The Truth About Time Management: You Need to Read with Laura Vanderkam (Plus a Book Giveaway!)

All of us have the same 24 hours in a day, 168 hours in a week. But why do some of us feel overwhelmed and overburdened, while others feel focused and relaxed? What’s an empowering, realistic way for recovering perfectionists to approach time management?

In this edition of our ongoing You Need to Read Video Series, I address these questions and more with writer, author, and speaker Laura Vanderkam.

Laura is the author of several time management and productivity books, including I Know How She Does It (one lucky commenter will win a copy!), What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast, and 168 Hours.

Her work has appeared in publications including Fast Company, Fortune, USA Today, and the Wall Street Journal. She lives outside Philadelphia with her husband and four children, and blogs at

Time Management Laura Vanderkam

Press play to watch the interview, or watch The Truth about Time Management on Youtube or download the standalone audio track.

In our interview, Laura and I cover …

  • The false stories we have about time management
  • Why tracking your time is such a powerful practice
  • Why we chronically underestimate leisure time and overestimate work time
  • The unconscious choices that scuttle our downtime
  • The case for putting a little effort into planning your weekends
  • How to question the “too busy” story
  • Why being less busy actually takes more discipline
  • Practical habit changes that allow you to feel more in control of your day

Laura Vanderkam Video Interview Time Management

Quotable Quotes from Laura’s Interview on Time Management

“Time tracking is like keeping a food journal if you’re trying to lose weight … you’re not going to change the right things unless you know for sure [what you’re currently doing].”

“A lot of people say silly things like, ‘I have no time for exercise.’ You could exercise two and a half hours per week and be meeting the guidelines … 40 hours for work, 56 for sleep, 72 for other things, I think it’s possible to find two and a half in there somewhere. You may not want to, but that’s a different matter.”

“A lot of the “me time” we have is very unconscious, so we do things that are easy, like surfing the web, spending time on social media, TV watching. And those are fine in their places, but when people think about what they want to be doing with their time and take agency, they start rediscovering some other leisure time activities that might be a lot more fun.”

More Quotable Quotes from Laura Vanderkam on Time Management

“Anyone can pack a schedule. I think it takes some real discipline and a sense of one’s value to say, ‘No, my time is valuable to me, and I am going to spend it on the highest-value activities that I have determined are important for me and the people I care about.’”

“Sometimes nothing is better than something. You don’t have to fill every minute.”

“We’re ultimately pretty lazy, so if you want to do something, make it easy, and if you don’t want to do something, make it hard.”

“When we know where the time goes, then we do take more ownership of it … and we can celebrate the things that are working and change the things that aren’t.”

Book Giveaway!

I Know How She Does It Laura VanderkamWin a free copy of Laura’s latest book, I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time.

Here’s how to enter:

Step 1: Subscribe to A Wish Come Clear’s email list. If you’re already subscribed, move on to step 2.

Step 2: Leave a comment on this post. Social media shares are always appreciated, but not required.

I’ll select a winner randomly on Friday, July 14th at noon Central Time. Good luck to all!

Update: the giveaway is now closed; congratulations to Clarissa on her free copy!


PS – Busy is not a badge of honor. If you agree, join me and Brooke Adams Law for a free webinar, How to Be Less Busy Without Quitting Anything on Monday 6/26.

How to Be Less Busy

You can also check out our four-week online course Protect Your Energy: Stop Draining and Start Living, which starts Monday, July 10.

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17 thoughts on “The Truth About Time Management: You Need to Read with Laura Vanderkam (Plus a Book Giveaway!)

  1. Christine says:

    Laura makes a lot of good points! My “me time” in front of the TV could be put to better use. I do sometimes feel that if my schedule is jam packed with activities, I am productive. However, Laura is right, sometimes the “nothing” time is more useful. I really want to read her book!

    • Christine, I agree; Laura made a great point that much of our “me time” isn’t planned deliberately. It has helped me to just check in with myself every now and then and ask, “Is this what I really want to be doing right now?” And sometimes what I want to do most really is to curl up with a good TV show, just not always. 😉

    • Good question, Clarissa! I know what you mean about the struggle; I’ve also felt that it gets harder after the second day or so. Laura’s point about not making them too detailed is helpful.

      As a recovering perfectionist, I definitely found myself “overachieving” on my time logs at first, but when I gave myself permission to let them be a little messy and scribbled-down and not detailed, I was able to keep going.

      Also might be helpful to choose a medium that feels natural for you. I prefer to keep time logs in a small notebook in my purse, but for some the phone is the way to go. Good luck!!

      • I’ve been trying a time log app on my phone aTimelogger which is pretty customizable and flexible! I’ve held now for almost a week now and the results are interesting and uncomfortable…

        • Awesome! High five to you for leaning into the experience, Clarissa! Would love to hear more about what you discovered if you’d like to share.

          “Interesting and uncomfortable” is a good way to describe the process; when I tracked my time, it pushed me to question the story I’d told myself for years, which was that I didn’t work “enough”. When I saw the actual hours logged, I realized that that story was just a way of being mean to myself.

