The Big Idea
Live your life in a way that feels authentic and right to you.
Questions I Answer
- How can I stretch time?
- Why does time seem to move so quickly?
- How can I be more intentional with my days?
- How can I be more present and productive?
Key Topics in the Show
Look at how you spend your time: The Paradox of time discipline and time freedom
Being a self interrupter: Learn how to open up time and space for yourself
Savoring time: Why it’s not MORE that you need
Stretching the experience of your time through intentional days
Feeling ‘off the clock’ by putting time into perspective
Resources and Links
- Related Episodes: Episode 071: Are You a Self Interrupter?
- Connect with Laura Vanderkam
Welcome to Productivity Paradox from inkWELL Press, a podcast focused on finding success and happiness through the power of productivity. Each season, Tanya focuses on specific strategies to help you discover your own priorities and purpose. Season six is all about turning your stumbling blocks into starting blocks. You can also join Tanya for more interaction and support in her free Facebook group at inkwellpress.com/group. And now, here’s your host, Tanya Dalton.
Tanya Dalton: Hello, hello everyone, welcome to Productivity Paradox. I’m your host, Tanya Dalton, owner of inkWELL Press, this is episode 72.
Today’s episode is brought to you by me, and a free training I’m
going to be offering. And I’ll be sharing a little bit more about
that later on in the show.
Today, I’m very excited to have Laura Vanderkam back on
the show. You may remember Laura was my guest way back in
episode 23, and she’s the author of several time management and productivity books, including her newest book, Off the Clock:
Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done. Laura’s book ties in
perfectly with our season of talking about stumbling blocks,
because I hear from so many of you that you don’t have the time to do the things you really want. There just isn’t enough time is
one of those obstacles so many of us seem to share, and Laura’s
new book addresses that, and she shares how we can feel like we do have more time freedom. So, let’s go ahead and get started.
Hi Laura, so good to have you back on the show.
Laura Vanderkam: Thank you for having me.
Tanya Dalton: Absolutely, absolutely. Now, my listeners know that Laura was on the show, on an earlier season where we talked about one of your other books, but today I really want to talk about your new book, which is called Off the Clock. Laura was generous enough to send me an advanced copy, and I have to tell you, I loved this book. I
have so many underlined passages, so many pages dog eared. It’s just such a great way of looking at time.
So I want to talk about that today, about how we look at
time, and how we feel liberated to do what we want, and yet
paradoxically, being disciplined with our time. So, Laura could you explain a little bit more about that tension between knowing how we spend our time and not being obsessed with how we spend
each minute, and trying to spend them each efficiently?
Laura Vanderkam: Yeah, so there really is a paradox at the heart of using time well, which is that, you know, when we talk about this phrase, “Off the Clock,” it means this freedom, this time liberation. And for many
people, the whole idea of being off the clock means you’re not
watching the clock, right? Like you’re not aware of the time. And ©Productivity Paradox Page 1 of 11
yet for many people who have full lives, you have to be very
disciplined about where the time goes in order to achieve these
times where you can truly be off the clock.
Like you’re not worried about looming deadlines, you have arranged your life to do fun stuff with all the logistics worked out for that to happen. Those things don’t just magically occur, you
have to put a lot of effort into making these open moments
happen. And so I write about how this idea that time discipline
leads to time freedom, and I know that may sound like opposing ideas, but I really think … I mean the heart of paradox and the
whole philosophical concept of it, is oftentimes things that
appear to be in opposition aren’t in opposition when you take a
broader perspective, when you are looking at them from a
different vantage point. So that’s what this book attempts to do.
Tanya Dalton: I think that’s so true, and obviously I love paradoxes, I’ve named the podcast Productivity Paradox because I think that’s so true.
And what I loved that you say in the book is you talk about how
time is finite, and we have to be smart about how we spend it.
But time is also abundant, and we truly do have time for the
things that matter to us. I really believe this is true also, but why
do you feel that so many people think that they don’t have the
time to do what they really want to do?
