When you ask people about their schedules, they’ll typically tell you they’re very busy, and don’t have enough time for sleep or for leisure activities. Yet when they’re actually asked to track their time, it turns out that they work less and sleep more than they realize.
My guest today studied and dug into this disparity. Her name is Laura Vanderkam and she’s the author of several books on the personal use of time, including the focus of our discussion: Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done.
Today on the show, Laura and I discuss why there’s a gap between how busy people think they are vs. how busy they actually are. We then unpack what the people who don’t feel oppressed by the phantom of busyness do differently than those who do, why time goes by faster when you’re older than it did when you were young, and how you can still slow down time as an adult. We talk about how what you really want are more memories, not more time, and how to find more adventure in your ordinary life. We end our conversation discussing how tracking your time can create a more memorable life, why you need to create open spaces in your schedule, and the one tactic you can begin doing this week to start making more of your time.
- How people think they spend their time vs how they actually spend it
- Are parents spending more or less time with kids now compared to 60 years ago?
- Are you really sleep deprived?
- Why you probably have more leisure time than you think
- What’s the difference in people who don’t feel starved for time?
- The psychology of time perceptions
- How can thinking about yourself as three different people allow for more and better memories?
- The benefits of time tracking (and how to do it)
- Why you shouldn’t over-optimize your life
- How to maintain white space on your calendar
- The best ways to “invest” your time
- What listeners can do this week to make the most of their time
Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast
- Shadow Work and the Rise of Middle-Class Serfdom
- Are Modern People the Most Exhausted in History?
- Get More Done by Tracking Your Time
- American Time Use Survey
- How to Hardwire Your Happiness
- Be a Time Wizard: How to Slow Down and Speed Up Time
- More Footage: Take the One-Month “Do Something New Every Day” Challenge
- Getting Out There: My 8-Week Microadventure Challenge
- My interview with Alastair Humphreys about microadventures
- Love Is All You Need
- How to Plan Your Week
Connect With Laura
Listen to the Podcast! (And don’t forget to leave us a review!)
Recorded on ClearCast.io
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Read the Transcript
Brett McKay: Before we get to the show, quick heads up. I have changed the theme music for the Art of Manliness podcast. Now, I’ve been wanting to do this for a few months. A couple of reasons why. One reason we did a whole redesign of the Art of Manliness back in January where we went from like that Victorian feel to a more 1970s, ’80s vibe. So I wanted some podcast music to fit that “branding”. Also over the years I’ve gotten complaints about the current music, those blaring horns. I guess when you’re wearing earbuds, it’s not very pleasant. Also, just really harsh sounding.
I’ve been wanting to change it for that reason as well. So after months of listening to hundreds of tracks hours, just mind numbing surfing and looking through and listening to the stuff, I found it. The new intro music to the Art of Manliness podcast. I was going for like something like Kojak streets of San Francisco vibe where it’s smooth but has a driving edge, this is it. So without further ado, world debut of the new AOM podcast, intro music. It’s called soul jazz. I like it. I hope you like it too.
Brett McKay here and welcome to another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. Now when you ask people about their schedules, they’ll typically tell you about how they’re very busy and don’t have enough time for sleep or for leisure activities. Yet when they’re actually asked to track their time, it turns out they work less and sleep more than they realize. I guess stay studied and dug into this disparity, name is Laura Vanderkam and she’s the author of several books on the personal use of time, including the focus of our discussion today. It’s called off the clock, feel less busy while getting more done.
Today on the show, Laura and I discuss why there’s a gap between how busy people think they are versus how busy they actually are. We then unpack what the people who don’t feel oppressed by the phantom of business do differently than those who do. Why time goes by faster when you’re older than it did when you were young and how you can still slow down time as an adult. We talk about how what you really want are more memories, not more time, and how to find more adventure in your ordinary life. We end our conversation discussing how tracking your time can create a more memorable life, why you need to create open spaces in your schedule and the one tactic you can begin doing this week to start making more of your time. After the show’s over, check out our show notes at aom.is/offtheclock. Laura joins me now via clearcast.io.