          That, of course then rose the uncomfortable but transformative question, Why am I being mean to myself? And how can I learn to be kind? It’s a work in progress. 🙂

  2. Katie Arnold says:

    The insight that Laura has about time is really helpful to me. I am planning to try to track my time to get a better sense of how I use my time and ways I can make adjustments in my life. I had never thought about the fact that we often have about 72 hours of “extra/leisure” time per week outside of work and sleep. This really puts things in perspective. Laura’s book looks awesome and I would love to be put in the running for the giveaway.

    Also, thanks Caroline for doing these great videos–I have been loving them and learning a lot!

    • You’re so welcome, Katie – it’s great to hear that you’re getting so much out of the series! And yes, I totally agree – it is amazing to look at the numbers and realize that we actually have more time than we think. Laura’s work has helped me to be more proactive about how I choose to use that time … and one of the results has been this video series! Go figure. 😉

  3. Joy Margaret says:

    I have had a crazy week with having our house being broken into. I noticed that stressed out time just seemed to fly by and I accomplished almost nothing that day or the next. And still felt exhausted. I would love to read Laura’s book.

    • Joy, I’m so sorry to hear about the break in at your home! That can be very hard, and I’m honored that you’re showing up here after a stressful time.

      You make a great point that our felt experience of time changes dramatically depending on our internal state. Often I look at my watch incredulously because I can’t believe how fast the time goes when I’m working on my book. (Contrast that with the last hour of a long car ride, when it crawls so very slowly.)

      Here’s hoping that this week feels better for you; know that I’m sending prayers your way. <3

  4. Caitlin Moushall says:

    I’ve found tracking how I spend my time (just like when I track calories) to be extremely confronting, but also very useful. It is kind of sickening how much time I spend on truly useless and not very enjoyable tasks like scrolling through social media.

    I highly recommend trying this out – even for a couple of days! I think it will surprise most people, even those who think they stick to fairly strict schedules.

    Thank you for putting this together.

    • Caitlin, I hear you! Time tracking holds up a mirror so that we can examine our lives as they truly are, and it takes courage to do that. So, hats off to you for being brave and taking a look.

      Also, I’m curious: since you’ve done time-tracking, has your social media use changed? If you’ve decided to do less, what are you enjoying instead? (For me, spending less time on social media means more focused time writing and reading blogs that resonate.)

      And you’re most welcome – thank you for reading and commenting!

      • Caitlin Moushall says:

        Hi Caroline,
        At first, once off FB and twitter and instagram, I was reading books, helpful blogs like yours, and writing in my journal. I was also going for long walks. I felt these were all positive as I’m working to recover from severe mental health problems.

        Unfortunately I haven’t had a good run so far this year, and at the moment I am spending nearly 80% (!) of my week in bed, sleeping or playing a mind-numbing game on my phone. I also reintroduced myself to twitter just last week and lose hours there. Sleeping is really the worst as a time-suck (when your body doesn’t need it). I used to love getting up early and achieving several things before 10am. It felt really good. Even if the rest of the day didn’t go to plan, I felt ok knowing that my morning had been productive.

        I’d forgotten about time monitoring, and how that worked well for me, until I watched the interview. Next week I am going into hospital for treatment. I’ll be there for about three weeks and my time will be very structured – meals, treatment appointments, group therapy appointments etc I’ve decided to reintroduce the time monitoring so that I can use this schedule as a reference when I come home. I hope to get back into some good habits like reading, journalling, and walking again. (Really just getting out of bed and basic hygiene will be a boon!)

        I think some people are very good at managing social media – they can have a quick interaction with someone without falling down the rabbit hole. I think I am someone who is best suited to abstaining. I’m toying with the idea of leaving my laptop at home for my stay. I will have my phone, but maybe the nurses or my doctor will indulge me by holding it onto at certain periods in the day.

        This post actually ended up being more valuable than I initially thought it would – it got me thinking again. The timing was also fortuitous I think. So thank you again 🙂

        • Caitlin, thank you so much for sharing this; it’s an honor to know that the interview proved helpful during a challenging time.

          You have some really good insights here. I too find that I do better with a schedule and more structure to my day. Good for you for noticing what works for you personally.

          I also like your point about being best suited to abstaining from social media. Gretchen Rubin has a really helpful Abstainer/Moderator framework in which she posits that easier for some people to give some things up completely (Abstainers), while others do better with just a little bit here and there (Moderators).

          Like so many of us, I’m an Abstainer in certain areas and a Moderator in others. For example, I find it very hard not to read and process every email in my inbox if I check it, but I can eat just one piece of chocolate from a box and leave it at that. 😉

          Finally, I’m sending strength and gratitude your way today, as you prepare for your hospital stay next week. I pray that your treatment provides exactly the right kind of support for you.

          I’ll look forward to your return; in the meantime, know that I’m (we’re) holding space here for you.

  5. Jen says:

    I enjoyed watching the interview. I love the idea of deliberately creating “open space” in my schedule as opposed to procrastinating some tasks that are less fun. I am going to try this technique. I believe it will help with feelings of being overwhelmed with “to-do” lists.

    • Thank you, Jen – glad to hear that you enjoyed the interview! And yes, me too – the idea of creating open space is really resonating lately.

      One practical way I do this is to schedule an hour for meals. Of course it doesn’t take an hour to actually eat, but having a full hour allows me to prepare, clean up, and relax without feeling rushed.

      If you want to share, I’d be interested to hear how your open space experiment goes, and what works for you. In any case, wishing you a spacious summer! 🙂

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