6 Time-Maximizing Strategies of Successful Women
The author of I Know How She Does It reveals how successful women make the most of the hours we all have each week— finding time for work and the fun stuff, too.
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1. Eat Dinner with the Kids
Successful women often work long hours. But many preserve space for personal time by working these hours differently. In an independent study I completed for I Know How She Does It, I collected half-hour-by-half-hour data on 1,001 days in the lives of 133 high-earning women and their families (i.e., women who earned 100K a year or more). Nearly half of the women in my study worked "split shifts"—that is, they often left work at a reasonable hour (say, 5 p.m.), spent time with family or friends in the evening, then worked for an hour or two from home at night. Working from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and then 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. is the same as working from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.; but in the first scenario, you can have dinner with your kids, or go for a bike ride, while it's light out. In the second? You're at your desk, typing and eating what's left of your wilted lunch salad for supper.
2. Go Against Traffic
Success requires being seen; humans seem to be wired to value face-to-face interaction. When psychologists from the Meetology Laboratory paired people in a 2012 experiment by phone, video link or face-to-face, those who were together in person generated more and better-quality ideas. That said, you can create more space in your life by nixing the commute occasionally or moving it to non-rush hours. When Dr. Helen Fox kept "a time log for me" (that is, a one-week record of her life), she was the director of marine science at the World Wildlife Fund. She worked from home on Monday and Friday, which allowed her to pop over to her daughter's school in the afternoon to pick her up. On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, she went in to work, but did so after taking the first conference call of the day from home. This allowed her to take the train when things were less crowded. If you're driving, there's a huge difference between battling traffic for 45 minutes at 8:30 a.m. and sailing along for 25 minutes at 9:30 a.m.
3. Hit the Coffee Shop
You can do more with time if you pay attention to what adds to your energy level, rather than what subtracts from it. A study done by Tony Schwartz and Catherine McCarthy, and published in the Harvard Business Review, looked at the performance of Wachovia bank employees in New Jersey. It found that those given guidance on energy-management practices, such as taking breaks and handling emotions, outperformed other employees in the bank's various financial metrics. Kat Cole, the president of Cinnabon, likewise has figured out how to monitor her energy in order to get things done. "I'm pretty religious about my sleep," she says. "I don't give it up easily. I just am so much less effective at time management if I haven't managed the sleep part." She's also figured out how she works best. "I know I'm at my absolute best and most fulfilled when I'm in a large group of people or in a coffee shop. Those are the two places where I'm most me." So, if she needs to schedule lots of things back to back, she'll go sit in a coffee shop. She even reconfigured her office to give it more of a cafe vibe. Even if you can't do that, changing what you can about your environment can give you a major boost.
4. Add Some Sunday to Your Monday
In my study, which looked at when and how much women worked, slept, did housework and participated in leisure activities, 51 percent of time logs featured some work on Sunday and 40 percent showed work on Saturday. While logging hours on weekends sounds discouraging, I found that the vast majority of women I studied had some control over their schedules, and so this weekend push was often a strategic choice. Doing a bit of work on weekends means you can buy yourself more reasonable hours during the week. If you put in two hours early on a Saturday morning before your family gets up, and two hours on Sunday night, you still have more than 30 consecutive weekend hours during which you can be completely unplugged. Yet, that also frees up four hours during the week. You could use that time to take a spin class over lunch, and still leave the office at the same time as usual.
5. Beat the Birds
Many of us putter around late at night, watching TV or surfing the web. High-performing women go to bed earlier, and turn those unproductive evening hours into productive morning ones. Lisa Camooso Miller, former communications director for the Republican National Committee and now a partner at Blueprint Communications in Washington D.C., rises at 5 a.m. every weekday morning to exercise. "It's a great way to accomplish a difficult task early, making all of the rest of the day's challenges manageable," she says. It's done before you can talk yourself out of it. Plus, you only have to shower once. Think of it this way: Maximizing your morning is manufacturing time in your day, which may be one reason a 2012 University of Toronto study found that morning people describe themselves as happier than naturally late risers.
6. Waste Time (No Joke)
We all have unexpectedly free minutes here and there: a phone call gets canceled; the carpool is late bringing your kids home. Truly successful women use these moments for something enjoyable, be that listening to a favorite podcast, sending a text message to a friend or reading a favorite magazine. These nurturing activities make life feel so much better than simply checking email again does.
Laura Vanderkam is the author of I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time and What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast. She lives outside Philadelphia with her husband and four children.