The Big Idea
We all have the same 24 hours, it’s how we choose to use that time that matters.
Questions I Answer
Actions to Take
- Start time tracking: calculate exactly how many hours you really work each day and how many hours of sleep you get each night. Subtract that from 168 (the number of hours we all have in a week) and you’ll get a better picture of the time you have to spend with family or for yourself.
- Make yourself a short priority to-do list for these categories for the week ahead: Career, Relationships and Self.
Key Topics in the Show
Laura discusses why her Mosaic Project is so important to understanding how time is spent for busy women.
We pull back the curtain on how many women allocate their time for both career and family.
Discover how time tracking can revolutionize how you view your time and allow you to live the best life possible.
Understand the importance of why looking at your week at a whole can help with your work life harmony
Creating sustainable patterns toward small wins (and how these wins add up to make big results!)
Resources and Links
- Connect with Laura on her website & blog
- Pick up Laura’s Book: I Know How She Does It
- Habits of people who use time management well:
- Difficult actionable strategy: Track your time for a week to discover interesting things about your schedule and where to start devoting your time.
- Easy Actionable Strategy: Thinking through your weeks before they start. Being mindful about where you want your time to go will help you make better choices. She suggests doing this on Friday afternoon before the weekend when things are slowing down.
Tanya Dalton : Well, hello, everyone. Welcome to Productivity Paradox. I’m your host, Tanya Dalton, and this is Episode 23. Today, I have a treat for you. I am so excited, because I am being joined by Laura
Vanderkam. Laura is the author of several time management and productivity books, including I Know How She Does It, What the
Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast, and 168 Hours. Her
work appears in publications, including Fast Company, Fortune,
USA Today, and The Wall Street Journal. She lives outside of
Philadelphia with her husband and four children, and blogs at
lauravanderkam.com. Today, we are going to be talking about
tracking your time, changing our mindset, and I am so excited for you to hear all of Laura’s pearls of wisdom, so let’s dive right in. I am so pleased to have Laura Vanderkam here with me today.
Thank you for joining me, Laura.
Laura Vanderkam: Thank you for having me.
Tanya Dalton : Absolutely. So, as I mentioned, Laura is a genius when it comes to time management. Can you tell me a little bit about how you got interested? What was your story in how you became so interested in time management and time tracking?
Laura Vanderkam: Well, that’s fun to hear you call me a genius on time. I wouldn’t say that it’s because I’m a particular genius in it that I came to the topic of time management. I have been known to be late and
such things in my life. But I became interested in this topic, partly because I find the subject of time itself so interesting. It’s a very
human construct, other than the idea that the earth takes 24
hours to turn, or whatever it is.
It’s a very human construct, and yet it offers so many insights into our lives, and we all have the same amount of space in our lives
between sunrises, and yet we do very different things with it, and the outcomes of doing those different things have major
implications for our lives. We all have the same amount of time,
but we do very different things with it, and I think I’m also drawn to the topic because it’s one of those areas where I think the
conventional wisdom is just not true. I think we do have more
time than we think, that we are not as busy as we think we are,
that modern life is not as crazy we often talk about, and I try to
look at those questions and see what we can come up with.
Tanya Dalton : I love that. For my listeners, they are hearing what you’re saying, and they’re thinking, “Yep, I see why Tanya likes her a lot,”
because we talk a lot about the same things. I love what you said there about we all have that same amount of time, but we’re
getting different things done, and I do think a lot of that is how
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we look at things, our mindset. So, I’d love to talk to you a little
bit about the Mosaic Project, which the subject for your book I
Know How She Does It. So, could you explain to my listeners
about what the project was, and what you found with that?
