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5 Success Tips from “I Know How She Does It”

#SEJBookClub: 5 Success Tips from "I Know How She Does It" | SEJ

“There are never enough hours in the day.”

How often have you heard this phrase? It is oft-uttered as a way of explaining why we aren’t able to complete some task. “Well, I would plan and release that new course, but, you know, there are just never enough hours in the day.”

Or: “I wish I could read more, but there are just never enough time!”

Are we really as busy as we think we are? The truth is, we are all giving the same 24 hours in a day and the same 168 hours in a week. It is how we use these hours that matters.

Young woman reading a book lying in a hammockYoung woman reading a book lying in a hammock

In the book “I Know How She Does It”, Laura Vanderkam, a writer and speaker, tackles the idea that we don’t have enough time to do the things we love. Instead of looking at our day as 24 hours, she suggests looking at our week as 168 hours and our time as tiles we can move around to create a mosaic that is our life.

She starts by looking at hour-by-hour time logs by 143 women who are mothers and make over $100,000 a year. (I want to point out that just because she gives examples of mothers doesn’t mean this data isn’t applicable to everyone. She breaks down why she choose mothers in the book.)

A few things she discovered: 

  • Most people who claim to work 80 plus hours actually don’t. (They aren’t purposefully lying, they just don’t calculate their hours correctly.)
  • Most people do have an overall balanced life. One mother might be gone traveling for work two days a week, but then puts her kids to bed every other night when she is home.
  • Even if you work 55 hours a week and sleep 7 hours a night, you are still left with 64 hours a week to do what you like. That is a massive amount of time.

A Quick Review of “I Know How She Does It”

Honestly, I’m not a big reader of productivity books. I have a few favorites, but I don’t read every new book that comes out. That being said, I highly recommend this book for all workers. I love the way she suggests looking at time as a mosaic of hours that can be moved around.

And, I love how she addresses the idea that some people might want to work more without giving up time with their family. I actually kept the time log she suggests and found out that I actually work more than I thought I did. Which was relieving for me, as I continually adjust my working hours around my 8-month-old’s nap and childcare hours.

Five Tips for Making Success Possible

These tips come from Chapter 4 of the book and talk about how we can ‘have it all’. The chapter starts with a paragraph that I love:

“If you want to have it all — a life that involves professional success and plenty of time for personal pursuits, too — then you need to be strategic about how you spend your work hours. Invested well, work hours generate great returns. The problem is that when you have a full life outside of work, you often face the temptation to focus just on the work in front of you.”

This is very true for me, particularly right now with a small child. I do have the desire to grow my career and do more than just get by.

Look Forward

Planning ahead – whether for the coming week (which Vanderkam suggests doing on Friday, not Sunday like I currently do) or for unforeseen issues helps you avoid doing damage control after missing a deadline. Planning and working ahead is a vital way to stay on top of your work. I love this quote about planning:

Planning ahead of time also means you allocate time for your goals. In the rush of daily to-dos, It is easy to let the important-but-not-urgent stuff slide. You don’t have to work on finding new clients, so you don’t. You deal with the ones clamoring for your attention currently…which is fine until they disappear and you need new ones and suddenly you’re scrambling.

Do Real Work

How are you spending your time, really? If the daily administrative tasks are getting in the way of you doing the work you really enjoy, it may be time to refocus how you do your job. You likely chose your career for a reason – there is something you love about the work. If you find yourself not loving your job, it may be time to focus on the ‘real’ work and fall in love with your work again.

Invest in People

This is one of the things I think SEJ does extremely well. Our partners are willing to invest in our team – and that doesn’t always mean money. It also means time, mentorship, training, paid family time, and so much more. I am a firm believer that customers can tell if your employees are happy — and it really does affect your bottom line.

This also means investing in the people around you by not wasting their time in useless meetings or by taking the time for one on one talks with those who work below you. And, as Vanderkam points out, mentoring is not a charitable act:

None of us has so fully arrived that we cannot be helped by other people.

Be Strategically Seen

Our worlds can often feel black and white. As Vanderkam says “We fall into the trap of either/or. I’m a working parent and therefore I cannot go to networking events. ”

Sure, you can’t go out every night. But you can occasionally show up, which leaves it as a possibility that you might come. This will ensure you still get invited to networking opportunities.

For example, you might choose to come in an hour early and stay an hour late one day so you can leave early and do school pick up and a surprise outing with your kids. The next day, you go to the networking event and get home just in time to kiss them good night.

Moving around your time tiles, as Vanderkam calls them, allows you to grow in your career while by being at networking events without sacrificing time with your kids (or pets, or SO, or your Netflix queue).

Build in Slack

Vanderkam calls the slack we build in ‘unclaimed time’. This is time for you to enjoy a potluck with your coworkers or grabbing a cup of coffee and enjoying it alone. This open space leaves opportunities a place to come into our lives, but it also keeps us sane. Because, as Vanderkam states below, you take breaks whether you schedule them or not.

When you don’t take real breaks, you take fake ones that involve cruising to Facebook or checking your stocks. We get lost in transitions. And that’s a shame because breaks are a great opportunity to nurture yourself…

Building in slack also gives you the ability to say “Yes” to great opportunities when they come up, instead of staying stuck treading water in your career.

Final Thoughts

I thoroughly enjoyed “I Know How She Does It.” If you are struggling to find enough time in your day or wonder how other people seem to be so productive, I highly recommend it. If you have read the book. I would love to hear your comments below!

Next Month on SEJ Book Club: The Achievement Habit: Stop Wishing, Start Doing, and Take Command of Your Life by Bernard Roth.

Join Caitlin Rulien, SEJ’s Social Producer, for next month’s book club! Grab your copy of The Achievement Habit on Amazon or at your local library so you can read along. It should be an interesting read!

Want to see what the SEJ Book Club has read or is planning on reading next? Check out our GoodReads profile.

Editor Note: This post contains Amazon affiliate links. Thanks for supporting SEJ.


Image Credits

Featured Image: Image by Paulo Bobita
In-post Photo: mihtiander/

Category Careers News
Danielle Antosz

Danielle is the former Features Editor for Search Engine Journal and the producer of SEJ Marketing Nerds podcast. She lives ...

5 Success Tips from “I Know How She Does It”

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