How to Improve Your Use of 168 Hours Per Week


“There are not enough hours in the day!”

But there are.  Author Laura Vanderkam teaches us how to use them wisely in I Know How She Does It.  


What is The Mosaic Project?

Many of us are reaching a point in the pandemic where we want to re-organize our time.  Working from home has turned into working all the time.  Kids learning from home means more parental involvement.  In many ways, there is no “home” respite to come home to when all our activities are in this one space.  Laura Vanderkam’s book “I Know How She Does It” was written before the pandemic, but much of what she shares can help us as we navigate life now and in the future.  

Vanderkamp created a study, the Mosaic Project, that examined the lives of women who made over $100,000 and had at least one child at home. Her assumption was that these women know how to get things done.  Participants created time logs for an entire week in 30 minute segments.  Each participant turned in a log of 336 consecutive half-hour blocks of time. Vanderkamp studied a total of 143 weekly logs to discover the different ways executive women use time.  Much of what she learned can be useful to anyone of any gender, and whether or not children are in the home.

How Much We Really Work

Vanderkamp’s research into other time use data showed that people who estimate working 50+ hours a week generally overestimate by 10-15 hours.  It just feels to them like they work that much!   Her Mosaic Study showed the average high-wage earning mother worked 44 hours per week –although most of them estimated working much more. Over ⅓ of them actually worked less than 40 hours during their tracked week.

A different study, the Executive Time Use Project, examined time use of over 1,000 executives from 6 countries.  The average work week for this group was 52 hours, ranging from an average of 44 to 59.  

You may be thinking to yourself, “Wait.  I work way more than that!” or “I work that much, why aren’t I making six figures?” or “Rats. I should have gone for that promotion now that I know execs don’t have to work 60+ hours!”  

If you are thinking any of these things, or if you’re just curious, the next step is to do your own Mosaic Study.  Track your own time, in ½ hour blocks, for one week. Then examine the trends and begin making changes.   

Track Your Time for One Week

The first step in changing the way you use your time is to know how you currently use your time.  Track an entire 7-day week.  You can use Vanderkamp’s free paper tracker. Or you might prefer an app.  There are plenty to chose from.  Vanderkamp used Togl in her study.   

If you really like tracking your time, you may want to track for multiple weeks and find out what your idea max work hours are.  Everyone has a point where if they go beyond that many hours, their productivity drops drastically.  For me, I’m pretty good up to 46 hours per week.  But if I hit 55 hours in one week, it takes me four times as long to complete anything else *and* my next week is less productive, too.  Learning your limit, and your sweet spot, can be a benefit not only to yourself but also to your company and your family and friends.

Study Your Time Use 

Now you’ve got a detailed picture of one week in your life.  Don’t panic if you feel like it’s not a “typical” week.  It will still tell you lots of interesting things.  (And if you can’t shake the belief that it’s too atypical, you can always log another week.  But Vanderkamp suggests you go with the information you already collected.)

Look For Trends

Look at your at-home hours.  Are you investing each available hour the way you want, or would your life be better if you spent them differently?  

If you want more family time, how can you pivot some of your at-home hours to be more intentionally family-centric rather than just in the same house?  If you want more time for friendships or hobbies, what does your data tell you about were some available time might be?  

Making Changes

If you work 50 hours a week, and you sleep 8 hours per night, you still have 62 hours to spend as you will.  Even if you truly do work 60 hours per week, you still have 52 discretionary hours every week.  How you spend those discretionary hours is *up to you*.  Be mindful so that you spend each hour in ways that matter the most to you.   

Pay Others For Tasks

A brilliant and underused tactic to take back more time in your life is to pay others for the things you don’t like to do, which frees up your time.  

I knew one couple who paid a babysitter to watch their kids so they could clean their house.  Never in a million years would I do that!  I would much rather pay someone else to clean my house while my kids and I took some quality time together.  But it was exactly what this compule needed.  Another mother invested in a laundry service the first three months parenting, which was genius.  

You may be paying someone to care for your lawn when that is an activity you really enjoy.  If so, reclaim lawn care as part of your weekly time and enjoy it as a relaxing hobby.  

Did you find out you are spending 7 hours in the car running errands weekly?  Podcasts and audiobooks are one option to use that time better.  Another would be to use a service like TaskRabbit or Fivrr.  Imagine what else you could be doing with those 7 hours and try out a change that might work for you.  

Think creatively about how you can use outsourcing effectively. Tutoring? Meal services? Virtual assistants?  Pooper scooping?  All things available for hire.  

Use Time Differently

Vanderkamp found that over ¾ of executives do personal tasks during work hours, and do work tasks during personal hours.  Use this knowledge to think more creatively about the hours you have.  I know a bishop who spends much of her time traveling.  She keeps her running clothes in the car, and often arrives in a city early, gets in a quick run, showers off at the local Y, and is attentive and alert for her meeting.  

You could plan to work late two nights a week and be home with family the other five.  Or plan three 10-minute exercise sessions into your workdays.  Or choose to spend one hour each weeknight and 6 weekend hours with work, freeing you up to be with your children every day after school.  Claim the choice you have in how you use your hours, and do not be afraid to try something out of the ordinary.

Can’t fit in daily exercise?  Try a 2-3 hour hike each weekend and dance class one evening per week.  Daily dinner prep is too much?  Prep a week of meals on the weekend.  Miss your friends?  Work through lunch a couple days per week and schedule Thursdays for long lunches with friends.

Be Mindful About Reentry

Most of us have learned to work from home during the pandemic.  When things ease up, we should be mindful about where we choose to spend our time.  Will you still want to drive into the office 5 days a week?  If so, how will you use your commute time wisely?  Or will your office decide to have one or two “face time” in person days and the rest of your work can be done as desired?  If you have control about how an office works, think carefully about what sort of work times and spaces could work for your team.  

Work Well

General time use tips include:

  • Schedule strategy and planning sessions or your toughest tasks first thing in the morning.  Energy levels peak around 8am.  Save email for later.
  • An hour before you plan to leave, perform triage.  Look at your to-do list and clarify what is today’s work and then move everything else.  Do the same on Friday afternoons and plan the following week.
  • If you have trouble leaving on time, get help.  I turn off my ac/heat in my office an hour before quitting time.  Maybe an alarm or a call from your kid at 4:30 each day would work for you.
  • Consider the split shift.  Most executive mothers do. Leave work early, be present for homework and dinner and bedtime, and then do an hour or two of work before your own wind-down before bed.  

168 Hours, Every Week

Each one of us has 168 hours every week.  168 tiles in our mosaic.  What are some changes you can make to your mosaic to get closer to the life you want, right now?

This post has only scratched the surface of all the goodness within I Know How She Does It.  Order your own copy today.

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