In this episode we ask - how do you make decisions that let you see beyond your every day inbox, busy work, and demands of others? We uncover that there are huge mismatches between how you think you spend your time and how you actually spend it. We share you can deal with the fear, and the reality, of disappointing other people and not meeting their expectations and we share one simple strategy - in 30 minutes - that can help you reclaim control of your time with our guest Laura Vanderkam.
Laura Vanderkam is the author of several time management and productivity books. Her TED talk titled “How To Gain Control of Your Free Time” has been viewed over 5 million times and she is the co-host of the podcast Best of Both Worlds. Her work has appeared in publications including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, and Fortune.
Her latest book, Juliet’s School of Possibilities: A Little Story About The Power of Priorities, is available now!
While people are happy to get information, they remember it much better when its in the form of stories
You should make time in your life for what’s important.
Time is a choice, you’re ALWAYS choosing how you spend your time.
Expectations on your time are infinite.
You’re always disappointing someone.
You HAVE to choose how to spend your time, whether you want to or not
What people often miss, especially when you try to be everything to everyone, there are tradeoffs and opportunity costs to EVERYTHING - even if you don’t see it
The opportunity costs are often the hardest to see, and yet most important, things that we miss
Saying yes to something is, by definition, saying no to something else. Every choice to do one thing is is, by definition, a choice to NOT do something else.
Have you ever binged an entire book or TV series in a short amount of time? That’s proof that you have more time than you think, you’re just not spending it how you necessarily want to.
Pay attention to where your time goes.
How do you make decisions that let you see beyond your every day inbox, busy work, and demands of others?
If you picture yourself as very happy in the next 5-10 years - you’re receiving an award or someone is giving a speech about the amazing things you’ve done - what would that person talk about? What accomplishments would they share about you?
Envision your ideal future, and start to bring those things into your life.
Your priorities should inform your scheduling choices. It’s that simple. And yet so few people do it.
You must consciously choose to invest time in the things that matter to you. If you don’t your time will be TAKEN AWAY FROM YOU, by someone else’s priorities.
It’s not a priority just because someone else thinks is it important or because society at large thinks it’s important.
Time is a choice.
This doesn’t have to be huge chunks of time, even an hour or two a week can be transformational.
Challenge yourself to find 30 mins a day, or 3.5hrs a week - of extra time per week. Anyone can achieve this.
This can apply to both your PERSONAL life and to your professional life - too often we neglect one or the other or think time management only
Is the bigger challenge to figure out your own priorities or just to make time for them?
What questions or activities can you do to figure out what’s most important to you and where you SHOULD spend your time?
Ask yourself- how can I spend more time in my current life on the things that I value, care about, and want to spend time doing?
Schedule it in your calendar
How do you deal with the fear, and the reality, of disappointing other people and not meeting their expectations?
You can’t go through life without disappointing anyone.
Having a goal of never disappointing anyone is not a good goal.
What were you thinking about on today’s date, two years ago?
Likewise, whatever is keeping you up now probably won’t matter in two years
Trying to manage your time without measuring it is like losing weight without paying attention to your diet and exercise habits.
There are HUGE mismatches between how you THINK you spend your time, and how you actually spend it.
By doing a time audit you start to realize huge opportunities in your schedule and where you are spending your time.
Often times the small chunks of time here and there start to add up - and don’t register on how you’re spending your time.
Homework: Time tracking is the best starting point. Write down what you’ve done over the previous 24 hours. Try that out for a week.
Many things in life can’t be measured, but time is one thing that CAN.
Thank you so much for listening!
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Want To Dig In More?! - Here’s The Show Notes, Links, & Research
Fast Company - “13 hidden pockets of daily free time you didn’t know you had (and how to make the most of them)” by Laura Vanderkam
Medium - “The Case for Keeping Your Goals to Yourself’ by Laura Vanderkam
[Podcast] Afford Anything - #147: HOW TO BELIEVE YOUR TIME IS ABUNDANT, WITH LAURA VANDERKAM
[Podcast] The Productive Woman - Being Intentional with Time, with Laura Vanderkam – TPW217
[Podcast] Pivot - 119: Off the Clock—Finding Time Freedom with Laura Vanderkam
[Podcast] Financial Grownup - HOW TO BUY FREE TIME WITH "OFF THE CLOCK" AUTHOR LAURA VANDERKAM (ENCORE)
168 Hours (By Laura Vanderkam) Book Summary From Lifehack Bootcamp
Savoring by Fred B. Bryant and Joseph Veroff
Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done by Laura Vanderkam
168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam
[SoS Episode] Everything You Know About Sleep Is Wrong with Dr. Matthew Walker
[SoS Episode] The Secret That Silicon Valley Giants Don’t Want You To Know with Dr. Adam Alter
[SoS Episode] Essentialism - Get the Mental Clarity to Pursue What Actually Matters with Greg McKeown
[00:00:04.4] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to The Science of Success. Introducing your host, Matt Bodnar.