Laura Vanderkam: I think there’s a couple of reasons. One is that people have crowded their lives with various maybe unthought through
obligations. I mean most of our obligations are to some degree
chosen, but we may not have really thought through the choice
when we were making it.
So there’s lots of things that people manage to fill their
time with that aren’t necessarily all that important to them. It’s
also that sometimes we have these stories that are just about
how people are … What’s appropriate? How are we supposed to
behave? And especially women, I know a lot of your listeners are women, that we have these stories like, “Oh, well I can’t do my
own activity, I have to spend all my time driving my kids to
theirs.” Like it would be selfish for me to join a softball team or
something, because then I would go to practices and I wouldn’t
be doing X, Y, or Z with my kids. As opposed to the whole 160
other hours per week that you’re already spending with your kids. That eight hours, the crazy part. That’s what we should feel guilty about.
So, you know, I think that we walk around with these
stories of what we are allowed to do, but the honest truth is that nobody really cares. We’re all in our own little world, most people do not care what you do. You should live your life in a way that
feels authentic and right to you, and in general I think if
something doesn’t make us happy, we should see what we can do to change it.
©Productivity Paradox Page 2 of 11
Tanya Dalton: Yes, absolutely, I complete agree. And I agree with what you say there, let go of other people’s expectations, you have enough of your own weighing you down. And I find that a lot of times these stories that we tell ourselves usually are written in absolutes in
our mind. A good mother always does this. A good wife always or never does Y, or whatever. So it’s really hard to live up to these
high expectations we set for ourselves.
Laura Vanderkam: Yeah, and so I think that consciously pushing back against those stories. Like any time you’re telling a story of always, never,
there’s very true always and nevers in the universe, right? If you
are telling yourself that story, then ask yourself why. Where does this story come from? Is there evidence that it is true? What do I think about that evidence? Is there evidence that it might be
false? Can I see exceptions to this? And often there are.
And even if you don’t want to go through that whole
process, like I say, other people really truly don’t care. And that’s the fun part of writing about time is I get to see this over and
over again, just things like conversations between managers and employees, like we’re doing a workshop on time management in this company, and somebody’s talking about how she sleeps with her smart phone because her manager needs stuff in the middle
of the night. And the woman’s looking at her and is like I sent an email because I have insomnia, it’s not because I needed a
response then. I’m glad we got that out in the open!
Tanya Dalton: Right, yeah, it’s these stories that we push upon ourselves that aren’t even necessarily other’s expectations, they’re what we
perceive others want without them even expressing that at all. I
think there’s a lot of truth to that.
Well, in my last episode I talked about how a lot of us get
sucked into this culture of self interrupting, with things like
checking our email incessantly, maybe sleeping with our smart
phone. Or texting, or social media, and habitually checking in on these things, and really using up our time in these unproductive
ways, almost without thinking about it. We just spend our time.
Do you think this contributes to that feeling that we don’t have
Laura Vanderkam: I think it definitely does, and I love that you used the phrase self interruption, because often that’s what it is. I mean, you can tell
yourself a story that it’s something else, like, “Oh, my boss might need me,” and then you check your email and then you quickly
wind up over at Facebook. The email was just a ruse to get you
online, and there wasn’t anything from her anyway. You’re just
And so that was totally a self interruption. I’m not saying
you have to be off the phone, like park it in its holster for days at a time, most people aren’t going to do that. But if you look at the sheer volume of time people touch their phones, I mean it’s
©Productivity Paradox Page 3 of 11
ridiculous. Even going from looking at it 10 times an hour to twice an hour would be a massive amount of space opened up in terms of avoiding those self interruptions, and it’s hard to believe that
anything happened in the universe that required checking in more than twice an hour on it.
So, yeah, I think we have open time, and then we choose to chop it up. And then we tell ourselves a story that we have no
time, that we can never relax. And I think it’s better to push back on that story and say well what else could I do with my time? And you know, just look at the clouds or something, it’s pretty hard to feel like you have no time when you are staring at the clouds for
10 minutes. And people who try it get antsy, they’re like oh my
God what am I doing with myself? I was just starting at the
clouds, something could’ve happened on Instagram.
