451: 9 Ways to Transform Your Time Management with Laura Vanderkam
In today’s fast-paced world, I think it’s safe to say that most of us feel like there’s not enough time in the day to get everything done that we need to get done—let alone find time for the things we want to be doing.
What if I told you that, with just a few tweaks to your current schedule, you could be more productive and experience greater fulfillment than ever before?
Today’s guest has helped millions realize that taking control of your time is not only doable, it’s simple. Laura Vanderkam is one of the world’s leading experts on time management and the author of seven (7) time management and productivity books, including her newest book, Tranquility by Tuesday: 9 Ways to Calm the Chaos and Make Time for What Matters. Her incredible TED talk on time management has over 20 million views and her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, and Fortune.
Today, we’ll dig into the most common reasons why people struggle with time management and the nine (9) strategies that will help you take control of your time and build the life you want.
- Why life hacks that “save you time” are a lost cause, and why filling up your schedule with things that light up your soul is a better alternative.
- The number one reason most people struggle with time management.
- Laura’s nine (9) habits for mastering time management.
- Why Friday is the perfect day for planning your upcoming week.
- Perfection is the enemy of progress. Ditch the all-or-nothing mentality and give yourself permission to slip up once in a while.
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- Laura Vanderkam
- Laura Vanderkam on Twitter | LinkedIn | Instagram | Facebook
- Tranquility by Tuesday: 9 Ways to Calm the Chaos and Make Time for What Matters by Laura Vanderkam
- 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam
- How to Gain Control of Your Free Time
- Eckhart Tolle
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Hal Elrod: Hey, Laura, welcome.
Laura Vanderkam: Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to be here.
Hal Elrod: You mentioned this being a high energy conversation, and I’m all about high energy conversation. So, we’ll both take it up a notch.
Laura Vanderkam: We are both going to be as high energy as we possibly can.
Hal Elrod: It’s still before noon. It’s still technically morning, right? So, we don’t have that…
Laura Vanderkam: It’s still technically morning. So, we got that going for us, yes.
Hal Elrod: So, I mentioned this to you before we started recording that this time management, which you’re arguably one of the world’s leading experts in, this is your sixth book that you just wrote on that topic. Most people write a book on a topic, and then maybe they write another book on another topic. So, I love that you have not doubled down, not tripled down. I mean, what are we, quintuple, sixtuple?
Laura Vanderkam: Sixtuple that, I don’t know, it’s not even a word.
Hal Elrod: So, that’d be like if I wrote six books on morning routines, which is your depth of knowledge in this space has to be pretty extraordinary. So, I’m excited. I was watching this morning your YouTube video titled How to Gain Control of Your Free Time, which has a pretty extraordinary 7.4 million views. What year did you record that, by the way?
Laura Vanderkam: Yes. So, I did a TED Talk in 2016, and that’s what that video is. So, it’s exciting. It got 7 million views on YouTube, but I think it got like 13 million over on the TED site. So, that’s kind of awesome as well.
Hal Elrod: That’s incredible.
Laura Vanderkam: It apparently people think a lot about how they would like to spend their free time, usually wishing we had more of it, but…
Hal Elrod: So, you said something in that. I wrote this down, a quote that you said. You said, “We don’t build the lives we want by saving time, we build the lives we want, and then time saves itself.” That is a profound statement and I don’t really know what it means. So, for everybody listening, I’ll say it again, “We don’t build the life we want by saving time, we build the lives we want, and then time saves itself.” What did you mean by that?
Laura Vanderkam: Yeah. So, when people decide that they want to spend their time better, almost inevitably, they focus on how they can spend less time on various things that they do not wish to be doing. And if you read a lot of time management literature, you’ll see it’s often structured this way, like we’re going to help our readers, our viewers, our listeners find an extra hour in the day by shaving bits of time off all this stuff that you don’t want to do. And so, then you get these somewhat ridiculous hacks, like, if you send a lot of emails where the answer is okay, just type K instead of, okay, like, woo-hoo.
Now, I’m going to have this great life because I’ve been typing K instead of okay. Obviously, it does not work like that. You do not achieve something awesome and amazing and enjoy your life by typing K instead of okay in your emails, like even if you send a vast quantity of emails. We’re much better off focusing on the question of what we want to spend more time doing in our lives, what we would like to fill our lives with, what is meaningful and enjoyable for ourselves and the people we care about.
And I find that when we put those things into our lives, we pretty naturally spend less time. I don’t wish to do. You know whether we found cool email hacks for sending okay instead of OK or not, we are spending less time on those things just because the stuff that’s awesome is taking so much time that it crowds out the rest of the stuff. I mean, we only have 24 hours in a day, so you’re always pushing against things and you want to make sure that more of those hours are filled with the good stuff.
Hal Elrod: That makes sense. So, instead of trying to save time so you have more time to do things you want just to schedule the things that you want to do that fill you up, that light you up, and then that kind of crowds out the unnecessary or unproductive busywork, yeah?
Laura Vanderkam: And we’ve all had that experience, right? Like when you’re deeply involved in a work project, for instance, and you’re very excited about it and you’re feeling like, wow, I just keep making progress and this is great and I’m finding new things. Like, you’re not checking your emails six times in a row and reading things that you didn’t want to, you just don’t because your time is more valuably spent on this cool stuff. And it happens in our personal lives too.
Hal Elrod: That is interesting. When you said that, a personal experience that I’ve had is I don’t know what the shift was, but some similar to what you’re talking about years ago. Like I’m always behind on emails now, I’m always behind on emails. And I have three of my inboxes are managed by other people and I can’t even keep up with mine, but those inboxes are great. My executive assistant, she handles, like she’s inbox zero daily. I’m not and I got it.