[0:00:11.8] MB: Welcome to the Science of Success; the number one evidence-based growth podcast on the internet with more than three million downloads and listeners in over a hundred countries.
In this episode, we ask how do you make decisions that let you see beyond your everyday inbox, busy work and the demand of others? We uncover that there are huge mismatches between how you think you spend your time and how you actually spend it. We share how you can deal with the fear and the reality of disappointing other people and not meeting their expectations. We share one simple strategy in 30 minutes that can help you reclaim control of your time with our guest, Laura Vanderkam.
I’m going to tell you why you’ve been missing out on some incredibly cool stuff if you haven’t signed up for our e-mail list yet. All you have to do to sign up is to go to successpodcasts.com and sign up right on the home page.
On top of tons subscriber-only content, exclusive access and live Q&As with previous guests, monthly giveaways and much more. I also created an epic free video course just for you. It's called How to Create Time for What Matters Most Even When You're Really Busy. E-mail subscribers have been raving about this guide.
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Sign up for my e-mail list today by going to successpodcast.com and signing up right on the home page, or if you're on the go, if you're on your phone right now, it's even easier. Just text the word “smarter”, that's S-M-A-R-T-E-R to the number 44-222. I can't wait to show you all the exciting things you'll get when you sign up and join the e-mail list.
In our previous episode, we discussed how you can understand the world with powerful clarity, what makes other people behave in certain ways, what are the most important concepts and ideas in the business world? Do you often feel you're looking for a magic bullet or a paint-by-numbers approach to solving your problems? The solution to all of these questions lies in a powerful framework that we explain in depth and showed you how to apply with our previous guest, Josh Kaufman. If you want to learn an epic mental framework that could literally change your life, listen to that episode.
Now for our interview with Laura.
[0:03:16.9] MB: Today, we have another exciting guest back on the show. We are welcoming back Laura Vanderkam. Laura's show with us got great reviews and we're excited to have her back to discuss more of her wisdom and her newest book, Juliet's School of Possibilities. She's the author of several time management and productivity books and her TED talk titled How to Gain Control of Your Free Time has been viewed more than five million times.
She's also the co-host of the Best of Both Worlds Podcast and her work has appeared in publications ranging from the New York Times, to The Wall Street Journal and much more. Laura, welcome to the Science of Success.
[0:03:53.5] LV: Thank you so much for having me back.
[0:03:55.8] MB: Well, we're really excited to have you back on the show. I'm a huge fan of the themes and ideas that we covered in the previous episode, which I’ll obviously throw in the show notes for listeners who want to go and check that out as well. There's just so many important things and ideas that you share. I think we have a shared perspective on priorities, or time management, or whatever you want to call it. Time management is a problematic term. Before we get into that, I'm curious what inspired you to write this more narrative-driven book as opposed to a traditional nonfiction book?
[0:04:32.8] LV: Well, I'm always trying to do new things. I figure if people just want my take on time management, there's other books they can buy. They can read the old ones. If I want people to keep coming along with me for new books, I need to give them something different. As a writer and as a speaker, I've learned over the years that while people are happy to get information, they remember it much better when it comes in the form of a story. People just love stories. We know this, right? It's our favorite speeches, our favorite people we want to talk to at parties are those who have a good story.
I wondered well, can I turn what I've learned about time management into a story? Fortunately, my publisher is the same publisher who's done a number of other parables in the past. They're familiar with the concept and they were very excited to do something that was just a little bit different.
[0:05:23.5] MB: I agree. I think sometimes when you approach something from the perspective of a parable, it breaks through or sticks in a way that often just reading a rote list of do this and do this and here's why, it penetrates more when it comes in the form of a narrative story in many cases.
[0:05:42.6] LV: It definitely does, because I mean, we sympathize with other human beings and what they're going through and we can see ourselves in these characters. When they're facing a dilemma, we can understand and we can have opinions about what they should do. I can tell people and I have been telling people for years, well you should make time in your life for what's important. Then you're always choosing how you spend your time. Time is a choice, and so you want to make sure that you are choosing well.
There's a certain number of people that I think will find it more memorable, or easier to grasp when they hear the story of somebody whose life is falling apart, because she can't make good choices about how to spend her time and how she learns to do that and a moment of reckoning. I enjoy writing fiction. It's something I've done on the side for years. I'm excited to combine those two different writing loves about productivity and also the sideline of fiction into one book.
[0:06:38.6] MB: I think many people in the modern world to some degree or another, have that same feeling, or fear, or experience of their lives falling apart, because they don't know how to make choices about how to spend their time.
