“Time keeps passing whether or not you think about where it's going.” Author and productivity specialist Laura Vanderkam encourages us to be intentional about what we do with our time.
Encouragement to be intentional about how we use time
Laura Vanderkam is an author, a speaker, a blogger, and a podcaster, known for her expertise about productivity. She’s also a wife and a mother of four.
Laura's latest book, Off the Clock, was the TPW Book Club August 2018 selection. Those of us in the TPW community who read it found it helpful and thought-provoking.
A typical day
To describe a work day, Laura gets up some time around 6 am or after depending on what needs to happen that day. Her kids go to school between 7:45 and 9 am. She works from 8:30 am to 4 pm and also squeezes in a run during that time. When she's working, Laura generally is at her desk writing or doing calls, but once every week or two, she travels to give talks.
When she's home, Laura will run her kids around for their respective activities from 4-6 pm on weekdays. In the evenings, she has choir one night a week, and other nights she hangs out with her family or reads. She'll get to bed between 10-11 pm. On weekends, Laura and her family spend time together doing fun things.
With four kids, there are lots of moving parts, so Laura keeps track of everything that needs to be done using her calendar and planner. She usually plans her next week on Fridays. The big items such as travel are usually scheduled beforehand so there are no surprises there. As she reviews the next week, she makes sure that all the logistics are taken care of. She also looks further out into the next few weeks to flag any potential issues. Every few Sunday evenings, she'll also sit down with her husband to see if they have any overlapping travel schedules coming up to make sure they have the appropriate backup support.
She uses an “At-a-Glance” weekly calendar (link is to an example, not the specific one Laura uses) for time-specific activities so she can see 168 hours of the week at once. Her to-do list doesn't go into this calendar, but into a notebook. If it's a busy week with a lot of time-specific activities, she'll go ahead and map out the entire week. If not, she'll map out Monday and Tuesday hour-by-hour, and then she'll make a to-do list for the next day each evening.
Biggest Productivity Challenges
Laura says it's actually her leisure time that is harder to manage. As her kids get older, she finds herself with more time opening up and the question is what she does with it. She's trying to be good about having good books to read so she can work through those while at home with the kids as opposed to wandering around the house doing nothing, or scrolling down her phone reading headlines
Tools Laura recommends
Laura uses a simple spreadsheet to track her time. She's been tracking her time continuously for the past three and a half years. She says tracking your time for just a week is helpful for anyone, and you might consider doing it twice a year for a “tune-up” in how you're spending your time. You can get Laura's spreadsheet and other resources here.
Laura says tracking her time allows her to have good data on which to base making good choices in her life. In other words, the data she collects direct how she can spend her time in a rational fashion based on where her time is truly going as opposed to stories she might tell herself based on cultural narratives or stressful moments.
For example, when she had her fourth child, she assumed she didn't have much time to read, but according to her time-tracking data, she read 326 hours that year. That is enough time to read War and Peace 10 times, and yet she found that she hadn't read anything substantial and realized she needed to be more intentional about her reading material. This knowledge has informed her that she needs to work on having a list of better books to read and making sure she has them on hand to read when she has that time available.
Another thing that came out of her time-tracking data is how many hours of sleep her body aims to get, which is about 7.4 hours per day on average. The upside of having this knowledge is that she has stopped stressing herself out by thinking she needs to get 8 hours of sleep each night.
One concept that I found to be profound and important in Laura's book Off the Clock was the concept of Time Dividends. Laura defines Time Dividends as how you get paid back from investments you have made in the past in terms of time that is now open that wouldn't have been before. For example, as a business owner, you need to spend time to find and convince clients to work with you. But if you've figured out a way to get them to keep coming back to you, you have time dividends. You can spend time building your platform to establish yourself as an expert in a field and you can get time dividends by clients coming to you based on that platform.
At home, you can take the time to train your 12-year-old child to cook dinner, so you have an hour a week open up.
Whenever you do something, ask yourself if you're going to do it again. If you are, what can you do now so it takes less time in the future? It's important that you be careful to notice the time dividends because this will help you feel like you have more time.
What happens on a day when everything gets away from you?
Laura says she generally tries to build in enough slack in her life so she can deal with a lot of the unforeseen events. She says it's important to keep in mind that things will go wrong regardless of your life choices and circumstance. On the morning of our interview, Laura's nanny arrived 45 minutes later than expected, but it didn't throw her schedule into disarray because Laura had a time slot open in the afternoon where she could deal with whatever she had planned for that morning. Also, she had another layer of backup with her husband offering to leave later for work in case whatever Laura had planned could not be rescheduled.
“Nobody is entitled to a life where all goes perfectly”
~ Laura Vanderkam
What’s on the horizon for Laura?
Laura has a new fiction book coming out in March 2019 titled Juliet's School of Possibilities, which is a parable on time management. If you've enjoyed Off the Clock, Laura thinks this new version of her message on time management will be worth a read as well!
Last thoughts on making a life that matters
“Being intentional about time goes so far. Time keeps passing whether you think about where it is going or not, and it's so easy to spend time mindlessly. So just build a little bit of time in your life to think about what you'd like to do with your time. For example, at the end of the workday, think about what you're going to do the next workday, and roughly when those things can happen. Plan the next week on Friday. Think through the seasons. What would you like to do next summer? What trips would you like to take? Take a little bit of time to think about the time you're going to spend before you're in it. It goes a long way in increasing the chances that you'll spend your time the way you'd like.
What do you think?
Connect with Laura
More about Laura
Laura Vanderkam is the author of several time-management and productivity books, including her newest book, Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done. She is also the author of I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of their Time, and an upcoming time management fable called Juliet's School of Possibilities (to be published in March 2019). She is the co-host, with Sarah Hart-Unger, of the podcast Best of Both Worlds. She lives outside Philadelphia with her husband and four children and blogs at LauraVanderkam.com.
Resources and Links
- 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think
- What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast: A Short Guide to Making Over Your Mornings-and Life
- I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of their Time
- Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done
- Juliet's School of Possibilities (To be Released in March 2019)
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