This week features the next installment in our recurring “Productive Reading” series, this time talking about key takeaways from Tranquility by Tuesday, written by Laura Vanderkam.
Laura Vanderkam’s latest book, Tranquility by Tuesday, offers inspiring and actionable ideas about how to enjoy your life!
This week we’re continuing our Productive Reading recurring series. In the past, we’ve talked about the lessons and key takeaways I found in books such as Gary Keller’s The ONE Thing (episode 133), The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg (episode 147), 3 books written by Brené Brown (episode 166), Soulful Simplicity, by Courtney Carver (episode 182), The Free-Time Formula by Jeff Sanders (episode 211), James Clear’s wonderful Atomic Habits (episode 230), Free to Focus, by Michael Hyatt (episode 250), Attention Management, by Maura Nevel Thomas (episode 271), The Minimalist Home, by Joshua Becker (episode 324), Effortless, by Greg McKeown (episode 349), Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism (episode 366), and Life Makeover, by Dominique Sachse (episode 403).
This time I’m sharing some of my most important takeaways from Laura Vanderkam’s newest book, Tranquility by Tuesday. (Spoiler alert: I really loved this book!)
Who is Laura Vanderkam?
The book cover’s back flap copy describes her this way:
“Laura Vanderkam is the author of several bestselling time management and productivity books, including The New Corner Office, Juliet’s School of Possibilities, Off the Clock, I Know How She Does It, What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast, and 168 Hours. Her work has appeared in publications including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Fortune. She is the host of the Before Breakfast podcast and the cohost, with Sarah Hart-Unger, of the Best of Both Worlds podcast.”
Why did I read this book?
I’ve read several of Laura’s previous books and enjoyed them immensely. I follow her on Instagram and she posted about the book’s upcoming release. It sounded so relevant to what has been on my mind about peaceful productivity, so I pre-ordered it and received it a couple of weeks ago when it was released.
The cover’s front flap describes what the book is about:
“When time management expert Laura Vanderkam hears “How do I get more done?” she knows that what we’re really asking is “How do I accomplish the tasks I need to get done, while also finding time for the things that I love?” Over the course of her career, Vanderkam has learned that, fundamentally, we want to enjoy our time. Hacks for getting more tasks done, faster, won’t help us get there. To find happiness in each day’s hours, we need sustainable, resilient strategies for building joy and possibility into our daily routines.”
The book is subtitled: 9 Ways to Calm the Chaos and Make Time for What Matters, which the book describes as “a step-by-step guide to making time for what matters most” and “shares nine rules for calming the chaos so you can live a happier, richer life.” And who among us doesn’t want that?
Laura begins the book by talking about the hectic pace so many of us live at in this 21st-century world, and how simply managing it all–keeping the circus plates spinning–isn’t enough. She describes a feeling many of us can relate to:
“You can keep the plates spinning. With your calendars and your planners you are very good at that, but the performance can consume so much effort that it is easy to become aggravated about little things. Life can feel like a slog. Years can slip through your fingers, disappearing into a general sense of distress or fatigue over spending too much brainpower worrying about each day’s logistics.
Based on her years of researching time management and talking with people about their schedules and struggles, she says, “Fundamentally, people what to know how to enjoy whatever time they have on this planet. They want to stop feeling like they’re either racing against the clock or wishing time away.”
She notes how often we wish for a vacation or a break or some future stage of life, thinking things will be better then. But she says, “Life is not going to be less hectic next week. Life probably won’t be less hectic next year. We have to make time for what matters now. We need practical, straightforward strategies to make that happen.” And really, that’s what this book is about: providing those practical, straightforward strategies.
The book’s title hints at its objective: to help us achieve tranquility even in the midst of a full and even busy life. As she defines it, “Tranquility is the state of being serene and peaceful, of being free from agitation.” She goes on to say that tranquility doesn’t have to wait until we can get away to some mountain retreat away from everyday life. Instead, she says, “The goal is tranquility even when life is complicated, challenging, and occasionally chaotic.” A lofty goal, and one that speaks to my heart.
She identifies the 9 key strategies she’s found in studying the schedules of people who are achieving that sort of goal, that she’s applied in her own life, and that the book will elaborate on:
- Give yourself a bedtime.
- Plan on Fridays.
- Move by 3 p.m.
- Three times a week is a habit.
- Create a backup slot.
- One big adventure, one little adventure.
- Take one night for you.
- Batch the little things.
- Effortful before effortless.
