Last weekend I read the book ‘I know how she does it’ by Laura Vanderkam. The name might sound familiar because there was a novel called ‘I don’t know how she does it’ and a movie also based on the book starring Sarah Jessica Parker! In it, a successful, ambitious woman called Kate struggles with gaining more responsibility at work and balancing it with the busy demands of her husband and children.

Basically, the author Laura was sick of hearing the same old story of how women are overworked and are struggling to balance everything. In her book she wanted to show that women could work long hours with a lot of responsibility but still manage to have a social life, a family and also take time out for themselves. Basically, she wanted to find the women who seemingly ‘have it all’ and show how they managed their busy lives. Her main prerequisite for the study was that the women had to be earning over $100k a year. She had them do a one-week time schedule to see how all of the moving parts fit together!

While I don’t agree with some of her thoughts in the book I still think she has a lot of valuable time management advice and you do not need to necessarily be a woman to get something out of this book – this is really just for anyone who has to juggle a lot of different demands in their week! She highlights in her book how many women start dropping out/cutting down on hours and take on less responsibility after they have children. As a result, the proportion of women in roles of leadership or power is significantly lower than that of men. The book is very empowering and motivating for women.

It has been really important for me to be the primary caregiver of my children for the first three years of their lives I have also managed to do this by doing a lot of my work and study from home while with my children. I would never consider that time to be a waste in any way even though I have made huge career sacrifices to be able to do that! I thought today I would discuss some key takeaways from the book as I still think she has some valuable ideas even for people who are at home with children or who work from home.

KEY TAKEAWAYS from ‘I know how she does it’:

1. Focus on the positives: You often hear about all the negatives rather than the positives of any life situation. We are also more likely to recount and overestimate negatives rather than positives because it sounds more exciting. Laura found that people who thought they worked long crazy hours actually worked much less than they initially thought. She also found that all of her women got a lot more sleep than they would have initially realised. Overall she found that their life showed balance in most areas. By focusing on the positives in our lives we can get a much better picture of how our time is spent.

2. Let go of guilt: No matter how much time we spend with our children even if we are a stay at home mother or working full time we all seem to harbour so much guilt about all of the things that we are not doing for our children. It is exhausting! Let go of guilt about all of the things that you are not doing and instead focus on all of the good things that you do do for your children. Chances are they have a pretty good life!!

3. Plan your free time: It is really important to plan those ‘me’ time moments into your free time. Just like we meticulously plan out our work each week we also need to to have a rough plan in place for our time off. Laura found that when her women had a free moment during a work day or late at night they sometimes wasted it internet surfing. Make sure you plan nice things for yourself into your day for those snippets of downtime.

4. Flexibility is more important than hours: Often the more high level you get in your job the more flexibility you have as to when and how you get all of your work done. She found that many of her women had very flexible work schedules which enabled them to meet friends for coffee, take personal appointments, go to children’s events, and shop for errands during their workweek. She determined that the flexibility is often MORE important than the level of hours. If your workday is flexible and you can ‘make up the time’ in the evening or the next day then that was more important for work-life balance.

5. Relax on housework: Laura recommends that we let go of the need to have everything perfect and spend less time on housework. She also recommends hiring outside help if you can afford it! (she has a cleaner come twice a week). She found that the women who had children less than three years old spent a lot of their free time kid wrangling and the women with older children (over three) spent more of their free time on home organising projects! Women often have many goals and dreams for themselves but struggle with giving themselves that time without feeling guilty that they should be doing other things. Often housework can expand to fill whatever time we have available. Make sure you schedule free time for creative pursuits or to work on that business idea. The housework can always fit into whatever time you have left after that!!

6. Split shifts: Many of her women worked ‘split shifts’ which meant that their work day was divided in two. They often would pick their kids up, make dinner, put their kids to bed then jump back on the computer for another couple of hours. Or otherwise, they would get up early before all of their family and put in a couple of hours then. Most of the time, however, they worked in the evening so that they had more flexibility for children’s events after school.

7. Find unexpected moments for family time: Laura often recommends a ‘family breakfast’ rather than a family dinner as kids events and work schedules can often prevent everyone sitting down to dinner at the same time. Spending quality time together is sometimes more beneficial than the quantity of time. She suggested getting the kids to help make dinner if you have been apart all day long. She also highlighted one woman in her study who every evening planned something fun to do with her family rather than following the same routine each night. They went out for walks, gardened and had relatives come to visit.

8. Ditch the T.V.: Laura found that the women in her study watched hardly any t.v. – around four hours per week. They instead used their free time for yoga and exercise, crafts and baking, time with family, date nights and friends. Because they had less free time, they valued it more and used it far more wisely!

9. Start with you: It is hard to initiate change in a society that expects women to be the primary caregivers of their children while also running a house, and working full time. Many women turn down opportunities or don’t go after their dreams because they are thinking about how it would impact on the people around them. Often times we overemphasise the negatives and discount the positives. No matter what you want to do, if you start doing it you can figure out all the little details and gather help and support as you go along!

10. The more you do the more you can do: The more full our lives are often the more we can fit in. When we are doing work that we love, no matter what it might be, paid or unpaid – then that fills us and gives us more energy for everything else to lead a rich and fulfilling life.

-B xx


‘I know how she does it’ by Laura Vanderkam

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