I Know How She Does It

As soon as I read the blurb of Laura Vanderkam’s book I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time I knew it was for me.  I was pleased to discover that Vanderkam agrees that we can have it all. Not only that, she has the hard, scientific data to prove it!

I Know How She Does It is Vanderkam’s report of her study of time logs of 1,000 days in the lives of working mothers.  The stories of working women like us are inspiring and relatable. Vanderkam uses these real-life stories to help build a framework to guide working women to build a life that works for them.

Although I was only a few months into working motherhood when I read the book, I had already figured a lot of Vanderkam’s advice out for myself – organisation and time management are skills of mine.  Despite this, I still got a lot from the book. It reinforced for me (with cold, hard data; you know, numbers and stuff!) that I am using techniques that also work for hundreds of other women. That is reassuring.  I’m not just ‘fitting it all in’ and it doesn’t matter if my life look nothing like anyone else’s.

Here are my key takeaways.

There are 168 hours in a week

It is impossible to read this book and miss the message that there are 168 hours in a week.  I wonder how many times the words “168 hours” are printed. I don’t know, but the answer is a lot and “168 hours” is now permanently imprinted on my brain! (What can you expect, Vanderkam is the author of a book titled 168 Hours, after all)

The reminder that there are 168 hours in a week is key to avoiding what Vanderkam calls “The 24-Hour Trap”. A 24 hour period may not be balanced, but 168 hours can be.  When you look at the bigger picture, there is plenty of time for all the things we want to do:

‘When it comes to time, we often think that “balance” requires fitting all of our priorities into twenty-four hours.  In particular, we want to fit those priorities into each of the twenty-four hours that constitute Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. We act like these are the only four days that count. Indeed, when we lament the hard choices of long work hours or travel, we are often looking at what we are trading off during those four days.

But that’s not the whole picture of time. Indeed, Monday through midday Thursday is exactly half the week. So is midday Thursday to Sunday. We have a funny tendency to think that work/life balance requires having a lot of personal time Monday through midday Thursday, but discount however much personal time (and relatively little work time) happens during midday Thursday to Sunday.  Monday and Tuesday aren’t balanced between work time and home time, but then again, neither are Saturday and Sunday, for the opposite reason. Why do we discount that?

As it is, it’s possible to enjoy lots of family time, and personal time too, if you avoid the 24-Hour Trap, and take the whole week into account when assessing your life. Many women consciously chose to work longer some days, and less others. Any given 24 hours might not be balanced, but the 168-hour week as a whole can be.’

Leaning in does not have to equal trade offs

Vanderkam tells the story of one mother who, for several reasons, wanted to work and consciously decided to work more.  When comparing her life before and after this change, Vanderkam concluded that working more ‘didn’t require short-changing her family or herself. It simply required focusing on what she did best and not the myriad other things that could occupy her time.  Life was a work in progress.’

Flexibility matters most

When it comes to managing work and life, flexibility matters more than limiting the number of hours we work.  There are many ways of managing flexible work, including split shifts, working remotely or from home, working on weekends, and avoiding ‘The 24-Hour Trap’.  While there may be financial and career consequences to changing to part-time hours, there ‘aren’t necessarily consequences to moving your work hours around on dimensions of time and place.’

Use your time wisely

Use your time wisely. This sounds obvious enough, but it can take a shift in your mindset to really make it work. Many people just complete tasks as and when they receive them. Even more people are a slave to their inbox.

Work out when you are most productive and organise your working time around this. Use ‘wasted’ time wisely, for example, by checking emails on your commute to work or catching up on social media while waiting for the microwave to finish. Vanderkam tells the story of one mother who used the half hour while her husband got their child to sleep for her ‘me’ time. Instead of waiting around aimlessly, she’d go to the nail salon down the road!

Vanderkam’s tips for using time wisely include looking forward, planning, mentoring, being ‘strategically seen’, building in down-time and cutting out the rest.

Be present

Being around family and being with family are not the same things. Make the time that you are together count. Consider your week and ask yourself where you can have quality family time. The family meal does not have to be had at dinner. Can you have breakfast or lunch together instead?

Don’t forget to nurture yourself

‘Having it all’ is only possible if we take time for ourselves. Leisure time works on a supply and demand basis.  You need to have something you want to do as leisure that is compelling enough to take you away from household chores; and then you need to have time to do it in.  Many people give up on the idea of leisure as they tell themselves they don’t have time. But is this right?

There are many minutes in the day that we fritter away with things like checking Facebook and hanging around the house.  Vanderkam says that keeping our favourite activities at the top of our minds will help us to take advantage of these little pockets of time.  If you like reading, sneak in a quick chapter while your kids play or while dinner is in the oven.  Even if you only read a few pages, it’s still time better spent.