All right, Laura Vanderkam, welcome to the show.
Laura Vanderkam: Thank you so much for having me.
Brett McKay: You’ve made a career for yourself, researching and writing about how people spend their time. For example, you’ve written a lot of bestselling books like What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast, 168 Hours. Now you got this new book Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done. How’d you end up doing what you’re doing? Like researching and writing about how people spend their time.
Laura Vanderkam: Well, it’s been a long time and coming and it was not a straight forward story of like I knew growing up I wanted to write about time. But I did realize something that seems obvious in retrospect but at the time it was profound and sort of shaped all my writing on it, which is that we all have the same amount of time. Like I find this such an incredible thing. Some people have more money or more naturally talented at whatever else than the rest of us may be, but we all have the same amount of time.
And so since our lives are lived in hours, we all have access to the exact same building blocks to create the lives we want. And I just find that so fascinating. And also this reality that how we think we spend our time is often not how we actually spend our time. And I’m fascinated by topics where I think the prevailing wisdom is wrong. I don’t think people are increasingly busy, increasingly sleep deprived or anything like that. So I find that interesting too.
Brett McKay: Well let’s get into that. So you’ve done a lot of these with time surveys where you’ll get a whole bunch of people to start tracking their time meticulously because they haven’t before and they’ll say, “Oh I’m just so busy. I never have time for anything.” But then you had them actually track their time. So let’s do this. First off, let’s look at the surveys before people track their time. Like what do the survey say about people in what you call time stress, like that feeling you don’t have any time. What are the general trends there?
Laura Vanderkam: Well, lots of people say that they have intense time stress. I mean, certainly majorities will answer Gallup’s Poll saying, do you have time for the things that you want to do? And most people say, no I don’t. And it’s more pronounced of course, among people who have full time jobs, or people who have children at home and people who have both of those are of course in the most time crunched category. People have always thought that they are busier than anyone else at any other time in human history. It’s kind of funny cause I read … I collect old magazines like old copies of Fortune Magazines in the 1950s.
And there was one particularly funny article I remember as a survey of businessmen about the state of everything. And at the time, marginal tax rates were quite high. And so the question, the policy question out there was like, well, if tax rates are lower, will people work more? And the business were like, “Well we’d like lower taxes, but how could we possibly be working more?” It doesn’t even seem that there are more hours we could be working more. Of course now people would say the same thing too. How could I possibly be working anymore? And so people have kind of always felt that way.
Brett McKay: There’s being feeling like you don’t have enough time and actually not having time. So what are these time diary studies that you’ve done, what do they say about how people are actually spending their time?
Laura Vanderkam: Yeah. So I first came across this idea of a time diary study when I came across the American Time Use Survey, which is this fantastic study that the Bureau of Labor Statistics does annually. Where they call up thousands of Americans rolling over the whole year. So any day of the year. And they basically ask you to talk through yesterday. So there’s no question like, what’s a typical day or what does a normal day in your life look like? Or how much do you sleep on a typical night? Or any question like that, that can be very misleading. They just have you talked through yesterday.
And then they average all these things. And they get a picture of American life. And I was looking at the survey for the first time a couple of years ago and I’m like, wait, you mean the average American sleeps more than eight hours a day? And in fact, that’s true. When you actually have people recount yesterday as opposed to someday that we’ve got stuck in our minds as a typical day. And so I found this utterly fascinating.
I’ve decided to start doing my own time diary studies. So for several of my books, I’ve recruited big numbers of people to track their time either for a day or a week, depending on the methodology I was doing, and then to answer questions about their lives. You find some fascinating things. There’s quite a gap between perception of where the time goes and reality. Certainly on aspects of how much we sleep, how much we work and how much time we devote to things like housework, how much free time we have, all those kinds of things.
Brett McKay: Well, let’s talk about those discrepancies. So like when you ask people before you do the survey, like on average, how many hours a week do you work? What did they say? Or like when they say, oh, on average, how many hours of sleep do you get at night? What do they say? And then what are the actual results typically?
