Can You Have It All? 4 Tips for Doing More With Your Time
I recently started a demanding job as a first year associate at a large law firm. During law school, I attended numerous presentations focused on women in the law, and the issue of time and work-life balance always came up. Soon-to-be women attorneys wanted to know how to have it all. (See also: The Secret to Time Management and Work-Life Balance)
There were many answers, but a few pieces of advice stood out. Such as, "You can have it all. You just can't have it all all of the time."
One woman spoke for awhile about how some weeks you'll be really focused on work and neglect your family; other weeks you'll be more family centered, other times you'll exercise and eat well, sometimes you'll neglect your health. The point was, if you wanted a balanced life, you weren't going to get it on a daily or weekly basis, but in the end, if you were conscious about your time, it would all even out.
Another very prominent and highly ranked woman attorney gave some unusual advice after speaking about how to stay sane with the many demands placed on you by work and home and other activities.
Here's another: "Just make sure you devote one hour a week to something that's just for you."
This shocked me. Just one hour a week to myself? I was used to an hour or two a day. I thought there was no way I would be that busy.
And then work started. And I was that busy. I walked around for months feeling like there just wasn't enough time. As a newish mom (my son is now 16 months old) I felt constant guilt at not being able to play with him more. When I was home with my son, I felt that I could be more "productive" with my time. I gave up on the one nonprofit I was interested in volunteering with because monthly meetings seemed like too much of a time commitment. I couldn't figure out how others "had it all."
What Would You Do With Another Fifteen Minutes?
And then I read a book that completely changed my perspective. The book is called "168 Hours: You Have More Time than You Think" by Laura Vanderkam.
In the first chapter Vanderkam quotes a Real Simple magazine story in which women were asked what they would do with an extra 15 minutes a day. The readers said things like: take a bath, read a book, play the piano. I found myself wondering what I would do with an extra 15 minutes a day.
With those brief examples out of the way, Vanderkam pretty much says (but more kindly): "Quit complaining. Suck it up. There are people out there doing a heck of a lot more than you do with your day and they still have 15 minutes a day to take a bath, read, AND play the piano."
The book goes on to profile people who do amazing things with their work, and still have time for their friends, families, and themselves. Their examples help readers figure out how to do the same.
I highly recommend the book, but if you don't have time, here are the four biggest takeaways.
1. Realize That You Have More Time Than You Think
There are people who do a lot with their time while still having plenty of time to relax. The first step to becoming one of these people is stop complaining about how little time you have. Instead of lamenting your lack of time, take steps to recognize where your hours go.
2. Track Your Time for a Week
There's a free download on Vanderkamp's website that allows you to track your time for a week. When I did this I realized that a lot of my non-work time was spent "transitioning" between activities, getting ready for dinner, cleaning up after dinner, getting ready for bed, etc. I also realized how much more time I had on weekends that I could use more productively.
3. Match Your Time With Your Priorities
See if where you're spending your time lines up with your goals, priorities, and core competencies. If not, find ways to change it. (Vanderkamp offers a number of useful tips for freeing up time spent at work, on household chores, etc.)
4. Change Your Attitude
Instead of saying, "I don't have time for that" say, "That isn't a priority for me." This will help you free up a lot of time on things that aren't actually important. Then, if something is a priority for you, figure out how to actually prioritize it.
While these tips seem simple, they actually make a world of difference in how much time you have in your week and how you feel about your time.
The book assumes that you have the energy and motivation for spending your time as you would want. If you already realize you have enough time but you lack energy, I would recommend another book, "The Power of Full Engagement."
Do you feel like you have enough time each week to do what you want? Can you have it all?
This post is part of Women's Money Week 2013.