Tag Archives: laura vanderkam

What The Most Successful People Do At Work

I’m in the middle of reading Laura Vanderkam’s new e-Book “What the Most Successful People Do At Work“, a series that follows two previous e-books about what successful people do before breakfast and on weekends. All of these short books are meant to be quick, informative reads. I think they’re all very enjoyable and most people can get good tips from them. Because work is so busy right now, it’s taking me much longer to read this! For now, I will say that I was struck by the example of a successful children’s book illustrator in Chapter 1, as I expected the successful people profiles to hail from the corporate world. I wasn’t sure if I could relate but considering that there are tons of small business owners, entrepreneurs, freelancers out there AND the fact that in many ways, in the current work world, we’re all freelancers that need to plan and prove our worth daily, I think the illustrator can be a good example for all of us. Right now the main take-away I’m getting is the importance of planning the day and your workload. I enjoy taking on bigger projects that require thought and strategic planning but it seems like most of my workday is taken up by immediate needs (and emails!).

Anyway, I would recommend this book. You can buy it yourself today and you’ll probably finish it before I do!

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My Attempt At Doing What Successful People Do On Weekends

Time management expert  and author Laura Vanderkam has a new e-book called “What The Most Successful People Do On Weekends” (read review from House of Peanut here).  I haven’ t read it yet but the gist of it seems to be how to be more productive on weekends.  I tend to emulate or strive for simplicity and personal happiness even if it’s not the same as what “successful” people do.  I believe successful people are defined by the author as typically Type A high-powered & career-minded people who are successful in their fields.  Therefore, I’m not the target audience!

However, that doesn’t mean I can’t get good advice from books like these (and I’m sure I will once I read it..).  One of the tips from the author’s blog at least is to  plan an Anchor event on the weekends.  This anchor event should be something fun that gets you and/or your family out of the house so that weekends are more memorable and not all about chores and puttering around.

For several weekends, we’ve accidentally followed this advice.  The first weekend was very simple and not super planned-out but it was a Saturday morning excursion to a nearby park.  The next weekend was a music concert for kids at the library on a Saturday morning.  The third weekend included a date night on Saturday.  I admit that doing something fun on Saturdays, when I normally would be puttering around the house, was a good change for our family.  We tend to put off the fun stuff; if we don’t do it on Saturday or plan something, nothing fun gets done.

At the same time, those weekends felt harried, too.  The music concert took out a good chunk of morning.  We still had a lot of stuff that needed to get done.  On top of regular stuff like meal prep, cooking, putting dishes away, multiple diaper changes, and more,  I managed to do some gardening and a quick wipe-down of the kitchen and bathroom, including the dreaded chore of cleaning the tub.   My husband was busy, too, but we were too busy to notice each other’s chore duties!

After all these memorable, fun weekends, I need a chill-out weekend to decompress and do nothing!

How do you manage your weekends? Are you on board with the idea of planning fun or do you prefer to have unscheduled time, or a little of both?

168 Hours…Family

This series is intended for those of us not in the top 1%, or even the top 10%, in terms of household earnings.  We’re not at the bottom either but we don’t have the money or flexibility of CEOs and executives. 

I wrote about work and now I’m writing about the other side of the equation: Family, especially those raising young children.  Older children are another story and one that I have zero knowledge of!  I felt that by focusing on two major areas that take time — work and family — I could help more people find time in their busy lives. 

The most important advice I can offer besides the obvious “choose your partner wisely” is to divide your chores equally. If you work full-time and also take on the majority of chores and childcare, the work/life balance will become nearly impossible.  If you work part-time or are the stay-at-home parent, you still need to get your partner to be responsible for some chores and I recommend NOT splitting these along traditional gender lines.   Many couples do an indoor (female) and outdoor (male) work split.  While grass cutting can wait, indoor chores tend to be more repetitive, urgent and time-consuming overall.   See this post about cooking for what I mean.

Compared to friends/family who divide chores by gender, I have a lot more free time.  I don’t have to do extra laundry to make sure my husband has clean underwear.  We can both make a good, healthy dinner.   I put dishes away more often but my husband is very capable and willing to do this too. I guess the main reason I advocate dividing chores in gender-neutral ways is that it gives you more flexibility.

