Remember the berry season is short

I Know How She Does It, by Laura VanderkamThese are the opening words of I Know How She Does It, which goes on sale Tuesday. I’m anticipating having a few new visitors to this website this week, so I want to take this opportunity to introduce myself, my work, and the way I try to think about life.

Professionally, I’m a journalist. I write about business and economics topics, and over the past few years I have focused on time management and productivity. Time management can sound a bit tedious (schedules! calendars! time-keeping!) but I prefer to think of it this way: a life is lived in hours. What we do with our lives will be a function of how we spend our hours. Therefore, how we spend our hours matters. There is much to be gained by being mindful.

In my personal life, I’m a wife and mom of four kids, ages 8, 5, 3, and almost 5 months. Over the years as I’ve written about how successful people spend their time, I realized I was most drawn to the stories and strategies of women like me: those who were building their careers and their families at the same time. As someone who deeply enjoys both my professional and personal roles, I have long been frustrated by the narrative out there that success in one sphere requires harsh trade offs in the other. This dichotomy was perhaps most succinctly expressed by a commenter over at the Modern Mrs. Darcy blog two years ago: “If you get your joy from a paycheck and a pat on the head, go for it. Personally, I prefer hugs and dandelions.”

I wrote I Know How She Does It to show that plenty of women were enjoying money, professional satisfaction, hugs, and dandelions. I suspected this from my own life. I suspected it from interviewing numerous female executives and entrepreneurs. But the literature on work and life is largely based on anecdotes. I didn’t want my contribution to be just more anecdotes on the pile. I wanted data. I couldn’t find any good data dealing with the questions I was interested in. So I decided to produce some.

photo-347From 2013-2014, I collected 7-day time logs from women who earned at least six figures, and had kids. I studied when and how much people worked, how much they slept, did errands and housework, watched TV, read, exercised. I compiled the data on 1001 days. (Note for those who are wondering: I got many more days but I decided to run the numbers at that point, and to go with the first 143 complete logs I got). I also interviewed women about their strategies. This book, I Know How She Does It, is the result.

The criteria I used for including people were objective. They had nothing to do with whether a person was happy with her life or not. Some people told me they weren’t! However, because women in this demographic had demanding jobs, and mothers in general want to spend time with their families, my subjects discovered fascinating strategies — consciously or not — to make it all fit. These strategies can be useful for anyone who wants to live a full life.

I certainly want to live a full life. That line about the berry season came from the box my local pick-your-own farm hands out. It is literally true. The berry season is short. If you don’t haul yourself to the strawberry farm in June, by July the chance is gone. It is metaphorically true too. I have adopted it as a metaphor for this stage of my life, the stage for anyone who is leaning into her career while raising little ones. My life right now is a strange mix of pushing a stroller through the zoo and taking a call about my next radio interview. But this berry season is short, and someday all will calm down. In the meantime, I believe in filling life with all the joy that is possible.

PS. If you’ve read this far, would you consider buying a copy of the book? Here are links to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indie Bound, 800 CEO Read, and Books-a-Million. And please share the news with your friends and on social media too! (Hashtag #IKnowHowSheDoesIt on Twitter)

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