One of the biggest changes needed for professional women is to rethink the narratives surrounding women and time management. These old narratives make working and having a life seem unsustainable. It turns into the usual story: women can’t have it all, success at work requires harsh trade-offs and you can’t have everything you want.
Researcher Laura Vanderkam felt that this narrative of the working woman time crunch had serious flaws. Vanderkam is the author of several books about time management, including 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, and the recently released, I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time. Vanderkam recently told Fortune online that if “you’re a woman who works, especially if you have children, you’ll probably be busy your entire career, however a full life is a doable life.”
When she went into Fortune 500 companies to give talks about time management, she had women keep track of their time. There are 168 hours in a week, and when she looked at their 168 hours, she noticed even though they were busy, their lives didn’t look overwhelmed. That’s when she realized that so much of the literature about time management is based entirely on anecdotes, not data. So she had 1,001 women track their time for a week because according to Vanderkam, people underestimate sleep and overestimate work.
Findings from her project were that women work long but reasonable hours, about 44 on average. Women with demanding jobs and kids still find time to sleep, usually about 54 hours a week which comes out to seven hours and 43 minutes a day. She concluded there can be stressful days in the middle of a very good life and encourages to see them in context.
Ultimately, Vanderkam stresses time is a choice. Women are smart and we have the power to fill our lives with the things that deserve to be there. Below are some of the best time management strategies Vanderkam found from her study and recommends these strategies for making the most of the time you have!
1. Keep a Time Diary
A time log is like a food diary for time, it keeps you accountable. Write down what you’re doing and ‘bill your time’ to different projects, both work and personal. Break time down into categories: work, sleep, personal care, children, spouse/partner, travel, TV, etc. Review your schedule, note what you like the most and celebrate the things that are working. Think about what you want to do more of and consider what you want off your plate.
2. Focus Forward
Try creating a list of 100 goals and write next year’s performance review now. If we know where we’re going then it’s easier to get there. What do you want to have accomplished by the end of the year? Vanderkam explains that the 100 goals is “an unedited list of anything you want to have more of in life, both professional and personal. It can be abstract, a bucket list of things as well as small dreams, like vacations, purchases or outings.”
3. Move Work Around You
• Work split shifts. Spend the evening with family and do tasks after kids go to sleep. If you don’t have a child, this also works for groups, hobbies, exercise, etc. Preserve open space for a personal life.
• Work remotely when possible. Get flexibility in a full time role.
• Think in 168 hours, not 24. It’s a trap to think we need to do the same things every day.
• Rethink weekends. Weekend mornings and Sunday nights offer time to get things done.
4. Let It Go
Cue the Frozen soundtrack! Housework, errands, packing lunches, every yoga class. There are stories we tell ourselves about what a good woman, wife, mom, or home manager does. Remember that we can make life harder or we can make life easier. If you are making life harder because of a deeply held value, great. If you cook from scratch every night because it is important to you personally, then do it. If you are doing it because you assume it’s what a “good” person does, rethink it.
5. Get Help
There is a myth out there that using help is a bad thing. Because of this, some people want to get away with as little help as possible. You are better off getting the help you need (childcare, food delivery, house cleaning, dog walking, etc.) and being more relaxed at work and by extension, at home. There is another myth that women who work full time never see their kids. Vanderkam stresses based on her research that’s simply not true. “Working mothers spend a lot of time with family. Sometimes it’s in the morning, sometimes it's on the weekends, but when you plot it out in a time diary, it’s likely more hours than you realize,” she says.