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Connect with Laura Vanderkam
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Laura is the author of several time management and productivity books, including Juliet’s School of Possibilities, Off the Clock, I Know How She Does It, What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast, and 168 Hours. She hosts the every-weekday-morning podcast Before Breakfast, and co-hosts (with Sarah Hart-Unger) Best of Both Worlds. Her TED talk, “How to gain control of your free time” has been viewed over 9 million times.


Episode #076: Killer Time Management Tips

  • Fun fact: Laura had a running streak of running daily for every day for at least a mile for three years! She ran up to the day before she had a baby and then hasn’t run since. Because baby. 🙂

  • If you want to spend your time better, you need to know how you are spending your time now. How will you change the right things? This is why tracking your time in log format is helpful.

  • If something you thought was a problem really isn’t or maybe there’s something you didn’t consider that is taking more time than you thought, then you need to see that not guess. This is why it’s important to just use data vs what you feel about your time. 

  • Track time over a week. Remember that the weekend is part of your life too so don’t exclude that. If you find that this whole idea is overwhelming, do two weekdays and 1 weekend day. 

    • Most people can remember how we spent yesterday with reasonable accuracy. So log yesterday and then begin to log today and log tomorrow. Then you already have 3 days of data pretty quickly. 

    • Once you start logging, you’ll be aware of stories you tell yourself of what you’re completing in a day, how much sleep you’re actually getting and how much time you take between actual tasks. 

  • If I’m trying to allocate 50 hours to do all my work in a week but I’m only working 40 hours a week, that’s good to know. 

  • What do you like about your schedule? Something is worth celebrating! 

    • Eating lunch with colleagues? Do you listen to podcast during your commute? Very good at bedtime? Whatever’s working keep doing it. Plug that into your schedule.

    • What do you want to spend more time doing? Decide this before you answer the next question. Then you’ll naturally spend time less on things you don’t want to. 

    • What do you want to spend less time doing?

  • How do I scale this up (the thing you want more of) for 1 or 2 hours a week into my life? 

    • Add these things into your calendar. It’s not a priority for you if you aren’t willing to schedule into your life. 

    • If there’s something you want to do, schedule it. But also, schedule a back up time. Because there’s things that come up and you might lose the time slot you planned for. Don’t let this one moment take you off course, just use Plan B’s time slot. 

  • Plan priorities in life – schedule, schedule, schedule!

    • Weekly planning is key

    • You could plan the upcoming week on Friday. By Friday afternoon you are not as productive at work as you tend to be earlier in the week. Use this down time at the end of the week. This way you can avoid the typical trepidation of Sunday afternoons that comes over you because of the unknown of a busy week that’s ahead of you. Because your energy was used Friday to make good decisions, you’re better preprared. If you plan on Friday, then Sunday you can schedule in other priorities and or even just relax.

  • Managing work and personal lives more efficiently – 

    • If you’re leaning towards burn out, you need to add to your energy levels. Are you allowing only subtractions vs adding too? Are you moving enough? Sleeping enough? Do you get filled up reading or talking to a friend? Monitor your energy throughout the day so you can proactively add energy back into your day and remain on track to extend the productive day. 

    • Are you a gung-ho morning person? Plan the tough work in the morning then shift gears. Take a real lunch and walk away from work and the computer. This is when you fall into traps of becoming unproductive. 

  • We take breaks all day long. Just recognize you can proactively put in your schedule some things that will give you energy. 

  • Busy work – make sure that anything that doesn’t demand your best self doesn’t get your best self. 

    • Don’t waste your good energy on things that you can do when you hit your afternoon slump. Great new content needs your best self vs email replies or paying a bill.

    • If you have to do a task earlier, build it in as a break to your schedule for a specific time, even if it’s in the morning. Take 10 minutes and get that off your plate.

    • Your inbox will be there at 10a even if you feel it calling you at 8a. It will always be there and accumulating messages. So focus on bigger projects or time consuming material when you’re fresh and engergetic.

    • Unless it’s an email you are waiting for that demands your best self, deleting newsletters aren’t the most pressing thing and best use of your time.

    • You can use hacks like “pause email”, but focus on training yourself to stick to your schedule and remaining on track with your task.

    • Separating places you do duties is another helpful hack – only check email upstairs; in the office do the content creation, etc. 

    • Not everything is urgent in email even though we treat it like it is.

    • Maybe combine some tasks – pray while brushing your teeth, plan out ideas in the shower. We all have morning routines but sure it’s the right stuff for you.

  • If you find you’ve been productive for awhile – a couple of months or whatever – give yourself permission to take a mini break and avoid burn out. Recharge yourself, your family, etc.

  • Time for your family is important

    • Split your working hours as an option. If you have a 10-11 hour work day, start the day working, take a chunk of time off and then work at night after they’re in bed. 

    • Workplace flexibility is helpful so you can schedule your life around what you want in the off hours and make sure you hit the necessary amount of hours you need to meet. 

  • Be intentional with your time. Make sure to put some thought into time so you don’t have it pass mindlessly.

  • It’s so important to be in control of your time.

  • Laura’s mantra: “We overestimate what we can do in the short run but we underestimate what we can do in the long run. So set limited goals daily but just keep going, you can do amazing things.”

Helpful references from the episode:

BOOKS by Laura:

168 Hours: You have more time than you think

Off The Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done

I Know How She Does It

Ted Talk: How To Gain Control Of Your Free Time

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