It used to irk me and make me feel inadequate or incomplete. And then I just got to where it’s like if I don’t answer all my emails, I’m at peace with that. And if something’s crucial, that person will email me again. And I often tell people when I’m like, hey, by the way, you’re never bothering me. Feel free to email me repeatedly until I respond. Yeah, but it’s just that less important activity, but I’m making sure that the exercise is done every day and the most important things moving towards my goals. I heard in one of your interviews, one of your videos I saw that you were once late to your own speech on time management. Is that a true story?
Laura Vanderkam: It is totally true. And not only did it happen that time that I was talking about in the video, it happened recently, like two months ago. And it’s always a little bit awkward as you are being introduced as the time management expert and you are racing and disheveled and five minutes late. But you can’t control everything in life, you can control some things in life, you can control a great many things, but I think what many of us have discovered, and this is actually an important aspect of time management, anyone can create a perfect schedule where you really show your time management that you are an expert here is if you are able to create a resilient schedule, where the vast majority of things keep happening, even when life doesn’t go as planned.
And I will admit it’s been funny and slightly ironic to be five minutes late to a time management speech, but I do work to try to figure out, well, if something is going to go wrong, what is my backup plan? And you know this or you’re traveling for speeches, you can’t control all the airlines. You can’t control the weather. You can’t control all these, but you control what you can.
Hal Elrod: Yeah, I know. Totally true. So, let’s start with the problems in terms of what are the problems with how people spend their time? Why do people struggle? Why do people feel overwhelmed? Why do they feel busy? What are the problems that we got to figure out how to solve?
Laura Vanderkam: Well, I wish it were just as simple as like we get too many emails. I mean, that would be awesome if that was the problem, and then we could solve that. But I think the biggest problem is more general, which is that people spend time mindlessly, like we don’t think about how we intend to spend our time. And the nature of time is that it keeps passing even if you don’t think about it, like one way or the other, a week from now, this next week will be in the past, like you could do nothing. You could plan to do nothing. You could just meander through life, fulfilling your biological needs and nothing else. And it will still pass.
It’s like all our money was burned at the end of every single day. It’s basically how time works. And because of that, it is so hard to get a grip on it and to direct it where we wish to go. And again, some things we cannot control, but a good number of things we can when we get in the habit of designating a weekly planning time, thinking about what’s most important to happen over the upcoming week, thinking when we will do those things, thinking what logistical problems might arise in the course of doing those things, making a solution for those things, and holding ourselves accountable for it.
Hal Elrod: So, yeah, I want to cover the nine, or at least as many as we can get to the nine ways to calm the chaos and make time for what matters. That’s the subtitle of your new book. I have a question though that just came up for me that’s related to time management in terms of, you mentioned, that time is going to pass. You can do nothing, and the day will go by, the week will go by. So, time is going to pass.
So, I’m curious as to your take on almost the esoteric spiritual perspective that time is a construct. What I mean specifically is that the only moment that exists is this moment. The past doesn’t exist. The future doesn’t exist yet. I’m really thinking kind of Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now concept. So, I’m curious, your thoughts on time as it relates to only really existing in this moment and how that relates to managing time. Is it really managing time? Is it managing tasks? Is it like how do you correlate those two?
Laura Vanderkam: We’re going to get philosophical here.
Hal Elrod: Yeah.
Laura Vanderkam: It may be true that the current moment is what is mattering, and then we can dive down, how big is the current moment? Is it a second? Is it a proportion of a second? Is it a moment? I don’t know. What is our working memory construct there? So, there’s a lot we could go down into, angels dancing on a head of a pen there.
That may be true, but I think that time is a very useful construct. It may be a construct, but it’s an incredibly useful one in the sense of maybe the future is completely unknowable that my kid is planning on me picking him up at school at three. So, I should probably manage to make that happen. We can’t live in this world without thinking about what will happen in the near future, what needs to happen, what we would like to have to happen, and anything we need to do to make those pieces all fit together.
I also think actually, that time in the past winds up being a useful construct as well. I mean, it may be gone, it may be over, maybe nothing we can do to change it so we probably don’t need to worry too much about it. But much of our life is memory, like much of our self-concept is memory, much of what we think of. Have I had a good life? It’s based on memory.
And the more we can do to create interesting memories, the more we can do to create enjoyable memories will give us a richer and fuller life in the present. And so, we can guide our actions in the present towards thinking about what future us will want to be looking back on. What gifts we can give our future self in terms of what we are doing now to create interesting memories for future you to be comforted by?
Hal Elrod: Yeah. That’s right if you lived in a world or circumstances where you could do nothing and everything would be taken care of for you, then I think it’s easier to enter that into time is just a construct and I live in the now, but it’s like, okay, but do you have a plan for picking up your kid? And like tomorrow, you’re meeting with a client or you have a project. So, to your point, in the world that we live in, you can get all esoteric if you want, but the practical application of how you manage your time can be the difference maker in the quality of your life and whether or not you achieve your goals and all those things.
So, let’s talk about the solutions. The new book, Tranquility by Tuesday: 9 Ways to Calm the Chaos and Make Time for What Matters, one thing that I read is you had 150 people implement these nine, you call them rules in the book, the nine rules, you had them do that for nine weeks. What were the results from that? I mean, what a cool thing, by the way, that you didn’t just write the book and go, here you go. Part of writing the book was having 150 people before the book was ever released to actually go out there and implement these nine rules and see what happened. So, talk about that.
Laura Vanderkam: Yeah, well, I mean, you write self-help for busy people. You want to make sure that it actually works. So, that was my goal there. I realized over the years that I had been giving a lot of the same time management advice to people, that I’ve seen thousands of schedules, people have shared them with me and asked for feedback. I found that even people in very different professions, people in different phases of life, I was often saying similar things like, Oh, it would help you if you did this.
