Hala Taha: [00:05]
You’re listening to YAP – Young and Profiting Podcast – Where anything goes if it makes you grow. I’m your host Hala Taha, and this episode is focused on time.
Time is much more valuable than money. You can use your time to make money, but you can’t use money to buy more time. Time is also a great equalizer… We all have the same 24 hours in the day whether your elon musk or a regular joe shmoe. And we all use up these hours , one after the other, everday. And once time has past, it is gone for good.
People often say, “I don’t have the time to or I’m too busy to exercise, or go on a vacation or spend time with my friends or start the side business I’ve always dreamed of. But What makes these people think that they have less time than anyone else? We all have the same 24 hours in each day and we make our own decisions about how we spend that time.
Too many of us waste hours every day. And so this episode focuses on being mindful of our time and how we can work towards spending our time better on the things that matter most to us.
Hala Taha: [01:11]
Joining us on YAP Today is Laura Vanderkam, author of several time management and productivity books,.
Her latest release Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done hit shelves back in May. In her book, Laura uncovers principles on how to feel less stressed while getting more done, through insights she learned studying 900 time diaries collected on a single March day
Laura’s work has appeared in mainstream platforms like the The New York Times and The Today Show. Her TED talk, “How to gain control of your free time,” has been viewed more than 5 million times. She is also the co-host, of the podcast Best of Both Worlds. So without further ado, here’s my conversation with Laura.
Hi Laura. Thank you for joining us on young and profiting podcast. Thank you for having me. Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you got into time management and some of the research that you’ve done in relation to that topic?
Well, I wish there were a really good story of hitting rock bottom and realizing something and coming out of it, but, you know, it’s, it’s nothing like that. I have always been interested in people’s schedules. I worked as a journalist for many years and so I got to interview lots of fascinating people about their lives and I found that I was often asking them how they spent their time. And so, you know, it’s really evolved out of that. But I think the thing that really draws me to time is that we all have the same amount of it. And so when you find people who are doing amazing things both professionally and personally, it’s not because they have any more time than anyone else. They may have other advantages that other people don’t have, but they certainly do not have more time. And so I’m very fascinated by where their time goes and my research has focused on that and focused on having people actually track their time. Because another thing I’ve found is that people will tell you all sorts of stories about how they spend their time. And those may or may not be true and we all have our stories, but if you track it, you can get the data and then you can go from there. Okay.
Can you talk about in particular what research you’ve done? So, from my understanding, you track like what was it, 900 people?
Yeah. So for off the clock, which is my most recent book, I had 900 people with full-time jobs and families, uh, so very busy people track their time for a day. And then I asked them questions about how they felt about their time. I’m 13 questions that were on a seven-point scale, strongly disagree to strongly agree. So I could get a score that gave a sense of how much sort of time abundance they felt they had, if they had time for the things they wanted to do, if they felt like they were present, spending their time in ways that made them happy, relaxed about their time. So I could compare the schedules of people who felt relaxed about their time with people who felt starved for time. And again, these are all equivalent like busy people. So what are they doing differently with their time and that makes some people feel like they have a lot of time and some people like they have none at all.
Very cool. And so as you were getting this research back, what are the, some of the misconceptions that you realize that people have about their time?
Well, I think one interesting thing is you might assume that people who feel starved for time or maybe working around the clock, but that wasn’t the case. The people who had the lowest time perception scores were really not working that much more than the average. So that’s interesting to know. They were spending their leisure time however, in different ways. Uh, so the people with the highest time perception scores were more likely to be doing things like reading. I’m exercising reflective activities or spending time with family and friends. Whereas people with low time perception scores were more likely to be watching TV or scrolling around online.
And can you explain what you mean by low perception of time? Like so. So these are people that feel like they have no time.
