Laura Vanderkam researches and writes about a variety of topics tied to building a successful life — including time management, money management and productivity. I love her books and articles and recommend them often. In her latest project, Laura set out to understand women who appear to “have it all” by conducting a time diary study of 1,001 days in the lives of high-earning women and their families.
The women were mostly in their 30s and 40s, and they all had children under 18 living at home. Their time journals revealed how they balanced successful careers and strong family lives, and those insights formed the basis of Vanderkam’s latest book, I Know How She Does It, which goes on sale today.
The research Vanderkam did on these Gen X women revealed a lot of valuable insights for millennial women who are still early to their careers and making decisions about family and work, so I connected with her to discuss some of the highlights. Read on to find out what she had to say.
How did these women develop the time-management strategies they use to achieve balance?
While some people mindfully set out to use their time well, many simply stumbled upon solutions based on three desires: to build their careers, to enjoy family time, and to preserve time for themselves as well.
To achieve these things, women often spent evenings with their families, then worked after their kids went to bed. They minimized TV time in order to pursue more enjoyable leisure activities (and get enough sleep). They’d relax their housekeeping standards in order to spend time on other things.
What types of flexibility did the women’s employers provide that helped them achieve balance?
I didn’t ask about specific flexibility programs, because my sense is that policies often have little to do with the way people actually work. Instead, I looked at time logs. I saw that the women in my study had quite a bit of flexibility. About three-quarters did something personal during what appeared to be core work hours. Of course, there’s a flipside to this: about the same percentage did work outside of traditional work hours. A number worked remotely at some point.
Did the women get these flexible work features automatically, or did they have to earn, negotiate or fight for them?
In some cases, people negotiated for formal flexible arrangements, or to work from home, or to go part-time. But my sense is that many marquee careers allow for quite a bit of flexibility as long as the work gets done. You’ll work long hours, but if you want to dart out early for something, and then finish up late at night, you probably don’t need to ask officially for permission. Indeed, I suspect that many people in high-earning industries (law, consulting, finance, etc.) actually have more flexibility than those in what are often deemed female-friendly careers (e.g. teaching, nursing, etc.).
Can you bust any myths? Are there any pieces of conventional wisdom surrounding work-life balance that you found to be incorrect through your research for this book?
My favorite myth is that working moms don’t sleep. In my study, women slept on average 54 hours per week, which is not far under eight hours per day. That doesn’t mean there weren’t bad nights. Women got up with sick kids, or had to leave early to catch 6 a.m. planes. Quantity doesn’t mean quality either. But in the course of a week, most did get adequate sleep from a quantity perspective. Indeed, less than 4 percent of the 1001 days featured fewer than 6 hours of sleep.
What can millennial women learn from the women in your book?
Many high-earning careers feature fewer work hours and more flexibility than the popular narrative conveys. Young women unnecessarily limit their earning potential by shying away from careers in technology, finance, medicine and other fields out of a perception that they won’t be able to combine such careers with having families. The reality is that women in these fields often do have fulfilling family lives, and they earn enough to make their lives a lot easier from a work/life balance perspective.
Lindsey Pollak is a New York Times best-selling author and a nationally recognized millennial expert who helps employers recruit, train, manage and market to the millennial generation. Her speeches and training sessions inspire multigenerational collaboration and foster lasting organizational success. Contact Lindsey to learn how she can help your organization understand and connect with millennials.