And so, I started keeping a list of what is this, and this honed down to nine rules, we can call them. If you don’t like the word rules, just call them strategies, ideas, anything else that doesn’t sound quite so constraining if that’s going to bother people. But anyway, hone this down to nine ideas that I think are incredibly useful, and then to make sure that they truly were useful, I recruited people to try them out.
So, for the Tranquility by Tuesday project, I had 150 people learn these nine rules over the course of nine weeks. Each week, they would learn a new rule. They would answer questions about how they plan to implement the rule in their lives. They would report back a week later about how the rule went. As this was going, I was measuring them on various dimensions. So, I had a time satisfaction scale that people were giving themselves ratings on in the course of the project. And the good news is, it does appear that these rules work with our survey. We found that when people followed the rules over the nine weeks, their time satisfaction score on the scale of 13 questions rose 16%, which it’s not doubling, but anyone in the money management field would be pretty excited to get a 16% return.
Hal Elrod: To get a return on investment.
Laura Vanderkam: Yeah. A pretty good return on investments over nine weeks of work. So, I think people should do it that way. These are people, anyone who volunteered to do this, like they’re not living in a disaster. The people who are interested in trying out rules like this, who want to see how it works in their life, they already have a lot of the good pieces of life in place. They’re probably getting where they need to go at the right time. They’re meeting their deadlines. Their kids are getting picked up at 3 p.m. because they’re not convinced that now is all that matters. They are actually making life work is that they want to feel better about their time, like they want to get that one extra edge that could make them feel more like they are achieving their goals. So, that’s where that 16% comes in, people who even are doing a lot of really great stuff can take their lives to awesome.
Hal Elrod: Yeah, okay. Explain the title, Tranquility by Tuesday, where’d you come up with that? Why that title?
Laura Vanderkam: Well, it really started with Tuesday because Tuesday is the most normal day of the week. So, Monday, it’s got it’s baggage. Like Friday, fun Friday, and the weekends are entirely different. So, Tuesday is a very normal day. And as for the concept of tranquility, I was really trying to get at this sense that a lot of people have that life is complex. There are so many moving parts. It’s almost like a three-ring circus that you’re managing all these pieces and it feels complex and occasionally chaotic. And we want to feel good about our time. We want to feel good about our lives. Like there are things that we are genuinely looking forward to, even in the midst of all of that. So, we want to achieve tranquility.
Hal Elrod: Yeah.
Laura Vanderkam: And we want to have it on Tuesday. I’m not looking forward to a vacation. I’m looking forward to a weekend. I mean, now, right? Like now in our everyday lives.
Hal Elrod: Yeah. Beautiful. So, obviously, you’ve got your TED talk that has 7 million views or 20 million views if you include both sites, right?
Laura Vanderkam: Yeah.
Hal Elrod: You’re like, I told you about…
Laura Vanderkam: I was counting for a while.
Hal Elrod: What did you say?
Laura Vanderkam: I was counting for a while, like, whoa, let me see.
Hal Elrod: That’s off the charts. Actually, before we get into this, let me ask you, your TED talk specifically, How to Gain Control of Your Free Time, what was the premise of that message? And how has it evolved into this new– I mean, I guess that’s a bigger question is between your TED talk and the five books you’ve written on time management, what were the premises of those? And then how has it evolved to this new book?
Laura Vanderkam: Yeah, well, this is always the challenge. I want to continue to say something new and we are always just dissecting the 24 hours of a day, the 168 hours of a week. And so, we’re trying to come up with a new angle, some different way to think about time. And so, the good news is that I think because time is the building blocks of our lives, there is always something new to say about it. There’s always some way we can think about how to spend our time differently, some goal we are trying to achieving. And so, I’ve looked at different things.
I’ve looked at mornings. I looked at how, in particular, professional women who are raising children at the same time, how they spent their time because I know there’s a lot of sort of cultural narratives about that. And I wanted to counter some of those. I wrote a book called 168 Hours, which was looking at thinking of time in a week. We often think of our lives in days, but we actually live our lives in weeks. And so, we want to try and think of time as that.
And so, really, Tranquility by Tuesday is an extension of all of those but a new way of like, if I’m going to do some small things, if I want to adopt some new habits that would help me spend my life better, what would those be? What specifically would those be? And what did it look like when other people adopted those habits? Because the bulk of the book is the people in my study talking about what impact these rules had on their lives that they gave themselves a bedtime, what effect did that have on their energy and their motivation for all the things they had to do? If they started planning big and little adventures into their lives, what did that do in terms of how they thought of themselves and in terms of the memories they were making?
Hal Elrod: Yeah, that makes sense. And it really is. I’m looking at this list which you can see, I’m on your Amazon page and you see all nine of the habits are broken down. And that is actually the word, the title 9 Ways to Calm the Chaos, could have called it 9 Habits, so 9 Rules, 9 Habits, whatever resonates with somebody.
Let’s start with the first one I see here. Give yourself a bedtime. It says go to sleep about the same time every night unless you have a good reason not to. I’m a big proponent of that. I talk about that in the Miracle Morning that consistency, you’re programming your nervous system to always be tired at the same time, and the same thing with waking up at the same time. So, talk about that habit of giving yourself a bedtime. Why is that beneficial? How should somebody implement it?
Laura Vanderkam: Well, as you know, a lot of people don’t sleep that way, that they have sleep that is all over the map. I’ve found from time diary studies that most people are, in fact, sleeping enough from a quantitative perspective over the course of the week, but what often happens is that they are undershooting some nights, and then they are overshooting other days. So, you’re either exhausted, or it’s hard to maintain good habits if you can’t really control what time you are waking up in the morning or you’re crashing on the couch at night. It’s just hard to maintain good habits when you are not sleeping in an orderly way.
