How Six-Figure Working Moms Make Time for Work, Play, and Family

By Janice Deleon

Jun 30

Laura Vanderkam Interview with Six-Figure Working Moms

How often do you hear “you can’t have it all?”

That’s a myth, according to Laura Vanderkam, author of I Know How She Does It.  She, and other working moms earning six-figure incomes DO have it all, and they tracked their time for one week to prove it.

Vanderkam explains what she learned by analyzing those time logs (including how a doctor finds time for poetry) and far more in this fascinating interview with Laura Vanderkam.

How Working Moms CAN Have It All: Laura Vanderkam Interview

Read the interview in the Q&A below.  Listen to audio clips or the full  14-minute interview.

Listen to the full interview here:

You asked working moms earning over $100,000 a year to keep a one-week time log to see how they spent their time, balanced work, family, and self care. You called this the Mosaic Project. Can you describe your concept of life and time balance as a mosaic with tiles?

For my time diary project, I had people keep track of their time, mostly using spreadsheets. If you think about it, an excel spreadsheet is possibly one of the druriest things you could ever think of. They are just not very exciting. When you first think about it, it’s like oh my goodness, how can I shoehorn my life into cells on a grid? Seems something so wrong about that.

As I started thinking about it, I came to see that the grid could also be thought of as a mosaic, and that these little cells could be tiles. From that perspective, we are the artists. Right? We are the mosaic makers, deciding on where we will put the tiles of work and family and personal care. Creating, over time, a mosaic of the whole week that would hopefully look like we want it to look. And maybe we have to be creative about where we move the tiles around. Maybe there are some stressful tiles in there too, they don’t all have to be perfect. But on the other hand, when you look at the whole picture you can come up with something pretty good.

You mention being the artist of your life: seeing your life as art and your time and what you fill your life with. It’s a fascinating perspective that, I don’t think a lot of people would think of.

Life is lived in hours and so what we do with our lives is going to be a function of how we spend our hours. Hopefully we are creating the lives we want and if we are, then they are works of art and we should celebrate them as such.

What is your response be to women who say, “I just don’t have time?”
You know, maybe it’s true, but I like to use some of the phrases that I heard from one of the busiest people I interviewed. By busy I mean she was running a small business with twelve people on the payroll and she had six children in her spare time.

When I asked her about this, she said I don’t use the phrase, “I don’t have time.” She would say, “it’s not a priority.”

If you think about that may be more accurate language. Well, you could say, I don’t have time to dust my blinds, but probably if somebody offered to pay you a $100,000 to do it, you’d find the time pretty quickly. But you know, since that’s not going to happen you can acknowledge that it’s just not a priority for you. This is really honestly true with a lot of things in life.

Now granted, there may be consequence to maybe choosing not spend time on certain things or choosing to spend times on other activities, but largely we are intelligent people in well-to-do countries, so we have a lot of choice about how we spend our time. We can argue about bits of time that we can’t control, but on the whole, a lot of it we do.

Tips like these and significantly more are covered in

One of the most fascinating women that you profiled, was Dr. Lynda Bascelli. Can you tell us a little but about her and what you learned from analyzing the time logs of some of these successful women?
Yes, Dr. Bascelli was one of the women who kept a time log for me. She is a busy physician who lives in New Jersey and she has three children. Yet when I looked at her log, I did not see the stressful time, the harriedness that you sometimes see here and there on logs. I saw almost none of that. She did have a long work week.

One day she saw patients for ten hours straight, not even a break. She had one situation where she came home one night to find her babysitter and the kids were on the roof, which was quite a moment. But when you look at the whole week, you saw that she would spent her mornings doing things like exercising, journaling and yoga. They had a lot of relaxed family time together. I thought it was really amazing that, here she has such a big, potentially stressful job, has a big family, and yet she was finding time for these personal things.

I’ve gotten to know her better over time and I think it’s really just how she prioritizes her time. She’s very thoughtful about enlisting help. At the time that she kept the time log, her family had a college student living them as a way to have some of that extra help that they needed so that when there were all sorts of wintry school delays during the week she kept that time log, it was not a crisis. She wasn’t postponing seeing patients because of those school delays, because she thoughtfully enlisted this help. She also had a very relaxed attitude towards life. As she told me, no one ever died of going to school in the same clothes two days in a row. She was totally fine if her kids wanted to choose their own clothes and pull something out of the dirty clothes hamper and put it back on, and it’s not a thing to battle over. I really enjoyed seeing all that she managed to do with 168 hours.

One of the chapters in your book is called Making Success Possible. Can you recommend the top strategy for doing that?

Well this chapter about Making Success Possible is largely focused on how we spend our work hours. I think sometimes as women we have an unfortunate tendency to focus simply on the work in front of us. We want to be ultra-efficient at it, we want to get done, get home, and that makes total sense. But the problem is that business is never just business. You have to make space both for thinking about the future and where you want your career to be going and also for investing in those soft side of work things. The relationships, the mentoring, the relaxed time together, that really help push a career forward. You can do a wonderful job on the work right in front of you, but if you’re not investing in those long term things, eventually your career is going to stall.

The good news is that there is time, there is space in the 168 hours we have in a week to do the work you need to and also invest in those relationships at work, and still be fully present at home as well. So I talk about strategies women do for being seen at work, right? If people do things like happy hour and social hours after work, you might give yourself a budget of three events per month. Three events, that’s three nights, there’s thirty evenings in a month, so that’s 30% of your time. 90% you can be at home, but that 10% investing in those relationships could really go a long way in showing that you’re the kind of person who will still do those things.

You can also build in face-time during the day. I mean, we take breaks anyway. Sometimes we fool ourselves that we’re not. I’m hunkered down at my desk, working through lunch, look at how productive I am. But, then you find yourself midway through the afternoon going on social media, which you know can be a good thing as you know. But unintentionally, you’re on social media for half an hour and you realize that was my brain taking a break, but it wasn’t a real break. I didn’t get up and return to my computer refreshed.

Get up and interact with people, have conversations, take a colleague out for coffee, take a walk with someone. That’s ways you can invest in relationships at work, while still working reasonable numbers of hours.

My last question for you Laura is the one that I ask everyone that I interview. What is the one question I should have asked you, but did not?

I think one thing that was really heartening that I learned in my study, is that women with big jobs and also have families, still get an adequate amount of sleep. About 90% of the women in my study, got at least the seven to nine hours that public health types say we should get per day when you averaged it over the whole week. To be sure, there were some bad nights, but not that many. In the whole thousand and one nights that I looked at, only 3.6% of the days, so about 36 days of the whole thousand and one days, featured fewer than six hours of sleep. So yes, sleep deprivation occurs, but not on a hugely widespread basis. I think that’s a very liberating idea, that we often hear if you want to build a big job and you want to have a family, you’re just never going to sleep. You’ll be one harried sleep deprived mess. And for the most part, that’s actually not true.

You’ve got a brand new baby, so how are you doing on sleep?

My baby’s five months old now, and fortunately he’s pretty good. Some nights are better than others. I’m looking forward to having it be a little more sure that’ll I get to sleep through the night. I’m coping it with it by trying to go to bed pretty early. If I’m in bed by ten, if he wakes up at five, that means I’ve gotten at least seven hours of sleep. Usually he wakes up between five and six, so usually I get between seven and eight. So I’m managing it pretty well.

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