Tanya Dalton: Well I like what you said there about chopping up our time, and I think that probably contributes to this feeling of not having it,
having enough time rather, is that we are chopping it up into
these little bits because we check our phone, and then we check the email, and then two minutes later we’re checking the phone
again, even though nothing has happened, an email in that span
of two minutes. But you’re right, we’re chopping up our time so
we’re not seeing these larger banks, these larger swathes of time that we can really dive into something we want to do.
Laura Vanderkam: Yeah. And I mean I found that, this book, Off the Clock, is based on a time diary study I did of 900 busy people, having them track their time. And I found that the people who felt most relaxed
about their time, and had the most abundant perspective on the time, were checking their phones about half as frequently as the
people who felt most stressed. So, something to keep in mind.
Tanya Dalton: That is definitely something to keep in mind. So, the fewer times you’re checking your phone, maybe that correlates to some
happiness. So scientific research here, but I think there is a lot to
And I think it’s true that we all want more time, but I love
what you talk about in Off the Clock about how what people
really want is they really want more time spent on things that
make them happy, and more memories in particular. Too many
people are living their lives in these forgettable ways.
So, how do you think we can cultivate our happy
experiences to create these memories?
Laura Vanderkam: Yeah, so I mean that’s a interesting of pondering this, when people say, “Oh, I need more time. I want more time, I want more hours in the day.” Well, you don’t want certain hours, like you’re
counting the minutes when you’re stuck in a traffic jam. You don’t want more time spent in your car stuck behind this giant truck
that’s not going anywhere, right? You don’t want more time then. ©Productivity Paradox Page 4 of 11
You don’t want more time when you’re stuck in a boring meeting. You don’t want more time while your two year old and four year
old are fighting and biting each other.
Tanya Dalton: Nobody wants that.
Laura Vanderkam: Yeah. So, it’s more … There’s certain kinds of time you want. You want time where you’re feeling relaxed and happy, where you’re
feeling purposeful, you’re feeling motivated. And often … The
other thing of saying we want more time is we want more
memories of our time. Most people don’t want more time spent
staring at a blank wall. Another day added to their life of doing
the exact same thing that you’ve done for the previous 300 days is really not that big of a gain, and you wouldn’t even notice it. I
mean that’s why people forget whole years basically, because
they disappeared into the sameness.
When we say, “Where did the time go?” What we’re often meaning is I don’t remember where my time went, because there was nothing memorable about it. And so the more memories we have of a unit of time, the bigger it seems in our life. That’s why
the first day of a vacation seems very long, if you’re traveling
somewhere exotic your brain has no idea what it needs to hold
onto, so it’s remember all of it. Or if you think about maybe the
years from 16 to 24, for many people those were incredibly
formative and so they seem to stretch in the experience of time
because you have so many memories of them. Various firsts and
So, I think the question is how can we build that kind of
memory making capacity into our lives as responsible, productive adults? And, you know, some things you can’t do, you’re never
going to have your first kiss over again, obviously. But, you can be more aware of cool things that are happening, and you can
consciously schedule in little adventures into your life, and just
ask the question of why is today different from other days?
Which is a version of the passover question, why is tonight
different from all other nights?
But you can ask this in a secular context too, like why is
today different from other days? And if you can answer that
question, then there is a much greater chance that you will
remember today, and that will make it seem like it is bigger in
your perception of time, and you will feel like you have more time.
Tanya Dalton: I think that’s so true, when I was reading this section of the book it really got me thinking, and I was thinking about how at dinner
each night with my kids I usually ask them what was good today and what was bad, because we try to talk about the positive and the negative, because there’s both in every day. But it made me
really think about that, made me possibly want to reframe that
question as to what made today memorable? Because if I’m really trying to stretch time with my kids, and I’m trying to stretch time
©Productivity Paradox Page 5 of 11
for them, really helping encourage that idea of making memories. So, I think I might start changing my question to that at dinner.
