laura vanderkam interview

I’m Laura Vanderkam And This Is What Makes Me a High Performer

What do most successful people do before breakfast?

What about on the weekends?

Our next guest in the “Habits and Habitats of High Performers” interview series has already answered those (and many more questions) in her wildly popular time management books. A nationally recognized author and journalist, she likes to challenge the status quo and to help her readers discover their true passions. Her work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Fortune, Reader’s Digest, Scientific American and you can see her on TV on The Today Show and Fox & Friends. Author of 5 books, avid blogger with quite the social media presence, time management and productivity expert, speaker and a loving mom of 3… how does she do it all, you might ask?

Let’s find out.

Please welcome the best-selling author, Laura Vanderkam!

Who are you and what do you do?

I’m a journalist and the author of several time management books, including 168 Hours, and What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast.

What’s the first thing you do when you wake up?

Shower, get dressed, make myself coffee. I’ve been working lately on getting up early enough to get some work done before my kids wake up.

How does your typical day look like (start, end, type of activities)?

There are no typical days! A lot of weekdays look like this: I wake up between 6:30 and 7, do a little work, eat, and get my kids breakfast. I start work “for real” at 8. I work through to noon, then eat lunch with my kids. I’m back at work at 12:30, and go until 5:15, though usually with a break to go for a walk or run somewhere in there. I hang out with my family until 9, then either do a bit more work or read until 11. Weekends are mostly for family time.

Besides sleep, what activity takes the most out of your day/night?

Out of the 168 hours I have in a week, I sleep about 52. That leaves 116 waking hours. I work about 50 of those. That leaves 66 remaining hours. Of that, the biggest chunk goes to taking care of and playing with my 3 kids. The rest goes to exercise, reading, relaxing, and so forth.

How many emails pass through your inbox every day?

Probably about 50-75, of which I can delete at least half immediately.

How often do you think about your goals, review them, and take action on them?

At least weekly. I plan out my weeks on Fridays, and that gives me a chance to think about what priorities I need to put on my schedule for the next week.

What are the essential habits that you’ve formed to help you achieve your goals?

I’ve learned to work when I’m best able to focus. In the past few years, I’ve become much better about scheduling phone calls later in the day. As much as possible, I try to preserve the first few hours of my work day for writing.

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?

I’m not much of a tech person. I use Word and Excel and their Mac versions daily. But I don’t actually have any apps on my phone.

What’s your workspace setup like (brownie points for including a picture)?

I work out of my home office. The upside is that it has a nice view of my backyard. The downside is that it’s close to the kitchen. This photo was taken when it was styled for a photo shoot. It is usually much, much messier.

laura vandermak interview

What’s your best time-saving trick?

Keep a time log. If you want to use your time better, you should figure out how you’re spending it now. I have not met anyone who is completely optimizing his or her time. I include myself in that statement.

How do you deal with failure and how do you pick yourself up if you are struggling?

It’s often a matter of stepping away from a project for a bit. I usually return with a new perspective.

If you invite me for a cup of tea what types of books would I find on your shelf at home?

I have a wide variety of books around the house, but I particularly like having a shelf of books by friends!

Over to you now

And this is how a best-selling author, blogger, and mom of 3 manages to do it all in a productive and efficient manner. The biggest takeaway (there are actually two): plan your week in advance and keep a time log (here is how to do it). One will tell you what you should be doing and when, the other one will tell you where your time actually went. Combine the two, make them part of you routine, and you’ll be on the fast track to increasing your productivity!

And if you really want to take your time management skills to the next level, check out Laura’s blog where she regularly shares actionable tactics on productivity, time and money (and don’t forget to sign up for her newsletter so you can get even more goodies in your inbox). For a more in-depth strategical approach to improving your productivity, check out her books (I would highly suggest starting with 168 Hours).

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