March 18, 2021
If you’ve ever struggled with the concept of “doing it all” and “finding work-life balance” or even heard (or heck, SAID) the phrase “just wait till you’ve had kids”, well today’s chat is gonna rock your world. We got to talk to the INCREDIBLE Laura Vanderkam.
Laura is the author of quite a few time management and productivity books, including I Know How She Does It, What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast, Off the Clock, and 168 Hours, and more. Her work has appeared in publications including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, and Fortune. She is the host of the podcast Before Breakfast and the co-host of the podcast Best of Both Worlds. She lives outside Philadelphia with her husband and five children, and blogs at LauraVanderkam.com.
Today we sit down and talked to Laura about all things productivity & time management but from the perspective of a successful entrepreneur & businesswoman who is also an incredible mother of five kids.
Now you might be thinking “HOW DOES SHE DO IT ALL?!?” and guess what? WE TALK ABOUT THAT. This episode is for you if you’ve struggled with work-life balance, raising kids (or wanting to someday) while also running a business. If you’ve heard the phrase “just wait until you have kids…” and you’re ready to hear that myth busted once and for all as well as handed some tools and strategies to begin to take back your life.
As an author of multiple productivity and time management books, Laura has always been interested in how we spend our time and how we can enjoy it more and make more of the hours that we have.
Productivity gets a bad reputation. It’s not just about cramming in more things that you have to do during the day. When we have a plan for the things that we have to do, we can often confine it to smaller chunks of time. We can keep time open where we can relax and think about how we would like to spend more of our time. What we would like to do more of with our time, with our lives, and time for fun and relaxation.
One of the most fascinating things about time is that we all have the same amount of it. There are people out there who are doing amazing things professionally and have cool personal lives too. They’re not making those harsh trade-offs that people think success requires. After studying these people and discover how they do it, it occurred to Laura that sure they have other things going for them than the rest of us do. They might be smarter, richer, or better looking but they don’t have more time. We all have the same 24 hours in a day, 168 hours in a week. When we find these people that are doing well in both areas of our lives, it might behoove the rest of us to study how they are spending their hours. And again some people have more resources than others but there are certain things that you have to do.
One of the reasons why people believe that is when you are caring for an infant it is an all-consuming job and that’s how people form their impressions of motherhood. The good news is kids do grow up and every time they do you get a little of autonomy overtime back. It’s not just that. If you are willing to share the load with other people in your life, friends, family, partner, or paid help. If you are also good about thinking about how you would like to spend your hours and making plans ahead of time. You can in-fact do those things that you wanted to do in the past, you can still make space for them. Maybe not everything you use to do but certainly some things.
It is not that huge of an ordeal to have one night off, everyone could arrange their lives to have one night off per week from family and work responsibilities. Especially if you are co-parenting with someone you can trade-off and that can go a long way making you feel like you are still a person that has a life outside work and family. If we are telling ourselves the story, “I have no time for anything, no time for fun, being rushed and pulled in a million different directions”. We will then find evidence in certain moments in our lives that, that might be true but if you have a different narrative. “I have enough time for the things”, then you can probably find evidence for that too. Particularly if you build certain structures into your life, like taking one night off a week, it becomes harder to tell yourself that story that you have no time.
It is a good idea not to tell ourselves that story that we don’t have enough time. Structure your life to make more of that sort of chosen activity possible.
Figure out your core competencies. This is not scrubbing your house, that doesn’t necessarily make a loving household. It’s often about investing that time in your relationships. Doing things that are enjoyable for the other person and sharing moments. In many cases, people spend so much time on the chores and errands that we skimp on the other things. Whenever something is not the best use of our time we can ignore, minimize and outsource it. People always get upset because outsourcing costs money, which is true, but it doesn’t cost anything to lower your standards. Maybe it’s that the sheets get washed a little less often, or maybe that you have a few more pairs of underwear so you go a little long between loads, or maybe you don’t have to pick up the toys every night because they are just going to come out the next morning. Whereas you will never get that time back.
