Summary of “How to Gain Control of Your Free Time” by Laura Vanderkam

This TED talk is one of my favourites and so I summarised it to make a short and manageable read. I thought it would be a good idea to publish it here, in case it can be of any help. The talk itself is just 12 minutes long. You can watch it here directly.


This talk provides practical solutions as to how we can optimise our lives for better time management. The key is to prioritise our tasks and actions properly while finding little pockets of time to utilise better.


The common notion of time management

The common idea of time management is to shave bits of time here and there that would ultimate add up to ample amount of time to do something productive and meaningful.

We don’t build the lives we want by saving time. We build the lives we want, and then time saves itself.

The concept of time

And what this shows us is that time is highly elastic. We cannot make more time, but time will stretch to accommodate what we choose to put into it. So the key to time management is treating our priorities correctly.

Everything I do, every minute I spend, is my choice. And rather than say, “I don’t have time to do x, y or z,” she’d say, “I don’t do x, y or z because it’s not a priority.” “I don’t have time,” often means “It’s not a priority.”

Two strategies to implement that “time is a choice”

  1. Pretend that it is the end of the year and do an annual performance review. Write all the things that you (want to) do in order to make the year better. Now you have a list of things that you can work on between now and the end of the year. Break these into doable steps. Prioritise them by putting them on your schedules.
  2. Now, divide them into three categories – career, relationships and self. Put at least a couple of points in each. Most of the time we focus on the career part and forget the rest. Make sure that is not the case and you focus on each of them equally. Then, look over the whole of next week and set plans to act on them.

Breaking it down

There are 24 hours in a day.

And 7 days a week.

Therefore, 24*7 = 168 hours a week.

The average full time job takes 40 hours a week.

Good sleep takes 8 hours a night, so that’s 56 hours a week.

That leaves us with, 168-(40+56) = 72 hours for other things.

You can change it according to your preference.

For instance, for me, its 61 hours of work per week. If I sleep 8 hours a night, then it remains 56 hours of sleep per week.

Thus, 168-(61+56) = 51 hours for other things.

If I divide 51 hours across the entirety of 7 days, it is 7 hours and 17 minutes of left-over time each day (on average).

Sorting out your priorities

Lastly, this is the most important part. In order to find time, we need to make time. Therefore, we have to prioritise our actions and commitment accordingly. Nothing is going to happen if you have pockets of 5 minutes in-between tasks and we pull out your phone to check our emails or refresh our Instagram feed. Instead, if one of our goals is to read more books, we can utilise that 5 minutes for an audiobook session.

Small moments can have great power. You can use your bits of time for bits of joy.

There are many “small moments” like that. For instance, we can make our work commute enjoyable by choosing to read a bit. If we cannot have family dinners for conflicting work timings, perhaps a family breakfast is up the alley.

There is time. Even if we are busy, we have time for what matters. And when we focus on what matters, we can build the lives we want in the time we’ve got.

2 thoughts on “Summary of “How to Gain Control of Your Free Time” by Laura Vanderkam”

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