Laura Vanderkam: Well, there we go. Just why was today different from other days? That’s a good question to ask. And I’m not saying every day has
to be, like some days they are just what they are, but often we
have within our power the ability to do something different or out of the ordinary. Even just grabbing your family and going for a
walk after dinner instead of watching TV, or grabbing some
colleagues to try a different lunch spot, or have a picnic outside
There’s just a million things you can do differently.
Stopping at a little shop you always rush past between your car
and the gym, or something. There’s little ways you can make life
different, and you are more likely to remember time.
Tanya Dalton: A series of little adventures maybe?
Laura Vanderkam: A series of little adventures, yes.
Tanya Dalton: Well I’d to continue talking about this perception of time and how we perceive it, but first I need to take a quick break for our
As I mentioned at the start of the show, today’s episode is sponsored by, well, me. I am so excited that I am finally making
the leap into YouTube, and I’m going to be building out my
YouTube channel. Each week I’m going to be offering videos on
Tuesday’s, and I’ll be sharing a new video that piggybacks off that week’s podcast topic, so you can dive deeper into some of these ideas that we’re sharing.
And because I’m so ridiculously excited about this, I’ve
decided to kick it off with a free live training event, five healthy
habits to boost your productivity. This event is completely free,
and I’m not selling anything at all. I simply wanted to celebrate
this exciting new steps. You can sign up at inkwellpress.com/
fivehabits. Oh, and don’t worry too if you’re listening to this
podcast after the event goes live, that link will still work for you
and you’ll be able to access the training for free. I’d love to have
you join me for five healthy habits to boost your productivity.
Okay, so Laura, I’d love to talk about … We talked about
this idea of having these little adventures, and really making
experiences feel new. I love the story that you share about, I
believe it’s your son, where you talk about him going into the
snow and you’re both standing in the snow, and how he
experiences climbing in the tree in the snow, while you’re
standing there knee deep in snow. So, I want to talk to you a little bit about how is it that you can start reframing things, so you can look at these activities in your daily life as adventures, or making them into more memorable acts?
©Productivity Paradox Page 6 of 11
Laura Vanderkam: Well I think there’s a couple of things. I mean first, planning in exciting stuff so you can anticipate it, and think about it coming
- Be aware of it while you’re in it, and especially for good
moments, there’s a whole thing in the book about learning to
savor, and I’m sure we could talk about that too.
And then after the fact, you can in some way
commemorate what you did, right? Like have some memento of
it, or write about it afterwards, but use something to cement that memory in your brain. And there’s lots of different things you can do this with, I’ve had an experience recently of listening to a piece of music that was very meaningful to me, and I knew it was going to be performed life. So I wrote it down as a priority for me for
that week, like that’s one of the major things I was looking
forward to in the week, I made sure I was there on time. I was fully aware while the music was going on, I made sure to write about it afterwards.
The piece of music itself that I was excited about was only four minutes long, but I remember those four minutes. How many other four minute periods of life do you remember? I remember
those four minutes, and I got a great deal of pleasure about it.
And I stretched the pleasure by doing all those things.
Tanya Dalton: I think that’s such a great point, it’s really about being conscious and being very intentional about it. And I think you’re very
intentional about so many things you do, but last time when you were here on Productivity Paradox, you talked about tracking
your time. And I think that’s one of the things that you do that
does make you so conscious of where your time is going, and
how you’re spending it. And in your new book, Off the Clock, you really take this deeper dive into examining how that actually
works, that a time log can do so much to help you spend time on what matters, but also on solidifying these memories and these
So, why do you think it is that so many people are resistant to track their time?
Laura Vanderkam: Well, I mean for me the paths have sort of come over. I mean I’ve been tracking my time for more than three years now, which
nobody else is going to do. If you’re an accountant yes, you’ve
been tracking your work time for the 20 years you’ve been an
accountant or whatever, but most people aren’t tracking all their time, which is what I’ve been doing.