[0:06:52.4] LV: Yeah, I definitely agree. I mean, I see this all the time on time logs that people – the way I phrase it is that expectations are infinite and that time is finite. I mean, there's always something else you could be doing, something that somebody else expects from you, or that you expect from yourself, or that work expects from you, or that you feel you should be doing, or feel society at large just telling you you should be doing.
I mean, these expectations are as many as the stars, but we only have 24 hours in a day, or 168 hours in a week. While I do feel it is enough time to do the things that are important to us, it's not enough time to do everything. We're always making choices about how we spend our time. I guess one way to put it is that you're always disappointing someone, which may sound a bit depressing, but I prefer to think of it more as liberating, because once you recognize that every time you're choosing to do one thing, you're choosing not to do something else.
You realize, well you have to choose. Because you have to choose, you are liberated to choose what is right for you. Hopefully people reading Juliet's School of Possibilities will feel empowered to say, “I can put off checking my e-mail until later in the day, because there's this big project I really want to dive into and get my full focus.” Or, “I don't have to look down at the text coming in my phone, because there's this person in front of me who has fascinating things to say and I want to listen and give my full attention to this.” Or, “There's more to life than just working and I'm allowed to take time on the weekends to do something that I find enjoyable; time on the evenings, time in the mornings. I think that's my goal is that people will realize that they are choosing how to spend their time and they have a lot more power than they think.
[0:08:31.8] MB: I think both of those are really important points. One is this notion that not only are you choosing how to spend your time, but you have to make a choice of how it gets allocated. Even more important than that, what people often miss is that and especially when you're trying to please everybody, or be everything to everyone is that whether you see them or not, there are material trade-offs and opportunity costs to any choice you make about how to spend your time.
[0:09:01.1] LV: Yeah. The opportunity cost is something that is so hard to see, because inevitably what happens when somebody asks for our time and you think about how we wind up filling our time, it's usually somebody has asked for it for some reason or another. We've volunteered it for something. When we're looking at our time and deciding whether we want to give it to something, we're often asking the question of am I free? Which is a good question to ask, but it's probably not the only question to ask, particularly for things that are happening far in the future.
I mean, I look at my calendar for July, yeah, sure, I'm free. I'm free for anything in July at this point, but I'm not. By July, there will be many, many things that are right in front of me that I could be doing. Saying yes to something that isn't a great use of my time means I will have to give something up. We don't always see this, but then we find ourselves too busy to do the things that we really care about, or we're having to say no to things that might have been more interesting, because we're already committed to something else.
I think being a little bit more aware of the opportunity cost and understanding that every choice to do one thing is a choice not to do something else, even if you don't really feel that you're actively making a choice.
[0:10:13.7] MB: I really like that notion that saying yes to something is essentially by definition, saying no to something else. Every choice to do one thing is by definition a choice not to do something else. How do we help people who don't necessarily see that, or experience that because it's somewhat ephemeral? How do we help people make that realization?
[0:10:40.1] LV: Well, I think one of the best ways to see that how much choice we do have over time is something I've talked about a lot, but just a little hack for your life is if you're not aware of how much time you are choosing, try picking up a real page-turner of a book, or a binge-worthy series, start on TV. Because magically, you start turning all available space into time to read that page-turner book, or time to watch that binge-worthy series.
You say like, “Oh, wait. How did I manage to get through a 400-page book this weekend?” Well, it's because all time that would have been spent scrolling through headlines, or moving mail from one pile to the other in your house, or running errands that probably didn't actually need to be run, or watching TV you didn't actually care about, all of that is repurposed to this one thing that you truly, truly, truly want to get through, because you got to find out what happens next.
If you do that, note where that time is, note how much space you manage to devote to reading or watching this series. Then say, “Well, maybe I could use some of that time for other things that I've been saying that I would like to get to.” Maybe that's time that theoretically I'm allocating to one thing, but I don't have to, right? I can make a different choice if I wish.
[0:12:02.3] MB: Zooming out and thinking about this from a slightly larger perspective, how do we – how do listeners start to make decisions that help them see beyond the things that pile up every day, whether it's e-mails, or demands from other people's time, or busy work? How do you start to develop that space or that perspective to gain an understanding of what your priorities are and where your time should be spent?
[0:12:28.7] LV: Yeah. I think it's really important to look forward into the future. One of the things that happens in this book in Juliet’s School of Possibilities is that the title character Juliet helps Riley who's the young person whose life is falling apart, see different visions of her future. She has her look very far into the future to see what her life might look like as a result of various choices that she makes. It’s a bit like Ebenezer Scrooge is looking backwards and stuff in his life, or looking forward to the ghost of Christmas future.
The key thing here is we can't truly know the future and we don't know how it will turn out. I know it's hard to look forward into the future, but if you say I'm picturing myself in the next five to 10 years and if I picture myself as very happy with my life, I'm professionally fulfilled, I am happy with my personal life, I feel healthy, I have enough energy, why would those things be true? What would be in my life that I think would make me feel that way? What are these visions I might have of myself?
