What is 168 Hours?

Each week you have 168 hours to use. This blog covers my ramblings on how to use them as effectively as possible.

It's not about stuffing as much as you can into the 168 hours. It's about ensuring that you use the 168 hours as best you can to ensure you get to where you want to go in as relaxed a state as possible.

The Compass

My boss (back in the days when I had a boss) used to say to me “A person going nowhere, usually gets there”. And now he’s been proved right – scientifically. My boss’ mantra was to encourage me to develop and work a plan. To have some kind of map of the territory. To use the compass, as it were…

In 2009 Jan Souman et al from the Max Planck Institute did some research to see what would happen if they left folks in the middle of an unknown area – with no landmarks and / or couldn’t see the sun – and asked them to walk in a straight line. Guess what happened? They walked around in circles! Or at the very best some wide arcs. Try as they might to walk in a straight line, to get out of either a forest or desert, the volunteers ended up where they started.

This is how important having a compass is to us. We do need to have an idea of where we are going, ideally with a map (plan) of the terrain and a compass. Without we literally do go “nowhere” and end up back at the beginning again and again.

How’s your plan coming along?

How do you work out what is important to you? How do you define your values, beliefs and possible goals?

As you can see this time around I want to focus on The Compass part of the 168 hours. Now, I am not a philosopher and most of what I am about to say I have “borrowed” from others. As I read a fair bit there are times when a particular approach or line of thinking resonates with me. At that point I cut-n-paste the idea into my personal tool-kit.

One of these is The Wheel of Life which I first came across when reading some texts on life-coaching. I actually attended a couple of courses on the topic as well and, aside from learning that I don’t want to be a life coach, I did get to appreciate The Wheel of Life…

The idea is a bit cheesy but when you are sometimes thinking “what’s the point of it all?” it can help to focus you and put some short term structure into place.

A circle is divided into 8 quadrants and from the centre to the outside a scale of zero to 10 is placed in each quadrant. The quadrants can characterised as follows:

  • Personal Growth & Development
  • Romance / Partner
  • Family & Friends
  • Health / Fitness
  • Finances
  • Career
  • Physical Environment / Home
  • Fun & Recreation

Now this is not the only way you can carve up your circle. You may think that Career is not as important to you as, say Community. Or you may think the Spirituality is more important than, say Money. If this is the case define the sections in the way you see fit – even add more sections if you need to.  The only rule is that they must reflect the totality of your life. (Mindtools has an on-line Wheel of Life if you don’t have the artistic skills to draw and segment the circle. Also, the image used at the start of this blog comes from Startup Princess which has some additional information too. Oh, and click on the image above to get a larger version of it to print out. )

Now have a serious think about each section in turn and score yourself – honestly – between zero (it can’t get any worse) to 10 (it can’t get any better). Don’t do this quickly and really give some serious thought to how you feel about each aspect of your life. Then mark the numbers along the “spokes” and join up the dots. If you have a balanced life your wheel will have numbers that are similar – and joining the dots gives a reasonable resemblance to a wheel. Now, there may be one (or more) area(s) where you give yourself a low score. These are the areas you need to focus on in order to bring your life back into balance. It’s only when your Wheel of Life is reasonably round that you can get a smooth ride.

For those areas where the numbers are lower than you would like give some thought as to what you can do in order to improve things. It may not be possible to do too much – but the important thing is to focus on what you can do and be as creative as possible in how you think about this. The next step then is to look at your 168 hours chart and see how much time is available each week that you can allocate to each of the segments in your wheel. Clearly the segments with the lower numbers are likely to get more time given to them. Be careful not to take too much time away from areas that are doing well otherwise you will be “robbing Peter to pay Paul”. Go through each segment and allocate a number of hours to each of the headings and to the activities that you can do to improve them. Repeat this exercise at regular intervals, say every month or quarter, to check your progress.

This approach gives not only some focus to the areas of your life that need your attention (The Compass) but also ensures you put in time to improve those areas in your life (The Clock).

Overall, for me it’s less about finding “The Meaning of Life” but more about finding the “Meaning In Your Life”.

A book that has had a large impact on my life is Steven Covey’s “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”. It came out around the time I was setting up my first company (1990) and my mind was open to change and development. The text resonated with me and I emerged myself into the habits and philosophy. I am convinced that putting the principles of the book into building that company was a key factor in its success – in our first year of trading the turnover was close to a million pounds. Not bad for a start-up during a recession. Over the years, I have given copies of the book away to friends hoping that they would get as much out of the book as I did.

One of the seven habits is “Put First Things First” and it focuses on personal effectiveness. A key concept in the book is that being effective is not about cramming as much as you can into the 168 hours you have each week. Doing lots of “stuff” has no meaning – unless you know why you are doing “stuff ” and where you are going.

The compass is used as a symbol of “where are we going”. It covers the outcome of understanding our beliefs and values. Of knowing whats important and – as important – why things are important. The compass is our direction in life and points the way.

The clock is of course the symbol for time, the 168 hours in a week that we have to get where we are going. It reminds us that the clock is continually ticking and against our objectives, vision and destination.

Managing the balance between the compass and the clock is the key to personal effectiveness.

Time Management (how I hate that term) is meaningless without the compass. Without the compass there is no understanding of priorities. Of breaking down the urgent from the important. People who tend to think they are poor at Time Management tend not to have their own compass working very well. Or their compass (priorites) have been imposed or given to them by someone else.

Likewise the compass is meaningless without the clock. We may amble towards our vision. We may take a few detours. We may even get distracted along the way – unless we know how much time is needed to be allocated to the journey. People without a compass can be very good at getting stuff done. They can be very efficient. But without a compass you can never be effective.

So, there it is. A key part to personal effectivenss is understanding the balance between the compass and the clock. In future blogs I will go into this in more detail but thought a simple overview might be a good place to start.