Laura Vanderkam: Yeah, I’ve definitely had people say, “Oh, I work about 60 hours a week.” And then I have them track their time and it’s like 42. 42 is a very long week by the way. I mean, because that’s it besides lunch, breaks you take during the day or if you, come in late because of traffic jam or you have to jet out early for a dentist appointment or something. So 42 hours is quite a long work week. It’s also not 60.
But what’s happening is that we tend to remember our longest days or our longest weeks as typical. And I’m sure that person has in fact worked 60 hours at some point during their life or over a week, or that they’ve worked 12 hours on some day. And so they’re remembering that day and multiplying by five, but it’s probably not typical.
Same thing with sleep. We tend to do in the opposite direction. We tend to remember our worst nights as typical, largely because it really stinks not to sleep. I mean, we all know that. So negative things tend to stand out in the mind. But when you have people track the whole of their time, you get different results. So I had for one of my books a couple of years ago when I was looking particularly at women who had big jobs and also had kids. So working mothers, there’s definitely the story out there like, oh you never sleep, right? There’s a quote of like these people talk about sleep the way a starving man talks about food. And yet I found that 90% of the people I studied averaged at least seven hours a day over the course of the week. So that’s pretty good.
Brett McKay: It is really good. And there’s been also some other interesting things that come out of this. Like a lot of people, there’s like all these alarmists things going on that people aren’t spending enough time with their kids today because they’re so busy with work and other activities. But surveys show that people actually spend more time with their kids now than parents did in the 1950s or ’60s when it was supposed be sort of like when that was the age when parents did lots of stuff with kids.
Laura Vanderkam: Yeah. It turns out they really didn’t. I mean, I don’t know. We have faulty memories of this. Yeah. Some of it’s just differences in parenting. People were more likely to just sort of send their kids out on their bikes all day and collect them when it got dark and that was acceptable. And a lot of people just don’t do that anymore. So the kids are around their parents more just because of that.
But yeah, interactive time has risen both for men and women. And it makes sense probably for men, if we sort of have the image of a 1950s dad who didn’t even know how to change diapers. Well clearly, most fathers would be appalled at that idea now. And so we understand that, that number would probably have gone up. But it turns out it’s gone up for women too, even as the vast majority of women are now in the work force.
Brett McKay: Were there any results from your time diary studies that surprised you? Like you weren’t expecting at all?
Laura Vanderkam: Well, I was very excited about the sleep one because it just … You hear this all the time that if you’re going to build a career and raise a family, you will never sleep again. And I think that it’s really important to tell people that’s not true. Like, yes, there’s going to be bad nights and if you have a kid who’s under like a year old, yes there’s going to be more interrupted nights. But children only spend a few years being in the baby stage. Even if you have multiple children, you only spend a few years in the baby stage. So it does get better for the most part.
One thing was interesting is that parents do have leisure time. It probably doesn’t tend to show up as a day at the spa. But there’s often some time after kids go to bed or on weekends where the kids are occupied with other things or you’re trading off with your spouse. So there is some time that can be used. And I think that was an exciting thing to find as well.
Brett McKay: Well another thing you uncovered in your surveys that a lot of people felt like they didn’t have any time. They had that time stress, but they actually did have time when they tracked it. But there was a group of people that you uncovered that they didn’t feel pressed for time. They actually felt pretty calm and relaxed. It’s like what separated those people who like had an accurate perception of what the time available they had compared to the other people who felt really stressed out about a time, but they shouldn’t have been stressed out in the first place?
Laura Vanderkam: Well, there’s a couple of things that were different. So for this book Off The Clock, I had 900 people track their time for a day. And then I asked them questions about how they felt about their time. And there were a couple of … I could assign people a score. People had high time perception scores, felt like time was generally abundant. People had low time perception scores, felt like they were stressed or starved for time. And there were a couple of differences.
One of the people who felt more like time was abundant actually had a better sense of where their time went, like they could fill out the survey easier. I mean that was one thing right there. So being mindful of your time is probably the first step. And they were also somewhat counter intuitively more likely to do quite interesting things on the March Monday that I had them track. So people in my top group where we’re doing such things on a Monday night, it’s like going to salsa dancing lessons or going to a big band concert or taking their family to a movie on a Monday night, which I think a lot of people are like wait, that’s like not a Monday night activity.