Laura Vanderkam: So, I’ve long been fascinated by how women, in particular, combine work and family. I think it’s interesting to see how men
do too, but a lot of the more hair-grabbing stories are about how women do it or don’t do it well. If you think about the novel that
my book title’s teeing off, the I Don’t Know How She Does It, the Allison Pearson novel where we have this executive who’s
distressing pies for the bake sale to make them look homemade, trying to fill this image of what a supermom and a super career
woman should be. So, we have this idea that it’s just crazy,
undoable life will be nuts if you attempt to combine work and
family, most people can’t do it. So, I’m like, well, is that actually
true? Is that true? Are women having to make harsh trade offs at home if they succeed at work, or do they have to let go of their
career ambitions if they want to succeed at home?
So, I recruited well over 100 women who met two criteria to keep track of their time for me. First, they earned six figures a year,
which is a very arguable definition of success, but at least it is
objective, and I can say, well, they clearly had demanding jobs if
they’re earning six figures a year. Second, they had kids at home. Many ways one can have a full personal life as well, but this is,
again, an objective way that is pretty clear that probably have a
lot going on in your personal life. So, women who had big jobs,
families at home, asked them to keep track of their time for a
week, and then I added everything up and looked at the numbers and saw how much they were working and sleeping, and this was what became the Mosaic Project, this project of tracking time for successful women who also had families, and seeing where the
time really goes.
Tanya Dalton : I love that, yeah, and I love the background the title of the Mosaic Project. Can you tell our listeners why you decided to title it that?
Laura Vanderkam: Well, because I do know how she does it now. We always say, well, I don’t know how she does it, but many women are doing it, that is, building successful careers and raising happy families at
the same time, and so let’s look at how they do it instead of
talking about the crazy stories, the dark moments that we all hear of in these “I just can’t have it all” literature. Let’s talk about the
women who are doing it. What do their lives look like? How are
they allocating their time? What can we learn from that?
The good news is that women with big jobs and families have far more balanced lives than most people think. The average woman in my study was working 44 hours a week, which is more than 40,
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but it’s not a lot more than 40. They were not working 80 hours a week, their work hours were fairly reasonable. Remember, this is
six-figure jobs here. They were sleeping, on average, just a little
bit under eight hours a day. Most people do not believe me when I say that, but I’ve got the numbers, I’ve got the spreadsheets, I
can tally it up for you. We tend to remember our worst nights as typical, which is why we tend to think we sleep less than we
actually do. When you average it out over a week, it tends to
come out much better. A bad night can be taken in context.
So, if they were working 44 hours a week, and they’re sleeping 54 hours a week out of … There’s 168 hours in a week, so you
subtract those two and you get 70, so they had 70 hours that
were waking, non-working hours, and so it’s not surprising that
women were able to spend quality time with their children and
their spouses, and they could exercise and see friends, and read, and do other things, because 70 hours is a lot of time. That
doesn’t mean that it was all easy or very straightforward. I mean, people had to be creative with scheduling and things like that,
but when I interviewed women about their strategies, I got to see what many of those were.
Again, what it came out is that most people can make it work. The horror stories you read are because they’re interesting.
Horror stories are always interesting, right, whereas woman
combines work and family just fine, footage at 6:00 p.m., that’s
never something you’re going to see.
Tanya Dalton : That’s so true. I think you’re right. We do look at the worst case scenario, the things that really attract our attention. So, I have a
question for you, because back in Episode 20 of our podcast, we talked about Elon Musk’s advice of working 100 hours a week. He says he works 80 to 100 hours a week. Do you really think people spend that much time working?
Laura Vanderkam: Generally, no. There have been interesting studies comparing people’s estimated work weeks with time diaries, and found that people claiming 75 plus hour weeks are off by about 25 hours,
because what happens, and I’ve seen this with people telling me that, for instance, they work, let’s say, 65 hours a week. I get a
time log from them, and I add it up, and then number is
something like 44, okay. Well, maybe it was an improbably light
week, or maybe there are some weeks where they work 65, but
those are the weeks they’ve chosen to remember as typical,
because that’s the kind of person they want to see themselves as.
So, I have no doubt that Elon Musk sometimes works 80 hours a week. Do I think he works 80 hours every week? Probably not. I
know he has young children that he’s actually talked about
seeing, at points.
