Stay On Top Of Your Work With Laura Vanderkam! [PODCAST EPISODE #42]

  • January 30, 2019
  • by Kate Borucka
  • No comments


Table of Contents

Get More Done With Laura Vanderkam!


Listen to #42 episode with Laura Vanderkam to discover the secret behind effective time management, how time management expert organizes her work, and how you can build the life you want!


Laura Vanderkam is the author of several time management and productivity books, including Off the Clock, I Know How She Does It, What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast, and 168 Hours. Her work has appeared in publications including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, and Fortune. She is the co-host, with Sarah Hart-Unger, of the podcast Best of Both Worlds. She lives outside Philadelphia with her husband and four children, and blogs at

Keynotes of this episode:
  • We can build the lives we want in the time that we got

  • What to do when things go wrong – little of extra space is the answer

  • To really know where your time goes you need to keep track of it


  • Why you should think ahead

  • Time tracking doesn’t have to be complicated

  • Planning is not about thinking nothing will go wrong, it’s about knowing what you want to do even if everything goes wrong


Connect with Laura!

Website || Twitter || Facebook || LinkedIn || Instagram


Podcast Transcript

Kate: Laura Vanderkam is one of the most popular authors on time management and productivity and she doesn’t have to be introduced!

In this episode, you’ll find out how to spend more time on what matters, and less on what doesn’t and what is the secret behind effective time management according to Laura Vanderkam

Kate: Laura, welcome to Stay On Top Of Your Work Podcast, I’m very happy to have you here today with me.

 Laura: Thank you for having me.

[00:00:54 – 00:01:32]

Kate: It’s an honor and a pleasure. So for those who don’t know you, but I believe most people do. Who are you and what do you do? Would you like to say a few words about yourself?

 Laura: Sure, I’m Laura Vanderkam, I write books on time management and productivity, some including Off The Clock, 168 hours, What The Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast. I also run a podcast, called Best of Both Worlds, I co-host that with Sarah Hart-Unger. I love to blog and speak. And I live outside Philadelphia with my husband and four kids.

[00:01:32 – 00:02:00]

Kate: Great, so Laura, what are you aiming at in life? What are your life goals?

 Laura: Well, I hope to enjoy myself along the way but I also hope to give other people the tools that will help them enjoy their lives more. I really do believe that we can build the lives we want in the time that we got and so it’s my mission to make sure that people don’t feel too busy to have the lives they want.

[00:02:01 – 00:02:39]

Kate: So is there anything special you’ve been working on recently?

 Laura: Well, I actually have a new book coming out in March that’s called Juliet’s School of Possibilities. And it’s a little bit different from my other time management books in that it’s a fable. It is a story, novella, you know, short fiction book that gets on the topic of time management more from the perspective of somebody whose life is falling apart on various dimensions until she meets with a mentor who helps her figure out how to prioritize what really matters and spend a little bit less time on the things that don’t.

[00:02:40 – 00:03:33]

Kate: That sounds fantastic. So when talking about time management, are you always on time?

 Laura: No, I am not always on time. In fact, I was once late to my own speech on time management which is really quite a fun experience as you can imagine. I do my best and I have a few strategies I use to be on time more times than I’m not. I understand that things will go wrong. It’s not a surprise that there’s traffic on the road if it’s raining and rush hour. It’s not a surprise that kids might have trouble finding their shoes on the way out the door.

 So you need to leave a little extra time for those things. You also need to make sure that your schedule is not completely packed so that when things do go wrong you have a little extra space before the next thing.

But, you know, when things go wrong, as they sometimes do, and sometimes you’re late and you’ll apologize and you move on.

[00:03:34 – 00:04:21]

Kate: Right, so you are a mom of four. So how are you able to combine work, work with motherhood and your personal life? Is it possible to do that?

 Laura: I definitely think it’s possible to do both and, you know, men have been having kids and having careers for years so this is a question if you really ask of women. You know, there’s… because I work and my husband also works, we have childcare for the hours that we’re working when we’re not trading off for each other.

Now my kids, the older kids are in school so there’s a reasonable number of hours available right there. But the little guy is still three so we have full-time child care for him.

[00:04:22 – 00:05:34]

Kate: So what’s the biggest challenge for a working woman, for a working mom, from your perspective?