And so, since many adults can’t necessarily change too much the time they wake up because of work or family responsibilities that are set in the morning. You can’t necessarily sleep in in the morning. The only variable that can change is the time you go to bed the night before. And so, that’s what we need to look at.
Most people set their alarm for a certain time in the morning. They don’t necessarily set an alarm to go to bed the night before. But why not? I think we should. We should have a time we are aiming to be in bed, a time you start winding down in order to make that bedtime possible. And we’re adults. Like if you have a good reason to blow through your bedtime, like be…
Hal Elrod: Date night or whatever.
Laura Vanderkam: Date night, I don’t know, you got a concert ticket somewhere. Like, enjoy yourself. That is awesome. But if you are just sitting around, scrolling around on your phone, turn it off, know that your bedtime is coming up. You want to get in bed, you will thank yourself in the morning. It’s about that.
All these rules have a deeper reason too, like I want people to be well rested. And that in and of itself is amazing. But most of us know the day has a beginning. We are a little bit fuzzier on the notion that a day has an end, but it does. Every day has an end, and you can make a lot of choices about what you do with that. I don’t know, 16 to 17 hours that you happen to be awake. But if you have it structured, so you know this is when I wake up, this is when I go to bed, you can start working with it in a more mindful fashion. It’s like playing Tetris, you know the shape. You’re just moving things around within it to make the game work.
Hal Elrod: Totally. It makes sense. And I’m a big proponent. I have a bedtime alarm, and it’s a whole process of like, okay, at this time, I take my vitamins before bed, and then 30 minutes later, I go to my room and I start reading a book and so on and so forth. All right. So, the second rule is plan on Fridays. Think about your week or think through your weeks holistically before you’re in them. Talk about that, why Friday? And what does that planning session look like that people should be scheduling?
Laura Vanderkam: So, I think that this rule really encompasses two things. I mean, one is to plan, which is the most important part of it. I think everyone needs a designated weekly planning time. The reason for weekly is that we live our lives in weeks.
Hal Elrod: Sure.
Laura Vanderkam: The 168 Hours is truly the unit of repeat in the pattern of our lives. We don’t just live on Tuesdays, we don’t just live on Saturdays. We got all of them. So, let’s look at all of them as we are planning. So, plan your life in weeks. And by having a set time, it’s the same thing as giving yourself a bedtime, it becomes a habit. You know that on Fridays, I think about my life, I think about what I need to do, what I want to do, and I make it happen.
As for Friday, there are a couple of reasons for this. I mean, one, if you work sort of a Monday through Friday job is as many people do, by Friday afternoon, the time is really, what an economist would call a low opportunity cost time, like most people are not saying, I am excited to make progress on my personal and professional priorities at 3 p.m. on Friday, woo-hoo, like, we just don’t do that. We’re sliding into the weekend.
And so, it’s very easy to waste that time, but you might be willing to think about what future you should be doing. And by doing that, you can turn what would be waste of time into some of your most productive minutes of the week. It allows you to use Monday. Most people have more energy at the start of things than they do later on. And so, if you wait to plan your weeks on Monday morning, which I know a lot of people do, it’s really hard to use Monday then with all of it available to you, like most things won’t start until later in the day Monday. And Friday is a lost cause, we only have three real work days then.
So, you want to be able to use Monday. It’s better than Sunday for the reason that if you need to make appointments or meetings or send emails, those are generally better received on Friday than they are on Sunday night. And also, just people who like their jobs can still on Sunday afternoon start feeling a little bit of trepidation about Monday morning because you know all this stuff is waiting for you, but you don’t know exactly what you’re going to do, how you’re going to deal with it. If you plan the upcoming week on Friday, you can relax because you know there’s the plan for Monday morning.
Hal Elrod: That’s a great point. It does give you that, oh, I can relax over the weekend. I don’t have to think about work because on Friday, I already planned what’s going to happen this week. I think that’s great. You mentioned Friday at 3 p.m. Is that, typically, do you do Friday afternoon, Friday morning? Do you have a preference?
Laura Vanderkam: I think, for many people, Friday afternoon is a good time just because it tends to be less scheduled. Most people are not really having a whole lot of meetings and things by Friday afternoon, but it can be Friday morning. I mean, it doesn’t really matter. It’s whatever works for you, just as long as it happens. I mean, the actual time is what it is. It’s that you want to make sure that you set a time that you can reasonably stick to.
Hal Elrod: Yeah, personally, I’m just thinking here out loud, I would probably choose Friday morning just for people listening to consider. And the reason is, first of all, I’m brain dead in the afternoon. Like I always joke, Miracle Morning mediocre evening or whatever. So, in the morning, I’ve got more mental clarity, but also, what I like about that is if you plan Friday morning, create your plan, now it’s going to be in your subconscious mind all day on Friday, which will give you opportunities to go in, and ooh, ooh, I thought of something else. Ooh, I thought to write and go in and revise it, go in an update, go in and fine-tune it, go in and perfect it. So, by the end of the day Friday, you’ve really got it figured out and that clarity for the following week. So, you can go relax and mindlessly, if you will, enjoy the week and not have to think about work.
The third rule that you have is move by 3 p.m. You said do some form of physical activity for 10 minutes in the first half of every day. Now, I would argue, do this move by 8 a.m. That would be my recommendation, but…
Laura Vanderkam: You are the morning person, yes.
Hal Elrod: What did you say?
Laura Vanderkam: I said you are the morning person, yes.
Hal Elrod: Yeah, but talk about this rule and how it relates to time management because like, on face value, I’m like, well, that’s great for exercise, but why am I moving by 3 p.m.? How is that helping me better manage my time?
