Transcript of How to Feel Less Busy and Get More Done
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John Jantsch: 168. Do you know what that number represents? It is the hours that each of us has in a week, that includes 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That’s 168. So how do you use those to feel less busy and get more done? Well tune in to this episode of the Duct Tape Marketing podcast. I talk with Laura Vanderkam, and she’s the author of a new book called Off the Clock. You are going to want to check it out to figure out how to manage your life.
Stuff like payroll and benefits are hard. That’s I switched to Gusto. And to help support the show, Gusto is offering our listeners and exclusive limited time deal. You sign up for their payroll service today, you’ll get three months free once you run your first payroll. Just go to Gusto.com/Tape.
Hello, welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. This John Jantsch, and my guest today is Laura Vanderkam. She’s the author of several time management and productivity books, including one we’re going to talk about today called Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done.
So, Laura, thanks for joining me.
Laura V.: Thanks for having me.
John Jantsch: Now as I understand it, the method you used to compile some of your research was to literally have what, seven, eight, 900 people track their time on one given day and then turn all that in, and you analyzed it. Is that a good summary?
Laura V.: That’s a good summary, yeah. I had 900 people with full-time jobs and who also had families to track their time for a day. It was normal March Monday. So I had them record how they spent their time and then I asked them questions about how they felt about their time so looking at all this I could compare the schedules of people who felt relaxed, and they had enough time for the things they want to do with the people who felt stressed and starved for time, and rushed and all that and see what was the actual difference.
John Jantsch: So you used something you call Time Perception Scores, and I thought that was kind of interesting because I think a lot of people kind of end it like, “I got my checklist done,” instead of necessarily this idea of how they feel about it. I think there is a lot of stress around even getting a lot done, isn’t there?
Laura V.: There really is. I mean, because ultimately time is what it is, but how you feel about it has a big effect on your life. It’s the question of whether … People will be sitting there on a massage table, but thinking about their inbox. Technically, they’re having relaxed leisure time but they don’t feel that way, and that can keep people from enjoying it. So I think our time perception has a lot to do with how effective we are.
I was asking people questions like, “Yesterday I generally felt present rather than distracted,” and people could answer on a one to seven point scale. Then there are many other questions like that so then I could numerically look at the people who felt most relaxed and present and happy about their time and then the people who felt the worst about it, too.
John Jantsch: So I sometimes thing time management books are a little like diet books. It’s like here’s the new one. Eat good, do exercise, get rest. That’s the new diet. So, I’m going to let you defend that. How is your time management book different than the sea of time management books, because everybody’s been trying to figure this out.
Laura V.: Yes, well the truth is we all have the same 24 hours a day so it’s even harder-
John Jantsch: Right, right.
Laura V.: [inaudible 00:03:47] like money books, or people want different amounts of money so you could at least segment that way. But no, we all have the same amount of time. The honest truth is I don’t care if you have some email hack to take 30 seconds less on your inbox, or all these time management strategies like clean the shower while you’re in it to save a little bit of time here and there, or something like that. This is really not what time is about.
It’s about asking questions of what is important to us, what would I like to spend my time on. I think honestly how I feel about my time, too. Do I feel like time is rushing past, like I’m frantic and harried, like I don’t remember where my time has gone, or do I feel like it is full and rich, and I’m truly enjoying it and lingering in positive experiences? I’m really going for the latter, and off the clock it’s about more about the philosophy of how we view time.
John Jantsch: I’m curious on a couple of data points when you compiled all this research and analyzed it. Was there any difference in how people felt about their time purely based on their age?
Laura V.: So I know that there is broadly about this. I didn’t really look at people’s ages in this. I know everyone had children at home under age 18 so that put somewhat of a limit on what ages people were in. Probably the majority were between ages of about 25 and 55 just because of that constraint on it. But, I do know that many people feel that times move faster as they get older. A lot of people thinking back oh the years between let’s say 16 and 19 seem very vast for people versus the last three years often seem a lot quicker in our recounting.
There’re reasons for that, which is that age 16 to 19 was a very memorable time for people. They did a lot of firsts, they were figuring out who they are, new experiences. Those things tend to be memorable, and when we have memorable experiences, we remember them. Whereas adult life is generally not like that, so we don’t remember it. But we can, and people who have a good relationship with time tend to think about making their time memorable so they do remember it.
John Jantsch: I was just going to say that sounds like that’s a really good point, is maybe we ought to do things that are more memorable. All right, so another data point I was curious about is did you find a pattern to what some of the biggest time drains were for people?
Laura V.: Well, I think one interesting one is not thinking about where you’d like your time to go. I think that being intentional about your time is the biggest way to make sure that is actually spent well. If you think about how a lot of people approach, even a workday, we at least think oh well, here are broadly some things I need to do, but we tend to show up and then just march from meeting to meeting, and trying to check emails in between meetings, and you get to the end of the day like wait, where did all that time go?