One of the exercises you might actually do is picture that somebody is giving you an honor in 10 years or something and they're writing a speech about the amazing things that you've done. Think about what that person would talk about. Then providing as they often do at award speeches, character references for you, your personal too, what great things you've done. You think about why people would be saying these things. What impact would you have had on the people you love and perhaps on the broader world as well? Make the scene as vivid as possible.
It doesn't mean that inevitably those things will happen, but it does give you some insight into what is important to you. For instance, if you find yourself envisioning your future and you are having great meals with friends you just absolutely love spending time with, and you think about your current self and you are spending approximately zero time having great meals with friends, well maybe that's something you should try changing, right? Maybe you should try to get some friends together to go to a restaurant this weekend, or maybe you can plan a dinner party in the next couple of weeks and try some recipes out ahead of time and then serve them to your friends and see how it goes, get their feedback on it.
This is how you start to put these things that you have envisioned from your great future into your current life. Just to try them out and see as you spend more time on the things that you love, how it feels to be living more in-line with the things that you do feel are priorities.
[0:15:10.0] MB: I think the way that you phrased it at one point in the book was that your priorities should inform your scheduling choices, which is so obvious and so simple and yet, it's advice that's very rarely followed.
[0:15:21.4] LV: I know. It’s true. It is very rarely – because it's hard. Because the things that we really want to do are not always this things that are screaming right in front of us. I mean, various things are going on in my week right now that I'm having to deal with in terms of weather and school closings and kitchen repairs and various things have broken and people want documentation on stuff that's not in my mind a big priority, but that doesn't mean they don't think it's a big priority.
There's all these things that distract you from what you want to do. Always I say, “Well, I'll get to the writing later. I'll think about that book I want to write in the future later, because I got to focus on all these other things that are screaming for attention.” Actually scheduling in your priorities is the only way to get around that, because again, the expectations are infinite and the time is finite. Unless you consciously choose to put in time for the things that matter to you, this time will be taken away from you for somebody else's priorities.
One of the things I always try to do and encourage other people to do is to think through their weeks before they're in them, to think about the year ahead of you. At the end of the year, if you were say well, it's been an amazing year for me professionally. What three things would you have done in the course of the year to have it be an amazing year for you professionally? Then you say, “Okay, well how can I break those three big things down into doable steps and what space am I putting on my schedule this week for some of those doable steps?”
If you're not making space, well it's really hard to claim that those are truly your top professional priorities. Something to think about. Your personal life too. You can think about at the end of the year what you'd like to say that you've done in the course of 2019. You'd like to envision yourself at the end of the year saying, “Hey, this was the year that I ran that 10k.” Then here you are not running at all and you're scheduled this week. Again, it's hard to say that that's actually a priority, which may be true, right? Not everything has to be a priority and sometimes people think things should be priorities, because they're important to somebody else, or we think that society at large thinks we should do them.
Think about what truly matters to you and challenge yourself to put a couple things on the schedule for the upcoming week. If you do that, I promise it will feel so amazing that you will want to keep doing it.
[0:17:42.6] MB: You snuck in a really great reframe of the phrasing on that, which is this idea that if you don't determine how you want to spend your time, I think the exact phrase you used is that it'll be taken away from you by someone else's priorities.
[0:17:55.9] LV: Yeah. Well, I think that's what happens a lot of times. Everyone has competing priorities and just because someone else wants you to do something does not automatically mean that you have to. I mean, again, time is a choice. I mean, maybe it is a good idea. I'm not saying if your biggest client wants to meet with you tomorrow that you shouldn't do it. I mean, probably you should. Maybe a smart use of time. You don't absolutely have to. We always have this sense, this agency over our time. Yeah, given that the expectations are infinite, somebody will always come up with something else you could be doing. The question is whether you really want to.
[0:18:36.6] MB: I like the way that that reframe really just puts the onus back on you and helps crystallize the idea of the opportunity cost, the missed opportunities of all of the things you could have done when your time gets sapped, or sucked into a distraction, or spent on a priority of someone else, instead of a priority that you had.
[0:18:59.5] LV: Yeah. I mean, we don't even need to talk about huge amounts of time. I mean, I can bore myself thinking about how many people have told me they don't have time to exercise. Yet, I think if they looked at their calendars, they could probably easily identify let's say two and a half hours of conference calls during the week that they added absolutely no value to whatsoever, I mean, to the point where they were multitasking the whole time; deleting e-mails, scrolling through headlines. Why are you on these calls, right? That's two and a half hours You could have gone outside for a walk at your workplace and hey, you would have exercised for the equivalent of 30 minutes five times a week, which is exactly what the public health authorities say you need to do.
