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Why 168 is my most important number for time management

When I say time management and mention the number 168, does that mean anything to you? For most people I talk to, the answer is “no”. I find this to be fascinating. My follow-up question is then “have you ever added up how many hours are in a week?” At that point, most people have figured out what 168 is about, but they want to know a little more.
The core practice that I’ve adopted is to do a weekly review session, part of which includes looking forward to the next week’s activity. There are a few reasons I focus on the one-week time frame:
  • Planning 168 hours is more “in your control” than 24 hours
  • Looking forward one week is more tangible than a month or a year
  • I find that much of my time management success comes from reflection
I’ll let you in on a few of the details of why these are so important.

Planning 168 hours is more “in your control” than 24 hours

When I look at what I’m going to be doing tomorrow a lot of those decisions about time management seem like they’re “already made”. I know when I’ll get up, eat, get ready, and later go to bed. Most of my plans with other people are already in place (or the time is at least mentally blocked off) and there’s a mounting list of “important” things that I know I’ll need to do.

time management by planning the week

Looking at the upcoming week…

By putting a plan together for the next 168 hours, instead of the next 24, I’m able to re-acquaint myself with what’s been scheduled while there’s still time to influence that schedule.

  • Is there a meeting that is not actually important? Suggest canceling or deferring the meeting.
  • Do I have a meeting scheduled that I’m not quite ready for? Block off some time to prep.
  • Are any of my plans with friends or family in flux? Use this chance to reach out and firm up the situation.
  • Am I including time for the other projects that are important to me? Make sure I block off that time.

Looking forward one week is more tangible than a month or a year

You might think to yourself that I’m suggesting that we all just look further out when doing planning, but I contend that there’s a specific time management sweet spot by looking out one week. Most weeks (for me) there are a number of assumed things (sleep, eating, etc.), known activities (meetings, social events), and important tasks (which may or may not be scheduled).

By limiting yourself to only looking a week out, it’s easier to get a feeling for how hectic the week is. It’s also easier to see where you might be able to re-prioritize things so you can focus on the things that are most important to you, without having to compromise on your commitments to others.

Let me be clear that looking out further than one week is also very important. This is actually a skill that can be practiced and developed over time. In fact, many of the skills for looking out 168 hours are foundational to looking out months, years, or even decades (as crazy as that may sound).

I advocate looking at the upcoming week, each week, to build the habit and practice that skill of prioritizing, then periodically looking further out.

Much of my time management success comes from reflection

In the words of a good friend of mine, “planners gotta plan”. As you may have gathered above, I fit into this category–but I’m also a believer that review and reflection are as important as putting together a plan.
Sometimes it doesn’t matter how perfect a plan seems, I never follow a weekly plan 100%. That’s expected and okay! I’d also like to clarify that when I’m scheduling time in the week, there’s still flexibility that I allow myself day-to-day. Instead of getting upset about these changes I find it best to roll with the punches throughout the week then take time later to review where things got off the rails.
This exercise isn’t about beating myself up, it’s more about awareness. That’s an awareness that I then carry forward to planning the next week.
 

Final thoughts

I’ve barely scratched the surface of how powerful the 168 hours mentality has been for me. I don’t claim to be perfect when it comes to time management (I’m certainly guilty of making mistakes) but I do find that thinking about things in weekly chunks has worked really well for me.
Do you use a similar approach to how you manage your time? Let me know in the comments!
Matthew C. Anderson
 

I'm an enthusiastic speaker, creator, and problem-solver.

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