But, the thing is, I mean it’s like a journal that’s a holistic
journal, it shows you all your time. So I’ve kept journals here and
there over the years, but you’re writing the highlights or writing
what you’re complaining about, your mental state. That doesn’t
tell you that oh, well before that fun strawberry picking trip we
had also gone to the pool that morning. It never would’ve been
able to piece together that whole summer day in a way that I can, looking at these lines on a time log.
©Productivity Paradox Page 7 of 11
But tracking my time has made me very aware of my time, it has made time seem fuller and more vast, because I’m not
asking where did the time go because I know exactly where the
time went. I know where every half hour of my life for the past
three plus years has gone, I can look it up. I can see. And so that
has cemented memories in many ways, particularly as I go back
over these logs now, and study them and see what I like and what I don’t like.
Tanya Dalton: Well you obviously have it down to a science, because you talk in the book about how it’s really not intrusive in your day. And I
think that’s one of the things people worry about, so what are
some tips for how you can track your time?
Laura Vanderkam: So, some of the … I mean I keep my time on these weekly spreadsheets, and for me that has been the best setup. I don’t
really want an App because I don’t want my phone on me all the time. But a spreadsheet gives me better data to work with than
just writing it down in a notebook. I mean it’s really whatever tool works for you, but for me the spreadsheet and half hour blocks.
Half hours are enough to get a good sense of life, but not crazy
like every six minutes or something, like lawyers do.
I basically just write down maybe three times a day what
I’ve done since the last check in. Because I’ve been doing this for so long I kind of have mental markers in my mind of what I was
doing at different points, and so then I can actually pretty much
reconstruct a whole day if I need to. But three times a day I check in, my laptop tends to go with me most places, and if it doesn’t
then I will take notes on a piece of paper and put it in later when I get back.
So it’s really not that intrusive to me, just three times a day, it’s like three minutes, one minute each time. And so three
minutes a day is about the same amount of time I spend brushing my teeth, so it doesn’t seem like that huge a commitment.
Tanya Dalton: Yeah, it really doesn’t seem like it is, especially I like the idea of as you’re starting it off, just keeping a little piece of paper in your
pocket and writing it down, or getting to that point where you
can just check in a couple of times during the day. I think it’s so
valuable, I think you share so many insights as to what you get
out of your time tracking, how you know how much time you
need to sleep, and how you understand the rhythms of your life in a lot of ways, I think.
Laura Vanderkam: Well, and I think the resistance that a lot of people have for it … I mean sometimes people have to track time for work, so they
really just are resistant to the idea of the rest of their life, because they feel like they want to be off the clock. And I’m like, “Well it’s not for the rest of your life, try it for one week.” But for other
people I think it’s really like you don’t want to feel this gotcha
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sense, oh I saw that you were wasting 10 minutes here. I mean
everybody wastes time, it is really not about figuring out how
much time you’re wasting.
It’s about making sure you have a good sense of your life,
so that if you are making changes, you’re making them from good data, as opposed from making them from these stories we tell
ourselves, stories which are often problematic. Like oh I work full time, so I never see my kids. Well, you work 40 hours, there’s 168 hours in a week, there’s probably some other hours that are not
accounted for on your tab, that you’re seeing your children.
Or, you know, like oh, I never sleep. Okay, well we had two bad nights and that felt horrible, but maybe we slept some more on some other nights, so let’s try and keep it in perspective
instead of catastrophizing it.
I think that, yeah … So it’s not about oh, you wasted time
here and there, it’s about making sure the stories are right. And
then seeing how we might redeploy time for fun stuff. I know
certainly once I started tracking my time and saw that I actually
was reading a fair amount, I just wasn’t reading anything good,
because in my mind I wasn’t really reading that much so I didn’t
have time, it wasn’t worth figuring out what I should read during
this time, what would be good for me to be reading during this
time, because I didn’t have that much time, so why would I
And I saw, you know, I’m reading almost an hour a day, it’s just I’m reading crap. So let me read something better, and I’ll
actually be intentional about this time that I’m reading, and I’ve
started making it through a lot more great literature in that time. So that’s a reason to track time.