In the introduction, she describes the Tranquility by Tuesday project, in which she enlisted volunteers to commit to applying these rules, 1 rule for 1 week, and to give her feedback. She recommends reading the book through once to familiarize yourself with the rules and then going back through the book to apply the rules in order. She says you can either “layer them on week by week,” as the people in her project did, or make a longer project by going month by month instead. Either way, you start with the first rule and then add a new one each week or month until you’re applying them all. Applying them in order is important because they build on one another.
9 Rules to achieve tranquility
After the introduction, she devotes a chapter to each of the 9 rules or strategies, broken into 3 sections. Part 1 is titled Calm the Chaos, and features the first 3 rules. Part 2 is titled Make Good Things Happen (also described as “Habits for doing more of what matters), and discusses rules 4 through 7. Then Part 3, titled Waste Less Time, focuses on the last 2 rules. Each chapter is structured similarly:
- Explains the rule, why it matters, and a step-by-step guide for how to apply it
- Briefly discusses the experiences of the participants in the Tranquility by Tuesday project: any concerns about the rule, how they applied it, any obstacles they faced and their strategies for overcoming them, and their results (and how they felt about the rule at the end of the week).
- Offers a “next step” — a further tweak or strategy for after you’ve implemented the rule or for those who perhaps already apply that rule in their life.
- Finishes with a “Your Turn” section, with really helpful planning questions to help you implement the rule followed by a few implementation questions to ask yourself after you’ve tried that rule for a week.
Having now read the whole book, I’m looking forward to going back and applying the rules using her planning questions.
Key takeaways and quotes
1. The simplicity of the approach, and the importance of one rule or strategy building on another.
There are only 9 strategies/rules, and each of them is simple to implement, although not necessarily easy, because we have obstacles to overcome, including our own mindset and resistance. The order of them is important, and taken together, they help us create lives that matter as we each define it. She describes it this way (with my thoughts in italics):
“The first section . . . [focuses] on how to calm the chaos by building habits that support well-being. [These are the habits/rules of give yourself a bedtime, plan on Fridays, and move by 3 p.m.] In time, these habits also help us become strategic about our days, our weeks, and our hours. With these rules in place, life feels a lot more doable. The second section builds on that foundation by showing how to make good things happen. [These are the rules of 3 times a week is a habit; create a back-up slot; one big adventure, one little adventure; and take one night for you.] After thinking about what we’d like to expand in our lives, we create a workable plan for when we can do these things. We build resilient schedules that allow for life’s complexities. We find ways to make each week more memorable, and we find space for a joyful commitment apart from work and family obligations. Taken together, these rules will make life feel less like a slog. Each week becomes something to look forward to. We also develop the serenity that comes from knowing we will make progress on our goals even when life doesn’t go as planned. We have the power to build the lives we want.”
2. A reminder of the importance of sleep to a peacefully productive life.
“Sleep is foundational for all other good habits. Fatigue makes it harder to think strategically about the future, or to make good choices with time. Being adequately rested boosts performance on cognitively difficult tasks. We are less distracted. It is simply easier to be productive when you’ve gotten enough sleep.”
She talks about her analysis of thousands of time logs over the years and what they show about the amount of sleep most people get (objectively enough) versus their perception of how much sleep they get, and offers some explanations for the disconnect.
She describes a simple 4-step process for setting and implementing a bedtime, and reminds us “The important thing is to be consistent.” Go to bed at approximately the same time every night, even on the weekends.”
“Going to bed on time is simple. But it is life-changing–both for the mindset shift it represents about the shape of a day, and for the more obvious reason that being well rested makes even tough days feel doable.”
3. A renewed commitment to making time on Fridays to plan the coming week.
She offers a really good reason why Fridays are the time to do this, advising us to plan the coming Monday through Sunday period. In other words, you’re not planning this weekend, but making plans for next weekend, as well as the workweek, of course.
She suggests “creating a three-category priority list for the coming week,” the categories being Career, Relationships, and Self, and making a short list of things you’d like to accomplish next week in each of those areas: “What would you most like to do, professionally? What would you like to do to nurture your relationships with friends, family, or community members? What would you like to do to advance your own health, spiritual development, or happiness?”
- She encourages us to keep this list short, to “focus on those aspirations that would most make you feel like you’d had a wonderful week.”
- She urges the importance of doing this step first: identifying those key aspirations for next week that would make the week excellent.
