EP101: Laura Vanderkam – Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done

Busyness is hyped in our present culture.

It shouldn't be.

Living a full life, at work and at home, is about doing the right things well, and positively missing out on everything else.Our returning guest will show you how to get there.

Laura Vanderkam is an expert at finding that balance and has helped many people through her various time management and productivity books including her newest, Off the Clock - Feel Less Busy When Getting More Done.

During this interview, you'll discover...

  • How to spend your hours more meaningfully, regain enormous amounts of wasted time, and live an improved life

  • What makes time so different for those rare productive and unstressed people

  • Ways to do more without losing your sense of peace along the way

To learn more about Laura Vanderkam, visit here.

For her Facebook page, click here.

For her Twitter page, check this out.

For her Instagram page, discover here.

To learn more about Off the Clock and buy a copy, go here.


Michael Palmer: 01:09 Welcome back to The Successful Bookkeeper podcast. I am your host, Michael Palmer, and today's show is going to be a fun one. Our guest is making her return to the podcast. She's the author of various time management and productivity books, including your newest one off the clock. Feel less busy while getting more done. She's a mother of four children, so you know, she's always thinking of better ways to manage your time and be more productive. I'm happy to welcome back Laura Vanderkam to the show.

Laura Vanderkam: 01:41 Thanks for having me.

MP: 01:42 It's great to have your back and I love the title of your book.

LV: 01:45 Oh, thank you. Yeah. Who doesn't want to feel off the clock, right?

MP: 01:48 Exactly. I, I when I first saw the title I felt I just started to relax. You know, it's like, yes, off the clock, uh, feel less busy while getting more done and we want to have more of that. I know our listeners want to have more of that, but, but it's been a while since you were on the podcast. You were back episode 13 and there's more of your backstory, but before we sort of get into some of the questions, maybe just share a little bit about why the new book.

LV: 02:20 Yeah. Well, I've been writing about time management and productivity for a while and so there are lots of you know, strategies for people who want to manage their schedules. But I've long been interested in why some, you know, seemingly busy people seem to feel very relaxed about time. Like why, you know, you want to set up a meeting with them. They've got plenty of time to meet like their, you know, they're talking to you, they're not looking at their watches to see when the next thing is starting. And so what are, what are these people doing that's, that's different. So for off the clock, I, you know, explored this question, I interviewed a lot of people about it. I also did a time diary project. I had 900 people with full time jobs and families track their time for a day. I then asked questions about how they felt about their time so I could give them various scores on based on their, their time perceptions. There are people at the top felt time was abundant. They felt relaxed. They felt like they had the time for the things they wanted to do. People at the bottom of the spores felt starved for time, stressed, you know, didn't have time for the things they wanted to do. And so then I could just compare the schedules of the people who felt relaxed with the people who felt stressed and see, well, what are they doing differently? These are equivalently busy people. So why do some people feel differently about their time?

MP: 03:29 Wow. And what were some of the things you found out?

LV: 03:32 Well, there's a lot of different things. It's not the obvious things. For instance, it's that either most people worked about the same amount and since everyone had families, they had about the same sort of responsibilities with that. But the difference were, you know, how you choose to spend that disposable time. Um, people who fought relaxed about time are more likely to spend it interacting with friends and family or planning little adventures into their lives, doing something fun on this March Monday that they tracked. Whereas people who felt stressed and starved for time, we're more likely to spend their leisure time watching TV, being on social media and things like that.

MP: 04:07 Interesting. I am in. What, why do you think that is?

LV: 04:10 Well, you know, the inventure is part is kind of interesting of my even sound like a bit of a paradox that people who, um, feel like they have more time where we're doing these things that were in, in ways commitments in, in their lives on this Monday night. Uh, I mean you had people who, somebody went to salsa dancing lessons, like somebody who went for a movie on Monday night, but we went to a big band concert. I mean the people at the top end of the time perception scores. But I think what it is is that when you do these things in your mind, you become the kind of person who has the time to do these things. And so that makes you feel like you have more time. Um, there's also the matter of when many people say, you know, like, where did the time go? What they really mean is that they don't remember where the time went. And part of not remembering where the time went is that there was nothing memorable in your time. And so, you know, things like surfing the web, watching TV aren't all that memorable ways to spend your evening, whereas going to a big band concert is, um, so if you do that, you'll remember your time and the more memory units you have of any given unit of time, the more it feels best in your accounting of it.

