Person looking at their laptop
In order for the 168-hour productivity hack to work, you need to rethink your schedule on a bigger scale, rather than viewing it on a daily basis. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Ever feel like there's just not enough time in the day? To-do lists seem endless, and 24 hours seems to vanish in a blink. However, what if we told you it's not about cramming more into your day, but expanding your perspective?

Don’t think 24 hours; think 168. That’s how many hours are there in a week.

The 168-hour productivity hack, engineered by Laura Vanderkam, the author of 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, unlocks a surprising truth: you might have more time than you think. By shifting your focus from daily limitations to the bigger picture of a week, you can ditch the feeling of overwhelm and discover a surprising sense of possibility. As Vanderkam explains, once you start thinking about your time on a bigger scale, the daily grind stops wearing you out. You can breathe a little easier, armed with the belief that you actually have many hours to work with.

Think bigger

With the help of this hack, you’ll see how much time you spend on scrolling, meetings that can actually be avoided or on your daily commute. Image Credit: Shutterstock

It’s always us versus the clock. However, it doesn’t have to be so.

According to Julie Clyde, a corporate wellness expert and leadership coach, based in Dubai, it’s all about perspective. “We tend to view time in daily increments. That is why 24 hours seems too short, especially because you need to account for your sleep, work and necessities. As deadlines seem nearer and the workload gets more intense, this perspective generates a sense of anxiety and stress. You start panicking: There just aren’t enough hours to do everything,” she explains.

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And so this 168-hour productivity method is essentially just a thought-reframing process, that can afford to be deeply beneficial for those who get easily worked up or stressed about deadlines and tight schedules, she says. “It requires reframing your entire thought process. Twenty four hours aren’t enough? Alright, think 168. That’s a lot, so what can you achieve in those number of hours. You need to take a step back, and observe your time in the whole week. Things might just look a lot more different,” she says.

The 168-hour method encourages people to look at all aspects of their life, and not just their work. By consciously allocating time to different activities, people can increase their productivity, energy levels and make better use of their time

- Rahaf Kobeissi, wellness expert and founder of Rays Your Mental Health

It's a rather holistic approach, according to Rahaf Kobeissi, Dubai-based founder of Rays Your Mental Health. "It does encourage people to look at all aspects of their life and not just their work," she says. And by consciously allocating time to different activities, people can increase their productivity, energy levels and make better use of their time, adds Kobeissi. 

How can you implement it?

It is a rather tedious and exhausting hack: You have to account well for your 168 hours! Image Credit: Shutterstock

So, how does this work? Well, for starters, track your time carefully, says Katherine McNeely, an American business psychologist, based in Abu Dhabi.

“You can use a time-tracking software, calendar, or scheduling software, or a spreadsheet. However, the key here is to be diligent and honest,” she emphasises. For a week, you need to mark everything that you did, and the time it took for you to do it. “Keep track of the full 24 hours of each of the seven days. This kind of rigorous tracking would include your sleeping, time for distractions,” she explains.

The devil is in the details: It goes beyond just acknowledging “logging in from 9-5”. "Break it down – individual tasks, their duration, breaks taken, and extra work done," she suggests. Analyse the data at the end of the week. "For example, how much time did you spend answering emails on Tuesday? Could it have been faster? Did social media scrolling eat into time that could be used for a hobby?

It might sound exhaustive, but there are several upsides to this productivity hack, explains McNeely. You will be able to point out the “time drains”. “You’ll see how much time you spend on scrolling, meetings that can actually be avoided or on your daily commute,” she explains.

As you navigate this entire timetable, you will find little spaces of time tucked away between all these activities. Perhaps in those 30 minutes after your lunch break, you can actually learn a new skill. As you gradually get better at tracking your time, you become far more aware of your time. “You begin to feel more in control,” she says.

Sleep: The key to this productivity hack

Person sleeping
Don't compromise on healthy sleep habits: Make sure you get 7-9 hours of rest. Image Credit:

While the 168-hour productivity hack offers ideas for time management, Julie Mallon, a Dubai-based sleep expert  asserts that without adequate sleep, this hack is ineffective.

"Without factoring in the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep," Mallon says, "…there's a high chance you won't achieve much." She highlights the tendency of many working professionals to undervalue sleep, prioritising work and neglecting rest. "Mindless scrolling before bed eats into your sleep time,” she adds. What should have ideally been a quick wind-down turns into an hour or more lost to social media, significantly reducing REM or Rapid Eye Movement sleep, which is the stage crucial for memory consolidation and learning, she explains

Without the 7-9 hours of sleep, you won't be able to achieve the 168 hour productivity hack. Chronic sleep deprivation leads to impaired cognitive function. You end up relying on quick fixes like caffeine...

- Julie Mallon, sleep specialist

There will be productivity hacks by the dozen, but they all flat, if you’re too exhausted to function. "Chronic sleep deprivation leads to impaired cognitive function," she says. "You end up relying on quick fixes like caffeine, which provide short-term boosts but hinder long-term performance."

Does the 168-hour productivity hack really work?

While the internet offers a variety productivity hacks, individual success depends on personal determination." The effectiveness of this plan depends on how well it is implemented and tailored to individual needs and circumstances," explains Elise Bitar, a Dubai-based psychologist at Medcare Medical Center. "A person should ask themselves  if this kind of technique is convenient for them or not, or at least try it before implementing it. Especially that some people find strict scheduling and tracking to be overwhelming or restrictive," she says. 

You can try a million such ideas, but what’s really important is, do you have the determination to go through it. These ideas are all about entering into a certain mindset, to follow it through. |"Can you really enter that space first,” asks McNeely. “If you’re a person who gets overwhelmed easily, then it would take more than just the 168-hour productivity hack to ease your mind,” she adds. You need to acknowledge your own weaknesses and strengths first, before attempting to look up any such productivity methods.

A person should ask themselves if this kind of technique is convenient for them or not, or at least try it before implementing it. Especially that some people find strict scheduling and tracking to be overwhelming or restrictive...

- Elise Bitar, clinical psychologist, Medcare Medical Center, Jumeirah

Moreover, this method is also particularly tedious, adds Clyde. “Tracking your time for a whole week can feel like a chore. The constant logging and analysis has the potential to disrupt your creative flow and become a time drain itself,” she says. It also takes up a lot of your time, especially if you have a demanding job, and have children to look after. And, trying to fit too many activities into a limited time frame can lead to burnout and exhaustion, says Kobeissi.

In order to alleviate these downsides, McNeely offers some solutions:

Don’t lose track of efficiency: Instead of tracking every minute, focus on identifying major time drains and areas for improvement.

Keep the structure flexible: Treat the method like a framework, not an actual system. Tailor it to your personality and work style. For example, if detailed schedules work for you, incorporate them within the weekly framework.

Stay realistic: Don't cram your week with tasks. Schedule buffer time for unexpected tasks and prioritise your most important goals.

Focus on the big picture: Schedule dedicated time for focused work on your most important tasks. Don't let the ‘complete the list’ mentality compromise the quality of your output.