It almost goes without saying that young kids and teenagers can pitch in, too.  Tell them that they don’t live in a hotel and their parents are not their servants!

Also, check out author Laura Vanderkam’s blog…her book “168 Hours” inspired this series.

168 Hours…Working It

As I stated in my original post “168 Hours For The Rest of Us“, this series is intended for those of us not in management, or not very high up in the corporate chain.  We still have work/life demands but don’t have the money or flexibility of CEOs and executives. 

Rather a list of tips about work/life balance, I want to focus on certain crucial aspects of time management — in this case, work.  For most of us, work consumes a large part of our week.  At minimum per week, it’s 45 hours per week (including lunch hour), plus commuting time.

The assumption is that the “rest of us” do not work for companies that offer the average employee any flex-time, work-at-home arrangements or job-sharing, at least not on an official basis.  When you work in a more traditional company with typical work hours, it’s much harder to enjoy a healthy work/life balance and to find time for your non-work needs.

The most important advice I can offer is to make yourself valuable to your immediate supervisor (and company).  You do not have to be a superstar employee, which often entails overtime, but you do have to be reliable and generally make your boss’s life easier.  You have to meet all reasonable deadlines and not drop the ball.  You can’t call in sick too often, unless you’re really sick of course.  Basically, you must figure out what makes your boss happy.  This varies a lot depending on your boss’s managerial style, as well as the company culture.  I’m not saying this is easy but if you figure this out, you and your boss will be much happier.  If you have a hard time figuring this out, look at your colleagues.  Even if your boss doesn’t play favorites, there’s always at least one person who seems to enjoy a little autonomy.   Watch and learn from this person.  Here are some additional tips or what works for me.  

The smarter ones also take care to cultivate a good work reputation by taking on projects that have visibility or prestige outside their departments.  That way, they still may have job security in the event their boss falls out of favor or leaves the company. Note: I’m often not one of the smart ones, but I have seen this work time and time again.

I understand that there are many who are unhappy at their job and it’s all too easy to feel trapped.  I was in that kind of situation for about two years.  A new boss entered the picture and we did not hit it off to say the least.  While I enjoyed a degree of flexibility given my track record at the company, it became harder to leave work early when necessary or to call in sick without suspicion.   The best thing I ever did was to find a better job with a boss that better appreciated my skills and temperment.  Having said this, it is often necessary to continually manage your job reputation and that is tiring for many, including myself.

Another important variable are your colleagues.  I’ve been fortunate to be situations where all of us pull our weight and watch each other’s back.  We are all punctual and conscientious about taking time for doctor appointments etc.. When you are in a good team environment, the boss is even more likely to relax and trust everyone.   If there’s one “bad apple” on the team, say someone who’s chronically late, the boss may take away privileges or become more of a micro-manager. 

You must manage your relationships with colleagues as well as with your boss.  You don’t have to become best friends but you should try to set a good example for other co-workers, especially new ones.  Do your best to help new colleagues fit in so that they can work smarter.  Help them find the right resources.  Set an example in everything you do from how you run meetings to taking your lunch to minimizing office distractions.  

Recently,  a new person joined our department and her work ethic threatened to make the rest of us look like slackers, even though we’re not.  She saw nothing wrong with working late or skipping lunch and even “bragged” about working 10+ hours at her last job.  I understood that she had a lot to prove but I also knew that I should help her work smarter and fit into our more relaxed company culture.   When I saw her eating at her desk again, I mentioned a magazine article that touted the benefits of a work break — to clear your head, reduce mistakes and recharge yourself, etc..  After that, on occasion, I would express concern that she had skipped lunch.  Eventually she started taking lunch breaks (on most days) and leaving on time.  While much of her changed attitude had to do with finding her groove at her new job, I’m 100% sure that if the rest of us routinely skipped lunch and worked late, she would have mimicked that, too, in order to look “good” to the boss.

If you are able to create a good work environment via your relationship with your boss and co-workers, you can earn some degree of flexibility even without having the perks of management.

