Improve each week before it even begins

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Photo: Poh Kim Yeoh/EyeEm/Getty Images

For most of us, Monday mornings look like this: You grab your coffee, go to your computer, look at your calendar and your inbox and ask yourself, “Okay, what should I do?” You think through the upcoming week. You get a sense of timing and what’s on your plate.

Monday morning might seem like a great time to plan. It is, after all, the start of the week. Many teams even have a recurring meeting on Monday morning to hash out the week’s workflow.

However, devoting Monday morning to planning exacts a huge opportunity cost that can be avoided by choosing a different time. Move your planning to Friday: Simply spend some time each Friday listing out the most important priorities for the week ahead (those will now get done first thing on Monday morning), and emailing any requests for meetings that need to happen throughout the week. …


What would you get done if you only had until 10:30 a.m. to work today? Do that first.

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Photo illustration; Image sources: © Eggy Sayoga/Francesco Milanese/Acharaporn Kamornboonyarush/EyeEm/Getty Images

A few weeks ago I stumbled upon an incredibly useful thought exercise I’m calling “the 10:30 a.m. question.” It occurred to me when my part of Pennsylvania got hit with a heavy winter storm one Wednesday. The forecast called for snow, heavy winds, and ice, and the power company warned of potential outages. I worried I’d only have until mid-morning, 10:30 or so, to work.

Like most people who work from home, I rely on my internet connection. …


Plan it out ahead of time to make the most of it. Yes, even now.

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Photo illustration; Image sources: C Squared Studios/RICHARD EDEN/Getty Images

In late 2019, I got an idea: I would plan the entire next year’s vacations at once.

There were a few reasons I thought this was a brilliant approach. First, my husband and I could block the same dates that our kids weren’t in school, so all our days off would coordinate. Second, it allowed for better interfamily PR; the ski faction wouldn’t grumble about spring break beach plans, since they knew we had a booking in Colorado over Christmas. …


A new way to look at personal growth

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Photo illustration; Image sources: Artem Varnitsin/EyeEm/titoOnz/ilyast/Getty Images

Let’s do a little math to find out how much free time we really have.

There are 24 hours in a day, 168 hours in a week, 8,760 hours in a year.

Some of those hours are spoken for. If you need eight hours of sleep a night, that’s 2,920 of the 8,760. If you work 40 hours a week for 49 weeks (so, excluding holidays and two weeks’ vacation), you’re working 1,960 hours.

Subtracting all this takes us down to 3,880 waking, nonworking hours. Of course, people have vastly different levels of caregiving or chore responsibilities, and some people work more or fewer hours for day. But we could imagine that just about everyone has somewhere between 1,000 to 2,000 discretionary hours per year. (The American Time Use Survey pegs the population average at 5.19 hours of leisure per day, or 1,894.35 hours per year. The busiest segment — working mothers of children under age six — tend to have about 3.15 hours of discretionary time per day, or 1,149.75 …


The key to changing your habits is changing the way you think about habits

Animated gif of a clock with hour hand spinning that says “IF” and “WHEN” in alternation.
Animated gif of a clock with hour hand spinning that says “IF” and “WHEN” in alternation.

On December 24, 2016, I went for a run. This wasn’t unusual — I’d gone running four to five times a week for years. But after I managed to run every day for the following week, I decided to keep going. I decided I would run at least a mile, every day. I’d long been fascinated by streaks; my father, a now-retired professor of Hebrew scriptures, has read Hebrew every day since 1977. I suspected I lacked that sort of staying power, but I did hope my running streak could last a month or two.

It wound up lasting for three years. I ran through bad weather, international travel, and — a personal point of pride — nine months of pregnancy. I went for a run on December 28, 2019, and then delivered my fifth child at 5 a.m. the next morning (at which point I let the streak expire). …


A new way to manage your work week

Multiple panels of a woman doing remote work at home who eventually clocks out for the day.
Multiple panels of a woman doing remote work at home who eventually clocks out for the day.
Illustration: Abbey Lossing

This has been a tough year for working parents. Many people are attempting to do their jobs while overseeing children’s virtual schooling, a situation that basically requires feeling fragmented. I get it — I have five children of my own, and it always seems like there’s just not enough time to put in long hours at work and deal with my intense personal responsibilities. A recent McKinsey & Co. and LeanIn.org survey found that 40% of mothers of young children (and 26% of similar fathers) were considering leaving the workforce or downshifting because of these challenges.

But the good news for anyone facing this dilemma is that despite the popular perception, success does not require working around the clock. People often overestimate work hours; one study comparing people’s estimated workweeks with their actual time diaries found that people claiming 75-plus hour weeks were off by about 25 hours. I asked more than a hundred women with six-figure incomes to track their time for a week for my book I Know How She Does It; their average workweek was 44 hours. …


What it really means when something stays on your to-do list forever

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Illustration: Abbey Lossing

For me, it’s watching Casablanca.

Every few years, I make a new List of 100 Dreams. This exercise, shared with me years ago by career coach Caroline Ceniza-Levine, is a completely unedited list of things I’d like to do in my life. It’s a bucket list but a vastly longer bucket list than most people get around to making, which is why I put watching Casablanca on there. It also includes more usual suspects like visiting wineries in Oregon and seeing Yellowstone in the fall.

Watching Casablanca would take exactly one hour and 42 minutes. Visiting those wineries and Yellowstone took days out of my schedule, not to mention thousands of dollars in travel costs, and yet I have done both of them. …


It takes some planning to make days off feel actually relaxing

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Photo: 10'000 Hours/Getty Images

Holiday weeks sound great, in theory — a few days off work! More time to relax! The problem, as many of us relearn each year, is that if you’re already feeling pressed for time, taking Thursday and Friday off is not a stress-free activity. Rather than preparing to unwind, you’re staring at your calendar wondering if it is possible to cram a week’s deliverables into three days instead of five.

But the thing with holidays is that they occur at scheduled, regular times. In other words, we can plan for them. …


Start your bedtime right when you wake up

Illustration of a woman getting into bed at night and getting up n the morning.
Illustration of a woman getting into bed at night and getting up n the morning.
Illustration: Abbey Lossing

“I’ll sleep when I’m dead” might be one of the more damaging sayings in our contemporary productivity lexicon. Indeed, we know that sleep deprivation reduces productivity. In fact, you could even argue that because being well-rested makes you more productive and efficient, sleep doesn’t take time, it makes time.

And yet, we’re a tired nation. One Gallup poll found that people estimated their average sleep at 6.8 hours per night, with 43% saying they should get more sleep. But according to the American Time Use Survey, which has collected the daily data of thousands of people, the average person sleeps 8.84 hours per day. Even working parents with kids under age six average 8.32 …


An easy plan for strengthening any friendship

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Illustration: Abbey Lossing

Loneliness was on the rise even before Covid-19. Now, with social events canceled and many people working from home, the situation is more dire — and might seem intractable. After all, how can you safely meet new people during a pandemic?

Like many people, I’ve been looking for more connection these days. After many months of no work travel and canceled social events, it’s easy to feel isolated. My first thought was that I needed to challenge myself to meet new people — difficult in the middle of a pandemic. But it turns out you don’t have to meet anyone new to feel more connected. “We’re not lonely for more interaction. …

About

Laura Vanderkam

Laura Vanderkam is the author of several time management books including Off the Clock and 168 Hours. She blogs at LauraVanderkam.com.

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