It’s hard to say that the time was optimized if you’re doing all that. With people who are more intentional about it who say, “Okay, well these are the three things I absolutely have to get done today. Here’s where I have open space that I can deal with them, and by the way, do I actually have to be at all those meetings? Let me push back against some of them, too.” Those people could work … often could get out of work a little bit earlier than the people who left the work until the end of all the meetings and then had to still get done the things that had to get done.
So I found that people with high time perception scores tended to work slightly less than other people, but it wasn’t that the other people with low time perception scores worked a lot. They worked just a little bit more than the average, but it was more that the people who were good about time were intentional about planning their day so they got stuff done when they had the energy to do it, so that they weren’t stuck by themselves on a late night.
John Jantsch: Many days I feel like I kick ass for two hours, and delete email for six hours. I know there are certain times when I am way more productive, and I wonder if that’s a sort of physical or physiological kind of clock thing, or is that something that we just kind of train ourselves to be?
Laura V.: Well I think that your description of a work day is pretty broad in that a lot of people experience this phenomenon, that they have like two good hours and then six hours of yes, email deletion and random meetings and such. The important thing is that you make sure and you use those two hours. If you only have two good hours, you want to make sure that you are executing on whatever is most important to you during those two hours because the email deletion is still going to happen. Like, you can do that with half a brain, but you can’t deal with that [inaudible 00:08:35] focus time.
For most people that focus time tends to happen in the morning, which is an argument for not scheduling sort of status meetings between 8:00 and 10:00 a.m. because again, that’s time that people can really crank on stuff whereas they’ll still tell you how the project is going at 2:00 p.m., but it doesn’t really matter if they’re half asleep during that time. I do think on the other hand though that you can get some of that email deletion time back by proactively planning in breaks, because what’s sort of happening is that you have energy and then you use it.
If you don’t put more energy back in, then you could only do the low energy tasks like deleting emails. So you know, many things you can do. You can get outside for a little bit, go for a quick walk, talk to somebody whose company you really enjoy. That can get you a little bit more time out of that email deletion category.
John Jantsch: Yeah. I was somewhat being fastidious, but I think a lot of people feel that way, and I do know that they are certain times when I have … And I actually schedule my day a little bit around the knowledge that I’m from ten to noon, I really am very effective, and from two to four I’m really very effective. I just know that, and I think that there is some planning that goes into that, or into taking advantage of that.
Laura V.: Definitely. Definitely. That’s smart.
John Jantsch: You talk a lot about 168 hours, and it’s interesting to think that’s the amount of hours in a week, isn’t it?
Laura V.: It is, which is funny because most people don’t know that. But yeah, 168 hours and many people don’t know, which is fascinating because when people say 24/7 all the time, and then they don’t multiply it through. But it’s really the right way … I think weeks are a good unit to think about time partly because that’s the unit of life that we tend to live, is the repeating cycle of life like both Tuesdays and Saturdays happen the same amount. They’re very different, but they happen the same amount.
So the other reason to think of 168 hours is it just shows you how much time you have. I mean, a lot of people who have full time jobs say, “I have no time for anything else,” but if you think about it, work 40 hours a week, sleep eight hours a night so that’s 56 hours a week. That leaves 72 hours for other things, which is quite a bit of time. It’s twice as much time as you’re working, so there is time for other things it’s just we tend not to see it because work tends to take a lot of [inaudible 00:11:02] energy as well.
John Jantsch: And really … and I think you said the book … you stated the book is more philosophical. So in that sense, it’s not really just about getting more done, is it?
Laura V.: No, because there’s no point in getting more done. You know … especially stuff like the deleting email. I know people feel so productive when they’re deleting email because it’s measurable. I don’t know if I made progress on my most important goals, but I know for sure I got down from 150 unread messages to 50, so yay me, right? But it’s about making sure that you’re effective in the various fears of life … well like you are doing the things in life that make life feel worthwhile. If you aren’t, how can you go about reallocating your hours so those things happen?
John Jantsch: I think for me, at least, I know there are … When I come in every single day, I have a myriad of choices of things I could do but there are clearly some higher payoff activities that if I focused on them, or whatever, and made sure all else got put to the side until that was done, I would certainly advance on my goals. It’s not even about time management, it’s just about making choices.
Laura V.: Yeah, I mean we do have a fair amount of choice about how we allocate our time. I have people that’s telling me, “Well I can’t control this, this, and this.” I mean, it’s easy to talk about the times we can’t control, but then there’s time we can, too, even if it’s a small amount of time. Certainly, we could make better choices within those small amounts of time and ask the question of how can we change things more broadly over a longer period of time? I think it’s easy to become mentally stuck, but often there’s something that can be changed. Then it’s about changing that something and then maybe finding that motivational, and not to push the next thing along.