Yeah, there's always other things we can be doing. It often is not even huge amounts of time. If you took 45 minutes for mornings a week to write for a book you wanted to write, so that would be three hours a week. I'm pretty sure in three hours, you could probably write 1,500 to 2,000 words, which would mean that you would have a draft and well under a year, right? Again, that time can be taken up with other things. It can be taken up with redoing housework that's already been done, or puttering around, or watching TV in the morning to fill the time before it's time to go to work, hitting snooze. I mean, you wind up hitting snooze for that much and say, “Well, the snooze is what happened rather than the book.”
It doesn't have to be a huge amount of time that has shifted over to important things, but consciously making those choices and then continuing to do them over and over again is how you get important things done.
[0:20:37.6] MB: That's a great point, because it breaks it down into something that's much more manageable, even carving out these chunks of 30 minutes, 45 minutes, an hour to a day can make a huge difference. The example of exercise comes back, makes me think of the simple idea that you already shared, which is this notion of scheduling your priorities.
My own personal experience, I struggled for a long time to get in a regular fitness routine. Somehow it dawned on me this really simple idea which is I'm just going to put in my calendar everyday fitness for an hour and that's it. I just put it on my calendar, set it for every day and then magically, I went from working out 0 to 2 times a week to working out 5 or 6 times a week, because it was in the calendar. It was already scheduled. That doesn't mean some days I'll move it or I'll reschedule it or cancel it because I get busy, but now it's the default choice instead of just wasting time on something else.
[0:21:32.1] LV: Yeah. I think that's a great idea. What I’d often winds up happening is people sometimes just don't want to exercise. It becomes easier to say, “Well, I don't have time.” People say they don't have time for all sorts of things. I've had people tell me they don't have time to floss, which just strikes me as funny. I'm pretty sure you do have time to floss, now whether you want to floss or not is an entirely different matter. If something's a priority, put it on your calendar. If it's not, make your peace with it.
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[0:24:01.0] MB: I want to come back to something else you shared that is essential to understanding this, which is that this can apply – I think a lot of times time management really focuses in or gets bucketed in more of a professional bucket. There's a lot of applications this applies professionally, but it also applies personally and even carving out an hour to a week, or a weekend for something that you really care about or passionate about, or a hobby that you love to spend time on, can make a huge difference.
[0:24:31.8] LV: Yeah, it really can. It doesn't take much time devoted to things that you enjoy to make a huge difference in your life. Many people think, “I have no time whatsoever. I can't do X, Y, or Z.” Challenge yourself to find the equivalent of 30 minutes a day. That is three and a half hours a week. Three and a half hours in the course of 168-hour a week is probably not that much. If you need to break it down into 15-minute increments within that, fine; one in the morning, one at night during the week and maybe bigger chunks on the weekend. Or it could be longer chunks on the weekend and smaller during the week; two hours on the weekend and then 90 minutes sometime during the week. Probably in the course of Monday through Friday, you can find 90 minutes somewhere broken up into chunks.
If you can get to the equivalent of spending half an hour a day on something that is meaningful for you, life will feel so amazingly different. The other 23.5 hours will be fine, because you've got these 30 minutes devoted to something awesome. If you can scale that up, can you get it to seven hours a week? Again, I don't think seven hours is a huge ask. I understand that there may be people listening to this, have very busy lives. If you are working full-time, maybe people have families too, especially if you have very young kids it can be hard to carve those hours. Often, it might be time after they go to bed, right? You can go watch TV, or you could do something else for 30 minutes and then go watch TV. Making the choice to do something else can make life feel just a lot more doable.
[0:26:02.6] MB: I found personally that once you start to carve out these little slivers of time, they begin to snowball and snowball. That 30 minutes gives you the space and teaches you that it's okay to now I can step out and maybe I can spend another 30 minutes, and you start to build on that and suddenly you start to wake up and realize, “Wow, I've got way, way more time than I ever thought I had.”
[0:26:26.3] LV: Yeah. I've come to this realization myself. I track my time and I have continuously for about four years. I feel I have a fairly full life, but there's still all kinds of space. I mean, I've realized that I do have time to read real books. Sometimes I don't feel reading real books. Again, that's a different matter. I do have time to read real books. I joined a choir about a year and a half ago, because I realized I had time to do it. We meet on Thursday evenings. I was not usually doing all that much of consequence on Thursday evenings, so it was fine to take that evening and rehearse my singing instead and we sing on Sunday mornings in church. Again, I was often not doing too much of consequence on Sunday mornings, so it's fine to make the time for it.
It makes me very happy to do. I'd love to have this music making back in my life. Yes, it requires time, but it's not an infinite amount of time. It's about four hours a week and there are 168 hours in a week, so those four hours really make a big difference.