Laura:  Hmm, I think, for me, I’ve realized that I can’t find space for anything that I do wish to do other than dealing with the kids or the basic day to day stuff of my job. It’s really more about analyzing what I’d like to be spending my time on, getting a good sense of where my time goes, and then figuring out how I can put those things that I do want to do into the time that is available.

So, you know, because I do plan ahead and think about when I can do things, I can run every day, so I get to exercise, I’m singing in a choir, because I’ve structured my life to have Thursday night rehearsals, be a priority. When I need to do things for my work, I sort of figure out what are my long-term career goals and if I have time for those things to happen

I don’t know, I think we’ve become a little bit whetted to the idea that life needs to be chaotic or busy or overwhelming when you have kids and work and other things you’d like to do but I actually don’t think that’s the case.

[00:05:25 – 00:07:16]

Kate: Okay, that’s great. And on your website you recommend for people to make a list of 100 dreams to get the most out of their time. Why? Why such a list?

 Laura:  Well, this is an exercise that I borrowed from a career coach I once interviewed, her name’s Caroline Ceniza-Levine. And she came up with this exercise. It really gets people thinking about what they’d like to be doing more of with their time. A lot of people assume that they have absolutely no time, whatsoever, so they don’t even bother to think what they do with their time. The problem with that is that when time does appear because everybody has some open time, you do whatever is easiest with it, namely surfinf the web or watching tv or just kinda putting around the house waiting for the next thing to happen.

So the upside of the list of a 100 dreams is that it really focuses you on thinking on anything that you might wanna do. So this list is coming up with a 100 items that you would like to do in life.

 They can be travel goals, personal goals, hobbies, tings you wanna do with your family, things you’d like to do at work. Hopefully, there are work goals in there too. Or just little things you’d like to do. It could be things you might do over the weekend, things you might want to do in your community. So you make this really long list. And a thing of going to a 100 is that you’re gonna have to come back to it several times.

And you’re really gonna come up with some incredibly doable stuff by the end. The first third is stuff like ‘go to Italy for two weeks’ and that might take a lot of to pull off. But you know, going to that state park that’s thirty minutes away from you that you have yet to visit. You could probably do that this weekend if you wanted to.

And so, by having this list, you answer the question of what you will do with your time. And it also gives you goals to work for both personally and professionally.

Kate: Yeah, it’s great actually, I should do that list too.

 Laura: I recommend it! I’ve done it several times, yeah.

[00:07:22 – 00:09:34]

Kate: That’s a good idea, really. So, you know, I’m thinking about the fact that people often complain that they have no time and they are always busy. So I think we have to figure out our priorities? It seems to be easy, but it’s not, I guess for the most people. Do you have any tips?

 Laura: Yeah, I mean I think one of the issues with priorities is that people think in sort of these broad but undoable things, like “my family is a priority.” Well what does that even mean? Like, what does it mean you should be doing on like Tuesday at 8 p.m. Well, let’s think about that then.

There are two exercises I recommend people do to sort of figure out priorities that are big but you can execute on them on the next year or so.

One is to think on what you want might in a year in a year in a professional performance review for yourself. So professionally what your priorities are? We’re recording this in January. You might pretend that it’s the end of this year. So the end of 2019 December or something like that. You are looking back over the year and you’re giving yourself a professional performance review.

Now, if it was to be the absolutely amazing year for you professionally, like what 3 to 5 things would you have done over the course of 2019 that made it so amazing? And now, if you know those things now, in January of 2019 you can start working on those for the next year. These are your high professional top priorities.

You can also do this for your personal life. Picture yourself in December of 2019, maybe at a holiday party, telling everyone what an amazing personal life you had. And if you did have an amazing personal life in 2019, what 3 to 5 things would you have done?

And so when you have that list now, in January, you can start working on these 5 things over the course of 2019.

So between the performance review and this holiday party chit-chat, you have a list of 6 to 10 items that these are really the things that you need to start building into your schedule. These are the priorities you’re  gonna actually start doing when you’re saying like, “Oh, what should I be doing like, Monday morning? What should I be doing Tuesday at 8 p.m.?” Something that might work you toward things on this list would be a great idea.

[00:09:35 – 00:11:58]

Kate: So people call you a time management expert. Is it easy for you to manage your time? Because it seems that you can do it just like that, like it’s so simple but is it, really?

 Laura: I don’t think it’s rocket science, I mean, I certainly don’t have any particular qualifications for this. I didn’t go to school for this, I didn’t… It’s really just studying how people have spent their time and at this point I’ve seen thousands of people schedules and not just what they tell me about it. Because people have all sorts of ideas they have about where their time goes.

