"It is, in short, about how to enjoy and make the most of your time, by which I mean investing as much as you wish in everything that matters: work, family, community, leisure. It is about celebrating abundance rather than lamenting choices or claiming that no one can have it all."
Laura Vanderkam has made a career out of studying and exploring how people use their time. With each new research project and book she releases, there is a new question that fascinates her. In her latest book I Know How She Does It, Vanderkam’s key question was, how do successful women live their (perceived to be) very full lives? This is a question of great debate, borne out of Anne-Marie Slaughter’s now infamous article in The Atlantic claiming that women “cannot have it all.”
With a desire to explore this claim more, Vanderkam set out to analyze 1,001 days recorded by women in her study. What she found was surprising – “Their lives didn’t look that bad.” Yes, they were busy but they have time for family, community and leisure activities. On top of that, most were getting a decent amount of sleep per night. Vanderkam’s analysis morphed into a more interested question that challenges Slaughter’s claim – how can we amend the cultural narratives that we live our lives by? The answer is storytelling that shows us new narratives about the realities of women’s lives.
I Know How She Does It is a unique blend of storytelling about women’s lives coupled with best practices and tips that emerged from the research. Vanderkam looks at three areas of women’s lives – work, home, and self – exploring each in detail to paint a new picture of what successful women’s lives are really like.
Understand How You Actually Use Your Time
"Taking a clear look at work hours, and how much we can or want to work, is the first step to building a life that’s truly balanced, and moving forward on all fronts."
The basis of Vanderkam’s research for this book are time logs, where women kept track of their time in 30 minute increments. These logs are of course important for her research, but they have the added benefit of revealing to the person keeping them how their time is really used. From the research that she did for her first book 168 Hours, Vanderkam knew that people tend to grossly misunderstand where their time is going. Typically, we tend to overestimate how much time we spend working and underestimate how much time we have for other activities.
Once you have an understanding of how you actually use your time, and for that matter how much time you actually have, you can make more empowered decisions about how to use your time. I would also add that this knowledge can help you change your personal narrative about your time.
Set Yourself Up for Success
"If you want to have it all – a life that involves professional success and plenty of time for personal pursuits too – then you need to be strategic about how you spend your work hours. Invested well, work hours generate great returns."
To set yourself up for success (however that is defined for you), it is important to use your time well. That includes work hours, which often have a tendency to be spent on not so important things. Vanderkam suggests several strategies to change this for ourselves:
- Look (and plan) forward – It’s hard to manage your time when you don’t know what is on the horizon. Find some pocket of time to allow yourself to get organized. This is often a great thing to do on Friday afternoons, which tend to be otherwise unproductive time.
- Do the real work – How often have you found yourself doing administrative or otherwise not productive tasks at work? It happens to all of us. It’s important to realize that we must make time for our real work, whatever that may be.
Self-Care is the Secret Ingredient
"…taking care of yourself need not be a casualty of juggling work and life."
There seems to be a plethora of information and research these days that tells us just how important self-care is. This includes things like sleep, exercise, and other leisure activities. The challenge is that most of us assume that we don’t have time for these things, which Vanderkam overturns with her research and challenge to readers to keep a time log. Vanderkam’s research participants averaged over seven hours of sleep per night – significantly more than people often claim to be getting. Similarly, many of her participants were already exercising, or soon realized that they had time for it.
One of the challenges that women often face when trying to make space for self-care is finding pockets of time for it. It often requires some amount of creativity. In The Fringe Hours by Jessica N. Turner, Turner suggests looking for those smaller pockets of time (15 or 20 minutes), or other opportunities we may have to practice self-care. While finding the time might be the biggest challenge, I would add that sometimes we haven’t found self-care practices that we truly love and look forward to. This leaves us less than excited to pursue these activities when we do finally have the time. If that’s the case for you, give yourself some space to experiment and find what works for you.
I greatly appreciated Vanderkam’s desire to tell stories that are counter to the ones we so often hear in our culture about successful women and their time. It is a refreshing look at what is actually possible.