Every week as SmallBizLady, I conduct interviews with experts on my Twitter talk show #SmallBizChat. The show takes place every Wednesday on Twitter from 8-9 pm ET. This is excerpted from my recent interview with Laura Vanderkam @lvanderkam. Laura is the author of several time management books including Off the Clock and 168 Hours. Her TED talk, “How to Gain Control of Your Free Time,” has been viewed more than 7 million times. She is the co-host of the podcast Best of Both Worlds.
She lives outside Philadelphia with her husband and four children. For more information check out her blog at https://lauravanderkam.com/.
SmallBizLady: If people want to use their time better, what’s the first place to start?
Laura Vanderkam: If you want to spend your time better, you need to figure out where the time is going now! Smart entrepreneurs know that good business data leads to better decisions. It’s the same thing with time. Try keeping track of your time for a week. Figure out the major categories. Then ask yourself what you like and don’t like.
SmallBizLady: You’ve seen thousands of time logs. What themes have you discovered?
Laura Vanderkam: Many people — even entrepreneurs — work fewer hours than they think. We have a tendency to remember our longest days and weeks as typical. I do this too! When I started tracking my time, I realized that I consistently overestimated my workweeks by about 10 hours. Whoops. It’s funny, but the truth sets us free: when I know how many hours I truly work, I can make good choices with those hours.
SmallBizLady: What else have you learned from tracking your time for over 3 years?
Laura Vanderkam: My sleep set-point is 7.4 hours per day. Over any long period of time (like a month) that’s what I’ll average out to. Also, I spend a lot of time in the car. When I realized I was spending so much time in the car, I started listening to podcasts (and then started a podcast!).
SmallBizLady: In your new book, Off the Clock, you write that memories expand time. How so?
Laura Vanderkam: Often, when we say “where did the time go?” what we mean is that we don’t remember where the time went. When nothing new or interesting happens, the brain goes on autopilot. Too much of this and whole years can disappear into memory sinkholes! So try planning little adventures into daily life. What will make today different from other days? If you can answer that question, you’re more likely to form a memory of the day and feel like you have more time.
SmallBizLady: What productivity tip do you think entrepreneurs find most difficult?
Laura Vanderkam: Many of us equate “busy” with “important.” So we’re always tempted to pack our schedules. But many of the most successful people I’ve studied have a surprising amount of white space on their calendars. Open space invites opportunity in a way a cluttered calendar can’t. It’s nice to be able to stay with a really good conversation, and not need to race off to the next thing. It can lead to breakthrough ideas.
SmallBizLady: So how do we create open space?
Laura Vanderkam: Be very careful with the word yes. When you’re asked to do something in the future, ask yourself if you’d do it tomorrow. If so, great! You’ll be just as excited three months from now. If you wouldn’t take it on tomorrow, though, that should probably be your answer for the future as well. If you say yes, the odds are good that you’ll be kicking yourself later, wondering why you agreed to this commitment.
SmallBizLady: Any other ideas for freeing up space?
Laura Vanderkam: You can free up space by doing what I call a “calendar triage.” Look at your calendar on Friday afternoon. See what you’re scheduled to do over the next week then think of these three questions: (1) What do you think shouldn’t happen? (2) What can take less time? (3) What could someone else do? With a few minutes of strategizing, you can buy yourself hours.
SmallBizLady: When you’re running a business, it’s so easy to run out of time for meaningful — but not urgent — work. Where can we find the time?
Laura Vanderkam: If something is important to you, do it first. And by first, I mean Monday morning. Your inbox and its various emergencies will still be there at 10 a.m. Monday. But if you spend 8-10 a.m. on your most important projects, you will make progress. And progress is highly motivational!
SmallBizLady: What are “time dividends”?
Laura Vanderkam: In the financial world, dividends are regular payments that you get for owning a stock. Time dividends are the free time that you get back because you’ve made a particular investment in the past. Just like monetary dividends can make you feel rich, time dividends can make you feel like you have all the time in the world. Anytime you do something, ask yourself if you will do it again. If you will, is there some way you can make this task easier or more efficient in the future? Filming a video showing new employees how to do a task takes time. But every time someone watches it — and doesn’t need a 2-hour tutorial from you — that’s a time dividend.
SmallBizLady: How can busy entrepreneurs make time to network?
Laura Vanderkam: I like to think of networking as just “nurturing relationships” — same as you’d do with friends or family. One easy way is to set “relationship priorities” just like you’d set professional priorities for each week. On Friday afternoon, take some time to think about the week ahead. What two relationships could use some attention? What could you do to nurture these relationships? When could you do these things? Just like that, you’re strengthening your network.
SmallBizLady: Any tips on finding time to exercise?
Laura Vanderkam: You can find time to exercise by thinking 168 hours (a week), rather than 24 hours (a day). Exercise doesn’t have to happen daily, or at the same time every day, in order to count in your life. Look at the whole week, and see where you can fit it in. Maybe one day you get up early and do something. Another day you go to the gym after work. Exercise on each of the weekend days, and wow — you just exercised four times per week! It didn’t happen at the same time daily, but it didn’t have to.
SmallBizLady: What does being “off the clock” mean to you?
Laura Vanderkam: Being “off the clock” means feeling relaxed about time. You’re in control of how you spend it. This is a wonderful way to feel. The good news is that even busy people can make space to relax. One idea? Sign off social media and stay off your phone for the next 30 minutes at least. You’ll probably feel more off the clock.
If you enjoyed this interview, please join us live on Twitter every Wednesday from 8-9 pm ET. Just follow the hashtag #Smallbizchat, and don’t forget to follow @SmallBizChat on Twitter.
Here’s how to participate in #SmallBizChat: http://bit.ly/1hZeIlz
For more tips on how to start or grow your small business subscribe to Melinda Emerson’s blog http://www.succeedasyourownboss.com