Vanderkam also encourages us to think differently about leisure time. Sign yourself up for activities, extend day-care, put your kids in the crèche so you can go to the gym.  Acknowledge that the time you spent reading this blog while at work is actually leisure time.



Vanderkam’s book is targeted to working women, but her advice applies to us all – men and women, working or not working. I recommend this book to anyone struggling to keep all the balls in the air, who feels like there isn’t enough hours in the day or who is looking for an alternative to the trade-off between a career and family. But I also recommend it to busy people who, like me, think they’re not doing too bad of a job by themselves. It is reassuring to read that other people are in the same boat.

If you want more of a taste before reading the book, check out Vanderkam’s recent TED Talk here:

21 Responses

  1. Sounds like a fabulous book! I especially love your point that reading this blog post is leisure time.

    So often I see mums lamenting online that they have no time to do things for themselves. I’m too polite to point out that maybe the time they spend facebooking was being wasted if they couldn’t recognise it for what it really was.

    1. We always put ourselves at the end of the priority list, don’t we!? I like the idea of using otherwise ‘wasted’ time tho, if there is such a thing!

  2. Oh my word I love this woman! 168 hours! Yes! plenty of time. I love her tips on being with family and being present with them and yes to the switching TV off earlier! I know how she does it – great words to live by! #DreamTeam

    1. Or never switching it on in the first place if I had my way! Thanks for your lovely comment. Glad you liked the post. Check out her TEDTalk too!

  3. Aaah, this sounds like a fabulously interesting book! Just from what you’ve outlined here, it sounds like there’s some pretty fantastic tips!! I d never actually read a self help book, even though there’s several areas of my life that could do with one, and I find them fascinating!! I’m awful in that I can’t separate things, and do lots of things at once-I’d like to work and be a mum, but find it impossible to have those 2 very important things running simultaneously-I feel like I can only physically give myself to one thing-if that makes any sense at all!! I’m sure that puts me in some kind of psychological group somewhere!! I’ll look this book out, it sounds like it could give me a lot of help!!

    1. I know what you mean and if that’s the case, I definitely recommend it to you! If you’re not into reading, check out her TEDTalk – it will give you more of an idea as to whether you’ll actually read the book. Good luck!

  4. I’ve never read a self-help book, but I always look at the covers and think that it would improve my life. Then I think it might not and I talk myself out of buying it. #DreamTeam

    1. I love them! There are usually one or two things that I take away and which help to improve my life. If you’re unsure, try the TEDTalks first to get a feel for them, then check out your library to save the money!

  5. Really interesting review. I am going to add this to my reading list. Like you, I think I have found a routine that works for me. But there is always room for improvement and there are always ways to change your mindset. If you got something from this book then I’m certain I will!

  6. The 168 hours thing is one of those things that we know, but we need to hear from someone else before it really makes sense! Thanks for reading.

  7. This book sounds really interesting. I’m a working mom who feels pretty okay with life at the moment. Everyone is happy, healthy and (mostly) well fed. She definitely has the right idea of balancing a week and not a day. Days can be hard enough – let some of it go and catch up on the weekend or a weeknight without extra curriculars. It can be done and I say I’m pretty close to being happy with our weeks!

    1. Good on you Jessica! It’s great that you feel like you’ve got it figured out, it IS possible, isn’t it! I have a Q&A interview series about women who are leaning in to their careers, balancing work and motherhood. Let me know if you’d like to share your story!

  8. This is really interesting, sounds like I need to read this book! I really struggled to juggle it all but you’re so right about working out the hours you are most productive. Thanks for linking up to #dreamteam x

    1. We’re so used to thinking that work happens between 9-5, but 9-5 doesn’t work best for everyone. Thanks for reading and for hosting.

  9. Love this. It’s funny because I actually do a lot of these things already, for instance I am reading through blog posts right now while I am on the train home from work. Actually now that I think about it that is the only time I read blogs! Haha I mean it’s really the only time I have alone without any distractions. There is also some time after the little one goes to sleep which I use to catch up on work or blog. And I totally check social media while cooking (and by cooking I mean waiting for the pizza in the oven to heat up haha!). Loving your blog and this post, thanks for sharing with #stayclassymama!

    1. One of the reasons I loved this book was because it reinforced a lot of what I already do. Us mums are the Queens of multi-tasking aren’t we! I usually read blogs while nursing my daughter to sleep. She’s with me on the train ride otherwise I’d be doing it then too. Love the cooking idea 🙂

get the book!

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