In every situation where I have earned my boss’s trust, I also enjoyed greater autonomy in terms of setting my work schedule.  I can’t choose to come in at 10 a.m. but I changed my morning arrival time to avoid traffic.  Right now this works well for me because I get home for dinner every night.   If I needed to adjust my schedule, my boss is likely to allow it.  My lunch hour is similarly flexible.  I have my regular lunch hour but I can take it later or earlier if needed.  Because I always make sure I do my job well, I can also occasionally take a longer lunch without consequences.  This has allowed me to do my household / grocery shopping, get my hair cut, get oil changes, and take care of a host of errands during the weekday instead of letting these clog up my valuable weekend hours. 

Your company’s internet policy may vary and I don’t recommend surfing the web over work.  However, I admit to taking internet mini-breaks.*  This lets me refresh my mind a bit and also take care of chores, including paying bills,  refilling prescriptions, doing research on everything from cars to cable/TV packages, and shopping for self or others.   I can do this because my boss doesn’t feel the need to watch over my shoulder.  Note: Even if your company has strict online policies, you can do a lot on your own smartphone, tablet or laptop. 

Some people may do everything right and just not have the kind of boss who trusts his/her employees.  A friend of mine works for a micro-manager and despite her best efforts, neither she nor any other employee has yet to win the boss’s trust.  However, even in that situation, my friend is probably still considered one of the more trusted employees and has a small degree of flexibility over the others.

To sum it up, your work situation is one of the most important factor in terms of work/life balance.  If you can “steal time” during your work hours, you can gain back time for more enjoyable weekends.  The other side of the coin is family, to be addressed next!

* I am sure someone will comment that it is abuse to use company computer for personal stuff. I’m just not sure how I could manage my life if I did zero personal stuff online during work hours.

Also, check out author Laura Vanderkam’s blog…her book “168 Hours” inspired this series.

168 Hours…For The Rest of Us

“168 Hours” is a time management book by Laura Vanderkam.  The basic premise of the book is that we all have 168 hours in the week and most people don’t manage that time very well.  From some reviews on Amazon,  I gathered that many of the “solutions” for managing time better require money and a lot of flexibility.  While I doubt the author blithely assumes that everyone can afford cleaning help or good daycare, the media does tend to focus on high-powered women when addressing the issue of time and work/life balance.  See Atlantic’s recent “Women Can’t Have It All” article or any issue of Working Women magazine. 

The focus on high-powered executives and especially on successful women makes sense on some level.  Women are still expected to deal more with the juggling of household chores, childcare and work.   Even if the chore and/or childcare split is 50/50, it seems that women devote more time thinking and managing these chores.   The assumption is that if CEOs university professors and magazine editors can make it work, the average women can certainly learn time management tricks from them. 

The problem is that this trickle-down theory is often not applicable to those lower in the ranks.  For example, a magazine’s Editor-In-Chief has to answer to the publisher and certainly has high demands placed upon her.  However, it’s unlikely that she has to ask permission for leaving early or for vacation time.  She has more influence over company culture than those beneath her.  She can work after the kids are in bed.  If the average employee wanted to do that, he/she would have to convince the boss that they are actually working after work hours.  Good luck with that…

My normal tendency is to write a short post and include a list of tips geared toward people in the middle-class.  However, I wanted to explain the origins for this post and also acknowledge my own privilege.  While I can’t really set my own schedule, work from home or easily pay for cleaning help, I am a white-collar professional working in an office setting and I do enjoy more flexibility than the average retail store or restaurant employee.  For this, I’m lucky.  Before you say that it’s also your ability, education and hard work, I know many who work just as hard with just as much ability who just happen to have less understanding bosses or a more nose-to-the-grind corporate culture to contend with. 

How can you carve out valuable time if you’re not the 1% (or top 10%) with money and flexibility? How can you manage if you really don’t have the resources to outsource? I’ll try to answer this in Part 2 (coming soon).

3 Hacks In 1: Save Money, Time and the Planet?

 As someone who is often caught in the dilemma of saving money vs. saving time, I appreciated this post by Laura Vanderkam about her top 10 Frugal Hacks.   These tips are meant to save you money, but not at the expense of taking away your time.  

