Welcome to the very first interview conducted at GodlikeDiscipline.com!
This has everything to do with discipline and personal productivity, and we welcome writer, author, and speaker, Laura Vanderkam to enlighten us all!
At the time of this writing, I’ve read just one of her books, and that is “168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think“. I took about a page and a half of notes, double spaced, the most important of which involved the realization that we have time to do almost anything we want, but not EVERYTHING we want.
That’s an important point that deserves further study.
We need to be intentional about how we spend our time, and leave nothing that we can control to chance.
Laura has indeed shaped my thinking about time management, productivity, and most importantly…lifestyle design. It’s plain as day that she knows what she’s talking about, and I believe that it’s worthwhile for you to take a few minutes and soak up some insights.
So with no further…anything…here’s the interview:
MK: Diving right in, what seems to be a recurring theme in a lot of your writing is that people can find time for anything that’s really important to them. I know that that’s true in my own life. So why do you think that some people, and I might venture to say MOST, don’t take control of their own schedules? Is it fear of starting something that might fail? Lack of helpful information about how to start?
LV: I think the challenge is that time passes whether we think about how we want to spend it or not. So it’s easy to let it just happen, rather than make conscious choices.
MK: Of course. 3 hours watching TV or 3 hours making intentional progress towards a goal fills the same amount of time.
So how can people best make the shift to realizing that they need to question how they spend their time?
LV: We tell ourselves all sorts of stories about time that aren’t true. To find the time for whatever we want, we need to figure out where it’s going now. I recommend everyone try keeping track of her time for a week just to see where the time goes. It’s good to know how we feel about it.
MK: I actually use your time tracking sheet (Available HERE) almost daily. I printed off two; one for my predicted schedule and one for my actual schedule. I fill one with scheduled commitments that I know I have and to plan my work, and the second one to track where my time actually goes.
It helps to know how much time you actually have available, laid out visually in front of you. A lot of times, I’ll think that I can get way more done in a day than is possible. According to Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project, we often overestimate what we can do in a day and underestimate what we can accomplish in a year.
Ok…so say that you’ve narrowed down your list to ONE THING that you’ve decided to become really good at. What are the next three things that you suggest someone do from that moment onward?
LV: Figure out what steps are required to become good at that thing, figure out how long they take and the logistics, and then block that time into your schedule.
MK: Is there a method that works better than most for finding your core competencies?
LV: I think it’s all about paying attention. When do you feel most alive? When are you happiest? What are you doing at those times? What stories do you feel most drawn to when you’re reading? If you pay attention, the clues are likely there. Try new things — you might be surprised what you discover.
MK: You mention in your book, 168 Hours, that the world won’t always make it easy for you to focus on your core competencies. What have some of your personal struggles looked like in that respect?
LV: I get distracted by easy money. I work for myself, and it is a pain to hunt down projects. So if someone comes to me with well-paying work, I often talk myself into doing it. But if it came to me, it might not be the best next step in my career. I have to slow down and ask myself what other activities it will crowd out.
MK: I get it. Absolutely. To keep this site 100% non-profit, I work two other jobs, and sometimes I have to take care of my basic needs rather than focus on advancing my work. I think it’s even tougher on people like you, with families and other important responsibilities who may not find it that easy to carve out 5 hours at a time for hammering down an obstacle to career advancement.
Switching gears a bit, something I take very seriously is slowing down my life.
Where I work, hospital staff are always sighing and saying things like “well, it’s going to be a long night…”.
I just can’t relate! I sometimes ask them why they’re trying to make their lives go faster!? So what is the best way that you know of to slow down and really live?
LV: Time slows down when we have new experiences. So rather than succumb to boredom, see what you can notice and be aware of — a conversation with a patient, a fascinating article you read during a break, getting to know a colleague, etc.