But by doing memorable things, they became in their minds the kind of person who has the time to do these sorts of things. They were more likely to spend their leisure time interacting with friends and family. They were less likely to spend their leisure time watching TV or on social media. And in general they checked their phones less frequently than the people who felt starved for time. It’s certainly not like they were monks about it. Like I mean everyone was checking at least hourly. So like not to claim that people or those sort of magical sorts who managed to check their phones once a day. But there’s a big difference between checking once an hour and checking like 20 times an hour in terms of how we perceive our time.
Brett McKay: Well we’ll unpack some of these things that these folks did a little bit more. But what I also liked about your book, Off The Clock, you kind of get in the psychology of time because it’s really weird. There’s a really weird psychological thing going on, on how we perceive time. So sometimes in our life we perceive like time going really slow and other times like it seems like it’s going by really fast. You’re like, oh my gosh. It was just January a week ago. But it was actually two months ago. So like what goes on there where it feels like time slows down. It feels like we have all the time in the world, but other times it feels like time’s just going by us like a blur.
Laura Vanderkam: Yeah. Well it’s interesting because there’s slow good and there’s slow bad. And many of us have been in the unfortunate situation where time appears to be going very slowly but not in a good way. Like your kid is screaming on a cross country flight. It feels like five hours, you are paying for it in second long increments or if you’re stuck in an incredibly boring meeting or you’re in a traffic jam or something like that. These are very painful, slow moments. But the question right now, is it possible to make good moments seem to pass as slowly as these bad moments. And on one level, no.
But there are certain interesting things, as you said, with time perception and one is that, the more memories we have of any given unit of time, the longer it seems. So for most people, for instance, the four years of high school or the four years of college seem actually quite a bit longer than the previous four years of your life because you had more memories of those times. What makes a memory? Well doing something for the first time or something being very emotionally intense and we go through a lot more of those sort of emotionally intense experiences as young people when we’re kind of figuring out the world.
Or even just, if you think about going on a vacation somewhere exotic, like the first day, it feels incredibly long. And what’s going on is it’s all new and your brain has absolutely no idea what it’s going to need to remember in the future. So it’s remembering all of it and that makes time seem more vast. Whereas like getting up and getting ready and going to work two days ago, you probably have absolutely no memory of that whatsoever because it was the exact same thing you’ve done every day for the past however many years. And so your brain being very utilitarian decides that it has no reason to hold onto the memory of doing this. And so it’s just gone. This time is completely disappeared into a memory sinkhole.
And what makes sort of those weeks and years race by then is when we have kind of too many of those memory sinkholes. When weeks and months of sameness stack up, where there’s nothing new, there’s nothing emotionally intense, then you don’t remember it and you wind up being that person who is saying to some kid you haven’t seen in three years. “Oh my goodness, look how much you’ve grown.” Because it didn’t seem like three years to you.
Brett McKay: Yeah. Analogy that I’ve heard used to describe when we experienced something new and why, looking back on it seems like it lasted a long time, it’s like slow motion footage on a camera, right? In order to get that slow motion footage, the cameras to take lots and lots of frames per second so it has a lot of footage there. So your brain does something similar with something new happens like you said, because it doesn’t know what the stuff it needs to remember or not remember. So just take a whole bunch of “footage” and then you play it back and it kind of, it’s slow motion in your mind.
Laura Vanderkam: Yeah, I think that’s a great analogy that it is taking in a lot of this new stuff, this different stuff, this uncertain stuff and then that becomes a stronger memory than sort of everyday sameness.
Brett McKay: Let’s get to this idea, some of the tactics that you got from the people who didn’t feel time stress and we’ve been talking about these memories. And I thought you quoted this person, it was Lila Davachi, is that how you say her name? Professor of psychology-
Laura Vanderkam: Or something like that.
Brett McKay: Yeah. Psychology professor Lila Davachi says that when a lot of people when they say we want more time, what we really want is more memories.