Yeah. So when I was asking everyone in the study questions about their time, I asked them all 13 questions that they could either know anywhere on a scale from strongly disagree to strongly agree. So questions like yesterday, I felt present rather than distracted. So if you strongly agreed, you’d give yourself a seven for that if you strongly disagreed, you give yourself a one. And various other questions along that about time, generally time yesterday. So then I could get scores that were very high versus scores that were very low and I could separate out the top 20 percent, top, bottom percent, top three percent top, all those so that people with very high time perception scores were in the top three percent. People with very low time perception scores were in the bottom three percent of those who felt most like they were distracted. Like they weren’t happy about how they spend their time. They felt rushed, they felt like they didn’t have time for things they wanted to do. Got It.
What are some ways that we can evaluate our time?
Well, one of the best things you can do to get a better grip on your time is to figure out where your time is really going now. When, whenever people say, you know, I want to spend my time better, I always suggest that they try tracking their time for a week because that will give them a good holistic perspective on their time and also give them data that they can work with. Because often the stories we have are really, they’re the stories we tell and they’re based on stressful moments or something like that. But by getting the data we can see for sure where the time goes because we don’t want to make changes without knowing if we’re changing the right thing. It’s always possible that something you thought was a problem really isn’t. It’s also possible that something you never even considered is taking a lot more time than you might have imagined. Lots of people have those revelations once they track their time for a week. So track your time, see where it’s going and then you can decide to make whatever changes are called for by analyzing the data.
So when you say track your time a week, some of the immediate thoughts that I have is, or excuses that people might have is I don’t have time for anything, let alone time to track my time. Right. So do you have any tips or hacks for how to do this and maybe like the least amount of time or do you suggest like really just making sure you take one week to track your time and then go from there?
I’ve been tracking my time for over three years now. Continuously. Don’t worry about your listeners are listening to like, no, not that no one else has to track their time for three years. I’m a little bit intense on these things. But I’ve gotten it to the point where it really only takes me about three minutes a day, which is the same amount of time I spend brushing my teeth. So, you know, just a small daily healthy habit, more or less a that makes life better when you do it. Uh, so, you know, I use spreadsheets with it. Anyone wants to listen to this wants to come to my website. You can get emailed one for my website if you want. It’s in half hour blocks, the ones I use and I really just check in like three times a day, so maybe around lunchtime, around the time I’m done with work in the evening and then before going to bed and I’ll just write down what I’ve been doing in the slots on my spreadsheet.
Since I last checked in and I’m not trying to get every five minutes. I’m, you know, I’m not recording every bathroom break. I’m not recording every time I get up to get a glass of water or anything like that. Just roughly what was I doing during that time. So it can be broad categories work, you know, drive somewhere, hang out with kids, eating breakfast, cleaning the kitchen, you know, watching tv, whatever it is. Because the point is more to get a good sense of where the time is going, the point is not to get a perfect sense of where the time is going, so be okay with rough ideas. But it’s really more about consistency and if you can stick with it even for a day or two is great. A week is better, but try it for a day or two if you get through that. Sounds great. Let me try another day and I just take it one day at a time, but I promise you if you can get through a week, it will be eye-opening. I still learn new things all the time about where my time goes and I have been doing this for a long time.
So Why is it important for us to be mindful of our time?
Well, the thing about time is it keeps passing whether we think about how we are spending it or not and so that makes it very difficult to direct it wisely. You know, you’re in a canoe in the middle of a stream, it’s kind of hard to see where you’re going, you’re just going with the rapids. And so being mindful about is, is doing as much as you can sort of get over to the side for a little bit, survey the core, see where you’d like to direct your craft as you’re coming into these upcoming rapids and things like you know, when with my time there, I studied for off the clock, I found that people who felt like they had the most time were highly likely to engage in what I call reflective activities. So those are things like meditating, journaling, praying.
I’m just anything that has you pause and think about your life, this sort of planning and you know, taking it all in, pondering what you’re doing. They engage in these activities. The top people engage in these activities multiple times per week. Whereas the people who felt like they had the least time about half never did these activities right. And the ones who did it was very low, like maybe once a week. Again, these were all equivalently busy people, it doesn’t take any amount of time to like, write for five minutes in a journal or to take five minutes to look at your schedule and see what’s coming up and ask what you’d like to do. These things don’t take a lot of time. It’s just when you do choose to do them, it gives you an entirely different perspective on your time. You’re no longer just rolling with it, you can roll with it at times, but you’re also thinking about how you’d like that rolling to go.
