Time management can be a tired subject. But it becomes brand new again when you think about it in terms of defining life and career on your own terms (one of our favorite subjects and Take The Lead power tool #1). And not just with regard to your profession, but what you want your life to look and feel like.
Laura Vanderkam, author of I Know How She Does It, joined Gloria Feldt earlier this month to speak on exactly this theme during her Take The Lead Virtual Happy Hour. It was all about making time work for you instead of the other way around. Rather than covering all of the old ground, asking whether or not women can truly have it all (plus more time!), Vanderkam talked about creating the life you want in very practical terms – lining up what matters most to you with where you spend your energy. (Then cutting yourself some slack when life interferes, because it always does).
Here are some highlights from the conversation:
- Change the narrative, tell more stories of women who like their lives! “So much of the literature about women, work, and life is profoundly negative,” Vanderkam shared. “Only telling the negative leads to the idea that success is unattainable… but I know a lot of women whose lives look good!”
- Most things aren’t a question of time, they’re about what is priority. Remind yourself (if you are privileged enough for this to be true) that you are the author of your own life and watch where you choose to spend your time. Adjust accordingly to meet your values and priorities. Next time you tell yourself you’re too busy to do something that matters to you, try saying, “It’s not a priority,” Vanderkam says, and see what changes.
- Important family matters matter. If you are spending a lot of your time taking care of another being, whether that’s a child or another family member, honor it as a priority she said, give it the time it deserves… and make sure you also take time for yourself. Even if your days are swamped, ask, “Aside from this all-consuming thing, what are 1-2 self-care things I need to do today as well?”
- Stress is normal! “Some days just suck,” Vanderkam says. “It doesn’t necessarily mean you need to change something about your life.” This was fairly mind-blowing.
- If you’re a leader or a mentor to someone, show your mentees that you have a life beyond work. One way to encourage a healthy workplace culture is to show how you yourself don’t prioritize work above everything else. There are appropriate ways to be open about family and loved ones and interests outside of work. “Highlight the diversity of your experiences so that younger women can see what healthy balance looks like,” Vanderkam says. “Don’t just talk about tasks and projects.”
- It’s ok to work a little on vacation. Some women like their work (what an idea) and are nourished by it! Let yourself work on that article or business plan on break if you want to and it feeds you.
- Get proactive about dealing with procrastination. Sometimes procrastinating on important tasks (personal or work related) is a clue, Vanderkam says, that that thing isn’t really important to you. Listen to that as it could point you in a new, better direction. If you procrastinate, however, on something that you know is important to you, find an accountability partner.
- More responsibility typically means more flexibility. Some folks fear the big job, the leadership position, the new role. But Vanderkam reminded us that higher level jobs often mean you get to make more choices about how you spend your time. The same is true if you’re able to ask for flex-time or work from home 1-2 days per week. Yet another reason to take the lead.
- “You don’t build a life by ‘saving time’; you save time by building the life you want.” Enough said.
- Work is where you profitably live out your interests. Not unrelated to #9, this is a life-changing idea that again, places the potential in our hands as women leaders of our own lives. We do not all have this privilege of choosing exactly what we do for work – sometimes we just need to make ends meet – but this is a great challenge to live by for those of us who have choice in the matter or are out there changing workplaces and the meaning of work altogether.
And some super practical tips:
- Set boundaries and keep them. One big way we lose time is by failing to set boundaries with colleagues or always adjusting boundaries. Tell people when you won’t be available and kindly remind them when they overstep.
- Limit what you aim to accomplish each day. Vanderkam reminded us that if you do just 3-5 important things per day, that’s 15-25 great things per week (plenty of things!). This not only curbs feelings of “not enough-ness,” it also makes for a more doable, enjoyable day.
- Ask for forgiveness, not permission when taking flexibility (for whatever reason) at work.
- Every Friday, make a list with 3 categories – Self, Relationship, and Career and reflect. Reflect on how you would like to spend your time and be honest about where you see it really going now.
If you attended Vanderkam’s virtual happy hour, what were your favorite lessons?