Her post got me wondering if I could come up with my own “3-in-1” tips for those who are more financially strapped and/or want to be “green.”   In other words, can you save money, save time and save the planet?

Here are my Top 10, some adapted from Laura’s list, some new, and some which I may have written about before:

1) Streamline your errands: Plan out your day so that you can finish at least two errands in one trip.  If you’re going to the gym, stop at the market on the way home.  Getting a hair cut? Is there a drycleaner near by?  Do you need to get gas? Think it out a bit and I guarantee that you will save time and gas.  I also recommend keeping a shopping list with you at all times (by paper or on your phone) so that you can just pull it out once you’re at the store.  Bonus tip: Many retailers let you take out cash when you pay with a debit card, saving you a trip to the bank.

2) Learn to cook a few dishes well, and focus on recipes that are very adaptable with ingredients.  To me, this would include Italian rice salad, Chinese stir fry, frittatas, fajitas/tacos/burritos, and omelettes.  As an example, if you make frittata, all you need are eggs, olive oil, salt, pepper and some cheese, ideally parmigiano.  The list of possible ingredients include bell pepper, onions, spinach, leeks, sausage, ham, mushrooms, and so forth.  The same principle applies to stir fry, which you can whip up quickly with a variety of vegetables and one protein.  The green angle? Versatile recipes are also great for reducing food waste. 

3) Shop Sales and What’s In Season:  In general, if you buy fruits and vegetables that are in-season, it’s both fresher and cheaper (and better for the environment).  Not coincidentally, what’s in season is often what’s on sale at supermarkets.  This doesn’t only apply to seasonal items.  As Laura mentioned, if pork is on sale, buy the pork.

4) Use your local library:  Borrowing books or DVDs is obviously  a money-saving choice, too.   However, it’s not simple or green if you have to drive far to get to a library.  I’m including this because I assume that most people don’t have to drive far out of their way to get to their local branch.   The Los Angeles public library system (www.lapl.org) even allows you to reserve books from any of its branches.  You log into your library account, put books on hold, and get an email when the books arrive at your local branch. You can pick these up at your convenience (within a two-week timeframe).

5) For Travel, Think Local and Flexible: While I love traveling far from home, there’s no doubt that international flights exact a heavy environmental toll.  If you stay closer to home, you won’t have to shell out big bucks on airline tickets.  Hotels will still cost money but sites like www.priceline.com can save you a lot if you’re not set on exact dates or a certain hotel.  Another helpful booking website is www.backbid.com.  I tend to scour several sites for the best deal but that takes up precious time.  What I love about backbid.com is that it allows you to post up your hotel reservations and then get competing bids from nearby hotels.  If you like the new offer, you can book it and cancel your existing reservation.   

6) Use Amazon.com:  If you’re into coupon clipping and drugstore deals, Amazon.com might not offer the lowest prices on household goods.  However, if you want to save both time and money, many items like diapers and wipes are reasonably cheaper via Amazon’s Subscribe & Save option.  With Amazon Mom or a $79/year Prime membership, diaper and wipe prices even beat Costco and drugstore deals.  I’ve also found great deals on selected cosmetics, coffee and a host of other items, so it’s definitely worth comparing prices on Amazon before buying elsewhere.  I think the environmental cost of shipping is offset by fewer trips to a physical store.

7) If you must clip coupons, use www.couponmom.com:  Coupon sites like www.couponmom.com does the hard part for you by making it easier to match up sales with coupons at drugstores and supermarkets.  However, remember that driving around to get the lowest price or stocking up on things you don’t need is not good for the environment.

8) Check in on your smartphone:  I’m a bit of a techno-phobe but I had a chance to try out a fancy smartphone recently.  Most people know about free apps for scanning product bar codes and coupon apps, but the most useful app for me was Yelp.  With Yelp’s free app, I got 15% off just for checking in at a restaurant.  Checking in can be a pain if you are wrangling kids, but I often use Yelp anyway so this wasn’t a time-consuming step. This app can also save you time.  If you’re running errands and suddenly realize you need cash, you can look up nearby banks instead of driving around.  Smartphones are not necessarily a green choice, especially if you upgrade constantly, but there are tons of other apps that can help you save both time and money.  Do you have any favorite apps that save you time/money and the planet?