As we’re looking at our time tracking sheets and we see our different commitments, how can we really determine whether a commitment is a burden or a benefit?
I think a big chunk of this is how you feel about it.Do you feel energized as you see it on your calendar coming up when you’re doing it? Do you feel like you’re doing something worthwhile and satisfying that it’s meaningful for yourself or the people you care about? Because life is kind of short for doing too much stuff that we don’t at least in some way see as meaningful and that doesn’t mean that every second of it is going to be fun. Many of the things that have the most meaning for us are often things that have moments of not fun, but in the long run, they do add joy and meaning to our lives as you might think about something like playing a musical instrument. Probably sitting down to practice is not immediately blissful and the way that turning on the TV might be, but once you start practicing, you start getting into it and you start feeling better about it as the song starts sounding better and certainly as you’re performing, that can be a complete, wonderful, joyous experience.
So keeping your eye on the long-term goal, is it, is it something that adds joy and meaning to your life and the lives of people you care about? And if so, then it’s probably a good use of time. It’s a good commitment. If it doesn’t, if you find yourself dreading it and not from the sense of dreading because, oh, it’s getting me outside my comfort zone. Maybe it’s a little bit more challenging. Not that dreading. I’m talking about dreading like I can’t, you know, this is not really how I see myself spending my time in my life broadly. I’m going to be counting minutes during it. I’m hoping it’s over, you know, trying not to do it again if I can get out of it. The those are signs that it’s probably something that needs to go and it, it may not be something you can get rid of immediately. But I think a lot of life can be changed when we take sort of a three to six-month perspective. I’m definitely over the next six months. You could make a lot of changes to your life if you felt like you wanted to.
So as like a young professional, a millennial. I think in the workplace we’re often approached with some of more of the grunt work I would. So do you have any tips on how to say no? And like some, some guidance on how to say no politely,
I’m not one of those people who thinks you have to do everything in the first few years of your career because the truth is you don’t. And sometimes when you get too busy doing stuff that you don’t want to do or isn’t leading anywhere, you don’t have time for thinking about those bigger aspirations and making time for those broadly early in your career. What you want to be doing is learning skills and you want to be meeting people. And so, you know, looking at this task that you’re doing the first day say, well, you know, is it something that I can see how I could learn a skill by doing it because even if something’s a grunt, you know, don’t, you could, you could definitely focus on the skill development aspect of it. Maybe it’s about getting better at your writing.
Maybe it’s getting better at, you know, organizing the information quickly. Maybe it’s getting better about making phone calls to difficult people, right? That’s the sort of grunt work that often are so focused on the skills. And if you could see a skill, then yeah, of course, that’s good. Also people, if you are getting a chance to work with someone who is good for you to be working with and it then it doesn’t necessarily even matter what the work is like. You want to take on anything that you can in order to make sure that that relationship gets developed. Now if it’s not something like that, one of the best things you can do, you can, you can always talk with your managers and the people who are higher above you at work and ask them for help.
Right? That’s how you do it. You know, you say like, like, I have these things on my plate and you’re giving me this. I would like your help in prioritizing what you think would be the best thing for me to be doing. And when all of these things should be done, like please help me understand what would be the best timeline for all of these, which is pretty good for, you know, your, if you’ve got a rational boss, they’re not going to take you away from something that is adding money to the bottom line to do something that isn’t right. That’s just not what people do. If they are in any way rational about it. So that conversation can help make them clear on what you have on your plate so that it’s, making sure that your time is devoted to the things that are the best use of it.
You can also be good about suggesting things that you want to do. I’m one of the best ways to make sure that you spend more time on the things that you do want to do is to proactively bring them up and be like, well I had this idea. I know that you said this was very important in our last meeting. I wonder if I could spend a little bit of time looking at this issue again. If you have a boss who was in any way interested in people’s skill and talent development, which hopefully you do, then that’s the kind of conversation that managers love to have with employees that people bringing ideas to them. That’s, that’s great. Now, if you do these things in your bosses, just not into it at all, that’s a sign that maybe, in the next six to 12 months you might want to start looking at some other things.