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Tanya Dalton : At some point, yes.
Laura Vanderkam: At some point, so I’m guessing that possibly while the kids are with him he’s not working 80 hours a week, and other times
maybe he is. I also think that what happens is that even within a
week … So, let’s say that 65 number, compared to the 44 hours in reality. What happened is that the person was at work 12 hours on Wednesday, so 12 hours times 5, in their brains, well, that’s 60,
and I feel like I was on email a lot on the weekend, so I’ll that’s 5.
Okay, let’s say 65, right? So, that’s if somebody actually bothered to think about it. Often, they just pull a number out of the air.
But if they actually bother to think about it, that’s what’s often going on, but they don’t stop and think, oh, well, yeah, I worked 12 hours on Wednesday, but I was only at the office for 8 hours on
Friday, so right there we’re lower. If I actually added up my email checks on the weekend, it only was an hour, not 5 hours, it just
felt like a long time. So, all these things start getting it down, that we just have it built into the model. The model is about making
your number look high. Honestly, that’s what it is.
Tanya Dalton : That makes sense. It’s kind of that worst case scenario thing that you talked about, right?
Laura Vanderkam: It is, and I mean, it’s kind of … The opposite thing is going on with sleep, that we overestimate work, because we don’t want to do it, and we underestimate sleep, because we do want to do it. So, we underestimate leisure time too for the same reason. We’d like to
have more, so in our minds, it’s easy to say, oh, I have no time,
which is probably not true. I mean, often people are …
One of the more hilarious things to me, I was on workingmother.com a couple years ago, and they had a poll on
when did you last have me time. And I clicked through, to see
what the answers were, and 50% of people said they could not
remember when they’ve last had me time, which is really funny to me, because I don’t think that taking online polls is required for
anyone’s job. It’s like, you’re taking a break, you’re having your
leisure time. It may be stupid leisure time, but it’s still still leisure
time, so let’s be honest about it.
Tanya Dalton : That’s so true. I think that’s exactly right. Taking an online poll, that’s a little bit of me time right there.
Laura Vanderkam: Yeah. I would recommend other things, if you wanted to have me time, like getting outside and taking a little break, a walk around
the block, going and talking to a friend, whatever it is. But let’s
not fool ourselves about what’s going on.
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Tanya Dalton : So true, so true. Now, speaking of me time, I know that you believe that you cannot ever eliminate all the guilt; that there’s
always going to be guilty feelings about how you spend your
time. So, how do you think time tracking really helps you live the best life that you can?
Laura Vanderkam: I think that it makes sure … Keeping track of our time helps us be sure that we’re not telling ourselves stories about our lives that
aren’t true, and we have all kinds of stories we tell about our lives. I mean, one might be that we’re overworked, for instance, and
maybe we are sometimes. Sometimes we’re not, and maybe we
are in different seasons of our life and less so at other times. But
probably overall, it’s a more reasonable picture than it is.
Sometimes there’s more problematic stories too, that have to do with these issues of guilt. So, for instance, I’ve had working
parents say, “Well, I never see my kids. I have a big job, lot of
responsibilities, therefore I never see my family,” and they actually keep track of their time and see that they’re seeing their family
quite a bit, which, again, makes sense. 168 hours in a week. If you are working 50 hours a week and sleeping 8 hours a night, there
are 62 hours for other things. Probably some of those 62 hours
overlap with time that your family is around and you are seeing
them, but because they’ve got this story that if you have a big job you must be making harsh trade offs at home, they’re telling
themselves they’re not seeing their kids, or they’re not giving
themselves credit for time because it’s not occurring at 10:00
a.m. on Tuesday, or whatever is prime mommy time. I don’t know.
