Rachel here — Director of Content Development at Value Prop Interactive. Since Jose’s been on the road quite a bit the last couple weeks, I’ve been scouting out different opportunities to bring you something unique and valuable.
VPI is — perhaps like your business — a small company, which means we are all wearing multiple hats (can you relate?). If there are any ways to get MORE out of the limited time we have — to become MORE successful in the business of training marketers and sales teams — then we want to know about it.
That’s where author Laura Vanderkam of 168 Hours fame comes in (you can read Jose’s previous interview with her here). She writes about time management and productivity in very real, practical terms. All of us at VPI admire her work — and we wanted to highlight it, knowing that you would also find it useful.
Last week, I had the chance to sit down with her to discuss her new book, What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast.
Here’s what she had to say — part one today and part two here!
You Cannot Make More Time (but you can make better choices)
Rachel: I really like your work because I like the way you write but also because I tend to “geek out” about scheduling and time management and efficiency. I was just wondering — is that something that came naturally to you? Or are you kind of surprised you started writing about this?
Laura: Looking back, I’ve probably always been into things like planning and scheduling. Certainly in college I was willing to take on big projects — like I wrote two senior theses instead of one because I just wanted to write another one in a different department. So a lot of other people were not surprised at all by this.
But it really came out of — I love the idea of getting better at things and how you can invest in your life in ways to do that, and I also love the mathematical component of time because it is so fixed. You cannot make more time. You absolutely cannot. And so given that we all have this exact same amount of time, it totally becomes a question of how you use it differently — and so I find that very fascinating and inspiring too.
Changing and Adapting
R: We have a lot of entrepreneurs reading our blog — and entrepreneurs, as you probably know, have to adapt and change very rapidly. Was there anything in your writing career that you felt similarly — like you had to adapt and change very quickly?
L: When I first started writing, a lot of things were printed on paper that came from trees and that is definitely not the case any more. We still have the books — [What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast] came from eBooks — and a lot of what I’m writing is on the web. I’ve had to adjust to that. It’s slightly different but still you have to create content that people want to read. And what people are willing to read online is slightly different than what they’re willing to read in print — but it’s still about how can you bring something to people that’s useful and interesting.
And I think that’s the same for anybody who’s looking at how you can pivot from different formats or even different industries. You have certain skills and abilities and often those can be repurposed in other ways — so just because I’m not writing print where there are certain conventions doesn’t mean that those skills are useless in something else.
Minding Your Hours
R: You also mentioned in your book that you know exactly how long certain things are going to take you so you know how much time to allot — for instance, formatting a blog post, etc.
L: I tell people to “mind their hours” — to get a good sense of where their time is going because when you have a sense of that, then you can make these puzzle pieces fit together. Like you have a good sense of the whole and how much stuff you can actually fit in there — and how much stuff cannot. For me, it’s fairly intuitive. There are lots of people who just aren’t as mindful about it, so it has to be a learned skill. But there are plenty of other skills that I don’t have that I have to learn and so if that’s a skill that somebody doesn’t have, it can be easily learned. You just keep track of your time for a couple of days and just keep looking at it and say shockingly, “Hey, that took me 30 minutes every single time. Maybe that’s how long it takes me.”
Protecting Your “Best” Hours
R: Speaking of skills learned and changes and adaptations, was there anything in your research that you felt just so compelled to change in your life?
L: One of the biggest changes I’ve made is protecting my mornings for work that I intend to do — which is often the actual hard work of writing. In the morning, I am best able to focus at those things and I have a good block of time between 8 and 10 [to] focus on those things. Whereas if I attempt to do it around 1 and 4, I will just find my mind wandering all over the place.
R: That was an “Aha!” moment for me when you wrote about that. Now I’m scheduling my hardest tasks for the morning — and things that I can do on autopilot in the afternoon. It was just like, “Yeah! That’s right! I’m so glad there’s research behind it.”
L: Yeah and I mean, it’s whatever time is best for you. But for many of us, the mornings tend to be the best time — you know, after you’ve had your coffee, you can take on the world. But you know, people ask if you want to do a phone call. You have choices about what times you make available for that, and just not making the time available that you have the highest opportunity cost is smart.
Stay tuned for part two of the interview tomorrow, where we’ll learn about some time managing tricks for parents, what to do with your weekday evenings, and Laura’s number one advice to CEOs and business owners.
When do you do your hardest work? How do you capitalize on your “best” hours?
What choices have you made to make better use of your time?