To really know where your time goes you need to keep track of it.

And so I’ve had thousands of people track their time and then share these results with me and so I can study them and see for people where does the time go, what sort of patterns can I see.

For me it’s really about thinking what do I wish to be doing with my time, how can I structure my life to make sure I have the time for these things? Both the things that are important to do professionally and personally. Things are fun as well, I mean, I really think that time management isn’t just about doing the things that we have to do. It’s about doing the things we want to do.

 And, again, with a busy family, four small kids I do need to think ahead in order to figure out how these things will work but if I do think ahead and think about what can go wrong I can often solve this problem ahead of time or at least have a backup plan if the first plan doesn’t work. In a practical sense because people are like, “Okay, that sounds great but practically, how do you do that?”

Leave open space. This is honestly one of the best strategies you can do. When you pack your schedule completely full, then you don’t have space for things to go wrong.

What I’ve tried to do is, if I leave, say, Friday mostly open, if one of my kids gets sick on Wednesday and I have to deal with it, then the stuff that would have gone on Wednesday goes on Friday. And it still gets done. Whereas if Friday was completely packed full, there’ll be no space for it. Then I’d feel left behind, stressed and all that sort of thing.

That way you build more space into your schedule is to not agree to do things that you don’t think are the best use of your time. I really think that coming up with nice ways to say no is a skill that a lot more of us should work on.

[00:11:59 – 00:15:32]

Kate: Yeah, that’s true. So how can you track your time because it seems to be so easy when we have so many time tracking software, for example, TimeCamp.

But does it really help. You have to do something with all that data, with all that information you have.

Laura: Yeah, well, what I use to track my time and I’ve actually been tracking my time for almost 4 years now which nobody else needs to do. But I do think that tracking a week is a smart strategy.

I use spreadsheets, which you can get one from my website, which is but it’s also very simple. Like, you can make one of these for yourself pretty quickly. I put the days of the week across the top, so Monday through Sunday, and then half hour blocks down the left hand side. Going from 5 a.m. to 4.40 a.m.

So basically, it’s a 143 cell spreadsheet that represents the 168 hour week and half hour blocks. I write down what I’m doing, basically, you know, checking in a couple times per day, usually check in 3 to 4 times per day and write down what I’ve done since the last time I checked in.

It’s pretty easy to remember how you spent the last 4 or 5 hours. You’re not gonna remember how you spent the past 4 or 5 days so you probably need to be at least relatively consistent about checking in. But if you check in 3 or 4 times a day, each check will only take about a minute so, you know, 3 minutes a day, this is about the same amount of time I spent brushing my teeth, which is definitely something I managed to fit into my life. Probably everyone listening to this can fit that into their life so time tracking doesn’t have to be complicated.

I tend to just put broad categories, doesn’t have to be exact. The point is not tracking every single minute, it’s making sure that you know roughly where the time goes. So I’ll just write things like work, make dinner, run play with kids, drive, sleep, you know, and as for analyzing it, since I’m doing this continuously, I don’t do each week at a time, and I kind of check in every 6 months and do a major data crunch from the staff I’ve got.

But what I’ll do is just I’ll look at the spreadsheet and add up the major categories. I count how many sales work or how many sales say work and then something else and assign a proportion of that sell to work. Count it up, see what the number is. How many hours did I work that week, count up the sleep numbers, how many hours did I sleep that week. Count up, say, driving or playing with kids or doing housework or errands or exercising or reading, you know.

What do I think of this? Am I happy with these numbers? Am I not happy with these numbers? And if I’m happy, awesome, celebrate that. If I’m not happy, either because I’m doing too much or too little of something, what can do to change it?

Kate: Okay, that sounds like you have a very structured plan for your life.

 Laura: I guess so, it’s pretty straightforward, but I would say that it’s also life changing. Because when you know where the time goes, then you can honestly asses your life. And then you’re not just telling yourself stories about where the time goes. You know exactly where the time goes. When you have good data, you can make smart decisions.

Kate: Yeah, fantastic! So let’s switch to more creative part of the podcast. You have written, how many books?

 Laura: Like about, eight now I think.

Kate: And most of them is about time management, right?

 Laura: Yeah, most about time, yes.

[00:15:33 – 00:16:49]

Kate: Okay, so is there a common theme in all of these books or you touch different topics in every book?