MP: 05:14 It's so interesting. So the busier we are, the less busier we're gonna feel.

LV: 05:19 Well, if you're busy with the right things, I mean the word visits, the right things. If you're, you know, busy with like meetings that have you staring at the wall clock counting the minutes, like you're not going to feel good about your time. But if you're intelligent, busy-ness, intelligent, busy as well, you have, I like to use the word full. A full life feels like time is rich and very textured as a, as opposed to just sort of slipping through your hands sort of sand going from one side of the hourglass to the other.

MP: 05:46 Yeah. Well it's just, I mean it just occurs more interesting, right? So intelligent really isn't the word. It's like it's a thoughtful life. Interesting. Doing interesting things, living out your passions and, and television can be fun and entertaining. Uh, just so interesting that people who watch also on TV or go to a salsa event is totally different and has a different impact on the future. The future of your life, how you, your, your satisfaction? I find that fascinating or to think about it this way.

LV: 06:14 You know, there's, it's a difference between looking at photos on Instagram of somebody else's dinner party versus actually hosting one yourself and an obviously hosting on yourself. It takes a lot of work. Um, it takes effort. It takes, um, making a commitment to that time, but, but it stands out so much more in your perception of time then that time spent scrolling around to, on social media.

MP: 06:39 Beautiful.

MP: 06:47 I just loved that, you know, I can just hear there's a real opportunity for everyone to stop and look at, you know, what are they filling those little bits of time in their life with and to test out maybe blocking out something and doing it some sort of adventure that lays isn't align with their, their passion and see what the, the effect of that could be. Yeah, exactly. Now you talk about buisiness and you and you spell it. B. U. S. Y. N. E. S. S. What is this busy-ness that you're talking about?

LV: 07:21 Well, you know, you've been part of these conversations too, I'm sure, where people, you ask somebody how their weekend was like, oh, busy. You know, how's your life going? Oh, same as usual. Busy Times. Yeah. Well, we use busy sort of interchangeably with fine. It's a synonym for, yeah, all is, is kind of at the same. But if you think about the mindset behind telling people that you are busy, uh, it's a nice way of saying that the demand for my time is high, which is also a nice way of saying how important we are. But you're not going to walk around talking about how important you are. Um, so it's easier to say, oh, we're busy. But you know, the, the problem with the busy narrative is, is that we start to believe it and we start to believe that we don't have time for the things that are important to us. And that can be a problem because then people do have time. Do I have leisure time? They could do fun stuff with, but they are, you know, telling us how is that story that they have no time. So they spend their leisure time in very mindless ways. And that's what leads to, you know, the hours spent scrolling around online or watching TV people didn't mean to watch or puttering around the house or doing housework very inefficiently rather than higher-quality leisure time activities.

MP: 08:28 No, it makes sense. You know, it's this, um, life is so short and it's, it's really a purse. It's a perception of, of what, what our life is like. So if I know for myself when I say I'm, I'm busy and I say it a lot and I, I, I've heard this conversation before and so it's almost minute it comes out of my mouth. I'm like, AH, don't want to say that. But I find myself saying it and it is absolutely accurate. Like the more I say that, the more busy I feel, the more life is busy and the reality is that I'm in control of my day. I'm in control of my life. I can slice things out and goes different places. So if I create the new narrative, I'm going to be in better shape, I'm going to be more satisfied, more enjoyable, be able to spend more time with the people that are important to me.

LV: 09:16 Exactly. I really do think that time is a choice. And I'm not saying that there aren't consequences to making different choices because of course there are, but in the long run we have the power to fill our lives with the things that deserve to be there.

MP: 09:29 Interesting. Now you've, you've been at this awhile, what I'm really curious to know, like how have you shifted in your perception of the work that you do and the people that you work with since you started?