Laura Vanderkam: Yeah, well, I’m with you, I think morning exercising is awesome. It’s a great way to start your day. And I know a lot of your listeners probably have incredible morning routines that involve wonderful amounts of exercise, and that is great. That may be intimidating to a certain number of people who are just discovering this idea of thinking about how to spend their lives.
And if you don’t have every single day morning exercise thing built in, which many people can’t, if they have travel for work, if their kids wake up at varying times, if they have phone calls with people in Asia or something on some mornings and not in others, it’s harder for some people to build in every single morning exercise, but the perfect doesn’t need to be the enemy of the good. I just want people to do some sort of physical activity. And by doing it in the first half of the day, it nudges you to think through when you can take a break. I mean, many people do very sedentary sorts of work these days.
Now, if you are cutting wood for a living, like you are already doing this, like you don’t need to worry about this role. But if you are not, if you are in a sedentary sort of job, this is going to nudge you to take a 10-minute walk break at some point in your day. And that is going to have a couple of amazing effects. I mean, one, it’s going to give you a lot more energy. There’s pretty good evidence that even doing small amounts of physical activity can boost our energy for quite a while afterward. So, you’re going to find yourself just able to handle things better. You are going to be able to do your work without slamming coffee all afternoon. You are going to be more pleasant to be around if you take a real break and get out and get some physical activity.
If you haven’t done it by 3 p.m., this nudge, 3 p.m. is when people’s energy hits a low in the course of the day. So, that’s a really good time to do it if you haven’t. But even thinking about just the aspect of time, this forces you to be strategic, like a lot of people just wind up. You’re on Zoom call one, Zoom call two, or if you’re in meetings at your office or meeting with patients or whatever it is, this forces you to look through your day and say, well, where could I engineer some space? And once you have that mindset of like, I’m looking at my day as a whole, I’m looking at it ahead of time, I’m looking at where I can make decisions about my time, that is a very good strategic mindset for pretty much anything you want to do.
Hal Elrod: Yeah. Agreed. And in mentioning the energy and doing it the middle of the day, it reminds me of what I used to do is my lunch break. I’d have an hour lunch break and I would eat the first 30 minutes and then I would go– right next door, we had a park next to our house and I would go, and I love playing basketball. And so, I would take my shirt off, I would go, and I would just shoot around for like 15 minutes, but it helped get the digestive process going. You’re boosting up your metabolism. I got my vitamin D from the sun right out there and also boosted the physical endurance so that I had more energy throughout the day. And it was just a really nice break in that middle of the day. So, if you’re listening, again, just different options, something to consider, right on your lunch break, go for that 10-minute walk, get some fresh air, get some sunshine, get your heart rate up, and you’ll benefit on so many levels.
So, we had three rules so far, just to review, and then we’ll go on to the fourth. Give yourself a bedtime. Again, if you’re listening, don’t just listen, implement. Give yourself a bedtime. Number two, plan– and if you need, by the way, a bedtime alarm to remind you, for me, it used to be like this one hour before bed and start winding down for your 9 p.m. bedtime or whatever.
Second rule, plan on Fridays. And I love that if you’re not doing that, if you don’t have a weekly planning time, schedule 30 minutes, 60 minutes, could be Friday morning, like I suggested, or Friday afternoon, any time on Friday. Love that idea. And then move your body by 3 p.m. And even if you do a Miracle Morning exercise ritual, consider incorporating a midday break where you get outside and you get some fresh air. And again, you just clear your mind up. You’ve been staring at your computer for six hours or four hours or whatever.
Fourth habit or fourth rule, three times a week is a habit. This is interesting. I’ve never heard really this talked about. You said things don’t have to happen daily to become part of your identity, and often, can be more doable than always. So, talk about that, three times a week as a habit.
Laura Vanderkam: Yeah. Well, we talked about how a week is the right unit to think of time in. And when we’re thinking about a week, we see how much space we have that things can happen often even if they don’t happen every single day. And if you’re only looking at a day, then many days, you’re like, oh, I didn’t do it. I’m horrible, I’m terrible. I didn’t stick with whatever it is. But for a lot of stuff, it doesn’t actually have to happen every single day.
And I know, probably many of your listeners are the people who do have these seven mornings a week morning routine, and that’s awesome if you do. But I found that even many people who talk about having an amazing morning routine, they’re talking about doing it Monday through Friday, which is five times a week. That’s not seven. It’s not every day. And sometimes, it’s more like four, like Friday, for whatever reason, doesn’t wind up in the everyday category.
People can think they do stuff regularly, even if it only happens four times a week or so. So, I think three is a doable amount. And often for things that people are thinking, whatever you’re talking about in your life that you want to do more of, like you know it’s important, it means a lot to you, but it’s hard to do because life is busy. So, maybe it’s family meals, maybe it’s practicing a musical instrument or practicing a foreign language, maybe it’s some sort of spiritual pursuit that you’re doing. You can feel discouraged if there’s not a perfect time to do this every single day. And sometimes, people just give up. They’re like, I can’t, as I’m too busy with work and the family and everything.
I say, but can you find three times a week? And often, when people ask this question, they discover they may even be doing it once or twice a week. They’re not doing it every day, but they’re doing it some. And if the goal is three times a week, we’re just talking small tweaks, we’re not talking a total lifestyle overhaul. You can get to this. I mean, you want to eat family meals, but nobody’s serving a pot roast at 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, like you can say, okay, well, ee generally are in fact eating together on Sunday nights and we seem to be eating together most Friday night. So, all we have to do is find one more meal in the course of the week.
Hal Elrod: Yeah.