 Laura: Well, in the time management books I’m generally working from the perspective that we do have time for whatever is important to us. I think this idea that we don’t is a fallacy and I understand that there are people who have very full lives, there are people who have various difficult things in their lives that make it more challenging to seize time for the things that they wanna do.

I don’t mean to minimize people’s struggles but I do think that most of us can carve out little bits of time here and there for the things that we would like to be doing. And as we achieve some success in doing that, maybe we can figure out ways to scale that over time so.

I mean, the honest truth is if you were spending at least an hour a day doing something very meaningful and fulfilling that you enjoy, that one hour can take you through the other twenty three. So it’s not about spending all 168 hours a week in a state of blissful, complete self-fulfillment, I mean, that’d be awesome, like I’d love to have that happen to everyone listening to this.

But if you can get to 7 hours a week, 1 hour a day, I think you’ll be feeling pretty good.

[00:16:50 – 00:17:48]

Kate: Yeah, that’s true. So, Laura, what inspires you in your life and when you’re writing the books?

 Laura: I’m very inspired by the people I hear from. The people who’ve been willing to track their time for me or people who write me stories about their lives. Because I think there’s a lot of stories out there about where the time goes that just sort of limit people’s lives. In particular, I think the story that it’s very challenging and difficult and hard and maybe impossible to combine a rewarding career with a fulfilling personal life. Limits a lot of people’s lives.

I mean, they don’t throw themselves into work they really love ‘cause they think that it’ll somehow be cheating the other people in their lives. Or otherwise they don’t build the families or relationships that they want because, “Well, I won’t have time if I’m gonna pursue this career.” And I just don’t think that’s true. I think you truly, really can do both and can enjoy both.

And so, countering that narrative has always been a big, important aspect of my work.

[00:17:49 – 00:18:47]

Kate: So when you talk about enjoying things, what do you like to do in your free time as a time management expert?

 Laura: Well, I enjoy running. I run every single day and have done that continuously for every two years now but I’ve been a runner for like 15 years. It’s great, it’s something I can fit in into almost every part of the day, especially since I work for myself, I often do it during the day so that’s a great break for me.

I sing in a choir, I sing in my church choir so I’m rehearsing most Thursday nights and singing in church most Sundays. I love to read. I read I think 70 books last year which is okay, you know, it’s good. I’ve read more than that the year before but the year before I was a little bit on a tear and I got through a lot of things. So 70 books read last year.

I spend time with friends when I can so these are all things that I enjoy doing.


Kate: I wanted to ask you how you stay on top of your work but you’ve actually kind of answered that question. But maybe you have some final tips for the audience.

Laura: So in terms of staying on top of work, I really do recommend thinking through what is important that you’d be doing at any given week before you’re actually in that week. Friday afternoon is a really good time to plan a week ahead and just sort of look at your calendar, look at what’s already there. Ask yourself what’s really important for you to do in that coming week.

Like if nothing else happened, what three things would be important for you to do professionally. You should do this for your professional life too, what important things happen in your personal life. But if you’re trying to stay on top of work, what are the 3 most important things.

And then ask yourself where those things can go in your schedule. As much as possible doing those at the beginning of the week is smart because then you either, you know, stuff is always gonna come up. Like, nobody can have a perfect week. And so, planning is not about thinking nothing will go wrong, it’s about knowing what you want to do even if everything goes wrong.

So think about what still need to happen if everything else fall apart. AS much as possible, do those toward the beginning of the week because then you’ll either do them before the emergency’s happened or if the emergency’s happened Monday, you’ve got time to rest of the week to get to those things that’s important too you so you still have time. Whereas if you leave it toward Friday afternoon at 4 p.m., chances are not gonna happen.


“Planning is not about thinking nothing will go wrong, it’s about knowing what you want to do even if everything goes wrong. “


Kate: Alright, fantastic. Laura, if we want to find you, where should we look for you

 Laura: Please come visit my website which is I’ve been writing there 3-4 times a week for pretty much the past 10 years so a lot of content there if you’d like to check that out. Please check out ay of my books which are all listed on my website and my podcast Best of Both Worlds.

Kate: Fantastic! Laura, thank you so much for joining me here, it was my pleasure and an honor to talk to you.

Laura: Thank you so much for chatting with me.


Thank you for listening!


Kate Borucka

Kate is a freelance translator, copywriter, and a content writer specializing in time tracking software, time management, and productivity. When not researching new software, she's reading books, or spending time outdoors.

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