Laura Vanderkam: Yeah. And I would add to that, that we want more time that we feel good about. Like nobody wants more time in the middle of a kid temper tantrum. Like nobody wants more time in a traffic jam or in an extremely boring meeting or when you’re like physically uncomfortable in some way. These are not times that we want more time. We want more time that we are happy about. And because … And her point with the memories is just you want more time that you’ve done things that you look back on fondly. You want a richer life is what you want. And so these things are all interrelated.
Brett McKay: And I love this idea you put out there to unpack this idea of even more is that a useful way to get more memories as think of ourselves as three people. So there’s like the past self, present self and future self. So how can thinking about us as three people help us provide like a mindset to take more memories in?
Laura Vanderkam: Yeah. Well if you think about where your kind of mental script is going, we’re all carrying on some sort of conversation in our brains constantly. If you ever pause and think about what you are thinking about in any given moment, you’re either where you are now in the present or you are looking forward to the future or you are thinking about something that happened in the past. And these three selves are all part of our identity.
And the issue though for our needing to create memories and do novel and intense things, is we … I found this great quote from a philosopher that we pamper the present like a spoiled child. And so in your mind, you may be the kind of person who would love to go to a cool art exhibit after work someday and go to this museum with evening hours and see the stuff. And maybe there’s a band that’s playing and it sounds awesome. But then after work, well you’re tired and it’s raining and your couch looks really inviting. So you’re like, “Oh well, I don’t have to do that.” And it’s like well, okay that’s true.
But when we give in too much to the present to the experiencing self and don’t think about what the anticipating self wanted to do or what the remembering self will have been happy to have done, then we wind up doing nothing. And then as we said, these years disappear into memory sinkholes. So I try to remember and I courage other people to try to think, whenever you are listening to the current present, experiencing self, remind yourself that this is just one actor trying to carry out a monologue in what should be a three act or play.
And if you thought something sounded really cool and you think you will have been happy to have done it afterwards, like just go do it. Yes, you may be tired, but I don’t know about you. But between the career and the kids, I could always be tired, right? Like I mean the fact that you’re tired does not in and of itself mean you shouldn’t do something and we tend to draw energy from meaningful things.
Brett McKay: And I like the imagery you had of like think of like putting like a treasurer in a chest for your future self to look back on. You can go through and rummage through all the memories. Like you’re doing that now. And so like do you think about like what kind of stuff do you want to find in that box when you’re like 70 or 80 years old.
Laura Vanderkam: Yeah, because if you don’t put it in there, it will never be in there. I mean I guess you could try to create fake memories after the fact, but I think it’s more fun if they were there in the first place.
Brett McKay: And so this is easy. You don’t have to go on an exotic trip. It could just be you go to the museum after work or you could take the kids who are moving out on Monday night.
Laura Vanderkam: Yeah. It really doesn’t have to be profound. And so the things I saw in my time diary study were highly likely to be those kinds of adventures. I mean, probably somebody wasn’t taking my survey if they were in Tahiti. Not that you shouldn’t go to Tahiti, but again, those are more once in a lifetime type experiences. You can create adventure out of your normal life. But you have to think about doing it and sometimes you have to nudge yourself a little bit over that initial resistance.
Brett McKay: Yeah. We had a guest on the podcast a while back. Alastair Humphreys he’s an adventurer, like a professional adventure, but he wrote this book called Microadventures. Talking about just taking a little small adventures in your backyard. And it could be something as simple as like spending the night in your backyard with your kids and a sleeping bag out in the stars. That’s it. That could be a great memory.
Laura Vanderkam: Yeah. I mean that’s so true that and it might help to make a list and maybe it’s about consulting a book like that a Microadventures or looking at things that are cool to do within two hours of your house, right? I mean even if you’re not in a particularly great touristy area probably if you give yourself a two hour radius, which you could drive to on a weekend. There’s a reasonable amount of fun stuff and adventurous stuff you could do. And ask your kids, ask your partner what they’d like to do. And you can start pulling things off this list and attempt to create little adventures in your life. It maybe daily doesn’t work, but twice a week probably could.