- Then look at what’s already on your calendar or to-do list for the week, those things that need to get done, even if they’re not a top priority or are less fun. Make sure you know what your commitments are, what logistics need to be worked out, etc. And, she says, “strategize ways to ignore, minimize, or outsource anything that you’d like to spend less time on.” Especially to make room for the aspirations you identified in the first step.
I really love this approach, and this is one of the rules I’m most looking forward to implementing. I especially like the “next step” for this rule, which is to make a list of 100 dreams: “a hundred things you’d like to experience or have in your life.” As she says, this isn’t a to-do list.
4. Letting go of the “all or nothing” mindset I’ve always had.
“Something is always better than nothing”
She talks about this in the discussion of Rule 3 (Move by 3 p.m.) – “The ‘move’ part of this rule can be any sort of movement. Most people walk, but push-ups, sit-ups, jumping jacks, kettlebell swings, and so forth, are options. Chasing kids around the yard or pushing a stroller counts. Traditional exercise such as running or a fitness class is wonderful if it works, but if it doesn’t, there’s no need to get sweaty enough to require a shower afterward.”
She points out: “People spend a lot of time and money trying to make themselves feel more happy and alert. Ten minutes of physical activity will achieve that goal almost every time, and will do so for free.”
Also in a way this is the basis of Rule 4 (3 Times a Week is a Habit). My inclination has always been to think that any good thing should be done every day, or nearly every day, or there’s no point. That’s been my mindset about exercise, writing, and other things. She says, though, “Things don’t have to happen daily–nor do they have to happen at the same time every day–in order to count in our lives.”
- “Thinking ‘three times a week is a habit,’ and remembering that a week has 168 hours to play with, is a simple shift that changes our mindset from scarcity to abundance.”
- “When we remember that three times a week is a habit, we approach our 168 hours with a sense of possibility. If we wish to add something meaningful to our lives, the time is probably there.”
5. Inspiration to build into my mundane life things to look forward to.
Rule 6 is “One Big Adventure, One Little Adventure.”
“A big adventure means something that requires a few hours–think half a weekend day. A little adventure could take just an hour or so, and fit on a lunch break or a weekday evening, as long as it is something out of the ordinary.”
“To qualify as an adventure, something needs to be enjoyable, awe-inspiring, meaningful, or at least generate a really good story for parties.”
The point of this rule is to plan things that will make each week memorable. As she says, “We don’t ask ‘where did the time go?’ when we remember where the time went.”
“These adventures should be things you genuinely want to do, or at least want to have done. . . .”
“Seconds tick forward with the steady beat of a metronome, and yet we experience time in vastly changing ways depending on what we’ve done with it.”
Benefits of this rule:
- “To plan two adventures each week, we have to plan our weeks.” This reinforces Rule 2 (the planning habit).
- “This habit builds regular doses of anticipation into our mental landscapes.”
- “We start to see that even small bits of time can make memories.”
“Focus on adventures that are possible, rather than those that aren’t.”
This is one I definitely want to implement, and I’ve even talked about it with Mike. We have lamented how we don’t really ever do anything or go anywhere. This is partly because we like our home and like hanging out here, but partly just inertia. I love the way she offers inspiration and suggestions for getting past that obstacle to plan and actually follow up on adventures, using her very broad definition of an adventure as something just out of the ordinary routine.
6. The crucial importance of being intentional about how we use–and waste–our time so we can consciously and purposefully make time for what matters to us.
Her definition of wasted time: “when we spend minutes, hours, even days mindlessly on things we don’t care about.” Examples: “We chop up what could be an hour of focused creative time by answering an email that could have waited. Or we fritter away what could have been twenty minutes lying in a hammock reading the responses to the comment a middle-school acquaintance posted on someone else’s breakfast photo. Our lives will end someday and here we are, letting time circle down the drain, doing things that don’t matter at all.”
The last two rules in her list of 9 are about “how to waste less time on things that do not deserve nearly as much time as we give them.” These two rules intentionally come after the rules about making time for what does matter. As she puts it, “While it is far more important to fill life with the good stuff first, by compressing the space available for the small tasks of life, we can create more of a sense of time abundance. By changing the mindless habits of leisure time, we can spend this time in more enjoyable ways. We might even start to feel like we have more free time than we thought we did. Feeling like we have more free time can completely change the stories we tell ourselves about our lives.”
She notes, however, that “Even with these shifts, it is impossible to spend time perfectly. Everybody wastes time. . . . It is the human condition. Perfection is not the goal. Progress is, and every minute spent more enjoyably, or more meaningfully, is a little victory.”
