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I Know How She Does It

Written by: Laura Vanderkam
Published: June 9, 2015


Imagine a world where high-achieving women seem to have it all: a successful career, a thriving family life, personal passions, and even time for leisure. In "I Know How She Does It", Laura Vanderkam delves deep into the world of successful women to understand the secret behind their ability to manage myriad responsibilities efficiently.

Vanderkam defies the popular narrative that proclaims it's nearly impossible for women to excel in their professions while also enjoying a rich family life. Instead, by analyzing time logs of women who earn at least $100,000 a year and have kids, she uncovers patterns and habits that can teach us how to have both: a successful career and fulfilling personal life.

One of the core revelations of the book is the concept of 'time reallocation.' Successful women don't just prioritize; they consistently reallocate their time based on what is most important at any given moment. They tend to view their time in terms of 168 hours a week (24 x 7) instead of being confined by a 9-to-5 workday. This perspective shift allows for greater flexibility and the ability to adjust as needed.

Another key point Vanderkam makes is that work-life balance doesn't have to be achieved daily. Instead, it can be viewed over longer spans, like a week or a month. This approach takes the pressure off having a "perfect" day and instead encourages a broader perspective where balance is achieved over time.

Many of the women surveyed also emphasized the significance of outsourcing tasks that aren't crucial for their personal or professional growth. For instance, delegating household chores or employing digital tools for mundane tasks can free up considerable time for more important activities.

Building on the idea of prioritization, the book discusses the importance of discerning between tasks that are merely urgent and those that are genuinely important. Often, the 'noise' of urgent tasks can drown out what's genuinely significant. Learning to differentiate between the two can result in better time management and greater satisfaction in both work and personal realms.

Moreover, Vanderkam touches upon the necessity of setting boundaries. Whether it's setting specific 'no work' times or creating zones in the house free from digital distractions, such boundaries can foster quality family time and personal relaxation. This also ties in with the need for self-care, which, far from being a luxury, is vital for maintaining energy and enthusiasm in all areas of life.

The book also highlights that successful women don't shy away from seeking help. Whether it's leaning on their partner, hiring a babysitter, or seeking mentorship in their careers, recognizing that they can't (and don't have to) do it all alone is a liberating realization.

Lastly, Vanderkam emphasizes the importance of intentional living. Every choice, from how we spend our time to the tasks we choose to prioritize, should align with our broader life goals. Living with intention helps in carving out time for what truly matters and eliminates feelings of being constantly 'busy'.

Final Thoughts

The journey to harmonizing professional success with a fulfilling personal life isn't about magic tricks or secret formulas. It's about intentional choices, strategic planning, and an understanding that balance isn't a daily act but a broader perspective. By learning from those who seem to 'have it all,' we can find inspiration and practical advice to cultivate our version of a balanced, successful life.

10 Big Ideas

1. Time Reallocation Over Traditional Time Management

Success isn't merely about managing time, but reallocating it based on shifting priorities. Viewing time in terms of a week (168 hours) instead of a daily structure can lead to a more adaptable and efficient schedule, ensuring that the important things never get left behind.

2. Achieving Work-Life Balance Over Extended Periods

Balance doesn't have to be a daily conquest. By focusing on achieving equilibrium over a week or even a month, individuals can lessen daily pressures, allowing for flexibility and the inevitable ebb and flow of life's demands.

3. Outsourcing Isn't a Sign of Weakness

Delegating or outsourcing tasks, especially those not contributing directly to personal or professional growth, is strategic. Whether it's household chores or routine professional tasks, outsourcing can free up invaluable time for more significant endeavors.

4. Discerning the Urgent from the Important

In the whirlwind of daily life, it's easy to mistake urgent tasks for important ones. Learning to discern between the two ensures that long-term goals aren't overshadowed by the immediate 'noise' and that one's energy is directed towards genuinely impactful tasks.

5. Boundaries Foster Quality Time

Setting specific times or zones free from work or digital distractions can create pockets of quality family or personal time. Boundaries are essential not just for preventing burnout but also for nurturing meaningful relationships.

6. Embracing Self-Care as Essential

Far from being a luxury or an indulgence, self-care is crucial. It ensures that individuals maintain their energy, enthusiasm, and health, which in turn affects every other sphere of their lives.

7. Recognizing the Power of Seeking Help

Success doesn't mean going it alone. Seeking help, whether in the form of a supportive partner, a babysitter, or a mentor, can be the key to managing myriad responsibilities efficiently.

8. Intentional Living is Empowering

Living with a purpose and making choices aligned with broader life goals eliminates the clutter of inconsequential tasks. An intentional life is not only fulfilling but also free from the perpetual feeling of being 'too busy'.

9. Flexibility Over Rigid Structures

Rigid time structures can be limiting. Embracing flexibility allows for better adjustment to unexpected events, leading to a more harmonious blend of personal and professional commitments.

10. Celebrate the Small Wins

While overarching goals are important, celebrating small achievements and milestones can provide the motivation to keep moving forward. These small wins act as stepping stones to larger successes and foster a positive mindset.

5 Exercises

1. Weekly Time Audit

Objective: Gain clarity on how you're spending your 168 hours each week, identify patterns, and reallocate time more effectively.

  • For one week, track every activity you engage in, and note the time spent on it.
  • At the end of the week, categorize these activities (e.g., work, family, leisure, chores).
  • Reflect on the balance between these categories. Are there any imbalances or surprising findings?
  • Identify any blocks of time that could be reallocated to activities more aligned with your goals.
  • Implement these changes in the coming week and note any shifts in how you feel or how productive you are.
2. The Urgent vs. Important Matrix

Objective: Differentiate between tasks that demand immediate attention and those that align with your long-term goals.

  • Draw a 2x2 matrix on a sheet of paper. Label the axes as "Urgent" and "Important".
  • List your weekly tasks and place each one in the appropriate quadrant of the matrix.
  • Prioritize tasks in the "Important" but "Not Urgent" quadrant, as these often align with long-term goals.
  • Consider outsourcing or delegating tasks in the "Urgent but Not Important" quadrant.
  • Review and update your matrix at the start of each week to stay aligned with your priorities.
3. Digital Detox Evening

Objective: Create a regular space for quality family or personal time, free from digital distractions.

  • Select one evening a week as your "Digital Detox Evening".
  • Turn off all electronic devices, including phones, computers, and televisions.
  • Engage in activities you enjoy, whether it's reading, board games, or simply having a conversation with loved ones.
  • Reflect on how you feel during and after the detox. Do you feel more relaxed or connected?
  • Adjust the frequency of your digital detox evenings based on your experience and needs.
4. Self-Care Rituals

Objective: Establish a regular self-care routine to rejuvenate and maintain optimal energy levels.

  • List down activities that make you feel relaxed and rejuvenated.
  • Carve out a specific time each day (even if it's just 10 minutes) dedicated to one of these activities.
  • Track your energy and mood levels on days you engage in self-care versus days you don't.
  • Adjust and expand your rituals based on what you observe works best for you.
  • Remember to treat this time as non-negotiable, prioritizing it just as you would any other important commitment.
5. Intention Setting Morning Routine

Objective: Start each day with a clear sense of purpose and direction.

  • Every morning, take a few moments to sit in a quiet space.
  • Visualize your day ahead, picturing how you want events to unfold and how you want to feel.
  • Write down your top three priorities for the day.
  • Throughout the day, refer back to these intentions, especially when faced with distractions or challenges.
  • At day's end, reflect on how setting intentions influenced your decisions and actions.

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