LV: 09:43 Oh, well I've definitely learned that, you know, people are a good use of time, but I saw that on the time diaries for off the clock. People who spent more time interacting with family and friends, uh, felt like they had more time than people who didn't make those interactions a priority. So definitely always on the lookout for ways to invest time in relationships and know that those conversations are really an important part of lights. And, you know, the, I mean, the issue is people often sort of relegate relationship building to time after they've done the so-called important stuff. And I even have people tell me this all the time, like, oh, I'm really good at time management. I never talked with my colleagues. Like, okay, well that's, that's one approach. Um, but, uh, it's somewhat limited, uh, in the long run and that, uh, you know, we're more engaged at work if we like the people we're working with. Um, you know, it's the spending Monday with people you'd be willing to spend Sunday with is, is a really good way to make work feel awesome. You know? And, and also it's just the other people occasionally have information that might be useful that might be important for us to know. So it, you know, these are more of the substance of the work than we often think.

MP: 10:56 Yeah, I agree with you 100%. And our listeners, uh, as bookkeepers and, and, and some accountants, listeners as well, the technical people are out there doing work that never ends. There's a, you know, there's always something more to do it more to check out. And, and what I find in the conversation is that, you know, they're, they're not, they're not making it up when they say, you know, I'm, I'm swamped or I'm buried. Uh, but again, those are narratives, right? There's other ways to describe it. But in terms of the research that you've done and what you've found out and for the, the type of listener that we have, how, how would you recommend to them to change or alter this narrative of saying, you know, I'm busy or I'm swamped or run, I'm overwhelmed. I don't have to say over what they might experience being overwhelmed, but I don't typically say that, but here's a lot of stuff coming at them and it never ends.

LV: 11:55 Yeah. Well, I mean certainly it's true that um, people can feel very busy. I think the best thing to do to get a hold of your time is to track it. You know, it is really the best way to get a good sense of where the time goes and just start to change those stories that we have. Because, you know, the honest truth is that, you know, we all have a lot going on, but often these stories make things out to be worse than they actually are. Um, and so, you know, we want to make sure that we are working from, from good data and the only way to get that data is to, um, you know, track our time.

MP: 12:36 Do you know what I think, I think you've got the audience for you here. They're going to be interested. They're, this is their, this is their wheelhouse so to speak. I mean tracking, recording, documenting, making sure things are accurate. But often people don't often do these things on themselves. They do it great for other people. So this is, this might be a good challenge, a good exercise to, to audit and reconcile your time and look at now what's going to happen, Laura, is they're going to, they're going to track their time and I know you, you probably have tons of resources that would, would actually walk them through this and open this up for them. I mean, you know, what would be the best place for them to go for something like this if they're going to take this on?

LV: 13:19 Well, I have spreadsheets on my website that you can download. I can follow the subscription for them. And I will mail you one. Um, you know, but you could also use one of, you know, dozens of commercial time tracking apps on the market or if you have software that you're billing your time to different clients, you might be able to hack it to, you know, have it work for your personal time too, right? To sort of think of the different things you do in your personal life as clients. It'd be well, and then you can, uh, use that to just track your, your time for all your life, not just your work time, but yeah, you know, you want the data, you want to look at it and then say, well, what do I like about my life? You know, there's probably something you really do. So we should celebrate whatever that is. And then you want to say, well, what do I want to do more of with my time? And then, you know, what do I want to do less of? What do I want to change? And, and if you can do that, then you can start to make good choices.

LV: 14:20 It was it Drucker that said what gets measured gets managed and, and if you want to take a crack at this measuring is for really the core principle and the key thing to do as a measure so that the data's there and new, new things can come of that. So I think that's, that's excellent. An excellent challenge for anybody that wants to make a shift in this area of their life. Let's do it. Okay.

MP: 14:46 Yeah.

MP: 14:47 Now getting back to these interviews, I mean, that's fascinating. You interviewed so many people and got all this data. Was there a difference between, um, the, the, like the percentage, if we looked at the, the women that you surveyed, was there a high percentage of people that are saying, yeah, I'm busy? Or what was your discovery there?