[0:27:29.6] MB: Do you think it's a bigger challenge for people to discover what their priorities are, or to create space for their priorities in their lives?
[0:27:39.6] LV: I think sometimes it's harder to figure out your real priorities. I think some people would argue with me about that and say, “Well Laura, there's all these things I really want to do. Trust me, I'm just incredibly busy. I have no time whatsoever.” I know some people's lives are incredibly constrained for various reasons, but I do think that when you have a very good sense of what matters to you and are very clear on it, you wind up finding space for it.
It may not be five things that you love, but certainly one thing other than work and family might be possible to keep up with even during the years of building your career and if perhaps you have a young family as well.
As for work I mean, there are definitely ways to get closer over time to doing things professionally that make you feel incredibly fulfilled. I think people spend a lot of their 20s and 30s figuring out what that is and that can feel very frustrating like, “What should I be doing with my life? What can I uniquely contribute to the world? What is my professional calling and wouldn't it be nice if there was a way to just take a class in whatever that is in college and immediately get a job afterwards doing exactly what that is?”
Life doesn't work that way. It's a series of trial and error where you figure it out. I think that can actually be a great mindset to have that your first few jobs are all about figuring out what your priorities are professionally, like what you can do well, what you could do better than anyone else if you trained at it hard enough, what makes you feel fulfilled, like you're making an impact on the world? As you figure that out, you start to find ways to spend more of your time doing it and you become less tolerant of situations where you're not spending a whole lot of time on these things.
[0:29:29.8] MB: It's almost building a muscle. Once you start to start to flex that and build it up and I've had this experience personally as well, my tolerance now for things that don't fit within that wheelhouse just decreases and decreases every single year and I get more and more, for lack of a better term, ruthless about where I spend my time, because I realized the incredible both cost of it not going into the right things, but the opportunity and the excitement that comes with when it gets spent on the right things.
[0:29:57.4] LV: I agree with that. One of the big learnings – I mean, when I started out writing, I would write pretty much about anything, anyone who was willing to pay me for doing it. Over time, I've learned that some things make me a lot happier to write and I find a lot more interesting, some things a lot less so. I had an experience a couple months ago where I did a project that I realized just wasn't the right thing. I mean, that didn't get me out of doing it once I agreed to do it, because I'm a person of my word, because I'll do a good job on what I've agreed to do.
I decided to treat it as a real learning experience. The fact that you feel this way Laura, means you should never do this again in the future. Now you know. Never say yes to this thing again. That's a good learning. I mean, maybe it's sad that it took me to age 40 to figure that out, but better late than never.
[0:30:49.1] MB: In the book, towards the end of the book, you share a number of really practical simple questions for a reader to apply to their lives. I'd love to hear what some of those questions are and why they're so impactful so that listeners can digest them and apply them.
[0:31:08.2] LV: Yeah. Well, one was what we talked about earlier this idea of picturing yourself a couple years in the future. If you are fulfilled professionally and personally, what are you doing? Who is with you? Why are you doing the things you're doing? What impact are you having on the world that makes you so excited about what you're doing? Get this picture very clear and then figure out well, what steps could I take to get there? How could I spend more time in my current life on these things? What could I do in the next week to start making some progress toward some of these long-term priorities?
Then another practical question is who could hold me accountable for doing these things in the next week? Because a lot of us have really good intentions, but it's easy to say well, other stuff came up, or I meant to get to that. This is a really busy week. Well, I would have gotten to it, but there was whether the office was closed for a couple days, I had to do something – There's always going to be a reason that it's not a perfect week to do whatever it is.
Find somebody who will depending on what you respond to, either yell at you like a drill sergeant, or pokes you very kindly if you're into that instead, but somebody who will make sure that you know that somebody's watching you. For many people, that can be helpful for making sure that it actually gets done.
[0:32:29.3] MB: How do you think about balancing these macro goals and five-year visions with the daily and weekly activities that marry those two things together?
[0:32:43.2] LV: Well, I think it's important to always be making small steps toward these larger goals. Again, they can be very small steps. If you want to write a book, you can write a book writing 500 words a day or less really, as long as you just keep going. Challenge yourself to do at least one small thing ideally daily. Even if you can't do that, if you just do two or three things in this next week, two or three small steps toward your larger professional and personal goals, well that's a lot better than nothing. I promise that if you keep making two to three steps a week, well in a year, you've made 100 to 150 steps, which unless your goal is so far away, it's unseeable. You're probably going to be a lot closer if you've taken a 150 small steps toward whatever those goals might be.
[0:33:30.3] MB: Once we start to step into this place of prioritizing our own priorities and focusing our time on the things we want to focus it on, how do you deal with either the fear or the reality of disappointing other people, or not meeting their expectations?
