Best-Selling Author Laura Vanderkam

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As the popular writer of books like I Know How She Does It and What The Most Successful People Do Before BreakfastLaura Vanderkam could deliver a masterclass on productivity and time management. Intrigued by time management and the art of planning, Laura has collected and analyzed hundreds of daily schedules from women. Her research has found that with the art of planning your days, weeks, months and years with both short-term and long-term vision, you can have a successful career, while also intentionally celebrating and enjoying life.

Laura firmly believes that there are ways women can confidently pursue their careers and have a family life they love. In fact, she’s found that women who have leadership roles can actually have more of a work/life balance. “Don’t fear the big job,” she advises. It turns out many big jobs are actually more family-friendly than jobs that are, in theory, less demanding. “When you’re high up in the ladder, you call the shots [and] the meeting happens at a time that’s convenient for you.”

In episode 53 of I Want Her Job: The Podcast, Laura shares other advice for going big. She also speaks with Host Polina Selyutin about the “myth” of the 85-hour workweek and the importance of planning out your weekend.

Topics Discussed In Today’s Show:

  • A Will To Write: “I’ve always wanted to be a writer,” Laura says. “I grew up knowing that’s what I wanted to do. I wrote stories at night in my room for fun. I really enjoyed being part of my high school’s newspaper.”
  • Diving In Deep: Laura says her focus on writing and speaking about productivity developed out of an interest in the topic, as well as the fact that others were interested in reading about it. “I’d written about a lot of different things early in my career, and [productivity] was a topic that just stuck,” Laura says. “As the book world works, once you start writing about one topic (and get a book out on one topic), that tends to become what you’re known for. I’ve enjoyed having that as my expertise.”
  • The Balancing Act: For her book, I Know How She Does It, Laura looked at 1,001 days of time diaries from women who made six-figures and also had kids at home. There’s this perception, she says, that any woman who wants to have children and succeed professionally is this “harried mess” like Sarah Jessica Parker in the movie I Don’t Know How She Does It. “I wanted to see if that was true,” she says. So, she looked at how people actually spent their time. The result? “Most women who have big jobs and families, actually have far more balanced, in-control lives than the popular narrative conveys.”
  • How It Happens: So, how, exactly are women managing this? Women with big jobs don’t work around the clock, Laura says. “Nobody in my study worked more than 70 hours in the week they recorded.” This list of participants even included accountants in the middle of a busy tax season, lawyers and doctors… In other words, those who you think have jobs “heavy on the hours,” she says.
  • Saving Time For Sleep: “Women [in her study] tended to be getting enough sleep,” Laura says. “And 90% of the women I studied were sleeping more than 7 hours a day, averaged over the week.”
  • A Week Versus A Day: One of the most important lessons Laura says she learned from her research is that the women in her study were very flexible with the hours that they worked. Although there’s this idea out there that women, particularly mothers, will not work long hours because they’ll never see their children. But, as Laura points out, her two-year-old wakes up at 5:30 a.m. in the morning, giving them 2 hours together before she starts her workday. She says many women work what she calls a “split-shift,” coming home at a reasonable hour a few nights a week, spending time with family and then doing more work when the kids are in bed. “There’s a lot of working flexibly to get the hours in,” she says. “It becomes very tempting if you have a day that’s particularly long or stressful at work to say, this is my life … this is typical. This is what my life looks like. On the other hand, if you view in the context of whole week: maybe that was one bad night, but the other nights you’re home early. Focus on whole week rather than trying to get everything done in one particular day.”
  • On Fear: One piece of advice Laura has for every woman? “Don’t fear the big job,” she says. Women sometimes actually make a mistake by thinking that taking a lower level or reduced-hour job can help her balance her work-life in the long-term. She notes that the higher up you get in your career, the easier it is to call the shots—like setting a meeting at a time that is convenient for you and it’s easier to say “no” to things. You also can earn enough to hire the kind of help you need to make all the pieces fit together. On the other hand, when you work part-time, you’re often at the other end of the totem pole. “Sometimes the career choices [women] make thinking it will help them be able to better blend work and family can actually keep them from being able to have it all,” she says.