And as you were looking at your research, evaluating your research, did you notice any themes with time suckers? And is there any time suckers that we should look out for when it comes to our schedule and the way that we spend our time?
There are a couple of time sucks that are sort of universal for people who have kind of in the office jobs. Uh, email is obviously a big one. Email will expand to fill all available space. So if you start your day with email and be like, oh, I’ll get to the real work once I’m done with, you know, cleaning out my inbox, well you’ll, you’ll never have a cleanout inbox and you’ll never get to the other stuff. Generally are best off doing the important stuff first and having email fit within the small spaces around that, because that means that you’re not giving it your best time. You know the only way to spend less time on email is to choose to give it less time. There is no hack that makes it smaller. And in fact, you know, people who have gotten to see a lot of time logs where people are attempting to get themselves down to inbox zero and it basically never works because they’re sending responses in order to clean out their inbox.
They’re responding to people and then people respond back and so then they, it keeps filling back up like you, you can’t do it. So I don’t think that’s really a worthy goal. The other thing you know at, at the workplace that sucks a lot of time is meetings obviously, and the meetings are particularly problematic because email tends to just waste your own time, whereas a meeting you can waste, you know, 10 people’s time if you’re all sitting in that room, that could be pretty expensive if you’ve got 10 people sitting in a room for a meeting that didn’t really need to happen. There’s also opportunity costs in the sense that like if you think about a [10:00] meeting, you’re going to start most, you’re going to stop doing those other deep work by like [9:45] to get ready and then you go to it and then you come back to your desk and you sort of cycle through these transition rituals.
People have email and websites, they like to check it. So you’re not back at anything else until like [11:20] anyway. So it’s, it’s taken almost two hours for one-hour meeting. The other thing is all meeting seemed to take 30 or 60 minutes, which, why like it seems improbable that all human stuff could occur in only 30 and 60-minute chunks, but that’s, that’s just what the calendar says. So that’s what we do, but like it doesn’t have to be. I encourage people to don’t default to having a meeting, see if you can do it quicker, just like a quick conversation, a phone call with somebody to get an answer. You don’t necessarily have to schedule a meeting, you don’t also have to accept a meeting. You can push back and say, well, what’s our agenda for this? Why are, you know, what, what should I be prepared coming into that if the person can’t answer that, then maybe it needs to be pushed forward or shrunk or done as a call or not happen. Because again, you’re trying to be a good stewart of everybody’s time.
How about time suckers in personal life?
Yeah, I think the biggest time suck in her personal life is, is the sounds big, but it’s being unintentional about our time. I like to do some numbers for people that there’s a 168 hours in a week, right? So 24 times seven is 168 hours if you work 40 hours a week and sleep eight hours a night. So that’s 56 hours per week. That leaves 72 hours for other things. But people are like, there are like, where are the 72 hours? I mean I’m working full time. I can’t have any idea, I have no idea where any of those 72 hours are. But what it is is people aren’t being intentional about those 72 hours and so it doesn’t seem like it’s almost twice as much time as they’re spending at work and it seems like less than time that they’re spending at work.
So that’s a lot of time that’s passing without thinking about it and it’s spent on different things puttering around the house, social media, tv, but not intentional TV. Just surfing around or just being unclear what’s going on. So you go back and forth to different things. If you set a few intentions of what you want to do in your personal life, so maybe one thing in the evening that you would love to do, be a read 100 pages in a book or call a good friend or meet friends for drinks on the weekend. Maybe set three things whether you really want to do, go to an art museum, go for a bike ride with a friend, go to worship services or volunteer somewhere. Your personal time will actually start to feel like it is more vast because you were spending it more intentionally.
And what would you say is a healthy breakdown for young professionals? So how should we spend our time? How many hours for sleeping? Work? Fun. Any advice?
