In 7 Hours With, we explore the routines of leading professionals in their space to learn the when, why, where and how they work. In each diary, we will look at what they’re doing at seven different check-ins throughout their day.
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Laura Vanderkam is a notable writer, podcaster, author and speaker on the topics of work-life balance, career development, parenting, time management, and productivity. She’s written several incredible books, including 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, and Off The Clock: Feel More Busy Getting Less Done.
I woke up multiple times this morning — I have an 8 month old baby who is still working on the “sleeping through the night” concept, so I was up at 3 a.m., 5:30 a.m., 6:45 a.m., and then up for good at 7:40 a.m. When I’m not caring for a baby, I’m more in the middle. I do my best work in the morning, as many people do, but I don’t like getting up at 5 a.m. I always have a cup of coffee and like to read a bit in the morning, so that’s what I’d call my morning routine.
Our family’s nanny arrives for work at 8 a.m., so I’m usually at my desk by about 8:10. I have a dedicated home office — a corner office in fact, with two windows! All my recording equipment is on my desk, and I have a chair where I read or do video calls.
I aim to make my to-do list for the day the night before. So when I get to my work space, I start on whatever my first priority is for the day. In general, I try to write or do intense edits in the morning. I try to save phone calls and email checking for later in the day when my brain is less fresh.
At this point in the morning, I’m writing. I have always been a writer, though the nature of what I write about and what sort of writing I do has evolved over the years. I wrote my first book on time, 168 Hours, in 2010. I started speaking about time shortly after that, a part of my business that expanded a lot after I gave a TED talk in 2016. I began podcasting in 2017 since I noticed that a lot of busy people had more time to listen than to read. I’m always sharing my time management messages, just in different forms!
One of my biggest takeaways and productivity “tips” from 168 Hours was that saying “I don’t have time” really means “it’s not a priority.” If someone offered you a ton of cash to do whatever you claim you don’t have time for…you’d probably find the time! So it’s not about time. It’s that it hasn’t risen up your priority list enough…and that is FINE. Plenty of things may sound good in theory but aren’t right for right now in practice. Embrace that reality and you can take back control of your time.
I usually eat around noon, though it varies based on calls or recordings. If other members of my family are home, I try to eat with them when I start hearing people gathering in the kitchen.
I don’t generally have many meetings, and I like it that way. I do have recordings and interviews and such. I like to bunch those in the afternoons so I can leave my mornings open for focused work.
Another great productivity tip I have is to plan out your weeks on Fridays. I think through my top priorities for the week, break these down into steps, and assign them to days. I think through personal priorities too, and assign these times. Then my goal is to do everything on the priority list by the end of the week. If I keep the list short and focused, that’s usually possible!
I’m often out of the office for the first time around 4 or 5 in the afternoon to do stuff with the kids — go to the pool in summer, or drive them to activities. After dinner, I might wind up back in the office to deal with anything undone from the day. I also sometimes run in the mid-afternoon/evening as a break from work. During quarantine, my family has been eating dinner together most days around 6, which has been a great source of family time.
I try to shut my computer around 7/7:30 p.m. and not start it back up. Obviously, I can still see email from my phone but that helps me feel like I’m not expected to do any more work. I aim to be in bed by 10:30 p.m. unless there’s a really good reason not to be. Given that the baby wakes me up unpredictably, I need to go to bed as soon as I can! I heartily endorse the idea of an adult “bedtime.” You can blow through it if you want (you are a grown-up) but knowing when you intend to be in bed can nudge you to shut things down and get to sleep on time.