  • A (Different Kind Of) Wage Gap: The women in Laura’s study for her recent book worked 44 hours a week, on average. In comparison, the average mom in the United States with a full-time job ends up working about 35 hours a week, and that same women earns under $40,000 a year. These sort of “regular” full-time jobs in the $40,000 range, versus the 6-figure jobs that might be more in the 44-hour range, can mean a lot of extra cash in your margins. So, again, go for that big job, Laura says.
  • The 85-Hours-A-Week Myth: While decreasing your hours might make you think that you’ll find a better work-life balance, it’s not always a great idea, Laura says. “Most people in professional white collar jobs have no idea how many hours they’re working per week. They’ll talk about their 85-hour-a-week job or 100-hour-a-week job. They’re not working 100 hours a week. They’re not, but they don’t know it.” She points to a study that showed that those claiming having worked 75+ hours in a week were actually off by 25 hours!
  • Working For The Weekend: “The weekend will pass one way or the other, and eventually you’ll be at Monday,” Laura says. “How are you going to feel on Monday? Are you going to feel like you’re relaxed and rejuvenated and [that] you enjoyed yourself, or are you going to feel like, ‘I have no idea where the time went.’”
  • Take Three: Some activities are more likely to rejuvenate you than others, Laura shares. Ask yourself what these things are. Then, ask yourself how you can make these things happen in the weekend. Try to build in three of the things that will help you feel relaxed and rejuvenated. “This can go a long way toward helping you feel like life is balanced and good; as opposed to feeling like you have no time for anything you want to do,” she says.
  • Think On This: If you calculate the time from Friday at 6 p.m. to Monday at 6 a.m. and subtract the time in that range one is recommended to sleep, you still end up with 36 hours that you can spend any way you want in a given weekend. Yes, almost as much as the time you put into a workweek!
  • Getting That Goal: Laura says she aims for 12 goals each year. She breaks these goals down into three categories: professional, relationship, and personal. She then sets a quarterly goal in each of the three categories. In addition to that, Laura also creates summer fun lists and holiday lists, to name a few. She shares that she plans her week ahead each Friday afternoon, and takes the opportunity to scan her week to see where her personal and relationship priorities can be added into her week of professional priorities. “I feel like that keeps me on track pretty well,” she says.
  • On Her Job, Currently: “I think about how awesome my life is right now,” she says. “This month I’ve given a couple of speeches, but the speaking is great. I love interacting with audiences. It’s also a very efficient way to make money… Through the speeches I’ve given this month, I’ve made more in a month than I did in my first job—which was the whole year—and so that’s a nice thing, but you get there over time. It builds up. It’s all cumulative.”
  • The Slow Build: Laura shares, “The first book was slow-selling out of the gate, but then after that, the next one has the audience from the first one and the new people you gain from that. The next one has the audience from those two, and you gain more people, and so on.”
  • How SHE Does It: How does the productivity master organize her week? She says her speaking occupies about 25% of her time, her writing 50% of the time, and administrative tasks for her business 25% of the time.
  • A Writer, A Reader:  “I find that every time I’m reading really good writers, I become better at writing myself and figuring out how ideas sound good in written form, and how to convey things and create certain moods,” Laura shares. “The more I read, I think the better I get at that, and that’s why I want to spend my time doing it.”
  • On Prioritization: What is one thing Laura has learned as a productivity researcher and writer? ‘‘I don’t have time,’ means, ‘It’s not a priority,’” she says.
  • Next Up: Laura is currently working on her latest book, set to launch in May 2018. It’s called, Off the Clock: The Fine Art of Feeling Less Busy While Getting More Done, and it looks at how some very busy people can feel relaxed about time and how you can, too.
  • For More: Check out Laura’s new podcast, Best of Both Worlds, where she and her friend, Sarah Hart Unger, a Miami Beach-based physician with two (soon-to-be-three) children, discuss work-life balance from the perspective that the balance is actually very doable!
  • Connect: Follow Laura on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

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