A few years ago, Laura Vanderkam set out to study how 1,001 busy, successful women managed their time. Most of these women had full-time jobs, kids, and dozens of commitments. She had each of them keep a time diary for a full week—168 hours—to learn the strategies they used to keep their lives afloat.
One of the women came home on a Wednesday night to a flooded basement. Her water heater broke while she was running errands. Between calls with plumbers and coordinating a cleaning crew, the ordeal took seven hours out of her week.
“I’m sure if you had asked her at the start of the week, Could you find seven hours to train for a triathlon or mentor seven worthy people?”, she would have said what most of us would say: No. Can’t you see how busy I am?” says Vanderkam. “Yet when she had to find seven hours, she found seven hours.”
Vanderkam, whose TED talk “How to Gain Control of Your Free Time” has been viewed more than five million times, points out that time is elastic. We can’t create more time, but it will stretch to accommodate what’s essential.
“The key to time management is treating our priorities as the equivalent of that broken water heater,” says Vanderkam.
As I write this on a dreary December day, it seems like this entire past year was like those seven days when the woman dealt with her broken water heater. Instead of feeling in control, many of us found ourselves constantly reacting—to the latest coronavirus data, to the election coverage, to the volatile stock market.
The good news is that we can recalibrate and fill our days with the things that deserve to be there. But how can we make this happen? How do we find the same sense of urgency as that woman with the broken water heater?
Laura Vanderkam has a tip.
Let’s pretend it’s December 2021. It’s been an amazing year. Ask yourself what three to five things did you accomplish that made it such a great year?
Once you’ve identified those goals, break them down into manageable, bite-sized steps and put them into your schedule first—not when you “think you’ll have time.”
By designating something as a water heater-level priority, we reduce our odds of falling off the wagon, whether that’s training for a marathon or bolstering your kids’ college savings fund.
For successful, happy people, their lives are the compound effect of how they spend their time away from work. Remember, there are 168 hours in a week. Even if you’re at the office for 60 hours and sleep 8 hours a night, that leaves 52 unscheduled hours.
“There is time,” says Laura. “Even if we are busy, we have time for what matters. And when we focus on what matters, we can build the lives we want in the time we’ve got.”
Let’s all find our broken water heaters and get to work.
We can help you set or clarify your financial priorities and help you achieve them. Want to learn how? Schedule a call with us to find out.
Our friend and future podcast guest, John Jennings, wrote a thoughtful piece in his IFOD blog that captured our team’s full attention. His post on Clayton Christensen, who recently passed away from leukemia, was enough to have some of us circling back to reread Christensen’s book How Will You Measure Your Life? A long time professor at the Harvard Business School, Christensen challenged his students to find answers to three questions:
- First, how can I be sure that I’ll be happy in my career?
- Second, how can I be sure that my relationships with my spouse and my family become an enduring source of happiness?
- Click to read the rest of the story…