Laura Vanderkam: Now, we are a family that eats together. This can be part of your identity. And so, people love this role. They’re like, I can do this. I can become the kind of person who practices a musical instrument. I can become the kind of person who has a regular spiritual practice. I don’t have to do the same time every single day, and I can’t in my life, but I can do this.
Hal Elrod: Yeah, I love that because it addresses a mentality that I think we all suffer from, which is the all-or-nothing mentality and the perfectionist mentality. If I can’t do it all every day or if I can’t, if it’s not perfect, I’m just not going to do it. And you’re giving people permission that, hey, something is better than nothing, some is better than none. And there are certain things that I do where I have a Monday, Wednesday, Friday rhythm. So, for me, that is my three days a week because I do Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and I’ve certain things I just do Tuesday, Thursday, and of course, things I just do Saturday, Sunday. And some is better than none. I like that.
Number five, the fifth rule, create a backup slot. So, you said make a resilient schedule where your priorities still happen when life doesn’t go as planned. What do you mean by creating a backup slot?
Laura Vanderkam: So, you want to have some open space in your life that can absorb anything that you intend to do, but that life has a way of sometimes making not happen. And so, we all have these priorities we want to spend time on, and then we get frustrated because stuff comes up. I mean, the example I’ve used that somebody told me about is they have an employee that they really wanted to meet with and give some celebratory feedback because they know the person’s been going through some rough stuff. It’s like very important. I want to do this, and it’s scheduled for 10 a.m. on Tuesday. And then what happens at 9:30? Like your biggest client has a total blowup, and of course, the 10 o’clock meeting gets moved because that’s the responsible thing to do. But you wanted it to happen, and it gets very frustrating when life keeps intervening.
So, I think for anything that’s important in your life, you need the equivalent of a rain date. So, it’s like you have a summer outdoor party scheduled, if our picnic can’t happen Saturday, well, we all know that Sunday is the rain date. And that means, you know something can go wrong, you’re acknowledging stuff goes wrong, it’s right there in the rain date name, but there’s no question of whether it will be rescheduled or when it will on the rain date. So, if something is important to you, create a rain date for it. What’s the backup slot for it?
And I know it can get unwieldy to sort of have rain dates for everything. So, you can get in the habit of just leaving a lot of open space. I mean, I try to leave Fridays, for instance, as open as possible. So, it’s there for absorbing overflow from earlier in the week, or if an emergency happens and something gets bumped, that’s where it goes, or if some great opportunity comes up, I know I’ve got space on Friday to handle it.
Hal Elrod: Yeah, I do something similar. I try to not schedule anything Friday or Monday. And for some people, you can’t do that, but maybe, on Friday and Monday, you don’t schedule anything in the afternoon, or you just don’t schedule Friday afternoon something. But the backup slot, like if you’re listening to this, what is that look like for you? What’s reasonable? What’s realistic? Maybe it’s every day. Maybe you could have one hour every afternoon, maybe it’s from 4 to 5 p.m. before the end of the workday, and you just never schedule anything from 4 to 5. That’s it. But that gives you a one-hour backup slot every single workday where you can adjust things or put a spot, move a call that didn’t happen earlier that got pushed away, that kind of thing. So, I love the backup slot strategy.
The sixth rule. This is one, to me, that is what leads to fulfillment. One big adventure, one little adventure. So, you say each week, do at least two things that will be worth remembering. Can you give me some real-life examples, either from you or from 150 people that took these nine rules and implemented them, and what that looks like?
Laura Vanderkam: Yeah. I mean, I always say I don’t have a favorite rule, but this may be the rule that the other rules are jealous of. So, yeah, we want to plan little adventures, and I love routines. Routines are great, but we want to have at least some things that are out of the ordinary so that we remember where our time is going. So, some examples, I did the project, the Tranquility by Tuesday project during the spring. And so, this was a rule people got kind of in early, mid-April.
And among the things people did, going to the local ice cream place on the first day it opened for summer. So, that was an adventure that a lot of people had with their families. This was, I guess, Holy Week or something, somebody played the part of the narrator in their church Holy Week service. That was one. Somebody took a walk to a nearby nature preserve where they had a bunch of blooming flowers. That was when the magnolia trees were in full bloom. And so, that’s when they went and saw those. So, that sort of thing.
And somebody went for– they were on a business trip and they went for a run in the morning around that city’s harbor instead of just getting up and going to their meetings. So, they had this adventure of seeing the city. So, those were some of the adventures that people had.
Hal Elrod: I love that. And I think that I’m just thinking out loud, again, that it could be as simple as just do something that you don’t normally do. At least most of us, we’re creatures of habit. I know, for me, I live, every day is kind of like Groundhog Day in some ways. I’m doing the same things, going through the same rhythm, same rituals and routines. And yesterday was an example. Yesterday, I was driving home, and unfortunately, a semi had jackknifed across the highway. Luckily, I mean, nobody was hurt. But I’m in line and my wife texted me and she’s like, hey, I don’t know if you’re in this right now, but in case you’re wondering why it’s not moving, you’re probably going to be stuck for hours. Find a different way home. Thank God for my wife. Boots on the ground is on. I would have just sat there for hours not knowing why.
And so, I ended up having to go a different route. It was a long way around, and I’m like, oh, since I’m going this way, I never drive this way. I stopped at Lowe’s, which I never normally like doing errands, but I picked up something. I stopped at Michaels, I got my wife some knitting needles. I heard her talking about wanting to start knitting. And then I went to the sandwich shop that I’ve driven by every once in a while, but I never have time. But what’s amazing about it is that these are super simple. These aren’t even adventures. But it was just I did multiple things that I don’t normally do, and it just created this different sense of enjoyment and fulfillment, just connecting with people in the sandwich shop. I go, I drive by here. I am so sorry. It’s taken me a year to come in, but like, I’m so excited. I’ve heard your sandwiches are amazing. And it was. And then I was early to pick my kids up from school, which was I talked to some parents. So, just the adventure could be as simple as doing something you enjoy or doing something that you don’t normally do, mixing it up a little bit.