There’s no good number. But again, different people have different aspirations. You know, if, if you’re a personal life is certainly, if you’re in the point of life where you don’t yet have a partner and children, you might be able to devote a few more hours to work. Especially with things like learning skills and networking that will help you be able to have a more reasonable life later when there are more people that you are caring for. I think in general most people don’t work more than 60 hours a week. People often think they do, but if you look at their long-term average, it tends to be under that they’re remembering the longest weeks and then calling those typical and their heads, but they’re not, it’s just that it happens occasionally and then that’s what they remember. So I mean 60, uh, at work max, you know, sleeping seven to eight hours per night and when you average it over the whole week, you’re still leaving 50 to 60 hours for other things. I’ve always thought that a good balanced life might be 56 hours for professional and professional related stuff. 56 hours for one’s personal life. And 56 hours for sleep and personal care that’s pretty much evenly split and you know, that would be a rather balanced life even with fairly long work hours.
Yeah. That sounds pretty nice. So in your opinion, is it possible to expand or stretched time?
I do, I mean, not in the sense of getting more than 24 hours a day and 168 hours in a week because we can’t do that. However, time can feel more expansive if we make certain choices with it. One thing I’ve found while I’m having people track time for off the clock is that the people with the highest time perception scores were highly likely to have done something very memorable or adventurous with their time on the day that they tracked. So this was a normal march Monday that they kept track of, but one woman went to like salsa dancing lessons in the evening and somebody went to a big band concert and somebody took their family to a movie on a Monday night. Or even just like going for a walk after dinner with the family. Just something that wasn’t straight, you know, dinner, TV, bed.
Something that made the day seem a little bit different. And what’s going on there is that often when we say, you know, where did the time go? What we’re actually saying is, I don’t remember where the time went and the reason we’re saying that is that our time wasn’t memorable. The more memory units we form of any given period of time, the more vast it seems in our accounting. If you think about like the first day of vacation, if you’re traveling somewhere exotic, it seems like it’s incredibly long because your brain is taking in all these new and different things. And you can’t do that with every day of your life, but if you can at least have something in your life that is different and memorable about a day, then you’re more likely to remember it. And that can make it feel like you have more time.
And what kind of mind shifts do you recommend for those who feel like they never have enough time?
You know, obviously, the first step where we talked about is tracking time because often people do have time. It’s just they’re spending it in ways they don’t care about. And once you see this, you can start trying to repurpose some time for things that are more exciting or meaningful. Another thing you can do is try using little bits of time. I’m often, we think we need big chunks of time in order to do fun stuff in our life, but that’s not actually true. Like we have a lot of these sort of five-minute chunks through the day while you’re maybe waiting for a phone call to start or waiting for the bus. And most people just get out their phones and start cleaning out their inboxes during this time.
But you can use those five-minute chunks to read Ebooks, right? That’s something you could do or listen to a favorite song or use that to meditate or journal or something like that. And if you do these things in small chunks of time, you start to notice them and you start to see how they add up. You know, one other thing that people who feel like they don’t have any time in life. I often suggest you try going to bed a little bit earlier and waking up a little bit earlier. Often the time before bed kind of gets away from us. We’re watching TV. We didn’t mean to watch. We’re puttering around the house or on social media. If you can cut that off a little bit earlier, go to bed a little bit earlier. You might be able to wake up a little bit earlier. And morning for many people is their best, most focused time. And so if you get up a little bit earlier, suddenly you have this time in the morning that you can use for something that is important you, whether it’s exercise or reading or doing something creative, but you have to sort of shift around your schedule to make that happen.
And I know you already touched on this a bit, but any other practical tips on how we can make more time to spend on things that matter to us? So whether that’s being healthy, like exercising or spending time with friends or you know, making more money,
One of the best things you can do is think through your weeks before you’re actually in them because if you think through your weeks, then you can think about what you would like to be doing with your time and you can plan those things in. So I tend to do this on Friday afternoons, on Friday afternoon. I will look at the week ahead. I will think about, well, what are my top professional priorities, what are my top relationship priorities and what are my top personal priorities? Just a short list. I’m not talking like 80 things in age, Jana, just a handful in each. Then I look at the calendar and I see roughly where those things can go. And I find that by listing these priorities and giving them a time, I vastly increased the chances that they are going to happen.
