Improving Time Management: Lessons Learned from Expert Laura Vanderkam

It’s rare that I get a chance for personal or professional development. I love attending conferences because it’s pretty much guaranteed that you’ll learn something (chances are, many things) that are helpful personally or professionally.

At the Watermark Women’s Conference in San Jose, CA, I listened to Laura Vanderkam, an expert in time management, speak to a room full of busy women, most of whom work in Silicon Valley (and I thought I was busy!).

She shared tips and ideas to improve your ability to manage your time and she said I could share that with you! This is only the tip of the iceberg of what Laura knows and helps women understand. She has several books that dive into these ideas more, and I wanted to share some of what I learned that really stood out to me.

Know where and how you spend your time.

Laura is a big supporter of time tracking, which is taking a really in-depth look at what you’re doing during your week. Why? Because chances are, you have a lot more time that you actually think you do. We waste a lot of time. I know I watch a lot of TV.

Social media is a part of my work but it easily shifts to wasting time. By taking the time to look at where your time is going, you can then get clear on what you want to do more of and what you want to do less of.

Look forward.

Decide what you will have accomplished in a certain period of time. What do you want to do today, this week, or this month? Once you have decided what you want to accomplish, you then need to know what to do to make it happen.

This is very similar to setting goals, with extra emphasis on the when. And, when you’re clear on when you want things to be done, you can then make stronger plans for how.

Understand that time is highly elastic.

I didn’t know what Laura meant when she first said it. She explained, “time will stretch to accommodate what we do with it.” The more she talked- the more I understood. We’ve all had days where we pack so much in, and are so productive that it feels like we had more than 24 hours that day.

These sorts of days may happen when we’re highly motivated, organized, or when we end up trying to put fires out on top of all the normal stuff. Remember that while there are 24 hours in a day, those hours stretch (or shorten!) depending on what we do with it.

Think 168 hours not 24.

This is my favorite take-away from Laura’s talk. What this means is that we can’t just think about one day at a time, but instead, realize we have 168 hours in the week to work with. Even if you work 40 hours a week and sleep 50 hours, that’s still 78 hours you have available. Isn’t that shocking? We have SO MUCH TIME. We just might not be using that time well.

Yes, we have a lot of responsibilities that fill that time, but we also likely have plenty left over. Within a week, we can probably spare three or four hours for exercise, or an hour for coffee with a friend, and still have plenty of time left over. Remember, we live our lives in weeks, not days.

Be very careful with the word yes.

I love this. I am a big supporter of being willing to say no. We need to be protective of our time. Yes, we have a lot of it, but it’s important to fill that time in meaningful ways. I loved when Laura said, “The further [a commitment] is in the future, we feel like we’re assigning it to another person. ‘Oh, September me won’t be as busy…’

As moms, we get asked to do a lot. Right. Now.

And in the future.

Though our schedule may be packed now and we’re willing to say no because we feel too busy, I also notice that many women will say yes to things that are happening later. Because, later there’s time. Well, you’re probably still busy. So, as Laura pointed out, if you wouldn’t say yes to do it tomorrow, then don’t say yes to it for another time either.

Take care of yourself.

Time management tips for busy moms | Expert productivity tips for women | Laura Vanderkam, Time Management Author shares her tips.
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Obviously, I’m a bit supporter of self-care. And though you probably know it’s important, Laura reminds us that there are things we do that zap our energy and things we do that add to our energy. That’s so smart to look at it in this way.

Activities like sleep and exercise actually make energy and help you feel better, so regularly look for what you can do throughout the day to add to your energy. Laura also points out that since weekdays can be tough because we are so busy, to look to the weekends; think of three things you can do each weekend that would add to your energy level.

Use bits of time.

We all have five minutes here and there. What do we usually do? We waste it. We check Facebook; we think about what we have to do later. Instead, use the five minutes here and there purposefully. Maybe that’s folding some laundry, responding to one email that needs your attention, or reading a chapter in a book- use that time for something meaningful.


Part of what I love about Laura’s talk is that her advice is practical and actionable. It’s not vague, like “Be more productive”- she talks about how. That’s important. When we have to tell so many people what to do and how to do it, it’s nice to have someone else tell me how to get things done.

Pick at least one of these tips that you can try this week to improve your time management. When that becomes part of your norm, add in another. Before you know it, you’ll have more time and it will be used more effectively!

Thank you, Laura!

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