Tanya Dalton: You really have made it through some amazing books you mentioned in your book, which … I think that’s true, that’s the
benefit I think of this time tracking is it does dispel a lot of these stories that we tell ourselves, that I don’t spend enough time with my children, I don’t get enough sleep, I don’t have time to
exercise. All those things, if you look at it very consciously and
intentionally, I think you’ll see these pockets where you’re like oh, wait a minute, I do have those moments in my day.
And so I think that builds into this idea of then being able
to linger, and to savor your time. And I like what you talked about when you said it doesn’t have to be about taking a long time off, like a vacation, but there are many ways that you can linger and
you can savor different points of your day.
So, what are some of the small ways that we can cultivate more lingering and more savoring of time in our daily lives?
Laura Vanderkam: Well, one thing is not to fill your time with stuff you don’t want to do, right?
Tanya Dalton: Seems like an easy one, but yes.
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Laura Vanderkam: Yeah, no, I mean if you’re having a good time with, let’s say you’ve managed to arrange to get a coffee date with a friend but you’ve stacked stuff in that you feel like you have to do the rest of the
afternoon, you can’t spend an extra 15 minutes really enjoying this conversation with your friend, right, because you’re having to
race off. But maybe it would’ve been better to just push that stuff out, or not do it in the first place, and then you could’ve had that coffee last a little longer if you’re having a really good time.
It could be something like sitting at the dinner table a little bit longer, if people are having a good time. Maybe the bedtime
routine can start a little bit later. It’s things like continuing to read a good book, rather than being like oh, should I be checking my
email right now? No, you don’t need to be checking your email
right now. Just stay with it, like if you’re having a good time, stay with it.
And the whole thing of lingering and savoring, which are
somewhat similar words, but it’s just notice that life is good.
Sometimes we don’t even have to call attention to it, there is
nothing wrong right now. I don’t need to have my shoulders up in the air, up by my ears tensed up, there is nothing wrong. I am not unhappy now, right?
And just calling attention to this fact is often very
Tanya Dalton: And I think not feeling guilty, because I think a lot of times so many people feel guilty. Is it okay that I am happy? Is it okay that I’m spending time doing something I love when, oh gosh, there’s so many other things to do? I like to tell people that your
unhappiness doesn’t help anybody else, right? So there’s nothing wrong …
Laura Vanderkam: Well, and the other people don’t care.
Tanya Dalton: So true.
Laura Vanderkam: I mean coming back to this topic that nobody notices, nobody cares. Everyone is wrapped up in their own little worlds. Like if
you’re doing X, Y, or Z because you think the world will judge you if you don’t, I’m telling you, 99.9% of the people on this planet
have no clue who either of us are, right? So, it doesn’t really
Tanya Dalton: I think you’ve poured a lot of truth into this interview, just as you have into the book. I want to encourage my listeners to head over to Amazon, check out Laura’s book. It’s called Off the Clock, and it is out today. I’m very excited about it, because I really feel like
it’s full of so many great examples and stories that people can
really understand and grasp. I think a lot of times when people
talk about productivity, or they talk about the theories behind
them, it can be a little bit abstract. And you’ve done a beautiful
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job, Laura, of making it so attainable and so realistic for so many of us, to look at our time in a different way, and to really enjoy our time off the clock. So, thank you so much for being on the show
Laura Vanderkam: Thank you so much for having me.
Tanya Dalton: Didn’t I tell you Laura was amazing? I knew you would enjoy this episode. All right, in the mean time I want to remind you again
that I’m offering that free training, five healthy habits to boost
your productivity. You can sign up for that at inkwellpress.com/ fivehabits.
And next week on the show, we’re going to be talking
about overthinking, and how overthinking can be a stumbling
block. But I have a few ways that we can turn that into a starting block, so I hope to see you then.
Until next time, I hope you have a beautiful and productive week.
Thanks for listening to Productivity Paradox from inkWELL Press. To join Tanya’s free group, simply go to inkwellpress.com/group.