The Importance of Spending Time With Your Loved Ones

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "168 Hours" by Laura Vanderkam. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you struggle to find the time for your family? Why is it important to spend quality time with your loved ones?

According to time management expert Laura Vanderkam, you should prioritize spending time with your loved ones by intentionally scheduling it in advance. Unless you schedule dedicated time to your relationships, you’ll likely prioritize more urgent activities and thus only spend your leftover time with your loved ones. 

Here are some tips on how you can spend more time with your loved ones.

Be More Intentional With Your Loved Ones

Spending time with your loved ones is important not only because it will benefit your relationships with them, but also because your relationships with your children and partner are unique strengths. Only you can parent (not babysit) your own children in your unique way; for example, you might be able to foster your kids’ love of the outdoors because you also love the outdoors, whereas your partner can’t foster that passion in the same way because they prefer being inside. And only you can invest time in your partnership. 

Maximize Time With Your Children

By being intentional with your kids, you’ll spend meaningful time with them instead of watching too much TV or getting bored with the routine. To be more intentional with your children, Vanderkam recommends that you maximize both the quantity and the quality of the time you spend with them. To maximize the quantity, adjust your work schedule so that you work in chunks (like from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 6 to 9 p.m.)  instead of throughout the entire workday (from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.). By chunking your workday, you’ll work the same number of hours but gain free time to spend with your kids while they’re still awake. 

To maximize the quality, Vanderkam suggests that you first ask your kids to create their own bucket lists. Select activities that you’ll also enjoy, and schedule time to do those activities together. For example, if you both enjoy basketball, go to a game together. 

Improve the Time You Spend With Your Kids

When deciding what times to spend with your kids versus what times you work, consider not just when you’re available but your and your kids’ energy levels. The Power of When author Michael Breus explains that we all have different biological clocks, or chronotypes, so we’re biologically programmed to be productive at certain times. So even if you’re able to work from 6 to 9 p.m., you might have low energy and not get anything done. Moreover, your kids also have biological clocks that may not match yours—so they might be tired at 2 p.m. even though you’re ready to play. To find a time that matches both of your energy levels, discover your chronotype with this quiz.

Once you decide when to spend time with your kids, how should you spend time with them? Consider broadening your horizons and trying activities from your kids’ bucket list even if you’re uncertain whether you’ll enjoy them. You can also try doing projects with them and fully engaging with them instead of trying to rush through the activities. In The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin explains that doing projects with your kids has high potential for happiness because you go through all four stages of happiness: You happily anticipate the project, savor the joy of doing the project, express your happiness when you complete it, and recall the joy of doing it.

For example, if you build dollhouse furniture with your child instead of buying it, your child anticipates the excitement of building it, you both savor the joy of building it, your child expresses her happiness each time she plays with the completed furniture, and you both can recall the happy memories of working on the project together and playing with the dollhouse. 

Spend Time With Your Partner

By being intentional with your partner, you’ll nurture your relationships and develop a happy partnership that can withstand life’s inevitable challenges. To do this, Vanderkam recommends three strategies. First, schedule regular dates; if you can’t afford childcare, plan a romantic evening at home. Second, each night before bed, spend 30 minutes talking. Third, connect with your partner briefly throughout the day by calling or texting. 

(Shortform note: In How to Not Die Alone, Logan Ury also recommends that you intentionally schedule time with your partner to nurture your relationship and withstand challenges. But rather than regular romantic dates, Ury recommends scheduling a weekly meeting to communicate things that might otherwise have been brushed aside. Also, Ury suggests you write and regularly revise a relationship agreement that articulates your relationship values and how you’ll express them.)

The Importance of Spending Time With Your Loved Ones

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  • How to fit a career, time with your loved ones, and leisure time into your schedule
  • How to be intentional with how you spend your time
  • Why you're spending too much time watching TV

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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