It’s not about living in chaos, but some things don’t matter. After studying time logs, Laura has found people have pretty incredible strays of what is required in their time. These stories are all very different, some people grow up in a culture that if you don’t spend 90 minutes cooking a meal, why are you even bothering? Not everyone grew up in that but if you did what is what you consider normal. You can decide then if you want to continue to believe that is normal or do you want to choose a different normal. Or choose two nights you’re going to go all out and do the huge home-cooked meal and then other nights your not. There are ways to do it and find the middle ground.
Another is children must be bathed nightly. Some people grew up with that belief, but if there’s not a medical reason to then that’s not true. You can suggest that and people will respond with, “No, everyone knows you have to do x”. Anytime we have a story that everyone knows you have to do X. If we push a little harder we might see things that might take less time and don’t have to be done in the way we have been doing them. Figure out ways to ignore, minimize or outsource anything that is not the best use of your time and then use that saved time for things that are more meaningful to you.
It depends because stages of life change and times when Laura has a very young child it is different when she doesn’t. For the most part, she wakes up when her baby wakes up (her youngest child is one) that tends to be what starts her morning right now. She does set an alarm cause some of her kids have to go to school or virtual school. She will be up feeding the baby, getting the coffee going, her husband and her get breakfast ready, getting people in the order that they need to get up. On the days her middle schooler needs to go in she tends to drive them at 7:45 am, then their nanny shows up at 8 am and she is taking over part of it too. Laura will still be half involved with the kids until the elementary ones go to school at 9 am but then she is at her desk and gets started on work.
She will work through the afternoon till kids are back home and off from school and then is in and out of work and doing activities. The evening routine is very focused on the kids. Getting the baby down between 7:30-8 pm and then she will get a little free time to relax or read while the big kids are doing their own thing. Then try to get the six and nine-year-old off to bed around 8:30 pm and then the big boys are supposed to be in their room by 9 pm. If all goes well then she can relax and read from 9-10 pm and then lights off by 10:30 pm so that she can get up and do it all again.
As an adult, you have to give yourself a bedtime. If you think about it, most adults can’t sleep in. Either you are caring for children or you have to get up for work at a certain time. You can’t make up sleep by sleeping in, so the way you sleep in is by going to bed early. It’s the same thing but it’s just on the other side of the night. The upside is it forces you to make a decision. If 10-10:30 pm is your bedtime and that time rolls around, look at what you are doing. If you are doing something meaningful, wonderful, and great, by all means, stay up! But if you are just watching Netflix or scrolling around on Twitter, then you should probably turn it off and go to bed because then you will get enough sleep. Your bedtime should be determined by what time you have to wake up in the morning and how much sleep you need. If you need to wake up at 6:30 am and you need 8 hours of sleep then your bedtime is 10:30 pm.
Overall people do get enough sleep. We like to tell the story that everyone is gripped by this wide sleep deprivation. People like to remember their worst nights. Even people who have children and jobs, tend to get more sleep than they might think.
The first thing is to think of your life in weeks rather than days. A week is 168 hours a day is 24 hours. The reason to think about 168 hours than 24 is, first 168 hours is the cycle of life that we are living. Tuesday and Saturday occur just as often but your life looks very different on each of those days so you want to make sure that you’ve got the Tuesday perspective and the Saturday perspective when you are looking at your life. Also, 168 hours shows you how much time that you have. If you have a full-time job which is 40 hours a week, if you sleep 8 hours a night that is 56 hours a week, subtract those two from 168 hours and you get 72 hours for other things. Even people who are getting enough sleep, working full-time hours, have 72 hours for other things in their lives which is almost twice as much time as they are working at a full-time job. There is still a fair amount of time when you look at the whole week.
The biggest reason to think 168 hours and not 24 is because things don’t have to happen daily, nor do they have to happen at the same time every day for them to count in our lives. In general, if you do something three or four times a week, it is a pretty common habit in your life. And yet if you are looking at a single day and you are doing something 3-4 times a week, most days you get to the end of the day and you haven’t done it. You look at the whole week and you exercised three times that week, where if you are looking at an individual day, four of the days you didn’t do it. Then you’ll think you are a horrible terrible failure, but why can’t you look at the whole week and see how different it is.