I’ve had a woman have this conversation with me. She’s a partner at a law firm, she’s saying, “I never see my kid.” That was one
conversation we were having, and then we were switching gears, because we had kids around the same age, and I said, “Oh, my kid wakes up so early.” She’s like, “Yeah, I know, I hate it. Mine does
too. He’s up at 5:30 in the morning.” I’m like, “Let’s go back to
that other conversation. What time do you leave for work?” She
leaves for work at 8:00 a.m., so he’s up at 5:30, she leaves at
8:00. That’s two and a half hours; that’s like as if she were coming home at 5:00 p.m. and he went to bed at 7:30 p.m., she’d have
that two and half hours, but because it wasn’t happening in the
evening, which, in her mind, is when kid time should be
happening, it didn’t count.
She wasn’t giving herself credit for any of this time in the morning, and I think we all have blind spots like that, and it’s
important to know where those are, because then we often
change our stories. Maybe life isn’t going the way we want it to. I mean, maybe there are things we want to change, but it’s
important to know that we’re changing the right things and we’re ©Productivity Paradox Page 5 of 10
changing from the point where reality is, as opposed to where we think it is.
Tanya Dalton : So, it’s about changing their scripts, right? The scripts that they’re telling themselves. You talk a lot about this in your book, and as a matter of fact, in our last episode, we talked about banking time, and we gave the example from your book of Caroline Polk, who I really liked what you said about her with how she had to let go of her script of being a good mother meant being there for dinner
with her family, and putting her kids to bed every night. So, in
that same kind of vein, can you tell us a little bit about how you
can let go of those scripts, and what other scripts we hold on to
and tell ourselves?
Laura Vanderkam: Yeah, and I really do think that time tracking is great for this, because you do see that I am spending time with my family, even if it’s not at whatever is the normal time. I’m putting normal in air quotes here. You can’t see me, but normal in air quotes. Even if
it’s not at the normal time, it’s still time, and it can still be good
time. So, for instance, she was spending the mornings with her
kids. There’s really nothing magical about evenings versus
mornings, so it’s still time you can have with your family.
I see this, is some people would consciously choose to work very late, let’s say two nights a week, that you have a choice. Either
you’re racing home to get 15 minutes with your kids, if you’re
leaving the office at, let’s say, 7 o’clock every night, but maybe
you could consciously choose to work til 10:00 p.m. two nights a week, bank those six extra hours, as I said, and leave a couple
hours earlier twice a week, right, so that two nights you’re
working til 10:00, and two nights you’re working til 4:30 or 5:00,
and then those nights you have much longer to enjoy your family instead of racing out of work, only to get a couple minutes at
So, I think that viewing the week as a whole, as opposed to any one individual day is a great idea. Looking for time like mornings that you’d have, or maybe one day consciously working less, and other days working longer. People who travel for work might
decide to work very long hours while they’re gone so they can
make the most of the time they’re home and have that more as
Tanya Dalton : That makes sense, and I know you talk about how happiness is a choice, and it sounds like that’s what you’re talking about here,
that we can look at the negatives and draw a conclusion, or we
can look at a day, moment by moment, and look at the week as a whole to find that harmony. So, do you think that time tracking
and time management help with making that choice of
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Laura Vanderkam: I think it does. Some of it’s just a decision about what we decide will be our narrative. When we study storytelling, you know and
your listeners know that we often have three points of evidence
lead to an epiphany, and that’s our story format, right. These
three things happen, air go this, I’ve reached this conclusion,
everything is different afterwards. That’s a great story arc. But the danger of that is that, of course, life itself does not conform to a
narrative arc, and it becomes very easy to be like, okay, this
horrible thing happened, this horrible thing happened, this
horrible thing happened. Therefore, something must change, and I must X, Y, or Z, right.
Whatever, often, it is that the larger cultural forces are telling you to do anyway, that we decide that that must happen because
these three things happen. I say, well, in the course of a week,
sure, you can find three wretched things that happened, but I’m
guessing you could also find three awesome things that
happened too. Life is varied, life is complex. So, maybe you could construct a different story of like, I had this awesome morning at home with my kids, and I turned in this great project on Tuesday that my boss loved, and I made it to the gym on Thursday
afternoon. Therefore, my life rocks. Right?