Brett McKay: Yeah, definitely. So let’s talk about this idea of being mindful of your time. So I imagine that just involves tracking your time. Is that all it is to become mindful of your time? Just tracking it, sort of like tracking your food or tracking your money?
Laura Vanderkam: Well, I certainly recommend tracking your time. I mean there’s other ways. You can sort of reflect on your day and look forward to your next day without really filling out a spreadsheet, which is what I do. But I am a huge fan of time tracking. I’ve actually been tracking my time continuously for about four years now, which I know makes me sound like just a ton of fun. But it’s partly about having these cemented memories for me. Because I have spreadsheets outlining how I spent the 168 hours of every week since April, 2015. And if I pull up one of those spreadsheets and look at a day, I could say, “Oh yeah, that.” And then the memory is there.
Whereas, I think most of us just think about it like what did you do on July 16, 2017. Well, I’m guessing you have no clue. I mean, but if you got married or one of your kids was born on that day, you do. But for most of us, we don’t. And so my time tracking has really helped with that. So I’m mindful of my time as it’s going because I’m recording it so I’m accountable for it. And then I’m mindful of it in the past because I can look back on these spreadsheets and see where it is gone.
Brett McKay: I mean, I can see tracking being easy when you’re like tracking like work time or like here’s the kid time. But like what about those like moments where you’re just like you’re passing through the kitchen and you pick up the dumb magazine you get and you flip through a few pages. Like how do you track that small stuff like that?
Laura Vanderkam: Well, the honest truth is it’s hard to capture all of that. And so my system is certainly not perfect. I know some people attempt to get everything, but it can be very, very difficult and you want to make sure that you’re achieving the right balance between capturing stuff and being able to actually complete a log.
I track in half hour blocks. My spreadsheet has the days of the week across the top running from Monday through Sunday and then hour blocks going down the left hand side from 5:00 AM to 4:30 AM and I check in like three to four times a day and write what I’ve done since the last time. So no, it’s not going to be perfect. I think it’s about 90% there. It’s not going to capture if I’m paging through a magazine, but it will … I try to put slashes through to say what stuff is like. Like it might be laundry slash read slash kids like that will be an entry for what I was spending half an hour doing.
Because the point again is not to create a perfect pie chart with mutually exclusive and comprehensively exhaustive categories. It’s more can you get a good picture of your life? And the thing with my time logs, it’s close enough. I can see I’m probably working more like 35 to 40 hours a week, not 50 to 60 in general. I can see that in general I sleep somewhere between seven and seven and half hours a day. I can see I spend about an hour a day in the car. I can see I spend about an hour a day reading. I’d see I spend on average about half an hour a day exercising. So these are the things that I get the parameters of my life over time.
Brett McKay: Well this leads to another point you make in the book about another way to free up more time or make it feel you have more time is like don’t try to over optimize your life and sometimes you just got to except you know good enough and that’s okay.
Laura Vanderkam: I am a big fan of good enough. Perfect is definitely overrated.
Brett McKay: Another thing you found with these folks who didn’t feel pressed for time is they had a lot of open space and you found on their calendar, they had a lot of space on their calendar and some of these people like were incredibly busy. There’s high power CEOs. But when you emailed them or called them and asked for a meeting, they’re just like, “Oh yeah, just come any time. Whatever works for you.” And that’s kind of, you’re like, wait a minute. These people their calendar should be just be book nonstop. But that wasn’t the case.
Laura Vanderkam: Yeah, I think we have … Most of us are walking around with this story kind of unquestioned that the more important you are, the busier you are. Like being busy is a sign that you are important. And well it makes sense because people who are important have a big demand for their time. That’s why they’re important, right? These things follow. It doesn’t follow that they naturally pack every minute of their day. And I found that many of these people use the power they have over their time to consciously leave open space for a couple of reasons.
I mean one is practical. Like if you picture yourself having meetings stacked up every half hour through the day and one runs over, which it inevitably will because something will happen, the person will be late, you’ll get into an argument about something and have to keep going with it. Like the rest of the day is just messed up. It falls over like dominoes and whereas if you have an open space, you can get caught up.
