The Friendship Doctor

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Not enough hours in the day? No time for friends? Read on...

We have more time than we think

How many times have you felt that there simply aren't enough hours in the day? Or perhaps, thought you really would like to spend more time with girlfriends but don't have the time?

If feelings like these haunt you, you'll want to read Laura Vanderkam's inspiring new book, 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think (Portfolio, 2010). Based on interviews with happy and successful people who have mastered the art, Laura provides practical tips to manage the ample time you have so your life and your relationships are more satisfying and efficient. I was delighted to interview Laura about the book and its relevance to female friendships.

Irene: Why do you think so many people feel time-challenged, never having enough time to do the things they want to do?

Laura: We live in a distracted world. If something is important to you, you simply have to put it in your schedule first. But if you schedule time at work to think about your career, and where you'll be in five years, you'll be far more likely to reach your goals. Your email will still be there in 45 minutes, so go for a run now. Television is fine in small doses, but many people don't take it in small doses. Instead of watching 2 hours after the kids go to bed, trade off with your spouse and spend an evening catching up with a friend you haven't seen in ages. This takes a lot of self-discipline, but has a big payoff in terms of happiness.

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Irene: What are some of the worst time-wasters?

Laura: People always mention things like Facebook and Twitter, but these tend to waste minutes. A meeting you didn't need to attend, or a business trip you didn't need to take can easily waste hours or days. More broadly, if your job isn't getting you toward where you want to be in life, you're wasting even more time. Fix the big things first, and then you can tune up the little things.

Irene: How does the perceived time crunch affect people's friendships?

Laura: It's an almost universal complaint among working parents: there's just no time for maintaining friendships. Not only do you want to make sure you spend plenty of your non-working hours with your kids, there's the hassle of finding babysitters and making get-togethers work with everyone's schedules. Not all friendships may be worth preserving, but some are. You just have to get creative.

Irene: In your book, you talk about making "alignments." Can you give some examples of how you can align your life to have more time for your friends?

Laura: To "align your time" is to build in time for friendships by including friends in your regular activities. I try to meet friends for lunch sometimes - I have to eat anyway, and this is usually a time when I have childcare. Or we have friends who don't have the babysitter problem over for a late dinner. I'd love to find an occasional running partner. I'm a big fan of scheduling playdates with kids whose parents you really like. And over the years, I've actually found it easiest to keep up friendships with people who also sing in my choir, the Young New Yorkers' Chorus. We rehearse every Tuesday night, so it's pretty easy to grab a drink afterwards or socialize during our breaks.

Irene: Why did you write 168 Hours?

Laura: A few years ago, when I was a new mom, I kept hearing how hard it was to build a career and a family at the same time, or if you did manage to keep your job while raising your kids, you'd never sleep. I was quite concerned about this, so I set out to write about this time crunch. But then a few things happened. First, I discovered that many of the most successful people I was interviewing didn't feel particularly starved for time. I also found plenty of studies and data sources suggesting that the widespread perception that Americans are overworked and sleep deprived is inaccurate. And finally, when I was honest with myself, I realized that I usually didn't feel too frazzled either. I wrote this book to share this message, which I hope will be inspiring: we can choose how to spend our time, and we have more time than we think.


BOOK GIVEAWAY

If you would like to revisit your own "168 hours" and have the chance to win one of the first copies of Laura's book:

  • Please post a comment below about how you make time for friends by June 2nd.
  • Put 168 HOURS in the subject line and we'll randomly pick one person to win a copy.

Friendship by the Book is an occasional series of posts on The Friendship Blog about books that offer friendship lessons.

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Irene S. Levine, Ph.D., is a psychologist and professor of psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine. Her latest book is Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup With Your Best Friend.

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