Tanya Dalton : Right.
Laura Vanderkam: But it’s a little bit harder to tell these stories in a positive way. We’re more inclined to see the three dark moments, and make
the epiphany come form that.
Tanya Dalton : That makes sense, definitely. Here at Productivity Paradox, I talk a lot about how these small wins, these small things that you’re
looking for that find the happiness in your week, they build to
bigger growth and give you momentum. Can you talk a little bit
about the strategies to create sustainable patterns of these small wins, and tell us a little bit about what those strategies are?
Laura Vanderkam: Yeah. I’m a big believer that low expectations in the short run lead to great things in the long run. I mean, seriously, lower your
expectations to the point where you feel no resistance, where it’s easy to do, but then just keep going, right. If you’re trying to write a book, and you write … Oh, gosh, let’s say 500 words a day.
That’s not a huge amount. You can get through that pretty
quickly, but if you do that five times a week, that’s 2,500 words a week. You could, in 25 weeks, have a book length manuscript, and that’s sort of amazing to think about, that in six months you’d
have a book length manuscript, but it’s from making these small, everyday, just keep going sorts of things.
I’m currently in the middle of a running streak, which I don’t really like to talk about too much anymore, because I think that’s like
©Productivity Paradox Page 7 of 10
begging to break your ankle or something. Knock on wood here. I decided I wanted to run at least a mile a day every day, and what that did for me is it changes the conversation from will I run to
when am I going to run, all right, and when is a different
conversation. I can fit it in my life. My life is such that I can always fit it in my life. By saying it’s only a mile, well, I can get through a mile in not much time. It doesn’t take much time to run a mile.
Even if I was doing the slowest possible run, it would take 12
minutes, okay. I can do anything for 12 minutes.
So, there’s no resistance to this idea of running one mile. Usually by the time I’ve run one mile I’m feeling just fine to keep going. I’ll run another mile, maybe run another mile too. If I’m outside, it’s a beautiful day, I’ll run seven miles. But getting that first mile in
means I’m running a lot more, so again, lower your expectations
to the point where there’s no resistance, and then just keep doing it, and then you can achieve amazing things over the long haul.
Tanya Dalton : I love what you said there about it’s not about am I going to go running, it’s when am I going running? So, it’s shifting that
mindset and changing the vocabulary of how you’re talking about the things that are important to you.
Laura Vanderkam: Yeah, and if something’s important to you, it can pretty much fit in almost any day, and I will admit that streaks like that cause you to do a few OCD things that people would laugh at me. Was in a hotel with my 9-year-old, and I couldn’t really leave him to go for a run, and Noah wasn’t good to go outside, necessarily, so I
wound up running laps in the hotel room.
Tanya Dalton : That works.
Laura Vanderkam: It works. It’s silly, but on the other hand, there’s some things you do just to keep the streak. But changing that conversation. Many days when I might not have run, there’s really no good reason, it’s just that I didn’t feel like it. Well, it turns out I can run a mile, even if I don’t feel like it. If it turns out I can run a mile if I’m busy, it
turns out I can run a mile if I’m tired; it turns out I can run a mile,
whatever else is going on. So, I’ve turned more days into exercise days just by saying, well, every day is going to be an exercise day. Once I know that, then it’s just a matter of how much I’m going to do.
Tanya Dalton : That makes sense. That’s a great way to look at it, I really think. So, now, I know that you’ve recently collected about 900
responses to a time perception survey for your new book, Off the Clock, and I know that’s going to explore how people feel about
their time. So, can you tell us a little bit about the results you’re
seeing from that survey, and how they tie into your new book?