LV: 15:08 Well, I mean, I think a lot of us talk about the, the busy thing, but I mean, it's, it's really just, we all have the stories we tell ourselves. I choose not to use the word busy as much as I can anymore. Um, I prefer to talk about life being full, but that seems to imply that it's, you know, full of stuff I've probably chosen. And um, you know, just because you have a lot going on doesn't mean that things are chaotic or anything like that.

MP: 15:34 Yes, I agree. The language is very important. There's one of the things I've shifted, and I still say it a lot is people will say, well, how are you doing? I'm saying, I'm okay. I'm okay. You know, it's like this where I'm okay versus I have friends in my life that, how are you doing? Oh, I'm awesome, I'm great. How are you? You know, it's so, so different. So I've started to shift, uh, using just a different language. Now I'm not typically one of those people that will answer back. I'm great, how are you? I'm still the, you know, a little bit of a low key person, but I will say, how are you doing? And I'll say, I'm doing great. Thank you. Yeah. And I think it's along the same, just a stream of thought, right? So instead of saying, how are you doing? Well, I'm pretty busy. I've been busy. Well, I'm doing great. My life was full. I love that language. LV: 16:21 Yeah, no. And, and it, it starts to change this busy narrative that leads people to believe that they don't have time for the things that are important to them. Um, and so I, you know, in general, I know I do have time for the things that are important to me. I may need to make some better choices with, with how I'm doing things. And sometimes things get a little bit harried, but then it's usually something I can change to make better.

MP: 16:42 Yeah. Well, your, your message really resonates with me. I mean, earlier on in the conversation you talked about the people that, uh, when I think of the people that I admire, uh, executives, business owners, um, doctors, professionals, like people that you go, wow, look at those people. They're really inspiring, living great lives and you're absolutely accurate. They, they, they are cool, calm, and collected. Even though they've got the world on their shoulders often. So many people wanting their attention, their time and responsibility, super high. Yet they're, they're living. And I think you're, you're onto something around this, uh, really taking control of your language and how you relate to time and making sure that you're, you're creating and designing a life that you go, wow, I'm living a full life. Cause guess what? It's not gonna eventually just end up that way. It's gotta be designed.

LV: 17:36 Yeah. And you know, I think one of the things that helps people relax about their time, I as first realizing, you know, yes, they may have a lot of responsibility and all that, but on the other hand, we have to take ourselves a little bit less seriously too. Um, the earth is going to keep on spinning on its axis regardless of what most of us do. And that can be sometimes a little bit disconcerting to realize, um, that if we disappeared, life would go on, which, you know, the world will go on without us. So, so like, calm down a little bit. Uh, another thing I also find it is helpful for people to think about is try to recall today's date two years ago and think about, well, what were you doing then? You know, you're human, you were probably upset about something. You are annoyed about something.

LV: 18:20 You were like worried about something stressed about something. You have no idea what it is now. Right? Like you cannot remember what it is, you have no memory of it and that sort of, you know, you can tell us that probably whatever it is that you're annoyed about today will also have disappeared into the ash heap of history by two years from now as well. So yeah, all of these things can help us take it down a notch, which I think know, paradoxically can help us make deal with having a lot of responsibility is that, you know, a lot of this stuff is, is a lot less high stakes than we might imagine.

MP: 18:55 Absolutely. You can certainly hack away at this. Uh, you know, our significance a and seriousness of life. We have that naturally it seems at times. And just chill out a little bit, which leads to a more satisfying and enjoyable experience of life. Now in your book, what are some of the things that you've heard your readers come back to you with? What they're getting out of the book, off the clock.

LV: 19:22 Well, one of the most, I think practical things, people have been figuring out how to do, you know, they have been planning these little adventures into their lives, right? To go to the big band concert to go to salsa dancing lessons and realize that it will help them feel like they have more time. But another thing is I have a chapter on lingering and this idea of trying to expand good moments and our mental accounting of good moments just sort of linger in them a little bit longer. Uh, so that we seem to expand them in our mental accounting. And there are lots of little strategies that you can do to save her a good moment. I mean, first to notice that it is happening. Um, our brains are not very good on, uh, noticing the good, so we have to train ourselves to do that.

