How to Take Control of Your Time With The 168H Spreadsheet

Everyday, we all get the same amount of a commodity that is invaluable and non expendable. No matter how late it is in the day when you wake up. No matter if you’re busy, procrastinating, or both. No matter if you’re rich, poor, educated, uneducated, motivated or unmotivated, lucky or unlucky. There is one commodity that is distributed to each and every one equally, every day. Time.

Time is the one commodity nobody can have more of. We are all allowed 24 hours in a day, and what we do with that time is up to us.

There is not any major incentive to spend your time in the smartest way possible unless you’re trying to achieve things in life. Time saving and/or spending is not directly rewarded in our society. A lot of people say that money can indeed buy more time. That is true in only a figurative sense.

  • There is no interest rate on time, you can’t invest 5 hours to hope to get an extra 2 at the end of the day. Nobody has 26 hour days.
  • You can’t pay for your groceries with time, wire transfer time to people, or write a check of 1 million hours to a business partner.
  • You can’t get a time discount, a time cash back, or fly miles because you spent 5 hours doing something.

Yet time is extremely valuable, more than money. It is a finite resource for everyone, everyday. Nobody can take your time away from you, and you decide how you spend it.

I created a free tool to help you gain control over the way you spend your time. Let’s see how to use it and implement it in your everyday life.

#1 If you don’t have time, you don’t do things

“I don’t have time” is one of the most overrated, overused sentence in the world. People say it all the time to justify why they didn’t do the things they should have done or wanted to do. It’s like nobody has the time to do a favour to a friend, to check things off their bucket list, or to work on this project they should have started long ago.

Here is a more accurate explanation to not doing things is: “It’s not my priority at the moment”

You had plenty of time to do that one favour to your friend, or to start this project you wanted to start. You just didn’t consider those things as having a high enough priority to actually do them. You most likely simply decided to use your time to do other things.

But if you really did want to do those things, you would not only make them a priority, but also realise that you have plenty of time to work on them.

I remember when I was saying “I don’t have the time” all the… time. Deep inside I knew I had the time. I just didn’t prioritise it.

#2 Where is your time going?

The first step in claiming your time back and prioritising the use you make of it is to realise where your time is going. I created a tool just for that. It focuses on the time you spend doing things weekly.

Why weekly?

Because when trying to solve a problem, bigger samples of data give a clearer picture of the possible solutions. A week is 7 days, 168 hours. It makes it a lot easier to see patterns and blocks of time on a 168-hour timeline than on a 24-hour one.

This project has been greatly inspired by Laura Vanderkam’s book 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, which I highly recommend. Analysing my time use over the week has been a huge game changer for me, and the birth of a completely new way of doing things.

Getting started

First, you need to download a copy of the Joseph Mavericks 168 Hour Spreadsheet. Get it here:

Here is what the document looks like once you get access to it:

Once you get access to the document, there are two and only two areas you should edit: the green one, and the blue one.

The green area
It is used to fill in the name of the activities you do. It is pre-filled with common activities everyone does, like sleeping, spending time in the bathroom, doing the groceries… If you have more specific activities that are not listed, feel free to add them in the empty green rows.

The blue area
It is used to fill in the time you spend on each activity. You can choose to input the time Daily, Weekly, or Monthly. You can use decimals.

The white columns on the right of the table are only here for indicative purposes. You shouldn’t try to edit them.

You should only input one value per blue line. If you add more, an error message will show up in the Errors column.

Example
If you estimate that you spend 3 hours per week doing groceries, you only need to fill in the blue Weekly column. If you spend 30 minutes per day in the shower, you only need to fill in the blue Daily column.

Problem: I have no idea how much time I spend doing things

This is a common problem. The choice between Daily, Weekly and Monthly estimate is here to help you cope with that. If that is not enough, the only way to get an accurate estimate is to log your time in a journal for a week or two. Then, input average values in the spreadsheet.