For me, this resonates with the earlier concepts about letting go of that all-or-nothing mindset and recognizing that “something is always better than nothing.”
Rule 8–Batch the Little Things–is about that “compressing the time” available for little stuff–the mundane administrative tasks that can eat up our days if we let them. She notes, though, that most of those things don’t actually take much time to do, and “we often spend more time going over these tasks in our minds–agonizing over their existence and expanding their mental real estate–than actually doing them.” This is so true–I think of several small tasks that I’ve put off for months, stewing about them and the fact that I haven’t done them, even though each wouldn’t actually take more than a few minutes.
She calls these things “schedule clutter,” and points out the reason we often let them eat into our time that could better be used for more meaningful things is “even if these tasks are annoying, they don’t take much effort, and, once finished, they provide the satisfaction of being obviously ‘done.’ Many of the important things in life, such as nurturing our family relationships, or advancing our careers, are not so obviously ‘done.’ They deserve time, and lots of it, but the rewards are not so immediately obvious as checking something off a list. And so, insidiously, the lure of easy accomplishment with the little tasks can chop up the day and make people feel like they are making progress, even though, when it comes to what matters, they are not.”
The solution is this Rule 8 – batch the small things. Specifically, “Designate a small chunk of time to tackle those things that must be done, but aren’t your top priorities. This could be an afternoon half-hour during the workday, or a bigger blast on Fridays, or a ninety-minute chore, errand, or personal task blitz on one weekend day. When a small task occurs to you or pops up in your inbox, don’t just do it. Put in on the list for your batch processing time, and tackle all of these small tasks then.”
7. The benefits of being intentional
It forces you to prioritize (“Tasks expand to fill the available space. When we give them less time, they take less time.”) and “it keeps little tasks from always being an option” (discourages us from interrupting or procrastinating on the important things on the justification of “I’ll just take care of this little thing first,” as we seek that immediate reward of crossing something off the list.)
The key message of the book:
In her words: “If you take nothing else from this book, I hope you remember this: Success is possible, even in the midst of a complex and occasionally chaotic life. You do not need to wait for some less-hectic future time to become the person you want to be. With a different perspective, and a focus on doing what you can, you can be that person now.”
“Ultimately, there are no prizes given for enjoying your life the least. And there are no prizes given for being too busy to get what matters done. If you like how you spend your time, great. If you don’t like it, change it.”
Some final thoughts
There is so much more to this book than what I’ve mentioned here. This is a book I’ll read again. What I like about it best is that it is so actionable. She provides lots of resources, including step-by-step processes and questions to ask yourself, that make it totally doable–a little bit at a time.
I love what she says in the conclusion: “These habits take effort to build into our lives. But once they become part of the background narrative, they can calm the chaos and help us make time for what matters–even as life’s circus continues. It is folly to hope the circus will slow down anytime soon. These habits can help us enjoy life as it is now. What seems hard at first can, over time, start to feel easy.”
I highly, highly recommend this book. It’s well worth reading and implementing. I’ve even toyed with the idea of finding a small group of women to go through it with me together–each of us working on each rule at the same time, encouraging each other, and providing accountability and motivation. You might want to consider the same.
What do you think?
Have you read Tranquility by Tuesday? If so, what did you think? Are you implementing any of the rules she outlines? If you haven’t yet read it, what’s a productivity-related book you’ve read recently that you’d recommend? Share your takeaway with us. Please share your thoughts in the comments section below or in The Productive Woman Community Facebook group, or send me an email
Resources and Links
Laura Vanderkam’s Books
Connect with Laura Vanderkam
- On her website
- On Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Instagram
- Listen to her podcasts, Best of Both Worlds, Before Breakfast Podcast, and The New Corner Office
Productive Reading Episodes
- TPW episode 133-The One Thing, by Gary Keller
- TPW episode 147-The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg
- TPW episode 166-Lessons from Brene Brown
- TPW episode 182-Soulful Simplicity, by Courtney Carver
- TPW episode 211-The Free-Time Formula, by Jeff Sanders
- TPW episode 230-Atomic Habits, by James Clear
- TPW episode 250-Free to Focus, by Michael Hyatt
- TPW episode 271-Attention Management, by Maura Nevel Thomas
- TPW episode 324-The Minimalist Home, by Joshua Becker
- TPW episode 349-Effortless, by Greg McKeown
- TPW episode 366-Digital Minimalism, by Cal Newport
- TPW episode 403-Life Makeover by Dominique Sachse
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