There’s a new book out on working mothers—I Know How She Does It, by Laura Vanderkam. Ms. Vanderkam took a data-based approach to the issue of how women manage both a career and children. She asked women in highly paid professional jobs who also have children to keep hourly records of what they did every day for about three years.
Her book makes the case that the women she studied—all of whom were mothers with children still at home who earned at least $100,000 per year—actually don’t have such rough lives. While they may not “have it all,” they have a lot. They are not stress-free, but they are pretty satisfied with their lives.
Ms. Vanderkam’s website promotes the book as follows:
“I Know How She Does It offers a framework for anyone who wants to thrive at work and life.”
So what is the framework? How do they do it? Primarily by taking control of their lives. Here are the primary take-aways I had on how they do it, and how the rest of us can, too:
1. Flexing Your Time
The women in Ms. Vanderkam’s study flex their own time, even if they don’t have formal approval for doing so. During most weeks, they do something personal during normal working hours. (And, of course, they do some work during off hours as well.)
It isn’t surprising that women in this group had the ability to flex their time. Most people earning more than $100,000/year have a support staff and technological tools that can cover for them when they are gone. They can mask their absences, both by handling email and phone calls when they aren’t in the office and by getting work done outside of normal working hours.
This isn’t new. In fact, back in the early and mid-1980s, I flexed my time when I needed to, handling personal matters during work hours and taking work home every night, so I’d have something productive to do if a child woke up sick in the morning. Maybe I was ahead of the times, but I doubt it. I just did what I needed to do to feel capable both at work and at home.
2. Managing Your Time
Moreover, the women featured in Ms. Vanderkam’s book are good planners. They take time at the end of each day to plan the next day. They take time at the end of the week to plan the next week, so they hit the ground running on Monday. Not surprisingly, time management is critical to getting a lot done. And their time management is accurate—they are honest about how long things will take.
Again, not a surprise. Every really successful manager I know is good at time management, or has a trusted assistant who manages his or her time. I think the issue of taking time to plan is something that is hard for some people, but I have always found that the work goes faster and more smoothly if I do spend time planning.
3. Taking Care of Yourself
In addition, these women take care of themselves—they exercise and get the sleep they need. They also have support—a committed partner (when available) and reliable child care providers.
At salaries of more than $100,000, Ms. Vanderkam’s surveyed group has more than many women do. But for all of us, it is a matter of getting the support we need. The one thing I have agreed with Hillary Clinton on over the years is that it takes a village to raise a child. The more support parents have, the better.
4. Making Choices
The women in Ms. Vanderkam’s book also may not spend their time on conventional activities. If they can’t get home for dinner, they have breakfast with their kids. They make time to play with their kids when they can. They don’t watch much television. At work, they skip as many meetings as they can.
And they don’t do it all. They make choices about what’s important to them and focus on getting those things done. The rest they let their partner do, or they hire someone else to do it—house cleaning, grocery and other shopping, etc. Again, money is a help. But we all do things because we think we’re expected to do them. Instead, we should focus on what is truly important to our specific family.
5. Putting in the Time
The only real surprise for me was that the working mothers in Ms. Vanderkam’s book worked an average of 44 hours/week. I would have guessed it was north of 50. Many executives—women and men alike—do have to work more than 44 hours/week. In all things, to be successful, you have to put in the time.
I think of the years when my children were small as being some of the roughest years in my life. Nevertheless, I was successful in my career, and I was available at home. I put in the time both places. The years were rewarding both financially and emotionally, even if I didn’t get to read many novels and gave up baking cakes.
What tips do you have for managing your work and personal lives?