Time. Like money, rest, and retinol, we all think we need more of it. There aren’t enough hours in the day or days in the weekend.
Enter I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time, a book by time management expert Laura Vanderkam. Laura’s book is centered on the idea that finding more time isn’t the problem for most women – but prioritizing and using it more effectively is.
Case in point: we have 168 hours in a week. If you subtract 49 hours of sleep (yes, you should be getting at least 7 hours of shut-eye each night) and 45 for time spent working and commuting, you’re left with a whopping 74 hours. Now let’s earmark, say, 15 of those hours for the not-so-fun obligatory stuff like running errands and cleaning the house. Now you’re down to 59. That’s plenty of time to work out, see your friends, soak in the tub, and make pancakes on the weekends, right? So why don’t you feel like you have 59 hours?
Unlike other efficiency books out there, Laura’s doesn’t focus on freeing up time just to do more. Her strategies are grounded in the notion of freeing up time to do more of what we love. Because who wants to find more time in the day just to fill it with chores and client calls? No one. But filling that time with a sunset walk alongside your husband or an hour to work in the garden? Now there’s something we can all get behind.
To find more time for the stuff you love, follow these smart tips from Laura’s book:
Be mindful of the little things.
Laura suggests we often feel rushed and short on time because “the human brain is structured for loss aversion, and so negative moments stand out more starkly than positive moments, particularly if they fit a popular thesis.”
This means that we’re often left with a lingering sense of time constraint after waking up late, rushing to work, and missing the first ten minutes of a meeting. Even if the rest of the day was smoothly on schedule, we won’t perceive it that way. And that late day will be seared into our memory while several on-time, uneventful days are forgotten.
“Sometimes the most important time management strategy is to take any bit of time in context. Any moment is fleeting,” says Laura. In other words, don’t let a few hectic minutes color your entire day, or a few hectic hours color your week.
While it’s important to recognize these fleeting moments for what they are, we should also realize that they add up to larger portions of our lives. We say we don’t have time to enroll in that Cuban cooking class or take up daily yoga practice, yet we spend upwards of 2 hours on social media each day and collapse in front of the TV each night for a marathon of The Handmaid’s Tale.
Laura recommends reclaiming small blocks of time by simply adjusting your small daily routines. If it’s common practice for you and your hubby to watch a few episodes of your favorite show together before bed, block off 30 minutes of that time for an activity you both enjoy. Use your newfound time to bake cookies or walk the dogs together – or, hey, have sex while the night is young and you both still have some energy left. Voila, you just added more meaningful (and potentially very satisfying) time to your schedule – and you didn’t have to cancel anything important to do it.
Strive for weekly balance rather than daily balance.
Finding time to do everything you want to do in a 24-hour timespan is damn near impossible. For one thing, it doesn’t leave any room for error or surprises, both of which our lives are full of. It also doesn’t leave us any downtime, which Yale Professor and happiness expert Dr. Laurie Santos says is key to cultivating a greater sense of wellbeing in our lives. Bestselling author and professor David Burkus has also found that taking breaks enhances creativity.
So instead of trying to cram work, play, fitness, relationships, chores, and god-knows-what-else into each 24-hour day, aim to fit all your priorities into each week. “Any given 24 hours might not be balanced, but the 168-hour week as a whole can be,” notes Laura. And that 168-hour balanced week will feel much more manageable than the “ideal day” you keep envisioning.
Now let’s talk about the best part of your week: weekends. Most of us mentally check out of work on Friday afternoon and do a deep-dive into weekend mode for the next 48 hours, only to spend Sunday night thinking about everything we need to get done in the coming week. And if you’ve ever had a job you despise, then you also fall into a what-am-I-doing-with-my-life malaise that I like to call the Sunday Night Depression.
What if you rearranged this order of events? Laura says to simply accept that Friday afternoon is not when you’re motivated to breeze through work – and, instead of zoning out while muddling through one last report, save it for Monday and spend the last hour of your Friday setting up your following week. Schedule meetings, return a few phone calls, shoot some project ideas over to a colleague – heck, even drop off some clothes at the dry cleaner.
Know what you just did? You just leveraged some of your most unproductive time and reclaimed your Sunday night. With a jumpstart on the week ahead, you can clear your mind of any work worries and extend your weekend so you can make the most of your Sunday.
Prioritize the important stuff – and let the rest go.
Real talk: if something is super-duper important, you’ll carve out time to do it, no matter how poorly it fits into your usual schedule. That expensive medical procedure, surprise car maintenance, or interview for your dream job will rise to the top of your to-do list and you’ll find a way to make it happen.
So if you aren’t moving mountains to squeeze in that online coding class, for example, it’s probably not as important as you keep saying it is. Laura puts it more bluntly: “‘I don’t have time’ really means ‘it’s not a priority.’“
This sounds a little harsh, but it doesn’t have to be taken as a criticism. Remember two of the pointers we covered earlier: there is only so much you can successfully accomplish in a day (or week), and breaks are just as important as your productive time. You don’t need to fill every moment with a goal or activity.
Here’s your second hard truth: you’re probably prioritizing some things that shouldn’t even make it to the top of your list – like, ever. If you feel like you’re barely hanging by a thread and yet you’re losing an hour or two of sleep each week to scrub your hardwood floors, put down the sponge and ask yourself how bad it is if you don’t get all the cleaning done.
Are any Heads of State coming over for dinner? No? Then it’s probably okay to relax for a few hours and put off the scrubbing until things slow down a little. As one mom in Laura’s book put it, “…nobody ever died of ‘going-to-school-in-the-same-shirt-as-yesterday disease.’“
If you’re Type A, this isn’t easy advice to take. But you’ll probably feel a hell of a lot better if you cut yourself a little slack. Give it a try.
Challenge your personal narrative.
You’ve probably noticed a theme by now. Most of Laura’s time management advice is centered on the stories we tell ourselves about what’s important – or even mandatory – and what isn’t. Simply changing your personal narrative can help you change your whole perception of how you spend your time.
Laura sums it up well: “I came to see that using time well, so that you enjoy time, rather than battle it, is often not about being more organized in the running of a household. It is about changing your mindset and recognizing that much of what fills our time is a choice. …it’s just as likely to be a matter of questioning what is a deeply held value, and what is merely a script memorized long ago. Sometimes life is hard for no good reason. Sometimes narratives serve no purpose beyond keeping you from the life you want.”
Change your narrative, change how you manage your time, and you just might change your life.