If there are some activities you only do on weekdays (like your job, or fetching the kids), simply input a x character in the “Weekdays Only” column, like so:

You’ll notice the numbers in the left white columns get updated accordingly.

Overall, if you don’t have a precise idea of how much time you spend doing something, it is better to over estimate than under estimate. If you think you spend 45 minutes a day commuting but it could be more, put one hour in the spreadsheet. The last thing you want is a false positive telling you you have more time than you thought while it is not the case.

#3 How much time do you actually have?

As you enter more and more values, you will see the graph on the right side of your screen update.

Once you’re done inputing your activities, you will be in either one those 2 situations:

1- You still have time left

That’s amazing! You didn’t even know it, but you actually still have time to do things!

2- You don’t have any time left

You have a very busy life, and very little time available to do things at the moment. Whether you actually are motivated to start working on your project(s) is out of the question, because you don’t have a minute for it in the state of things.

However, not all is doomed.

First, double check your data. Did you input everything correctly? Did you properly log your time in a journal for activities you’re not sure of?

Second, it’s time to optimise your time use. Look at each activity one by one. Once in a while, you will run into one that can either:

1- Take less time, or a lot less time

2- Be completely removed from your schedule

Up until now, everything is simple math. You are trying to get as big of a gap as possible between the total amount of time you spend doing things and the number 168. The rest will come later.

Here are common activities that can be optimised to help you spend less time on them, and as a result gain time over your 168-hour week.

  • Groceries: do them online
  • Cooking: meal prep your week
  • Sleeping: sleeping in on weekends is overrated. It’s actually healthier to have a sleep routine that changes as little as possible.
  • Bathroom time: make your routine more efficient by having an organized bathroom and making sure you don’t run out of the basic stuff (razors, shampoo, toothpaste…)
  • Commuting: look into more efficient ways of commuting: electric scooter, biking…
  • Combine activities: If you spend 2 hours per day reading but 1 of them is during your 1-hour daily commute, then these 2 activities “cancel each other”. The “reading” row in your spreadsheet should read 1, not 2 hours. You just saved 60 minutes of your time.
  • Time spent at job: work remotely. We live in an ever-connected world, and more and more people work remotely while still being under contract with a 9–5 type employer. Talk to management at your work, and explain to them why you feel like this is a better option for you. Make sure you prepare your argumentation well, and that you will be able to maintain at least the same productivity level than at the office.

Here are common activities that you can easily spend 90% less time on, or completely remove them from your schedule:

  • Online time wasters: Facebook, Instagram and other Snapchats are highly addictive time-wasting activities. They’re not easy to stop, but they are definitely worth stopping.
  • Socialising: your relationships are the heaviest component of your life, choose them wisely. Afterwork fun and Saturday afternoon beer doesn’t have to happen if you have better things to do.
  • Reading the news: most of the news outlets are never neutral and always biased, purposefully or not. When something big happens, you’ll hear about it if it’s important enough. There are many other options than the news to try to understand the world and what is happening around it (mainly books).
  • TV: the same goes for TV, except it comes with even more unnecessary noise, filters, biases and a ton of useless content.

Optimising time is not an easy process. Bringing about change takes a long time. You won’t be able to incorporate online groceries, meal prep, less socialising and a more efficient bathroom routine all in the span of a week. Not to mention closing your Instagram account or stopping to tweet every 30 minutes.

Give it time, be patient. Slowly but surely, you will be able to bring down your total time spent doing these things.

#4 What to do with all this free time?

You should now have a sizeable gap between the top of your graph and the number 168:

Smiley icon by Face by Alice Design from the Noun Project

The most relevant number to look at here is the time left per week. Don’t despair when you see you only have a mere hour per day left to work on exciting projects, when you would also like to relax once in a while. Look at the weekly time left: 7 hours is plenty to both relax and work! We’ll call this your weekly spare time.