[0:33:52.3] LV: It's hard, especially when people would like you to do things and they can be disappointed and it's within their right to feel disappointed. You can't control anyone else's feelings. I think if your goal is to go through life without disappointing anyone, you're going to have a very difficult life, because not – everyone else's goals for you are not the same as what yours are. It's your life. Ultimately, you are the one who has to determine where those hours go and you're the one who's going to have to look back on your life and answer whether those hours went places that you wish them to go.
This is an ongoing difficult process. Plenty of people have the experience of going into a line of work that maybe their parents didn't foresee that they were going to go into and then they have to deal with that disappointment, or going into different school, or maybe you choose a spouse that isn't exactly what your extended family thought what you would do. Or you don't choose a spouse at all. Again, that's not what your extended family thought you would do.
Then the disappointments just continue. I mean, if you managed to please every single colleague you ever work with, well, people's pleasure is often not a 100% justified. I mean, maybe somebody did work that needs to change. If you're only worried about pleasing them, then you've got a problem with that. It's just not a good goal to go through life that you will never disappoint anyone. I think you can go through goal with – go through life with the goal that you will do your best, that you will try to lessen the impact if somebody has a legitimate reason to be disappointed, but that you will not hold yourself hostage to that.
I think it also helps to have a little phrase, switching a phrase in our brains and often we’re like, “Oh, no. I did this.” Or, “Oh, no. Somebody feels this.” How about changing it to just oh, well. Somebody feels this. Oh, well. I didn't do this. Oh, well. Life continues. The honest truth and one final thing that that I think can help with this is I have people do this exercise. I asked them to tell me what they were thinking about and worried about on today's date two years ago. Very, very few people can do it, right? To say like, “Oh, yeah. I was actually really irritated about this memo I got about whatever.” You don't remember exactly what that was from two years ago, without if you actually went back through your inbox or something, or went back through your calendar. Without doing that, you have no idea what was annoying you two years ago. Likewise, whatever is keeping you up at night now probably will not matter in two years. You can kind of do yourself a favor and get over it two years early.
[0:36:38.7] MB: I like that. That's a great strategy. One of the other things that I was really interesting and this is probably my own inner time management nerd coming out, but towards the end of the book, you had one of the exercises which was just a giant Excel spreadsheet basically to fill out, I believe it's by the half hour, or maybe it was by the hour, I forget, but for how you spent every single piece of your day. To me, that's another strategy similar to the notion of scheduling your priorities, which is so simple and yet so few people actually do, which is just measuring where your time actually goes.
[0:37:18.7] LV: Yeah. I think all novels should have a spreadsheet in them. I'm looking on starting a new trend there. No, I track my time on those weekly spreadsheets and I encourage other people to do so as well. The best way to start spending time better is to figure out where it is going now. There's really no way around this. It's like trying to lose weight while being completely blind to what you're putting in your mouth. I mean, maybe you'll get lucky and it'll work, but I probably wouldn't bet on it. It's the same thing with time. If we want to spend our time better, we should figure out exactly where it goes, not where we think it goes, because people have all kinds of stories they will tell themselves about where the time really goes.
I mean, fascinating stories. You said you were a data geek here. I mean, there are some hilarious time studies about people's mismatch between perceptions and reality. One of my favorite was about a gym that people knew that they had whatever, a key fob, or whatever as they were signing in to their gym, that recorded exactly how many times they were there, right? It was not in question how many times they had been in the gym. Yet when they were asked how many times they had been during that time, they gave answers that were double the amount of times they had actually been to the gym.
In their minds, these people were exercising all the time. The fact that they didn't was just some weird quirk of the universe. I don't know. We've got all sorts of stories about where the time goes. Time log will take those away quickly and I think that's a good thing, because if you know how many hours you are working, then you can make good choices within those hours, you can make good choices with the hours you have outside of work. If you know how many hours you are spending on say chores, you can decide if you think that's right, or if it should be different.
If you see how much time you're spending with friends and family, you can decide if you think that's a good amount, or if you think it should be higher, or maybe you think it should be lower. I don’t know. Maybe that's your issue. You just don't know. Unless you see the numbers, it's really hard to make rational decisions, as opposed to decisions that are made because you're telling yourself catastrophic stories of I'm working around the clock. Well, are you really? Really, you never sleep? You've never gone to anything else in the past month? Or I travel all the time. Well, let's look at the number of hotel nights. Often it comes out to fewer over the course of the year than one might think. Find the data, make better choices.
[0:39:41.6] MB: Earlier, you mentioned the snooze button. That was one of the things personally that I uncovered in a previous time on it was that until I really looked at my time, I realized I was laying in bed. I would get up and then I would take my phone and I would look at my phone for 45 minutes reading and looking at social media and all this stuff. That once I actually started recording and looking at how I was spending my time, I realized that there was a massive amount of wasted time every single morning that I could carve out by simply just getting out of bed when I wake up, instead of wasting all that time on my phone.