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Laura Vanderkam: Yeah. I’m working my statistician right now, and I’m compiling some of these survey results, but even just the initial stuff we’re
seeing is pretty cool. One is that there are differences in how
people who feel like they have enough time for the things they
want to do spend their time, and people who feel more anxious
and constrained about time feel about their time and what they
- One small thing is that people who feel more relaxed turn out to check their phone fewer times per hour than people who feel
more anxious about time. People who feel relaxed about time are more likely to read before bed than to check social media. It turns out that a real book is better than Facebook for having that. You feel like you actually have enough time for the things that you
want to do.
And so much just the language that came across on time to our size. People who feel like they have enough time have discovered that people are a good use of time. Just the language of how
people describe their days. The people who felt like time was
abundant. So much of the stuff they were doing involved other
people, and that’s not to say that they’re all extroverts or
whatever. I mean, some of it’s just family. Went to the park with
the kids after dinner, as opposed to just watch TV, or talked with colleague on train home from work, or called sister at night.
Just the entries themselves tended to mention people that were close to them, and that they were consciously spending time with these people who were close to them, whereas people who felt
like they had less time just had fewer mentions of other people,
which I find fascinating too, because on some level, people
represent commitments, and commitments can make you feel like you have less time available. But on some level, having other
people that you like with you makes time expand, and I guess
that’s the best way I can put it.
Tanya Dalton : That’s fascinating, it really is. I’m excited for this new book to come out, because I’ve really enjoyed your other books, and I
know you always have such amazing insights. So, before we go, I would love to know if our listeners could only implement one
actionable strategy or tactic, what would that be?
Laura Vanderkam: Well, I’m going to cheat and give you two, because one is hard and one is easy. So, the hard one is to, in fact, track your time for a week. I promise you, whatever your life looks like, you will
discover interesting things about your schedule, you will see, even if you are very, very busy, that there’s probably time devoted to
things you care less about that you can devote to things you care more about. Knowing where the time goes can help you get the
courage to make that decision. So, try tracking your time for a
week. That’s the hard thing.
Here’s one easy thing you can do if you want to change your life. Think through your weeks before you are in them. Just having a
little bit of mindfulness about where you want the time to go can help you make better choices about where the time will actually
- I find a really good time to do this is Friday afternoon. Friday afternoon, most of us are just sliding into the weekend, not a
whole lot going on that’s of importance.
So, take a little bit of that time and redirect it towards your future self. Look at the next week, look at what’s already on the
calendar, but also then make yourself a short priority list for the
next week. Three categories: career, relationships, self. Using all
three categories reminds us to put something in all three
categories, and right there that will give you a more balanced life when you are actually thinking about what are my relationship
priorities, what are my personal priorities, and looking over the
next week and planning those in.
Tanya Dalton : Those are great tips. I love both of them, and even though you cheated and gave us two, I’ll take them both.
Laura Vanderkam: Excellent. We aim to please.
Tanya Dalton : Well, thank you so much, Laura, for joining me here, and I will, in just a few minutes, share with our listeners your social media,
where they connect with you there, and also on your blog,
because I’d love for them to take advantage of the advice and
just what amazing things you think about when it comes to time tracking and being in charge of what you want to do with your
Laura Vanderkam: Wonderful. Thank you so much for having me.
Tanya Dalton : Didn’t I tell you Laura’s amazing? She is such a fabulous expert on time management and changing your mindset for how you feel
about time. If you’d like to connect with her, you can find her at
lauravanderkam.com, and I’ll also have her social media links on
my website, inkwellpress.com/podcast, under Episode 23. You’re going to want to check her out. She has so many great resources to share with you. If you’d like to connect with me, you can find
me at inkwellpress.com/podcast, or find me on social media
under the username @inkwellpress. Next week we’re going to be piggybacking off of what we learned from Laura, and also what
we learned in Episode 22 on banking your time, and we will be
talking about scheduling the things that matter.
Until next time, happy planning.
**This transcript is created by AI, so please excuse any typos, misspellings and grammar mistakes.
Tanya Dalton is a woman who loves speaking on stage as a keynote speaker. She has been called of the best woman keynote speakers by audience members after her her talks on productivity, time management, goal setting and purpose.