Friday, March 16, 2018

Time Management Tips with Laura Vanderkam

Laura Vanderkam

You would think that at this stage of my life I would have figured out how to manage my time. On most days I do a good job - although I must admit that Procrastination can be my superpower.

Just like books and articles and tips on decluttering and simplifying, I love reading how to manage time efficiently and am always looking for ways to save time. 

I know I am not alone in this pursuit. On Monday, I attended a full-house presentation by Laura Vanderkam put on by a local healthcare group. I have attended and written about a couple of these seminars starring Peter Walsh, Gretchen Rubin, and others.

Ms. Vanderkam is an author and time management expert. She took the stage and I could tell right away she was going to give a terrific talk. She was all smiles and energy. She has studied the schedules of successful people and her presentation covered her seven favorite strategies for managing the 168 hours a week we all have to spend.

Now, I am going to briefly share them with you.

1. Mind your hours - Look at where your time is going. She keeps a written spreadsheet schedule set up in 30 minute increments, but she says there are also computer/phone apps that will help with this. She suggests doing this for work hours and leisure hours. Once you see where you are spending your time, you can begin to determine what you like most about your schedule, what you want to do more of, and what you want to get off your plate. 

2. Look forward - We build the lives we want and then time saves itself, she says. Her suggestion is to list anything you want to spend time doing and goals you want to achieve both personally and professionally this year. Then pretend it is the end of 2018 and give yourself a performance review. What three amazing things came about in your personal life? In your professional life? These are your top priorities for the year. Post the list prominently where you will see it every day. This list will inform your choices.

3. First things first - Fill your life with things that deserve to be there. Time will stretch to accommodate what you choose to put into it. We live our lives in weeks, not days, she says. Take Friday afternoon and think through the coming week. List the top three priorities in your career, your personal life, and your own self care. Get as many of them scheduled at the first of the week as you can because stuff will come up to throw your week into a tailspin.

4. Move time around - Perhaps you can schedule a split shift which means you work in the morning, go to your kid's soccer game in the afternoon, and then do work in the evening. This doesn't have to happen every day, but if you have the flexibility to do this once or twice a week, take advantage of work/life integration. Same goes for exercise or reading - the time is there. Stop looking for the perfect time each day to go to the gym or play in your sketchbook. Things don't have to happen daily or at the same time. Look at your week and choose. View time more holistically.

5. Build in space - Leaving space in your week invites opportunity in a way a cluttered calendar can't. Be careful with the word 'yes'. Do a calendar triage. What's already on your calendar? What do you really not want to do? What can you minimize - have shorter meetings? Make a phone call instead of holding a meeting? What can you outsource?

6. Monitor your energy - Make time, not just take time, to exercise and sleep. Your brain needs breaks. Falling down the internet rabbit hole is a fake break. What can you put into your workdays and weekends that will add to your energy level and rejuvenate you? Be productive about scheduling leisure time. Think about it intentionally.

7. Use bits of time - Five minutes here, ten minutes there add up. Take these bits of time to do something that adds joy to your day: read a few pages in a book or magazine, step outside and breathe, talk to someone face-to-face, look at the clouds.

I admit I have over the years incorporated many of these suggestions, I just didn't have a name for them. As a freelance writer I have to pay attention to how I schedule my time. But as someone who works from home, a lot of my time gets frittered away. Actually, I am OK with that. My brain breaks include staring out the window, having a cup of tea and a cookie, or maybe a short phone conversation. Oh, and naps are a top priority!

One suggestion that she gave to a recently retired woman during the Q&A time that I found especially helpful was to compress what you have to do in a chunk of time (e.g., run all your errands on Tuesday morning) and schedule what you want to do during the rest of the week. I have a tendency to do chores and run errands willy-nilly when I think of them. It feels as if I am always doing maintenance tasks so I am going to pay special attention to this tip.

There you go. No more excuses. Pick one of her suggestions to start with and see how it works for you. Then you can try another one. I bet they will make your life more blessed and less stressed!

Off The Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done

Ms. Vanderkam has several books out including I Know How She Does It - How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time; and 168 Hours - You Have More Time Than You Think. Her latest, to be published in May, is Off the Clock - Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done.

If you are interested in seeing Ms. Vanderkam in action, here is a link to one of her TED Talks.


  1. I think one of my assets as an adult is that I'm extremely lazy and I'm possessive about my free time. I can be extremely creative about getting work done as quickly and efficiently as possible. I also set realistic goals so I don't end the day feeling that I've failed. My goal, of course, is to have as much time as possible to read!

    1. Hi,Joan. I like to leave tons of white space in my calendar. I try not to schedule more than one thing a day! Oddly enough, on the Monday of this presentation, it was the third event I had to attend that day. And the next day held another three events. I don't know what happened. I was exhausted by Wednesday. That's when napping comes in handy.

      My morning mantra: Whatever I do today will be enough.

    2. I like your mantra! Very sensible.

  2. Even now, I can hardly resist reading a book about time management or organization...and I still often come away with helpful tips.

    I read Laura's blog regularly and have talked about a couple of her books on my blog. I love her practical tips, but her schedule exhausts me. I keep reminding myself that she's younger than I am...but I fear that even when I was her age, I didn't have half her energy. I guess that means I should double down on applying her very sensible advice on time management. I do look forward to reading her new book.

    I love your mantra, too!

    1. Oh, Kathy! And here I thought I discovered Laura Vanderkam! I probably have read about her on your blog but didn’t retain the name or make the connection. The older I get the less I want to do and I want to do those things fairly quickly so I can do what I really want to do!

    2. Me, too! I don't understand people who wonder what they'd do all day if they retired. I have a list as long as my arm of things I'd like to do if only I had more time not earmarked for responsibilities!

    3. True! Maintenance takes up too much time!