The “just you wait” is everyone’s different experience and your particular hangups won’t necessarily be someone else’s. We should all look at our own lives and if you are unhappy about something, rather than projecting that on someone else, say well “What can I do to change this?”. Yes, things may be more difficult when you have kids but they are generally not impossible if you are willing to think it through and use the resources that might be available to you or get.
For instance, it is hard to sleep in but let’s say you have a co-parent and each of you could choose to sleep in one morning if that is something you want to do. If you have hobbies you want to do, you just need to arrange cover whether that is your partner, neighbor, friends, or family. Plan ahead of time and you can probably make it happen. Again there are 168 hours a week, you can probably find three 30 minute spots to exercise, if you want to speak Spanish you can probably find ten minutes to do the Duolingo app five times a week.
This is true with children and is true without children. Yes, you’re probably not going to do everything but nobody does. If there are a couple of things you still want to do you can make it happen.
What is it all? Can you have it all? Yes! If you define “all” as having a meaningful career, a loving family, close relationships with friends, the health that comes from sleeping enough, getting enough exercise, and being involved in your community. You can do all of those things. Now can you do all of those things and spend 40 hours of the week scrubbing the grout in your shower tile? No! But why are we including the grout in having it “all” definition?
There’s a tendency to throw all this extra and unimportant stuff into a definition of what we need to do but a lot of stuff doesn’t necessarily need to happen or need to be all that big of a deal. When we focus our time on the meaningful, important, and fun stuff then we will spend less time on everything else.
Laura doesn’t mind the blurriness so much, because she thinks there are upsides to it. She was able to have lunch with her kids who are home from their half-day of school and then go back to work after that. She can take a break to go for a run or do something with the kids. These are all things that can happen during the day. If she does them during the workday she doesn’t think it’s a big deal that she might record a webinar at 7:30 pm some night or work on work stuff on the sideline of a kids practice. These are just things you do, you use the time that is available to you, and by making sure she is spending time on important things with her kids and husband she thinks it is okay that she spends time on work stuff.
Especially with more people working from home, this is just the nature of the game. Try embrace rather than set silly boundaries.
But not everyone feels that way. If you know this about yourself and are more of a compartmentalizer, then honor that in your personality. If it is going to make you ill to take a work call at 8 pm after putting kids to bed, then don’t do it. Schedule it for 5:30 pm and get it done during work time. If you can’t relax and you know there is work or you can see your laptop, then have some sort of shutdown ritual at the end of the day. After twenty years working from home Laura doesn’t need that but she doesn’t mind taking quick transitions.
Whenever anyone talks about it they always think that they should be working less. Yet most people are not working more hours than they are working. If you are working 40 hours a week and sleeping 8 hours a night, then having 72 hours where you are not working, that sounds pretty balanced right there. Balance isn’t the right metaphor because that also implies that work and the rest of life are on opposite sides of the scale, so for one to go up the other has to go down. That’s not even true overall on a social level.
The phrase misunderstands how people spend their time and how much time is available for certain things but that, unfortunately, is the phrase that people use.
One of the biggest lessons and productivity tips is to have a designated weekly planning time. Some moment every week where you check-in, what is on your plate. Looking forward to the next week what would you like to spend your time doing? What are the most important things you could be doing professionally and personally? Use three categories: career, relationships, and self, then figure out what are the best things for you to accomplish in each of those categories over the next seven days. When can you do them? Schedule them in. See what is already on your plate and what you need to do to prepare for those things. If you do this week after week, you will feel far more on top of everything.
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WASSUP FRIENDS. We’re Evie + Lindsey, co-founders of this wild partayyy called The Heart University. Our goal is to empower entrepreneurs to kick freaking BUTT in their businesses, dive down into the heart of their why and how, and serve you with all possible tools you’ll need to up-level your business game and CRUSH those goals of yours.
Whether you’re coming to an in-person workshop, joining our online course, or soaking up all the strategies via this blog or our podcast, we’re STOKED you’re here + can’t wait to see you out there kicking butt.
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