LV: 20:05 You know, it's about planning and good things. So you know, they're coming up so that you can have that anticipation, which is very exciting, uh, to take in sort of all the details as you're enjoying something. To really be fully aware, be in the moment and then figure out a way to uh, cement the memory by either recounting it to someone afterwards or you know, writing about it somewhere. And when you do these things, even small chunks of time can become bigger. And our memory of them, you know, one of the things that I've thought about recently, I use these techniques while listening to a piece of music that I really enjoy that was sung by is soloists towards his voice. I really like, I know the, the work itself is like four minutes, right? You know, it's not that big, but I knew it was coming up for a week, so I was excited about it. I was, you know, fully present listening to her while this music was going on. Afterwards, I wrote about it on my blog, like I remember those four minutes, you know, but how many other periods of four minutes of wildlife. I know Mary, you know, I'm getting my coffee this morning. I can barely remember that I did it, you know, walking through the terminal of the airport where I was yesterday. You know, the, those four minutes are gone, but the four minutes of those musics are there and that's, that's what savoring, uh, can do for it.

MP: 21:24 I really liked that. That is it. I'm going to take that on and I, it is actually, uh, something that I, I have relatively young children and you know, I'm not a spring chicken, so I, I, I waited later in life to have children, pros and cons to that definitely. But one of the things that as a pro and a con is that I'm older, so you know, my mileage isn't. You know, I've got a limited amount of mileage here and I constantly think about, just because I've heard so many people say, oh, you know, the kids that grow up so quickly and one minute they're a little baby, the next minute they're 10, the next minute they're 20. And so I've taken that on since the birth of, of my first child and now we just have three word, three week old little baby girl.

LV: 22:13 Wow.

MP: 22:14 Yeah. Thank you.

MP: 22:16 It's just a true Blessing. And I, I do, I do try my best to savor moments where I just look at my children experience, what's happening, where am I, what am I doing with them? And now obviously there are times where it's like, especially with a three year old and a brand new baby, that definitely some, some a chaos. But you know, that's, that's natural. But that even that sometimes I'm stepping back and going, wow, I'm in the chaos here. And it's like, this will eventually end and I won't be able to get it back. And I'll probably, uh, remember those times going, oh, I remember this and that. So I think the message is so important for people to take on, uh, what, what, what your message is around this savoring moments and expanding them. Uh, it's, it just leads to a fuller, like you say, a fuller life. I've experienced that and I'm going to do it more. I actually, um, really love this and it's the summertime here and, uh, where we are right now at this time of the year. So I think it's a perfect time to take this on and really lay into it. And I'm going to encourage all of our listeners, if you're listening right now, where, where can you start to savor the wonderful things in your life and appreciate them?

LV: 23:31 Yeah, and I would say with that, um, because I, you know, people do tell you this all the time. If somebody who's in the restaurant in the hotel restaurant last night and she was, she was talking to me a night, you know, I was going to say, I'm kind of enjoying my quiet, you know, because she like, oh, it's no fun to eat by herself. I'm like, ah, I have four small kids at home. Kind of is fun team. I myself, but, but you know, she would say, oh it goes so quickly. I, yes, it's a cliche I think, you know, you can't enjoy every moment. And so I don't want to put out there for people who are feeling stressed with small kids and there are stressful moments with small kids who are feeling like I can't enjoy every moment now I feel like a bad person because I'm not enjoying every moment when I'm supposed to be enjoying every moment.

MP: 24:15 You can't, there's nothing enjoyable about your three year old screaming while your infant's having a diaper blowout and you're in the supermarket and you're like trying to, you know, wait in line to get your food home and you're tired. It's not fun. It isn't. You can't enjoy that. However, you know, savoring isn't about enjoying every moment. It's about enjoying the enjoyable moments. And I think there's certainly we can work on that. This sort of discipline of joy, of noticing the good moments and not letting the bad moments become your narrative. Right? So yes, you've got that. You know, diaper blow out in the grocery store, which is tough to deal with with the temper Tantrum, the three year olds toss and everything off the shelves don't enjoy that. Instead, you know, some moment where they are both playing quietly or you're looking at the newborn and you know that those little tiny toes. I, you know, my, my youngest is now throwing us off quite a little tiny toes anymore, but it's so enjoyed those moments and notice that they're happening and that, and then you can kind of keep the, the, you know, grocery store temper tantrum and context.

