One of the ways that I make the most of my gym time is listening to audiobooks. It’s how I was able to hit my reading goal last year, and expands my general “reading”. I wouldn’t sit down to read non-fiction time management books, but they’re pretty cool to listen to while lifting weights or pushing myself on the elliptical. Most recently, I listened to Laura Vanderkam’s I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time and it had some really interesting points that have helped to reframe some aspects of my life.
I like the way she uses different women as her case studies. Each person, each family is unique. While there are some common trends or ways of life that can be found across her sample, it was helpful for her to talk about the differences in careers, in families, in locales and more. After listening to the book, I think I might try to keep my own time log and share the results with you all soon. But for now, here are some of the best parts that I got from this book.
168 Hours, or the 24 Hour Trap
I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve said that there aren’t enough hours in the day. It’s a common mantra for people around the world, whether you have kids or not. Particularly once I had Harley, though, I felt like there just wasn’t enough time for me to make time for myself, to work, to take care of her, to still have time for my husband or friends. It felt like everyone wanted a piece of me and there just wasn’t enough to go around.
While I’ve gotten better at planning my days, enjoying the moments that are my own, and sorta fitting it all in, it can still feel like some days are ridiculous. And it always will. As Vanderkam points out in her book, if you just base your understanding of daily life off of a single day or anecdote, women are overworked, stressed and running out of time. We might wake up in the middle of the night with the kid, and then push to make it through a busy, deadline-filled day, scrambling to get it all done while feeling frazzled and exhausted. But that isn’t the whole picture.
As the book explained, it’s important not to fall into the 24-hour trap. Yes, we all only have 24 hours in a day, but a Wednesday will always look different from a Saturday. Even Mondays and Fridays vary quite a bit in terms of time usage. We all get 168 hours a week. If you work 40 hours a week and sleep an average of 8 hours a night (56 hours a week), you have 72 hours for everything else. SEVENTY-TWO HOURS!!
Even if you work longer hours, say 50 hours a week, you’ve still got 62 hours to make the rest of your life happen.
The idea that working full time means never seeing your kid, or that being a parent doesn’t leave room for a career is pretty much a blatant lie. There is time in the week to work a fulltime job, and still be a fulltime parent, partner, and human being. Sure, you might crunch to meet a deadline or travel for work on a Tuesday, but then still drop off your kid at school on Thursday. You might push hard at work and pull some long hours the one day, but there’s time for bedtime stories or trips to a museum the very next day. Instead of berating ourselves for what we can get done in a day, it can be more helpful to look at the whole week.
Time Mosaics or Time Confetti
Similarly, the concept of time mosaics really shifted my perspective on time. The idea is that each 30-minute slot in the day is its own tile in the mosaic of your week. You don’t have to put all the same tiles together at once, and in fact, we rarely do. So, 30 minutes of exercise might be placed at 11am, after that mentally draining morning meeting. 30 minutes of work planning might take place on a Sunday night to help make Monday morning more productive.
Too often, I fell into the time confetti false narrative, that time for myself or my kid or whatnot came in such small pieces that it basically disappeared like time confetti. But the truth is that I help Harley eat breakfast and get ready for school every morning, which is 30 minutes. We do bedtime together every night. I read to her for about 20 minutes every day. I’ll stop and play chase with her in the house for 15 minutes before I need a break. Sure, those are snippets in the day, but they aren’t wasted or blown into the wind.
The mosaic style also showcases how you can choose to place tiles throughout your week to maximize time, emphasizing different things throughout the day. Maybe you can sit down for a glass of wine with your partner after work. Maybe there’s time for some early morning exercise or meditation. Personal time, work time, parenting time, partner time can all be interspersed, not as multi-tasking, but as dedicated moments that combine to make a stunning mosaic of the week.
It also highlights how much time I can waste in the evening. Those hours between picking up Harley and doing her bedtime feel like they go by in a flash. Between making dinner, desperately striving to have downtime after work, and trying to reconnect with the husband and kid, it feels like a scramble of nothing. I look up and the evening is over. One of the women profiled in Vanderkam’s book talks about how she went to night school. This made her realize just how much can get done in a couple hours in the evening, which is why she always plans something fun with her kid after school. Whether it’s blowing bubbles in the driveway, going to the park, or even for a quick local trip, she makes every evening count.
To be honest, I know that I won’t be that productive in the evenings. I am tired at that time of day. But, I could strive to sit and have a glass of wine with the husband. Or occasionally do a park trip. Or maybe built a puzzle or do a game with the kid. The book points out that without a plan or idea, the time disappears. You don’t need a rigid plan, but at least the goal of “let’s play board games tonight” or “let’s sit outside and watch the sunset” can add beautiful moments to the mosaic.
Mom Guilt is a LIE
I’ve written about mom guilt before. That feeling that we don’t do enough, that we aren’t there enough. I know ALL moms feel it, but I think working moms in particular feel like monsters leaving crying kids at daycare, or when we aren’t giving our little ones 100% of ourselves. I know this is a lie. I know that children of working moms tend to be confident, self-sufficient and make for better partners when they grow up. The research is clear that moms today spend even more time with their kids than the supposed standard set back in the 50s. But the mosaic of a week proves it.
I spend 30 minutes in the morning getting my kid fed, clean and dressed to go to school. I usually read to her for 20 minutes per day, every day. And then there’s the rest of the nightly bedtime routine that usually takes about an hour. So before we count all the other time together, that’s 11.8 hours per week.
Add in the other stuff. We play chase, “catch and throw”, tea party, doctor or restaurant for more time than I give myself credit for. There are all the potty runs, meal/snack breaks, and answering of random, incessant questions. Let’s lowball the amount and say an hour a day extra, Monday through Friday, for general play and taking care of her. So we’re up to 16.8 hours per week.
Then on the weekend, we might go out somewhere together or just cuddle on the couch watching movies. Whether it’s the zoo or a Doc McStuffins marathon, chances are that we’re in contact for most of the period from Friday night through Monday morning. Even if we estimate that at 8 hours per weekend day (and it’s probably way more than that), that’s an additional 16 hours, for a total of 32.8 hours.
Full-time work in the US is classified as 35 hours or more per week. If my low-ball amount of time with Harley is at 32.8 hours with this estimate, I’m already giving her about as much attention as a fulltime job. People who work that many hours a week don’t feel guilty for not spending enough time at work. They don’t feel guilty that they are somehow neglecting what they should do. That is a damn respectable amount of time to invest in anything.
I guess what it all comes down to is realizing how I spend my time in a given week. Realizing that there are no “typical” days or weeks. That there are routines and normalcy, but every day could hold something new that changes the work-life balance. I might decide to organize a last-minute playdate with friends. A work deadline could pop up that sees me spending a couple extra hours on a task in the evening, or the husband and I might decide to stay up late chatting and watching videos together. There are so many pieces of the mosaic that combine to make a life that feels fulfilling, and so many ways I can choose to redistribute the tiles if I feel the need to.
How do you spend your time? Do you think you spend most of your day working, relaxing, parenting? Which mosaic tiles would you like to place more of, and which ones are you wasting?