Miracle Morning and 168 Hours

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Book some time to get organized

By Hammad Ali, Contributor

For many of us, life is pretty chaotic these days. We are pulled at from many different directions, and are living a fragmented existence.

My personal antidote to chaos has always been to read. I read pretty much everything, at least a little every day. In fact, one genre of books I have been reading a lot recently has to do with productivity, doing meaningful work, and achieving a work life balance. Two books I’ve recently read on the topic of optimizing your time are The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod, and 168 Hours by Laura Vanderkam. One tackles this theme by taking a step back and looking at the number of hours in a week, and the other focuses on having the best mornings possible, which then cascade into a productive day.

Laura Vanderkam starts by talking about a typical week in her life, filled with writing and meetings but also time spent with family, whether on a walk with her husband or reading a book to her children. For me, this was a hook. I have few commitments on my day, and yet end most days and weeks feeling like I could have done more. So what is her strategy?

Laura talks in concrete numbers. There are 168 hours in a week. If you work 40 hours, and sleep 8 hours a day, that still leaves us with another 72 hours. No one is claiming we are wasting all of it, yet it is going somewhere. According to Laura, the first trick is to figure out where. On the companion website for her book, she provides a weekly time sheet to meticulously log every activity we do over a week, and tally what things we do and for how long. She does warn that most of us will not like the results, and argue that what we logged was not a typical week. As Laura points out, there is no typical week. 

From her own early time sheets, Laura points out several observations. Most of us do not work as long as we think we do. It just feels longer because we do not give ourselves a cutoff time. We spend fragmented evenings checking email every hour, neither focusing on work nor taking a break. We spend time with loved ones, but we are also checking our phones for news, mail, and other things. At the end of the evening, we feel we did not spend enough time. Yet the hours are there. What is missing is the quality of those hours.

Her recommendation? Make and respect boundaries for yourself. When working, focus on work for the hours you committed to. Do not casually websurf, or watch the news, or catch up on phone calls. If you are supposed to create something at work and the ideas are not coming, clock out mentally and do something else, again with 100 per cent involvement. Go for a walk, pursue one of your hobbies, or run some errands. But make sure you really clock out. You can always make up these hours later, in time you cleared up by getting chores done now. Likewise, when relaxing, relax completely. Put your phone and laptop away. Do not feel obligated to check up on work. Do this for one evening, and you may realize that work can actually wait.

One part of the book where she loses me is towards the final chapters, where Laura talks about how large chunks of our time is spent on household chores, cooking, grocery runs etc. Her solution is surprisingly unhelpful – hire someone to do these things for you. While she mentions specific businesses in her city that will get your groceries, do your laundry, or clean the house, I wonder what percentage of the population can afford this. I personally feel that the time spent on chores and errands can be planned ahead for. I keep a running grocery list all week, and have set days and times for getting them, all free of charge. Same with meal prep and other chores. I personally was disappointed that an otherwise solid book culminated in some unhelpful advice along the lines of “throw money at your problems”.

Hal Elrod, on the other hand, has relatively simple advice. To use a cliché, instead of counting hours, he focuses on making each hour count. In fact, he focuses on the first hour of each morning. Hal, a life coach who formerly worked in sales, has recovered from a bankruptcy, and before that, a car accident that left his skull fractured. Maybe that is why he knows every hour counts? He recommends getting up an hour earlier each day, and spending that hour on six things. He even suggests an acronym, playing a little trick to make that work.

Hal recommends starting the day with SAVERS. He begins with Silence, just sitting there, mindful of everything, noticing the little things around. The day, with all its demands, will come soon enough. So he starts by taking ten minutes to unplug. Then, he goes through Affirmations on things he wants to get done, results he wants. Then, in what many might dismiss as a New Age trope, he Visualizes the day ahead, focusing on how he wants to meet the challenges of the day while staying in control of his emotions and attention. Then, he spends another ten minutes Exercising. Nothing too fancy, just being active and warming up. Then he sits down to Read. While he chooses to read on ideas for self-growth, he mentions that anything that helps one find focus, meaning, and life lessons is an option. Finally, the trick. The last thing he does is write in his journal. However, I completely agree with Hal that SAVERW sounds odd. So, he refers to this last item on his “miracle hour” as Scribing, where he writes in his journal as a way to organize his thoughts.

Everything on that list is something we know will help if we do it regularly. The challenge is to do them. Laura’s advice would be to find 7 hours out of 168 in which those things go, and then plan around those hours. Hal of course says the same thing, except he strongly recommends that it be the first hour of the day, cutting back on sleep if necessary. The key difference may be that Laura has advice for the rest of the day as well, while Hal contends that the miracle hour itself will create momentum for the rest of the day. Personally, I feel it best to combine these approaches, with a little more bias towards Hal’s strategy simply because I like my days to be flexible. However, there is no argument that both have their points, and I highly recommend both books to anyone trying to get more control over their schedules!

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