How are you going to spend your 168 hours this week? A quick priority check

We each get only 168 hours each week to spend, 24 per day times 7 days. How we choose to spend them has everything to do with how satisfied we are. There is lots of advice out there about how to divide those hours up: brain exercises and socializing to prevent Alzheimer’s; balancing between learning, contributing to others’ welfare, and having fun to avoid boredom and despair; exercise and skin care to stay always young. I prefer a priority check to see if you are spending those hours on something you actually want. I’ve seen it work.

On Saturday mornings, I would go to my counseling office, put on a pot of coffee, arrange the chairs, and wait for my class to show up. All were the recipients of one or two DUIs, and most had accompanying family troubles. They would trudge in, not expecting much except a scolding. Although they should have known better, since all of them had already met with me once or twice to assess their needs. And all had brought in a significant other to those meetings to flesh out the picture. Some brought a worried spouse. Others brought a drinking buddy to vouch for them, which pretty much told me what I needed to know.

This 12-hour class was given its name by the State of Illinois: Remedial Education, which made it sound like detention study hall where you could expect a scolding. It would be only part of a larger counseling program for many clients, and the only thing they got for others. I had high hopes for the impact it could make.

I was the kind of mental health professional who did not scold, just educated, nudged, empathized, and expected changes from people who had just stepped onto a hazardous road.  I didn’t want to be the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, but the warning sign at the top. My mission was to help figure out where this DUI came from, and how to prevent another one. Early intervention, it’s called. Here’s how it went:

  1. List your 3 most important priorities.
  2. Make a pie chart of your 168 hours and how you spend them: how much for sleep, work, household duties, child rearing, spouse time, volunteering, recreation, creative pursuits, and things like drinking, hanging out, gaming, Internet surfing and other such.
  3. Compare.
  4. Share with the group one thing you noticed.

Which sounded like: “Geez – I spend twice as much time at the bar as doing stuff with my son.” “No wonder my boss thinks I’m great – all I do is work.” “I might have to let the computer go dark at night – I’m missing out.” “No wonder I’m always down – I’m not doing anything that matters.”

At the exit interview, I asked each one what part of the class had been the most helpful, and the answer often was “the 168 hour thing.”

I agree. I do it myself occasionally, which leads to a sharp reduction in Law & Order and Castle reruns, and an admirable increase in writing time.


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