A- The more time you have, the less you do

  • Some people hop from one project to another because they can’t commit to one, and it’s their own way of procrastinating.
  • Some people do it because they honestly want to do everything at the same time. Except that is mathematically not possible.

It is always better to focus on maximum 3 activities to dedicate your weekly spare time to. Here’s why:

  • The human brain is not designed to multitask. Even if you have a true will to try and do everything at the same time, you will most likely fail. Our brains are much better at focusing on one or a few tasks at a time rather than trying to execute 10 at the same time.
  • You will handicap yourself. If you have too many projects to work on, you won’t know where to start and how to organize your time. Both because you will be overwhelmed, and because there will be too many possibilities. Keep it simple, limit yourself.
  • You will make very slow (if any) progress. There is no point in splitting 5 hours of free time per week into more than 3 activities. Beyond that number, you will have just a bit more than 1 hour and a half per week on each activity.

With that in mind, here are recommendations if you have:

  • More than 10 hours left per week: pick 3 activities to focus your weekly spare time on.
  • 5 to 10 hours left: pick 2 activities
  • Less than 5 hours left: pick 1 and only 1

You don’t have to split the time equally between each activity, but you just can’t do everything.

As an example, here is what my list of “things I want to do with all this free time” used to look like:

  • Swim
  • Volunteer
  • Sign up for a social club
  • Get better at chess
  • Draw 
  • Learn Chinese signs
  • Learn a third language
  • Start blogging 
  • Train for marathon
  • Bike at least 25km per weekend
  • Tinker with electronics

Bear in mind I had nearly 20 hours of free time per week. That would be 2 hours per activity. Not bad, but it is also important to be realistic when it comes to being able to keep up. At the time I wanted to run a marathon, train for swimming, and biking on the weekend. I might as well have dedicated my free time to Triathlon training.

On top of virtually training for a triathlon, I wanted to learn to play chess better, tinker with electronics, learn Chinese signs, and blog, to name a few. This was clearly not manageable. I had to prioritise.

B- How to prioritise

You can skip this whole part if you already know what your top 3 activities are going to be. If you’re still unsure how to prioritise and choose your working projects, read on.

Your Ultimate Prioritisation Cornerstones.

Your Ultimate Prioritisation Corner Stones are things that you want and will highly prioritise in your life. They have really high value to yourself, and come before a lot of things on your priority list.

The best way to choose your Ultimate Prioritisation Corner Stones when you have a lot of options (like me) is to think a lot about each one. The best way to do this is to write your thoughts.

Here is what I wrote down about each of my options.

  • Swim: I do want to improve my swimming, but I’m a bit late in the season and most swimming clubs don’t accept newcomers anymore. Besides, I live by the sea and can go swim there. Maybe swimming classes can wait.
  • Volunteer: I really want to try to volunteer. I have been saying it for so long and I’m finally in a situation where I can do it. I have researched the existing organisations, I am ready. This is definitely important for me.
  • Sign up for a social club: I want to meet more people and get out of my comfort zone when it comes to social interactions. This is the activity that is the most likely to go over the scheduled time, because social outings and gatherings always take longer than expected.
  • Play better chess: I want to get better at chess, but I don’t think it’s a priority to the point of dedicating so much time to it. I can play once in a while on the iPad.
  • Draw: I always draw once in a while anyway, I feel like keeping it up, but I don’t feel like prioritising it over other things. 
  • Learn Chinese signs: I just love the visual memory challenges. I have this app on my phone I can use when I have a bit of time, while commuting for instance. It shouldn’t be a top priority.
  • Learn a third language: this requires a big commitment and I’m not sure I’m ready for it yet.
  • Blogging: I have been blogging on and off for a while, I really feel like I finally want to give it a real shot. I want to commit to it, plan my content, research interesting thins to write about, interact with an audience… I have slowly but surely built the base for this, both in terms of technicality and motivation. I feel like I need to start taking it more seriously.
  • Train for a marathon: this is on my life todo. I need to do it, and I’m in a situation where I can afford to spend time on it. I just have to go out the door and run in the park nearby. I can’t see any reason to not prioritise this. It takes a descent amount of time, I’m motivated about it, and if I succeed I will check something off my life todo.
  • Bike at least 25km per weekend: I bike most weekends, and I don’t feel like I should pressure myself in doing it every weekend, especially if I’m going to train for a marathon next to this. I should take it as it comes with the biking.
  • Tinker with Arduino: I love electronics and have always played with them in my spare time when I feel like it. No big project to prioritise here either.