MK: Good advice. Most of my reading happens at work, so it’s time never wasted. It’s so true what you said as well, that there is always something to notice and be aware of. Occasionally, I even put the book down and simply listen to the silence. The empty space between the sounds that allows them to be. It’s very calming, and then allows me to really “show up” at work.
People would be very well advised to take your excellent advice and find something to notice.
Next up: Give me your most shocking display of “time math”. I mean, how many hours do we REALLY have, and how many could we potentially be wasting?
LV: We all waste time, which I define as doing activities that are neither enjoyable nor advancing you toward a larger life goal. The equation people are most startled by is that there are 168 hours in a week. If you work 40 and sleep 8 per night that leaves 72 hours for other things — which is almost twice as much time as you’re working.
MK: Have you ever had to aggressively shield time for yourself? Did people understand that you needed time for yourself, and that you had to say ‘no’ to their request in order to do work that really mattered to you? Is it possible to avoid conflict while doing so?
LV: The good news is that I work for myself, so I tend to set my own work priorities and direction. The bad news is that I’m a pretty demanding boss on myself! I sometimes need to remind myself when I’m tempted to do too much that it’s best to live to fight again another day.
MK: I’ve long-ago jumped off the multitasking bandwagon, realizing that it simply can’t be done. I’ve read enough books on the brain to know that it’s a myth.
What we view as multitasking is actually the brain stopping one activity and then starting another, so fast that we don’t notice it. HOWEVER, there is an accompanying efficiency drop.
Can you pull some examples though of things you CAN do effectively simultaneously? In my own case, I always have eBooks at my disposal for waiting in lines, along with audio books and physical books. Bodyweight exercises are something you can do anywhere as well.
LV: Listening to audio books in the car is great. I also like to listen to concert CDs – it’s like re-living the experience on a long car trip. Some people call friends and family while doing housework. That makes folding the laundry more fun! Exercising with a friend — or a family member — is a great way to nurture that relationship while taking care of yourself too. I try to look at photos on my phone while waiting in line. It’s better than checking email.
MK: And has 168-hour planning spread to the rest of your family?
LV: Some! My husband and I try to think through our weekends ahead of time so we can get some grown-up fun in addition to chores and children’s activities.
MK: What does your “next level” look like?
LV: I like to write books that I’d like to read – so my next level is researching and writing something more intriguing and thought-provoking than I’ve written before.
MK: A worthy aim! What constitutes failure for you? Failure in terms of leaving something important undone, I mean.
LV: I finally published a novel last year, so that was going to be my one major regret if I never got to it. I’ve now done that, so I’m good!
MK: I should mention that that novel is also available HERE, for any readers that might like to check it out.
What can you tell us about your new book? It’s called “I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Build Lives That Work“, but should men read it too?
LV: I Know How She Does It is based on a time diary study of 1001 days in the lives of women who earn six figures and also have children. I wanted to see what the lives of people who have it all really look like. The good news is that it’s quite possible to have a fulfilling career and a happy family, and the strategies these women used can work for men as well.
MK: I guess we’ll all have to read the book to see what some of those strategies are! It’s on my eventual reading list for sure. I think the takeaway here is that there are specific strategies and mindsets that everyone can adopt to shoot for their next level. Some intentional study will reveal what some of those are.
Well that concludes this interview. Laura, thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions!
I chose to interview you because I know my readers, who are focused on making themselves more disciplined and leading uncommon lives will really get something out of it. And they might just be inspired to pick up their own copy of 168 Hours; I know I highly recommend it personally.
As a thank-you for sharing your time and advice, I’ve made a $50 donation on your behalf to Doctors Without Borders, the non-profit that I raise the most money for with this site.
Here is our campaign: GodlikeDiscipline.com Supports MSF
They operate in 70 countries providing disaster relief, emergency medical supplies, medical training, and a lot more. The organization received a Nobel Prize for their work, and currently have attained the highest possible ranking on Charity Navigator.
So thank you again, and we will speak again I’m sure!
All the best,