Yes, yes – I know the easy riposte is to say ‘stop reading self help books and get on with it’, but as a working mother I don’t often have the time to stop and think of the clever response. If I stopped juggling that long, I’d be too scared that at least one of the plates would stop spinning and just drop. Saving an Hour Every Day would feel life-saving on the majority of my days: the challenge is finding the time to figure out how.
To Michael Heppell’s credit, he does recognise this (along with helpfully reminding me that the getting on with it matters far more than the reading about how). The book contains over 200 ideas on how to save time – some will work for some readers, some for others, but Heppell acknowledges this right at the start. As the Introduction stresses, the ideas that grab your attention most will be the ones that work for you. Some will be in the ‘yes, but not now’ category, and others may leave you cold. An idea that leaves you thinking ‘Bovvered?’ isn’t going to have a great deal of impact. (A lesson I can’t help but think more managers could benefit from recognising: it would save hours of many employees’ – and managers’ – time every week.)
The Introduction also introduces the idea of ‘Skim, Sift, Start’: ie go with what works for you, and what you are ready to try. The author also refreshingly admits to be flattered that he writes ‘good loo books’ – books that the reader can dip in and out of in a few minutes where even a frequently harassed-feeling mum is unlikely to be interrupted. As it thoughtfully also encourages me not to be afraid to delegate, and shows me how to ask for help in ways that are most likely to see me receiving it, I hope to soon feel empowered to ask for my partner’s assistance in installing a handy shelf.
To the book’s credit, skimming and sifting allows me to focus on elements that motivate me to find more time for my life (italics deliberate) – as that’s what I feel most consciously short of. The book certainly covers more than just working life – a plus mark for this reviewer, as I face a life where I frequently feel like I am hurrying from a scenario where I feel like I’m failing as a mother to one where I feel like I’m narrowly avoiding failure as a partner, an employee, a manager. (I sometimes get the feeling my life is turning into a Victoria Wood sketch. Not least in that I’m worried that the audience might be getting more laughs out of it than I am.)
Some of the book will undoubtedly motivate me more effectively than other parts: as a ‘creative’, I can see the point of timesheets, but it will take a lot of motivation to get me to see the joyous side of completing one, no matter what it’s rechristened. But, although the tone is upbeat and light, there is an underlying intelligence that understands that ‘why’ has to become meaningful before we get too interested in ‘how’ or ‘when’.
While there’s a lot here that’s familiar to me (the Urgent/Important quadrant, keeping prioritised ‘To Do’ Lists, planning meals that are easy to cook from scratch, writing shopping lists), at least some of this is ‘stuff I’ve learned to do the hard way’. It would have been preferable to have had the option of learning it more quickly from a readable book a few years ago.
I haven’t reached even my tender years without achieving a certain level of cynicism, and there are some elements that jar a little: too many exclamation marks can leave me thinking of Marie Claire magazine or Martha Stewart (to quote just two examples of the kind of material often seemingly aimed at the ever-rushing working woman that often feels like it’s trying to reinforce a sense of being doomed to failure rather than the opposite), and hints on de-cluttering a handbag don’t play well coming from a man (who confesses to having a female PA). But there are enough tips, techniques and tricks here for me to try to feel that – although it may be an incremental war rather than a short, intense battle – applying the first few could find me the additional time to regroup and see which ideas I could try next.
My life isn’t always too short to stuff a mushroom (as Shirley Conran once said): my problem is fitting in the mushroom-stuffing on the days when that’s what would make me feel like I’d achieved something. Stuffing the mushrooms will take 10 minutes: the challenge is accepting that the biggest obstacle between me and the baking dish is me, and that I can find the 10 minutes if I look at what I’m doing with the other 23 hours 50 minutes. There’s an old joke that ‘life is what happens to you while you’re making other plans’, but it happens to you all the more if you don’t have a plan at all. That’s not to say life shouldn’t have room for spontaneity and serendipity – just that mine tends not to!
If you’re the type of person the book is written for – in Heppell’s words, “people who are ‘maxed’ and need to find time” – there’s plenty here that will help.