[0:40:14.0] LV: It's pretty easy to do if your phone is your alarm clock. That's a easy hack for people right there is get yourself a real alarm clock and then you won't be quite as tempted by that. Your phone can go sleep in another room, where it won't then bother you first thing. Yeah, people find that thing all the time, or find that they were snoozing for an average of 27 minutes, whatever, the multiples of nine minutes three times each morning. Why not get that as real sleep? Set your alarm for the time you'll actually get out of bed, as opposed to spending it in these little, small unhelpful chunks of sleep.
Or one thing I found when I track my time is I spent way more time in the car than I thought I did. I ran my business out of a home office, so in my mind there's no daily commute. Therefore, I must be spending negligible amount of time in the car, but that's not true. I mean, between errands and running family members around and traveling to different things, I average more than an hour a day in the car, which is not insignificant at all. Now that I know that, I can challenge myself to make more of that time, whether it's listening to podcasts, or if I have a family member in the car with me, recognizing that this is time we have together and I should be aware of that, instead of viewing it as time that doesn't exist.
[0:41:27.0] MB: That's another great strategy. In some ways, I have a little bit of a mix opinion about because sometimes I feel this habit that I have pulls me away from being present sometimes, but I'm a huge fan of what I call double-dipping, which is basically any dead time I have, I try to make more use out of it. If I'm brushing my teeth, I might be listening to a podcast, or watching something on YouTube, or reading an article. I'm always trying to capitalize on all of those dead moments, or those little slivers of wasted time and turn that into something where I can be productive, or learning, etc.
[0:42:00.7] LV: Well, there's nothing wrong with using time, using bits of time. I think you could – it's fine to have downtime too. I mean, you could consciously say well, this 10 minutes here where I'm waiting, I'm just going to let my mind wander where it goes. I'm going to look up at the clouds and feel happy about looking up at the clouds, challenging myself not to pull out the phone and look at social media or something like that. I think that would be a great use of time as well.
The problem is that most people use those little bits of time for mindless activities. They do add up. My time in the car wasn't coming as a solid hour every day. I mean, I would notice it if I was in the car for an hour straight. It's because it was in eight-minute chunks here and there. Eight minutes going to this place and five minutes to the post office and eight minutes at the grocery store. Because of that it, wasn't registering because it wasn't big, but that is real time and it's time there.
If it makes you happy to do other things, to listen to stuff, or to learn stuff, or to reach out to someone in those bits of time, then that's great. If it makes you happy to do absolutely nothing in the sense of having fallow time, which I think is where the best ideas often arise, then by all means do that too.
[0:43:12.4] MB: For listeners who want to and then you've shared a number of really specific applicable ideas here, but for listeners who want to concretely start somewhere in implementing these ideas in their lives, what would be one piece of homework or one action item that you would give them to begin the journey of starting to understand their priorities and allocate their time accordingly?
[0:43:36.1] LV: Well, I always suggest time tracking. I know I sound like a broken record on this, but it's actually really easy to get started. One thing you can do is just sit down right now and or if you're listening to this in a car, don’t do this, but once you get to a place where you can write down write, down what you've done over the previous 24 hours. Most people can remember the previous 24 hours with a reasonable degree of accuracy. I mean, time logs, put it somewhere between about 80%, 90%, which for our purposes is probably good enough.
What did you do over the previous 24 hours? Write this down. Well, now you've got one day of data. Now just do the next day 24 hours from now, starting now and wow, you've got two days. You've already got some that could be reasonable to start to see some patterns with. Just keep going like this one day at a time until you get to a week and you'll find all sorts of interesting things. I promise, it's a interesting exercise.
[0:44:29.2] MB: As Peter Drucker said, what gets measured gets managed.
[0:44:32.5] LV: Time really can be measured. I mean, that's the good thing about it. There's many other things in life that can't, but I can find out for sure how much time I was spending in the car. That doesn't mean that I've figured out my big priorities based on that, but it helps. Because then when I know what material I'm working with, I can make better choices with it. Since life is lived in hours, we're going to build what lives we want out of allocating those hours in the right ways. Knowing where they go is really more important than it might sound.
[0:45:06.6] MB: For listeners who want to find you, the new book and your previous work online, what's the best place for them to do that?
[0:45:13.6] LV: Well, I hope your listeners will come visit me at lauravanderkam.com. That's just my name. Can learn all about my previous books and this new one, Juliet’s School of Possibilities, which we mentioned earlier is a time management fable. Combining what I've learned about time management over the years into a story, that hopefully people will find memorable and help make these lessons a little bit more clear.
[0:45:37.7] MB: Well Laura, thank you so much for coming on the show, for coming to show once again actually and sharing all of this wisdom and all these insights.
[0:45:45.9] LV: Thank you so much for having me back. I really appreciate it.
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