There’s no secret here, some options have to go away and some will stay. You can also rank each one of them with a score out of 10, and only keep the 3 best ranked ones.

After all my writing, I realised the 3 things I was going to prioritise were:

1- Volunteer

2- Train for Marathon

3- Blog

C- Leave a buffer for the unexpected

It’s always better to leave a few hours of buffer every week, for the unexpected. The best way to do that for me was to completely remove online time wasters from my agenda, and replace them with that buffer.

Do 10% of what you wish you could do

Another thing I did is to use 10% of the unexpected buffer for the things I wish I could do more of. Once in a while, I will still play chess, learn Chinese signs, or tinker with electronics. Those things still make me happy, even though they’re not a priority.

#5 Time put in perspective

Throughout my own learning process of tracking my time use and optimising it, I researched and compiled the most revealing facts about time management. I always get back to them when I need to feel the motivation to use my time wisely, and to keep my upward momentum.

Monthly activities amount to little time when looked at on the weekly scale

When I started volunteering, I realised it was taking me from 10am to 4pm on Saturdays. In the beginning, I thought this was a huge amount of time. But I was only doing it once per month, twice tops. Once I put it in my updated 168-hour spreadsheet, I realised this:

  • 6 hours per month only amounts to 1.5 hours each week
  • 12 hours only amounts to 3 hours per week

I could definitely afford that, especially for something I wanted to prioritise and that was helpful to others!

Daily time adds up very quickly on the weekly scale

One hour of wasted time per day shaves 7 hours off your week! That’s huge, and this was a perfect reason for me to stop watching Youtube.

On the other hand, if you manage to save for instance 90 minutes per day, but that’s 10 hours and 30 mins per week!

The most meaningful things are the ones we spend the least time on.

Take a look at the vertical graph. It automatically sorts your activities from most consuming to least consuming. For most people, over 50% of the time is spent sleeping and working at the office.

All the things that bring you joy, the things you wish you could do more of, probably somewhere much further down.

In this article, we looked at ways to try and make more time in your weekly schedule. They can enable you to do more of what you love:

But one the biggest game changers when it comes to time use is still either:

1- Finding a financially viable alternative to the 9–5. If you have another source of income, and if it enables you to live the life you want, you probably should quit. There’s no reason to stack up more money with a fixed salary if it makes you lose valuable time.

2- Having a more meaningful 9–5. When you truly love what you do, you’re a lot less pressured for time, because you’re already spending it in a fulfilling way.

Imagine if this big chunk of time at the top of your graph was used for something meaningful.

#6 Do more of what makes you happy

At the end of the day, it’s about investing as much time as possible in yourself. That is things that fulfil you and the ones you love: creativity, exercise, family, friends, teaching, learning, writing…

Not everybody is able to quit their 9–5 to find something more meaningful. Besides, even if your 9–5 is not a perfect match, it might still bring you a sense of satisfaction.

These days, the 9–5 lifestyle tends to be too easily categorised as negative. Unlike the common advice in the productivity and self-improvement spheres, you don’t have to quit right away and go do something bigger than yourself. You just have to bring more meaning to your life.

No matter what it is, you need to do more of what makes you happy. You only have one life, make sure you enjoy it.


Thanks a lot for reading! To start tracking your time right away, get the official 168h spreadsheet here:

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