John Jantsch: Well, and I work with a lot of business owners who are very overwhelmed … who feel very overwhelmed. A lot of it, when we really get to studying it, there’s a lot of things that they shouldn’t be doing. In fact, they should be trying to do less instead of trying to do more because the trying to do more gets them so scattered and stressed that the stuff that really is worth them doing doesn’t get done.
Laura V.: Yeah, and that’s just a function, again, of when you’re starting a business you feel like you should do everything, chase every sale, make sure everything’s done perfectly, which means you have to do it yourself. It’s how entrepreneurs get how that drive to get started. But those skills, that temptation to do all that, and be a perfectionist, that just … you can’t grow that way. I mean, because again, we only have 24 hours in day, and even if you worked every single minute that you weren’t sleeping, there’s still a limit on how much you can do.
If you think of a CEO of a big company, we don’t say, “Oh, well he or she is a failure because they’re not doing everything themselves.” Of course not, we expect that. So it’s really about having more of that mindset of what is the absolute best thing I can be doing with my time? How can we set up the business so that I am supported in doing those things, and these other things that either I don’t do as well, or can’t do well at all … Or even that I do great, but are not the best use of my time can be given to somebody else.
John Jantsch: Wouldn’t it be great if in your business all you had to do was the stuff you love? The reason you started the business. Not all that administrative stuff like payroll and benefits. That stuff’s hard, especially when you’re a small business. Now, I’ve been delegating my payroll for years to one of those big corporate companies, and I always felt like a little tiny fish, but now there is a much better way.
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Now I’ve developed over the years, and this may just be rationalizing procrastination, but there are time when I have felt procrastination was actually in order, and it’s because I wasn’t … Like the idea hadn’t come to me, or the way to tackle something hadn’t really come to me and if I went out and ran or did something, and forgot about it, then I’d come back and all of a sudden the idea came to me.
I’ve developed a pattern, I think, of recognizing that. Is that an excuse for procrastination, or is that a valuable-
Laura V.: No, I think that’s a valuable observation. The key is making sure you start your project enough ahead of time so that you have space for walking away from it and doing something else, and then coming back to it. So the issue I think a lot of people have is they leave it up to the last minute and then they don’t have time for that sort of incubation period of the idea. Then, you’re really screwed because there’s nothing you can do about it. Either it will be late, or it won’t be very good. Either of which is not a great outcome.
But if you start enough ahead of time, and you sort of put your thoughts in there, and you say, “Okay, well it’s okay. It’s not great though. Let me think about it a little bit more,” go away from a while and when you come back a day or two later, you’ve got lots more ideas, or you thought about more research you need to do that will solve this problem for you. Then it’s much better. So yeah, I think leaving that space in for incubation is a key part of creativity. So why don’t we call it that instead of procrastination?
John Jantsch: Right.
Laura V.: That sounds much better.
John Jantsch: So should everyone track their time?
Laura V.: I think it would be great if everyone could track their time for a week. I have been tracking my time personally for three years now in half hour blocks. That doesn’t mean I check in every half hour. I check in probably three times a day and write down I what I was doing since the last time. I don’t expect anyone else to track their time for three years. I’m a bit of a time management freak. But, by tracking a week, you can see where the time really goes and the key part of this is making sure that whatever stories you are telling yourself about your life are actually true. A lot of times they turn out not to be true. People have various ideas of how many hours they work, which turn out not to be true. They have ideas of how many hours they sleep, which may true one night per week but isn’t true the other nights.
They may say, “I have no free time whatsoever,” and it’s like, “Except for all that time I was watching TV, which maybe is free time. I’m just not remembering it for some reason.” So I think that knowing where the time goes then allows us to make choices based on good data. If something is working great, that’s awesome. We can celebrate it knowing that that is exactly where our time goes. If it is not working, we can say, “Well now I know. Should I scale it up? Should I scale it down? How does it compare to other things in my life.” In a business decision, you want to make those from good data, same thing with your time. Make sure you’re working from what is true as opposed to what you think.
John Jantsch: How much time does multitasking actually cost us?
Laura V.: It depends what kind of multitasking we’re talking about. I mean a lot of people think that they’re being more productive by say, checking email while they’re on the phone, and in general they’re not. Your brain is just going back and forth between them, so you’re not paying attention to what’s being said on the phone, or else you’re not really answering the email well. You know, if that’s the case, it’s usually good to ask, “Why am I even on this phone call? If I can do other things while I’m on the call, probably I shouldn’t be on this call.” It’s not just worthwhile. “I should have sent somebody else, or maybe made it shorter,” or whatever else.
