Balancing work and family life can seem impossible, particularly for women with children and ambitious career goals.
But it is possible to “have it all” — a thriving family, great sleep, exercise, and career success — according to time management expert and author Laura Vanderkam.
“People seem to have this idea that having a full-time job leaves no space for many other things, but clearly that’s not true,” she tells Business Insider. “It is quite possible to have a more than full-time job and have a very full personal life, too. It’s just a matter of where that time goes.”
In her recent book, “I Know How She Does It,” Vanderkam details the results of her Mosaic Project: a time diary study of 1,001 days in the lives of women who make at least $US100,000 a year and still have time for family and friends.
So how do these women do it all? From Vanderkam’s study of the time logs, we’ve highlighted 13 ways successful women make the most of their time.
Avoid 'The 24-Hour Trap,' Vanderkam warns.
'When it comes to time, we often think that 'balance' requires fitting all of our priorities into 24 hours,' she writes. 'In particular, we want to fit those priorities into each of the 24 hours that constitute Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. We act like these are the only four days that count.'
Instead, look at the whole picture: There are 168 hours in a week. That means if you're working 40 hours a week and sleeping an average of eight hours a night, you still have 72 hours for other things.
She found that many of the Mosaic Project participants chose to work late in the office a few nights -- until 10 or 11 p.m. -- but would come home at 5 p.m. on other days, allowing for quality family and personal time. 'Any given 24 hours might not be balanced, but the 168-hour week as a whole can be.'
'When you don't take real breaks, you take fake ones,' Vanderkam says. The fake ones include scrolling through Facebook or checking your stocks or responding to emails.
'We get lost in transition. And that's a shame because breaks are a great opportunity to nurture yourself and to shape work culture,' she writes. 'You have to build unclaimed time into your life. A too-busy schedule precludes new opportunities.'
It's not easy to 'build in slack,' but sometimes you have to put your foot down. One of Vanderkam's tricks is using a small weekly paper calendar. 'It provides a visual signal that a day is getting too full. When I find myself scribbling items in the margins, that's a sign I need to look for time on a different day,' she writes.
'Time management is like chess. The masters always think a few moves ahead,' Vanderkam writes.
The most successful people spend 10 to 15 minutes each day after work thinking about the next day. 'Plot out what you're going to do when you get to work,' suggests Vanderkam. 'That way you can capture that first burst of energy when you show up at work and use it to tackle something important.'
Additionally, successful women will allow time to plan for the upcoming week. 'People don't take advantage of Monday in the way that they could, partly because we don't think about Monday until we're in it,' she says. The best time to do this is Friday afternoon or Sunday evening. Friday afternoon is not the most productive of times as is, so repurpose it as planning time. Or try Sunday night, when you're already in workweek mode.
Exercise does not have to be a casualty upon entering the working world, but it does require planning and a bit of creativity.
Most of the Mosaic Project women engaged in 'functional fitness.' They would actively commute to work, use family activities such as going to the zoo to get extra steps in, or go for a walk with colleagues rather than scheduling a formal meeting.
If functional fitness isn't an option, try finishing your workout first thing in the morning, as we tend to have the most willpower then and we're less likely to be interrupted by a meeting or client call.
One of the Mosaic Project women used her lunch break to work out and loved it. 'Immediately, I started sleeping better,' she told Vanderkam. 'I had been an insomniac before, and couldn't shut my brain down at night. Even though I took time away from work, I had much greater mental clarity in the afternoons after I exercised, and was able to accomplish more in less time.'
The Mosaic Project women averaged 4.4 hours of television watching per week, several hours less than the average employed mothers.
Plus, contrary to popular belief, television doesn't bring us that much happiness. 'TV is fun, but it's not that fun. Scales of human enjoyment place it somewhere in the middle,' Vanderkam writes.
Try turning the TV off a half hour earlier than you normally would and use that time to read, write a letter, or watch a TED talk.
Using unexpected time distinguishes the productivity masters from the novices.
'Anyone can plan something fun or meaningful for an open block on the calendar,' says Vanderkam. 'The best stewards of house can pivot in the moment. To these mosaic makers, a broken tile is an opportunity, and not a source of angst.'
It's always good to have ideas on hand for extra time that might appear throughout your day if a meeting finishes early or a trip gets canceled. One of the Mosaic Project women uses her unexpected time to indulge in a massage. She's become a regular at one place, where they know her by name and will squeeze her in for an appointment within 30 minutes on any given day.
Being able to estimate accurately how much time things will take is one of those things that separates the average person from the super-successful person, Vanderkam says.
'There are many things we do daily, and yet we seem to have no idea how long they actually take, and because of that we're surprised at what doesn't fit into a day,' she says.
She suggests trying the time diary exercise that the Mosaic Project women did, where you log each hour of each day and are forced to pay attention to where your time goes. 'Try it for a week. It's an eye opening experience.'
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