9) Buy and Sell Used, the Smart Way: I like the idea of buying used because I’m keeping something out of the landfill. The only downside is that it’s often simpler to dump things in the trash.  However, even if you’re short on time, you can call the Salvation Army and schedule a free pick-up.  What if you’re short on time but could use the extra cash?  I recommend listing items on ebay or Craigslist at bargain basement prices.  If you list items at very low prices, you can usually find an eager buyer quickly.  This is a nice compromise between donating and selling to make a profit.  Extra tip: Have a buyer meet you at work if your home is not centrally located.

10) Buy Organic, the Smart and Cost-Efficient Way: Buying organic is expensive but good for you and better for the environment.  If you can’t afford to, focus on avoiding the dirty dozen, i.e. fruits and veggies that retain pesticides.  In general, if the peel is thin and you’re likely to eat it, go organic (ex: apples, strawberries, potatoes, sweet bell peppers).  For thicker-skinned fruits and vegetables, you can stick with non-organic (ex: avocados, bananas).

Bonus Tip: Streamline your local deals:  I am a fan of Groupon-like deal sites, but there are so many similar sites nowadays that it’s time-consuming to keep track of deals.  I also don’t have time to read multiple emails from Groupon, Tippr, Living Social, and other deal sites.  That’s why I use www.dealery.com , a site that aggregates daily deals for your selected city or cities.  So much easier!  Note: This tip doesn’t really save the planet but I just wanted to share…

Do you have any tips to add?

Money Books: YMOYL vs. All The Money In The World

There is no real “battle” between the much-acclaimed “Your Money or Your Life (YMoYL)” and the recently published “All The Money In The World (ATM)”.  In fact, they probably spring from the much of the same philosophy and focus on our relationship with money.  However, I think reading these back-to-back inspired me in completely different ways.

First some background…My natural frugal tendencies is often in conflict with some entreprenuerial impulses.  In general, frugality wins.  It’s not to say I  haven’t ventured out into more entreprenuerial territory but it’s definitely outside my comfort zone.   I have enough on my plate with my full-time job, commute, family, and other priorities in life.  Excuses aside, I sometimes wish I devoted more energy and money to earning more instead of just saving money via sales, negotiating and couponing.

“Your Money or Your Life” resonated with me because it largely supports an ‘alternative’ view of living, one  that is miles away from the rat race.  After finishing this book, I felt strongly that we should move to Italy with our kids.  I am ready for the next phase of my life, whatever that may be.  My husband is tired of life in the U.S. and we have always wanted to raise our kids in Europe, with Italy being the logical location.  While there are many cons, from economic woes to healthcare crisis, we felt that our kids would benefit from Italian culture and heritage.  

“All the Money in the World” appealed to my long dormant entrepreneurial side.   It made me question my choices and wonder if I should have been or become more focus on earning more, even if that means staying in the rat race.  That’s not to say ATM is the opposite of YMoYL.  In fact, ATM’s author is very entrepreneurial and has found her dream career, one that is lucrative enough and flexible for her and her family.  Much like YMoYL, she asks us to re-examine our choices in spending and questions whether our spending is aligned with our values.   The difference, is in the details.  While she cites examples from readers and other sources, I was most struck by examples from her own life.  In the chapter “Ode to a Ziploc bag”, she talks about our tendency to spend more as we get used to higher standards of living.  In one example, she recounts splurging on a $21.99 toy train for her son.  He has more than enough trains just as so many of us have enough shoes, clothes, electronics and other “toys”.   At what point is it enough?  However, what struck me more most about this example was that she could afford to spend that amount.  I want to spend on my kids without worry.  Would we be able to do that if we move to Italy and essentially start over?

My conflicting responses to these two books is probably more indicative of my state of mind than the intended messages.  I think both books have value and will make you examine your own money beliefs.