So things like that, yeah, pretty much just wastes time. As for … I mean there’re nice ways to multitask, too. If you think about something like exercising with a friend, is theoretically multitasking. I mean, you’re having a good conversation with somebody you’d like to, and you’re moving your body at the same time. So, that’s great. Like, that’s a double win right there, or you know, commuting with your spouse. If you can share a car ride to work once a week, that’s great because you’re turning what would be wasted time into a date, basically. So you know, think about how you can double up that way.
John Jantsch: You really need to up your expectation what a date is for.
Laura V.: What a date is. Well, you know when life gets busy enough you take what you can get, all right? Many couples, like young kids and long jobs between the two of them finally don’t get a whole lot of time talk, so if you could talk in the car, take it.
John Jantsch: Yeah. I’m swell. My children are all grown and so when I travel now my wife just goes with me. So we are in a different point, I guess.
Laura V.: Yeah, that sounds great. We may get there eventually.
John Jantsch: You will. You talk about something in the book that I think would be a really compelling idea for people, and that’s the idea of designing an ideal day.
Laura V.: Yeah, so and not just an ideal day, though I think that could be fun. But my ideal day, there’d be like flying cars and I would have to wait in traffic behind anyone else. I think more … I think about it as a realistic ideal day. So within the constraints of sort of your normal life, what would a really, really good day look like for you? You know, when people ask this question they start to say, “Oh, well you know I think it would be good if I could maybe take a walk at lunch instead of just sitting at my desk, and I have the capabilities of doing that some days.” So that would be in a good day.
When you’re thinking of things like that, you’re more likely to start figuring out ways you could work them into your life, or like, “Oh, I listened to a really good podcast on the way into work, and I’d listen to an album I was choosing to listen to more in the genre of music say, on the way home.” Well, that nudges you to start thinking, “Okay, well maybe I should make sure I pack my listening materials as I’m getting into the car instead of just getting in there and realizing, “Oh, well I’m stuck listening to the radio because I don’t have time to find a podcast while I’m paying attention to the traffic. So oh well, I guess I didn’t do that.”
John Jantsch: You know, just an example of that, that I totally, totally buy is that I have a lot better day if I pack my lunch because I choose something really good to eat and if I just don’t do it, and I go, “Oh, I’ll go to the place across the street,” that doesn’t really have anything that I should eat-
Laura V.: Yes.
John Jantsch: So that … I think even something like that helps me actually have an ideal day as well.
Laura V.: Yeah, no food could definitely be a dimension for it. You know, think about what I would spend my time at work doing, would I be reading something at night before bed? How would I spend my time? Because that reminds you what’s important to you, but within a context that you can actually do something with. Because again, I’m not going to get my flying car. That’s not going to happen. But I can choose to listen to the top albums of the last year while I’m in my car. That’s something I could actually do.
John Jantsch: Do you prescribe that either many, many techniques and David Allen’s Getting Things Done comes to mind, Pomodoro Method is kind of one that a lot of people talk about. Are there any elements of those techniques that you prescribe to?
Laura V.: Well I think the key thing with any technique is it has to work for you, and people are different. So what happens with those things … It’s the same as a diet. If it works for you, it’s great and you become evangelical about it, but other people might find that difficult in a way that you don’t. I mean, there’re some people that’s like, “Oh, I just need really strict rules.” That’s great. Whereas other people are like, “Well, I need flexibility. That’s what works for me.” You know, know yourself, I think, is the key time management strategy. When you know yourself then you can start to say, “Well oh, I work better when I do X, Y, or Z. Let me make sure that the conditions are in place so I can do X, Y and Z more frequently than not.”
So for some people it is very helpful to work for 25 minutes and then take a break, as the Pomodoro Technique. You know, for some people the idea that, “In two minutes can I do it?” Would be great. That’s what they need to do. But for other people, taking two minutes when they were really deeply into something else would just be the end of it. You just have to know yourself and work with yourself and find out what works for you.
John Jantsch: Yeah, I think that on that point a lot of people I know that really have worked something out, they’ve taken a little from here, a little from there, and kind of coupled together what, as you said, works for them. So, Laura, tell me where people can find out more about you and Off the Clock and even some of the work that you do with folks?
Laura V.: Yeah, so come visit my website which is LauraVandercam.com. I also have a podcast that is focused on issues pertaining to professional women who are also raising families, so how people combine work and life from the perspective of loving both. And then yeah, Off the Clock just came out a few weeks ago. It is about how people feel about their time, and how we can all learn to feel less busy while getting more done. So, I hope people will check those out.
John Jantsch: Of course, as always, we’ll have links in the show notes. So, Laura, thanks for joining us, and hopefully we’ll run into you out there on the road.
Laura V.: Thank you so much for having me on.
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