So, just reviewing those three, it’s the three times a week habit or three times a week is a habit. You don’t have to do something every day for it to become part of your identity, but you can do it just three times a week, and three times a week makes it a habit for you. Create a backup slot. I love this. A resilient schedule is where you’ve got time built in, it’s like the net that catches the missed appointments or the extra work that you didn’t quite get done that you needed to get done. And then, number six, one big adventure, one little adventure each week. Do at least two things that will be worth remembering.
All right, we got time. Let’s do these last three. Take one night for you. So, the seventh rule, take one night for you, commit to an activity you love that is separate from work and household responsibilities. Talk about that one.
Laura Vanderkam: Yeah, this is advice I’ve been giving over and over to busy people who are feeling like I’ve got good things, I’ve got a great job, I’ve got a loving family. Why does my life feel like such a slog? It’s like you need a hobby, and not just like a hobby that, okay, I can go fiddle around with stuff at night, whatever. You need something that involves a commitment to doing something at a certain time every week so that you do it. So that you are playing in a softball league. You are singing in a choir. You are volunteering somewhere as a regular chef, but somewhere where your absence would be noticed so that you will do it, like you will do it even when life is busy. You will figure out the childcare or other logistics you need to do and you will get there.
And I have to do a lot of convincing for busy people that this is what they need to do. I couldn’t possibly do this. I couldn’t do that. Yes, you can. I have talked to many busy people who are busier than you are, and they are figuring out a way to make it work just because it is life transforming when you do, that suddenly, for a couple of hours a week, you are doing something that is not work, something that is not taking care of your family. It is just for you that you find enjoyable and that can change your entire perspective on the rest of your time.
Hal Elrod: Yeah. And it gives you, you look forward to it all week.
Laura Vanderkam: You look forward all week.
Hal Elrod: For me, and I actually did kind of a hybrid where I included, it became partially a family thing. About three or four months ago, I signed my 10-year-old son up for Muay Thai. And I think my daughter always says I mispronounce Muay Thai, I don’t know.
Laura Vanderkam: Something like that, yes. I’ll butcher it, too, so yes, I know.
Hal Elrod: Anyway, every time, she corrects me. So, it’s every Tuesday, Thursday. And I love what you said, sign up for it because here is the thing, I don’t feel like going almost every time because it’d just be easier to stay home. Like, yes, I enjoy it. Yes, it’s fun, but it’s difficult. It’s exhausting. But it’s one of those things where it’s been said like nobody likes going to the gym, but everybody loves the feeling of having gone to the gym. I don’t like going to Muay Thai. I love that I went to Muay Thai every single time, and the same with my son, but we’re both signed up.
So, every Tuesday and Thursday, his class is 5:45 to 6:30, and I sit there and watch him. And then mine’s right at 6:30, and he sits and eats his dinner that my wife packed him. Yeah, but I love it. And signing up for it is so important because you need that, a commitment, and you need that accountability, even if it’s a hobby, and sometimes, especially if it’s a hobby because you’re like, well, this doesn’t pay the bills, so I don’t really need to do it. And if you didn’t sign up, well, nobody’s going to notice that I’m not there. And so, I love those nuances that you shared in taking one night for you.
Rule number eight, batch the little things. You said, keep most of your schedule clear from unimportant tasks. Expand on that.
Laura Vanderkam: Yeah. So, we can wind up with a lot of small tasks in our lives. You couldn’t be a champion outsourcer, and yet, you’d still wind up with these tasks that you have to do, whether it’s responding to a non-urgent message or signing a permission slip or booking a ticket for something or paying a bill, these different things that you can wind up that you need to do. And I find that they can weigh on people, like, oh, I have so much stuff to do. And then you feel like you’re put upon and all this, but the more insidious problem is you might be working on something really important. You’re really getting into the project that you’re working on and you’re like, oh, I’ve got to go buy that birthday present on Amazon. And then you distract yourself from it, and next thing you know, you’re doing a million other things.
So, create a small window of time to do all these small tasks, all these non-urgent, non-important tasks, ideally during a time when you are not high energy. So, mid-afternoon would be good for many people. Create a small window for doing these things. It’ll will force them efficiencies, but then it’s not an option the rest of the time. So, you are free to focus on your deeper work or to relax. We can do this on weekends too, say, okay, I’m going to do my chores from 10 to 12 on Saturday. If it doesn’t happen during that time, it probably wasn’t the most urgent thing. But you find yourself looking at a dirty floor at some other point. You’re like, no, no, there is a time for that. The time is 10 to noon on Saturday, and if it’s not that time, I am allowed to relax.
Hal Elrod: So, are you a big fan of time batching and having your schedule, like from this time to this time on Mondays, I do this, and then from this time to this time, I typically do this. That’s how I operate. For me, the rhythm of like, oh, it’s 9 a.m., I know that that’s when I do this thing, and I love that, before you answer that, what you just shared in terms of the batching of the little things, the busy work, if you put that in the afternoon and you follow that rule or I’m not allowed to do these non-consequential activities, the things that don’t really move the needle in my business or my life until 3 p.m. in the afternoon. Yeah, I love it, (a) it takes it off your mind space. It removes it from your brain, but also, I love that it takes away your ability to use it as an excuse to not do the things that really matter.
Laura Vanderkam: Yeah.
Hal Elrod: This is what we do.
