manage our lives in terms of  168-hour weeks, rather than individual days or hours, because anything important, including (and especially) exercise, will fit into those 168 hours. Although written for adults, 168 Hours:  You Have More Time than You Think contains much career-related information valuable to teens planning their future.

With both the insight and naiveté of the young and healthy, Vanderkam suggests that we need not be frenzied, we need not make excuses, and we certainly need not sacrifice anything important if we want to do it all.  Basing her ideas on many interactions with balanced, successful people, and backing them up with surprising data about actual time use, Vanderkam makes a compelling and refreshing case for taking charge of our 168 hours and investing them to align with our competencies and passions 

Her book focuses on two main uses of our time:  work and home.  For a homeschooling family, the first half of 168 Hours, discussing “The Myth of the Time Crunch” and “Work,” will apply to everyone, especially teens planning their future.  In fact, the section on “Your Core Competencies,” “The Right Job,” and “Anatomy of a Breakthrough” should be required reading for every high school student. So many young people do not understand their core competencies and end up wasting several years and thousands of dollars chasing mirages.  As an aside, 168 Hours also indirectly applauds the idea of allowing children and teens ample free time to explore their interests.

The next part of 168 Hours will be of interest…or outrage…to the homeschooling mom.  Based on the idea that housework expands to fill the available time, Vanderkam goes to the other extreme and gives examples of people who outsource everything, from laundry and cooking to organizing and cleaning.   Of course, she assumes extensive use of child care, saying that ‘working’ moms spend almost as much time with their children as stay-at-home moms.  (And, no, I won’t evaluate those studies here.)  This section of the book is a unique example of thinking outside the box, and provides valuable insights as well as a few incredulous laughs.  One thing I learned is that there is a wealth of opportunity for those who wish to set up their own business doing what other people consider unappealing, time-consuming, or difficult.

Although I’m somewhat bemused by the radical consumer mentality Vanderkam espouses, especially compared to the down-home, do-it-yourself, producer mindset of many homeschooling moms, she does have a very valuable point: determine what your gifts are and focus on using them, minimizing time spent on other necessary work.  This is applicable to homeschooling philosophies and techniques as well as to paid work and housework.

Her focus on core competencies reminds me, to some extent, of the “Parable of the Talents.”  Sure, we all have many talents and many responsibilities.  But ought we not to encourage our teens (and ourselves) to determine what our gifts are and how we can develop them, streamlining other duties to make time for the things we were created to do?  This does sound self-centered, but Vanderkam points out that core competencies include things ‘only you can do’ such as nurturing with your loved ones.

One can glean much wisdom from 168 Hours.  However, it could be a very discouraging read for people who accept its pronouncements at face value for themselves. Everyone—especially a homeschooling mom, investing herself in her children at the expense of other activities—should remember that Laura Vanderkam is young and had only one child during the writing of this book.

Please do not let this very worthwhile book depress you with its glowing optimism.  Instead, glean what you can and be inspired by it to examine your time, talents, and responsibilities.  You may indeed find a more peaceful, satisfying, productive, and God-honoring life.

I will hand 168 Hours to my teens with instructions to read the first half.  Pondering and discussing Vanderkam’s insights regarding time use, core competencies, and career choice is something our family will definitely schedule into the next week or two.

Note: This is a popular book and should be available from most libraries.

168 Hours is my 16th book in the 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge.

Disclosure:  I checked this book out of the library; no compensation was received for this review, and all opinions expressed are my own.


  1. Jenn4him says:

    Interesting. And good warnings! It is easy to make the mistake of forgetting to consider the vantage point of an author. As I am now in my 40’s, I find myself being tempted to dismiss younger authors, especially when they write about parenting or other such things that I have a lot more experience. However, no one has thought I should write a book, so I do need to glean what I can when it is wise to do so!

  2. Annie Kate says:

    I know what you mean about dismissing certain authors. I can chuckle at some of Vanderkam’s statements…which, however, were true for me when I was expecting baby number 2 and finishing my PhD. I can so easily identify with her…but I must confess that I’m not sad to have moved on in my thoughts.

    On the other hand, we older women can learn a lot from the enthusiasm of a younger woman. Vanderkam also uses little-known data and proposes some unique concepts. This book is definitely worth reading…although you’ll need to glean as you go.

    Annie Kate

  3. Beth West says:

    I’m a 40 something homeschooling mom of 8 with a very different perspective on life than Laura as well, yet I really enjoyed 168 hours!

    The whole concept of thinking by the week rather than exclusively in 24 hour time blocks was beneficial to me.

    The portion that troubled me a bit was the seeming disdain for housework. I am no star at housework. My family and painting are priorities over a gleaming home, however I do believe it is important that everyone be able to pick up after themselves and prepare food for themselves. Also, when I think of the inexpensive laundry services that people might utilize, I can’t help but wonder about the workers laboring to care for that laundry and what type of wage they’re making. I don’t imagine it’s anywhere near as good as those employing them.

    I also thought the whole concept of core competencies was excellent. I wish I’d had a book that presented these ideas to read when I was a teenager. Good review Annie Kate. I’m glad that Laura had the link to your blog. I’m looking forward to exploring it more!

  4. I felt much the same after reading 168 Hours. I LOVED Vanderkam’s “portfolio approach” to time management, but I thought her personal examples–and her extrapolations for the rest of us–were from a very urban/yuppie perspective.

    That being said, I’m glad I read the book, and I’m looking forward to the release of her new book on Money next month.

    1. Annie Kate says:

      Yes, definitely urban and yuppie! I didn’t know about her new book. Thanks for letting me know.

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