But it’s also about being able to seize opportunity. Like if you’re having a really good conversation with someone and coming up with great ideas, it’s really awesome to be able to stick with it and not have to be like, “Yeah, I got to go.” Racing off to this other meeting that’s, I don’t know about something like office fridge policies or something pointless. But this is what people do when things are scheduled on their calendar for certain time. They naturally wind up rising up the hierarchy of importance even if they’re not important at all.
I think people who are smart about their time are very, very careful about that. And it’s hard to keep open space. Like if people are asking for your time, A, it’s flattering. Like B, you might want to talk to them, and C, you’re like you say well I’m free like I should. But open space is not nothing. Open space is often where people get their best ideas, it’s where they deal with whatever is most pressing in the moment. It is where they get ready for future crises that might happen. It’s where they invest in the relationships, particularly at work in those open spaces. So open space is productive and any given meeting isn’t necessarily.
Brett McKay: I imagine the way you avoid … So here’s what I imagine is happening. You’ve tracked your time, you can see opportunities where you can create open space in your calendar because you realize, well I’m not really doing much from this hour to this hour so I can leave that open. But the trick to keeping it white, that space white is like just telling people, sorry, got something going on at that time. I can’t do it then if they want to do something at that time.
Laura Vanderkam: Yeah. I mean that’s certainly one thing you can say. I think it’s, people need to get more comfortable with not doing stuff and saying this isn’t the best use of my time and that may not be the phrase that you use to someone. You may suggest they do something else or say, “Well we could probably take this in a five minute phone call as opposed to 60 minute meeting.” But in general in life, I encourage people when somebody asks you to do something and you’re asked to do it in the future, your question should not be like, am I free at that day in the future? Because that’s the wrong question.
Like the best question to ask yourself before you say yes is would I do this thing tomorrow? Because we understand the opportunity costs for tomorrow in a way that we just can’t see for the future. Like we understand how much we have going on, we understand how we’ll feel for tomorrow. So if you say yes for tomorrow, like you’d cancel things in your schedule, you’d move stuff around to take on whatever somebody’s asking you to do in the future, then you’ll be excited in the future too. So you should definitely say yes. But if you would have no qualms about saying no to this thing for tomorrow, then then probably you should say no to it in the future as well.
Brett McKay: Yeah, like I learned that on my own. It took a while because like I would make these commitments that are months out. I’m like, “Oh yeah, not a problem.” Then the thing finally came like a speaking engagement or something, but then like my life was just crazy then. I’m like, “Oh my gosh, why did I say yes to this thing. I can’t believe I did this.” So yeah, that advice, if to be thinking about if I were to do this tomorrow, would I say yes and typically the answer’s no.
Laura Vanderkam: Yeah. “Oh, it’ll never be July.” I mean, yes it will be. It will be July and you’ll be the same person you are now.
Brett McKay: You also talk about people who don’t feel pressed for time is that they invest their time in people. This is sort of like similar to the idea with your money, the way you get the most out of your money is if you spend it in experiences. So I imagine is the same thing holds true for time?
Laura Vanderkam: Ah, pretty much. Investing in our relationships is one of the best ways we can spend time both in terms of feeling like we have more time and feeling more relaxed about time and being happier about our time.
Brett McKay: And what happens if like those relationships starts draining you, like it starts feeling slow and like these are not good memories?
Laura Vanderkam: Well then, then that’s probably not the right relationship to be investing that time in. And here’s the hard truth is we do have to be choosy about these things. Time is finite. The expectations are probably infinite. I mean there are a lot of people in this world, you can’t be close friends with all of them. But if some relationship is energizing to you, then it is definitely worth investing more in that even if it’s not terribly convenient. It doesn’t have to be a huge amount of people.
I think for most people between their spouse or partner maybe one or two other close relatives, two or three friends, like that may be as much as you can actually handle with really investing in those relationships. But on the other hand, if you have a handful of people even it’s under 10 but who are really, really close with you, that can take you a long way.