Laura Vanderkam: Which is we do that to ourselves, like we get interrupted by a million things in life, but sometimes, we are interrupting ourselves. And you asked about batching. I think it’s important to know yourself. And if you find it, it’s really good, like this day, I’m going to focus on research, and this day, it’s on writing, or this day, it’s on publicity or whatever it is people do in their business, that can be great. Different people enjoy doing multiple things on any given day. You just have to know, do you want to have the variety? Do you like to have the complete focus on one thing?
But you can have a variety and still all be doing important stuff. It’s just don’t do it to yourself that you’re like, well, I’m starting to work on this project, and then five minutes later, you’re ordering that birthday present. And then while you’re doing that, you’re like, oh, yeah, I see that. There’s an email from a colleague. Let me just answer that. Next thing you know, your time is completely chopped up.
Hal Elrod: Totally, yeah. You weren’t able to get really deep and focused on any of it. All right. And the ninth and final rule, effortful before effortless. You said, do active leisure activities before passive ones whenever time opens up. What do you mean by that?
Laura Vanderkam: So, even busy people have some amount of leisure time, but the problem is a lot of it is short in duration. It is unexpected, like you don’t know exactly when it’s going to happen, and you don’t have a tremendous amount of energy when it does. And so, screen time fits all of these constraints incredibly well. You don’t have to plan ahead. It’s fine to be on Twitter for two minutes or 20 minutes, I guess, it’s all the same. But the problem with that is because this sort of effortless leisure is so effortless, it winds up consuming the bulk of our leisure time and that can feel a little bit like, wow, wow, I’m a busy person. I’m building a career, I’m raising a family. I don’t have that much leisure time. And here I am, spending the time I do have looking at ads on Instagram. I would prefer not to do that.
So, I’m not saying you have to give up social media, like I love social media. I’m not saying you have to give up TV watching. There’s a lot of great shows out there, and people should watch them. But if you don’t want to spend all your leisure time doing that, whenever a spot of leisure opens up, doing something that just requires a little bit of effort before you switch to the effortless can make both a possibility.
So, read an e-book for three minutes and then go stroll around on Twitter. At night after your kids go to bed or after you finish your chores, do a puzzle for 15 minutes and then go stream something. And one of two things will happen. Either you will be so taken with your effortful fun that you’ll just keep going. Like your book is awesome, you want to find out what happened so you forget that Twitter binge anyway. But even if it doesn’t, you can still have both kinds of leisure time in your life, whereas if you start with the effortless, it is very hard to switch over to effortful.
Hal Elrod: Totally, yeah. And that’s right. So, this is a rule that’s important for me because my wife, like I’m lazy in my leisure. There’s got to be something there, lazy leisure, but I’m lazy in my leisure. And for me, I’m like, I just don’t want to do anything. And my wife, thank goodness for her, she is like, no, we’re getting out. We’re going for a hike. We’re going to see these sites. We’re going to do all that, like she’s effortful.
And the thing is, kind of like the Muay Thai or gym example, nobody likes doing it, but you love having done it. I always am so glad that she got me out of my comfort zone to do those fun things, to go see that site, to go to that event, to go to the social thing, where I’m like, I don’t want to socialize. And then I’m having an amazing conversation with somebody and I feel so filled up. And I like the take one night for you and commit to that activity that you love. To me, that can help with that. If you’ve got that weekly commitment, once or twice a week to go to your guitar lesson or your art class or your Muay Thai, however you say that, then that I think that almost, like that one knocks out the other kind of thing.
Cool. Well, here’s what I love about this approach and this book is that, and obviously, the book is not out yet. I still haven’t read it yet, comes out October 11th, which when this episode airs, the book will be out, I believe, or right around that time. It’s for preorder now, though. I went and looked. You can preorder it now. And again, for anybody listening, the book is Tranquility by Tuesday: 9 Ways to Calm the Chaos and Make Time for What Matters.
Laura, what I love about these nine rules is that, to me, it’s a very holistic approach to not managing your time, but optimizing your time. And what I mean by that is most time management books and strategies are really about how do you more effectively get your to-do list done, right? This is how do you have a life where, yes, you are productive, yes, you get your to-do’s done, yes, you plan your week, but you’re also doing things that you love. You’re having adventures, the effortful leisure. Like one night a week for yourself. I mean, to me, this is just really holistic approach to optimizing your time in a way where you’re going to feel not just like I got my to-do list done, but I lived a great life this week. I’m living a great life.
Laura Vanderkam: That is the goal. I hope that’s what people will take away from this book and from these rules.
Hal Elrod: Awesome. Well, anything else to share? Any last thoughts before we wrap it up?
Laura Vanderkam: No. Thank you so much for having me. And yeah, I hope your listeners can come visit me at my website, LauraVanderkam.com. I talk about these topics there frequently, and you can learn more about the books, podcasts, and all those good things.
Hal Elrod: Yeah, LauraVanderkam.com, and again, goal achievers, the new book which you should definitely check out, Tranquility by Tuesday: 9 Ways to Calm the Chaos and Make Time for What Matters, and that is from Laura Vanderkam, who, again, this is her sixth book on time management. And every time you write a book, you get better and better and better and better. And her first book was a great book on time management. In fact, Laura, I didn’t tell you that, but when I was writing the Miracle Morning and doing research, I came across what the most successful people do before breakfast. So, your book, actually, I have to thank you, it informed my knowledge of morning rituals and morning routines and played a part in the Miracle Morning. So, thank you for that.
Laura Vanderkam: Thank you. Well, I appreciate that. That’s awesome.
Hal Elrod: All right. Well, it’s such a pleasure to talk with you. And again, goal achievers, the new book is Tranquility By Tuesday, available where books are sold. I love you all so much and I will talk to you all next week.
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