How to Master Time Management

“I have so much leisure time!” thought no working mother ever. Instead, most women these days wish they had an extra couple hours in their day to get everything done—and maybe even find time to shower. At least that’s the pervasive narrative at playgrounds, office water coolers, and just about anywhere you find parents juggling career and family.

But what if it’s wrong? What if we do have the time, we’re just not taking advantage of it? That’s the idea behind Laura Vanderkam‘s book “I Know How She Does It,” a thought-provoking read that’ll help you look at your schedule (and life) a bit differently. In it, Laura dissects the weekly time logs of highly successful working mothers to find out that many people are actually working less than they think, sleeping more than they let on, and finding plenty of time for leisure and hobbies (wait, that’s a thing?). We chatted with her to discover more about making the most of our time.


“A lot of the literature about women, work, and life is profoundly negative. Yet many women are succeeding at making the pieces of work and life fit together. I wanted to share their stories, and hopefully let other women know that it is possible to build a big career, raise a family, and have fun at the same time.”


“I think that tracking time for a week can help women see where space might be. But even if you don’t track your time, keeping the number ‘168’ in mind can help. If you work 40 hours a week, and sleep 8 hours a night (56 hours per week), that leaves 72 hours for other things. If you work 50, that leaves 62. Even if you have a commute and have a lot of family responsibilities, there is still time.

Here’s another way to think about it. I track my time on weekly spreadsheets that go from 5 a.m. Monday to 5 a.m. Monday. If the week starts at 5 a.m. Monday, the halfway mark is 5 p.m. Thursday! I don’t know about you, but 5 p.m. Thursday kind of sounds like the *end* of the week to me. But it is not. It is the exact halfway mark. So even if Monday-Thursday is busy, there’s half a week after that to play with too.”


“Get enough sleep. One way or another. Prioritize it. Set a bedtime alarm so you go to sleep on time. Move your body. You don’t have to run a marathon. Anyone can walk briskly for 20 minutes a day, and almost everyone will find themselves energized by doing so. Build in breaks during the day. If you don’t take real breaks, your brain will take fake ones—cruising Instagram for 45 minutes, which is not actually relaxing. Go get some fresh air instead. You’ll be much more productive when you return.”


“I think the worst is ‘enjoy every moment!’ It is absolutely impossible to enjoy every moment when you have small kids. There is nothing fun about all four having the stomach flu simultaneously. And not only is it no fun, it adds insult to injury to feel like you’re somehow a bad person because you’re not having fun. Instead, I’d say ‘enjoy the enjoyable moments.’ There are certainly fun times, and sweet times, and even transcendent moments. Appreciating those can help keep those bouts of the stomach in perspective.”


“There are a lot of moving parts with four kids! I do have to be organized around scheduling activities (a spreadsheet was involved). But I think the biggest challenge is making sure I spend some quality time with each of them. The two-year-old naturally gets a lot of attention, but I have to consciously make space for the others. I try to seek out one-on-one time in the car. And each summer I take each of the big three kids on a solo ‘mommy day’ somewhere they choose (usually an amusement park). Also, get help. Maybe it could be a sitter, or friends/neighbors/extended family, but taking all four kids with you everywhere you need to go will probably drive you crazy!”

Whitney Harris

Whitney C. Harris is a freelance writer living in Westchester, NY, with her husband and toddler daughter. Find her online.