LV: 25:24 Yeah, absolutely.

MP: 25:25 I mean, I, that's my, my son had a massive meltdown the other day and, and you know, that was not enjoyable, but even this conversation and uh, you know, at times it's, it's really, it's to just expand the wall. That wasn't fun. You know, it's like, if that happened every day, it'd be not a great experience. So it's filling, filling my mind with the things that I do enjoy. The d the thing, the wonderful things, even though that experience needs to be there to learn from. I mean, I'm learning myself about, you know, just my own ego, my, my patience level. You know, I think that's the pro of being an on older parent is that, you know, I've got a little bit more wisdom if you will. I could still use more and we'll work on that. But you know, it's the ability and perspective and I think that's a lot of what you're talking about.

MP: 26:17 It's not just the let life just roll out in front of you and, uh, pay attention, pay attention to what's happening and pick your battles and pick the things that you're gonna you're gonna save her. I think for me, that's what I'm getting out of this conversation for sure, is to save are the ones that are an enjoyable and expand that in my brain that's going to lead to a more enjoyable experience every day. And I just love this. Now you, you, you also a lot of speaking as well. What's are you on, uh, do you have a speaking tour this year? What's happening there?

LV: 26:49 Well, I do a lot of speaking in general, um, you know, corporate speaking events. I don't really have any large public events coming up, but you know, I'm, I'm blogging and podcasting, so people want to listen to me talk about this or read it, you know, please visit my blog, Laura Vander, cam.com. Um, I also have a podcast. So if you've made it through all the episodes of the successful bookkeeper in you are, you know, looking for something else to listen to or you can come listen to him best of both worlds, which I'm talking about these issues over there.

MP: 27:18 Beautiful. Well that's great. You know, Laura, it's just such a pleasure. I know from a, an inside source that you are one of the most highly rated speakers, uh, on the circuit today. Uh, so if people do get an opportunity and see you publicly, great, do it. Absolutely. Whatever the ticket is, go see Laura, you will be delighted and as well, I'm sure it would be the same, probably not as, as experiential, but listening to you, uh, I think do both. I encourage my listeners and, and we actually wanted you back because of our listeners. Several listeners asked about having you back because absolutely love the episode and Love the work that you're doing.

LV: 28:00 Oh, wonderful. I really appreciate that. Thank you so much.

MP: 28:03 Yes. So let's talk about, before we say goodbye, you likely have, uh, an opportunity for people to get this book. What's the best way to do that? Uh, and maybe just mention your website again with the best place to go there. And then of course we'll have all the links, uh, in, in this episode notes.

LV: 28:19 Yeah, well, it'd be great if your listeners would check out my new book off the clock. It came out in May, 2018 if people are listening to this far in the future, but I'm off the clock. Feel less busy while getting more done. You can get it through any of the major retailers or online, you know, Amazon, Barnes and noble, all those places. Also available as an audio book if you're commuting and want to want to listen to it like that. And you can come visit my website, Laura Vander cam.com. I blog four times a week. And so lots of content. There are lots about managing our time and we have a great community of commenters. There is one of the nicest places on the Internet, so please to chime in and we'd love to hear from you.

MP: 28:54 That's wonderful. Well, we're going to have a all of those in our notes and Laura, I know you're a super full living, a super full life, and so thank you so much for your generosity of giving your time to come and share your knowledge and your wisdom and experiences with our listeners.

LV: 29:12 Thank you so much for having me.

MP: 29:14 My pleasure. That wraps another episode of The Successful Bookkeeper podcast and what a wonderful episode it was to learn more about today's guest and to get access to all sorts of valuable free business-building resources. You can go to Thesuccessfulbookkeeper.com. Until next time, goodbye.