And so I’d suggest, you know, other people might want to try this to think through the week ahead, think about your priorities. Think roughly where they can go and if you want to be like a real pro about this, you can try front-loading the week because stuff is going to come up. I mean this is the nature of life stuff comes up and if you’re doing as much as possible toward the beginning of the week, then these emergencies have yet to arise. Or, if emergencies do arise at the beginning of the week, there’s probably a spot later in the week where you can put your priorities after you know that you still have time to get to them. Whereas if you’ve scheduled them all for Friday afternoon, well stuff’s going to come up and then you won’t have any time. So put it toward the beginning of the week and you vastly increase the chances that it happens.
How about outsourcing? When, when is it, when should we think about outsourcing our tasks and the things that we have to do?
Yeah. Well, whenever there’s something that, you think needs to get done, but it doesn’t seem like it’s the best use of your time. Like you can see that it’s taking you away from other things that you would rather be doing or is taking energy that you should be devoting to other things and that might be a wise use of outsourcing or something that requires expertise and you really don’t think it would be the best use of your time to learn. That for instance, I have a podcast as well and we have a great team that does production of it, it’s something you can do. Lots of people have figured out how to do that. But I’ve realized it would be better for me to pay someone rather than to learn it. That’s something that somebody else has built up the skill and it has a business doing. So it’s a wise use of, of my money to not take that on.
Very good. And this is a little bit off topic but in a similar vein. So some people feel like they have no time and they’d seem to be a little bit paranoid about their time. Well, I’m very optimistic about my time. I think I can and I get a lot done. I’m super productive, you know, never had an issue with making a deadline or anything like that. But when it comes to physically having to be somewhere on time, I have a ton of trouble because I always think I can fit a million things in my schedule before that set time. Any advice on how to be a more prompt person and kind of be more realistic about your time?
Yeah, the thing about being late is it often is this function of extreme optimism. I mean, people think it will take them 15 minutes to get somewhere because it did once, you know, most times they do it, it takes a lot more than 15 minutes, but they keep remembering that once and think that will happen again or you know, they take like, oh, well I have so much time, you know, I can, I can do this other thing before I leave. And then, you know, the other thing takes longer than they thought it would too. And so then they’re running really late. Again, tracking time is always good, but you know, it, it keeps us from telling ourselves these stories about our time because if you think it takes you 20 minutes to get to work and yet it keeps taking you 40 day after day.
Well that explains why you’re always late to that [9:00] meeting, right? Like, it’s pretty hard to look at this 40-minute chunk and a day after day and, and keep telling yourself that it takes 20 minutes. You know, so track your time, but if you don’t want to track your time just build in a buffer, you know, just add 15 minutes and maybe you’ll be early. My guess is you won’t because people who are chronically tardy just have such off estimates of how long it takes to do things that adding in 15 minutes, it’s more likely to make them on time or only slightly late as opposed to very late. But you know, if you can get in that habit of leaving 15 minutes before you think you need to then over time that can start to get you places closer to when you know, other people are expecting you to be there.
Very cool. So, Laura, where can people find out more about everything that you do?
Yeah. So people can come visit my website, which is lauravanderkam.com. Just my name. I hope people will check out my new book, which is off the clock. Feel less busy while getting more done. A, have a couple other books on time management productivity too. If you get through that one and want to come read the rest, find yourself with some extra time now that you’ve read the first. So I hope people will check those out.
Thanks for tuning to Young and Profiting podcast.
I hope after listening to this episode your treat your time with the same care and consideration you would your money. Instead of wasting it, be mindful, make it memorable and strive to use your time wisely on the things that matter most to you.
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And thanks to our amazing production team. Timothy Tan, Danielle McPhatter, Baaba Hughes, John Sparkz and AK.
We’ve got some awesome interviews lined up for the new future, so be sure to subscribe on your favorited platform to always keep up with YAP. We’ll catch you next time, this is Hala signing off!