I’ve been friends with time management expert and author Laura Vanderkam for a long time. We used to be part of an informal group of young mom writers in New York who would get together once a month for dinner and wine, and gab over soothing irritable babies and editors alike.
I don’t see her as often since she moved from New York to Philadelphia, but I was flattered when she asked me to be part of her latest book I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time, in which she crunched 1,001 days logged by women who earn at least $100,000 per year. The results were surprising, including that we apparently enjoy life a whole, and live healthier lives full of exercise, plenty of sleep, lunches with friends and work and family time we enjoy. Yay us!
I’m a big fan of Laura’s exhaustive research and practical advice on time management. She’s no poser — this chick has four little kids and an enviable writing career. Laura’s latest book is both entertaining peek inside the inner workings of successful women, as well as chock-full of realistic advice that anyone can apply to their own habits. One common thread among all the women she profiled is that we all just did it. No whining. No complaining. Accept that life can be stressful, deal and move through it.
Here is what Laura wrote about my life, in her book where she explores the various “tiles” that make up the “mosaic” of women’s lives:
Sometimes the most important time management strategy is to take any bit of time in context. Any moment is fleeting. Things will look different in minutes, days, or years.
This ability to look at all the tiles is something I saw in Emma Johnson’s time log, and in her life. I’ve been quite intrigued by her story, partly because of how different her existence looks now from how she thought it would look seven years ago. When I first got to know her, she was freelancing just a few hours a week and primarily caring for her new daughter. She was happy with this life, to be mostly home while her husband built his career.
Then, one night several years ago, she was supposed to meet me and some friends for dinner. She never showed. She didn’t show the next morning for a conference session she was supposed to help lead on freelancing, which was a completely uncharacteristic move for a reliable woman. She sent a note later that day explaining that her husband had sustained a severe head injury while on a business trip to Greece. She had flown with her daughter to Athens the night before. He survived, and soon after, she got pregnant with their second child. These were happy developments, but accidents change people and change situations. Their marriage couldn’t take the changes. Johnson’s husband moved out shortly before their son was born. They got divorced. She received child support from her ex-husband for a bit, but not for long.
I wouldn’t blame her for fixating on the horror of the dark tiles from that year. Instead, she’s chosen to look at life more broadly. When she realized she would need to support herself and her children, she threw herself into rebuilding her career, which has also fascinated me, since we do similar work yet she earns more while working fewer hours. “I’ve just been doing what I’ve been doing for so long I’ve got it down to a little machine,” she tells me. “I’ve learned to ask questions in a very efficient way to evoke the answers I want.” She gets people on and off the phone in twenty minutes, and schedules meetings back to back to compress them into the least possible time. Packing well-paying work in tightly is key to the rest of her life: building a brand as “Wealthy Single Mommy”—an expert on the huge and growing demographic of women parenting solo. She hosts a radio show, comments on pop culture (like Tyler Perry’s The Single Moms Club movie), blogs, and spends time with the son and daughter of whom she has primary custody. “I don’t just want to spend time with the kids. I want to really hang out with and enjoy them,” she says, which means she does such crazy stuff as take a five-year-old and three-year-old on a ten-day solo road trip (“It was terrible. Terribly awesome!”). She has a lively social and dating life, taking advantage of the heaping options New York City and OkCupid have to offer.
Sometimes life is hectic. Her time log showed her daughter’s birthday, family visits, a client emergency, even this quintessential mom moment: a quick run to the bodega for craft supplies to make a whale for her daughter’s school project. But ask her how she does it and she will tell you this: she chooses to be grateful for the calm moments, and to take the others in stride. She walks her daughter to the bus stop in the morning. She hangs out with her 3-year-old until it’s time to bring him to school. “As the kids are getting older, they don’t need that much from me. The kids just want to be near me sometimes,” she says. She’ll sit with her laptop and her son will sit with her, lingering over breakfast. She practiced yoga and wrangled five little girls at a nail salon for a party. She did a radio show and went on a second date. It was a full week, and a good week. “I’m honoring all of those things,” she says of the tiles in her life. “If anything is out of whack, I’m just not productive.” But when you arrange the tiles to create a compelling mosaic, one with work, family, and your own sweet time too, life can be pretty good.
Adapted from I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time by Laura Vanderkam, in agreement with Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © Laura Vanderkam, 2015.
This originally appeared in my Forbes column.