Brett McKay: We’ve been talking a lot of different tactics and things you can use, mindsets you can use to feel like you have more time. But like is there like one thing you think someone could start doing today that will provide a lot of ROI in feeling like they have more off the clock time?
Laura Vanderkam: Well, I think one of the best things you can do is a Friday afternoon planning session. And I do this and it’s really helped me with my time. Every Friday afternoon I sit down and I list my priorities for the next week. I list them in three categories, career, relationships and self. So what are the top two or three things I want to do in each of these categories over the course of the next week? And then I look at my calendar and I sort of figure out roughly where they’re going to happen. Hopefully they’re already on my calendar. Like sometimes I’ve already put stuff on in the past that I thought would be a good idea and that’s great. But if not, I’ll say like, “Oh well I’d like to get together with a friend at some point this week for a run. How can I make that happen?” Or “I’d like to do something with my husband this week. How can we make that happen?”
Or one of my kids seems especially like he or she would need something, let me try and make some special time with that person. Okay. So those … I’ll go on the calendar, top priority stuff. And then look at the calendar, see what’s already on there for the next week and start triaging. Ask yourself what you don’t want to do and if it has to happen. Because if you are going to cancel something, it’s really much nicer to do it ahead of time so everyone can make other plans. Or you might say that you’re meeting with someone and you don’t really think it’s the best use of anyone’s time. Like maybe it could just become a phone call if it was supposed to be a meeting or maybe they’ve scheduled for 60 minutes, but you see no possible reason that this needs to take 60 minutes. So that’s when you send around the question, I really want to be clear on this agenda, right? If the agenda doesn’t fill 60 minutes, you knock it down.
Or maybe it’s that you’re delegating something, somebody else can take something on for you. But you do this at work, you can do this at home with your activities as well. And then you hopefully can open up hours with doing these things. But even if you can’t, you’ve also put in the good stuff with your priorities. So if the good stuff is there, then the bad stuff tends to either feel like it takes less time or actually takes less time.
Brett McKay: What I like about this stuff, it doesn’t take much time or energy to do this either.
Laura Vanderkam: No. No. And I don’t know about you but I’m really not doing much on Friday afternoon in the first place. Like it’s so hard to start anything new at that point. So I’m really just more in future planning mode by that point.
Brett McKay: Well Laura, where can people go to learn more about your work?
Laura Vanderkam: I’d love if people would come visit my website, lauravanderkam.com. You can read about the book Off The Clock that we were talking about and I also have a new book coming out in March called Juliet School Of Possibilities, which is a time management fables. So he’ll play, some of your listeners will check that out as well.
Brett McKay: And also at your website you have the time log sheets that people can download and use for themselves, right?
Laura Vanderkam: Yeah, I definitely do. You can fill out the form on my website to be emailed a time log and a time management guide. But you can also just make your own spreadsheet, it’s really nothing fancy I promise. But you can track time other ways too. I mean there’s dozens of commercial time tracking apps on the market. I mean you can walk around with a little notebook if you want to look all artsy. The tool itself doesn’t matter. I’d just suggest people actually tried doing it.
Brett McKay: Well Great. Well Laura Vanderkam thanks for your time. It’s been a pleasure.
Laura Vanderkam: Thanks so much for having me.
Brett McKay: My guest here was Laura Vanderkam. We discussed her book Off The Clock. It’s available on amazon.com and bookstores everywhere. You can find out more information about her work at her website, lauravanderkam.com. Also check out her podcast. She’s got one called Before Breakfast and another one called the Best of Both Worlds. Also check out her show notes at aom.is/offtheclock where you find links to resources where we delve deeper into this topic.
Well, that wraps up another edition of the AOM podcast. Check out our website at artofmanliness.com where you can find all of our podcast archives. We’ve got 490 there, plus there’re also thousands of articles on just about anything, personal, finances, fitness, how to be better husbands, a better father, you name it, we’ve got it. And if you haven’t done so already, I’d appreciate if you take one minute to give us a review on iTunes or Stitcher, it helps out a lot. And if you’ve done that already, thank you.
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