Author and time management expert Laura Vanderkam carved out some time last year to begin producing the Before Breakfast podcast with a bite-sized, daily episode of tips on how to address the scheduling challenges of everyday life. When life turned upside down earlier this year with lockdowns and work-from-home the new norm, Vanderkam and the iHeartPodcast Network launched a second daily morning show called The New Corner Office.
“It is more career-focused and specifically aimed at the millions of people who are working from home for the first time,” said Vanderkam. “I see it pivoting more broadly to career content and the idea of work being flexible and location independent outside the confines of being in a cubicle for 40 hours a week.” She said the podcast will cover topics such as how to build a career from outside the office, as well as issues like time management and how to stay connected with colleagues and build networks even though the watercooler may be the kitchen table at home.
“Working from home could be a source of strategic advantage both for individuals and organizations,” said Vanderkam. “For individuals, it helps you manage your energy and break free of group time norms that don’t help anyone’s efficiency.”
Before Breakfast launched in March 2019 as what Vanderkam said was designed as a podcast that people can listen to while getting dressed or making their coffee or driving their kids to school in the morning. Each episode runs about five minutes. “It’s something that will help take your day from great to awesome with a little tip that will give you a shot in the arm and can be put into practice and it will make your life better,” she said. “We try to be very positive, we try to be very relatable, and hopefully that is how it comes across.”
The mother of five has authored eight books and said producing a podcast is a bit different than writing a book. Yet there are similarities. “A book tends to be very big and broad project where you need an over-arching theme. It’s more like a podcast concept and what a show is going to be,” she explained. “The podcasts themselves, because they are so short and it’s just me, I think of it more like my blog posts. A column is about 500 to 800 words and that’s about what each of these episode [scripts] is.”
Vanderkam rose to prominence with a 2016 TED talk that has been viewed more than ten million times and a series of books including “168 Hours,” a reference to the amount of time in a week. “It shows you how much time you truly have,” she said. “If you are working a full-time job, that is 40 hours a week, and sleeping eight hours a night, that is 56 hours per week. That leaves 72 hours for other things, which is about twice as much as you’re working, and yet we have in our minds if we have a full-time job, we must not have time for anything else. But there is a fair amount of time that people can use for raising their families, for doing hobbies, for exercising, and doing all the other things that you have to do in your life.”
Here are some time-management tips Vanderkam shared during a virtual presentation to advertisers on Thursday –
Make Zoom calls more social. There were a lot of “really bad” Zoom calls in March, according to Vanderkam, who said most people had no way of knowing how to navigate conversations that aren’t in person. Now she thinks there is a way to make those calls better by building in a few minutes of social time at the beginning of a virtual meeting. “People are going to do it anyway, so it’s better to have it facilitated and have the person leading the meeting ask people a social question and give them a few minutes to answer. You have to use people’s names as well otherwise nobody knows who is supposed to speak.”
New hires get virtual introductions. As the work-from-home lifestyle continues month after month, there becomes a new class of employees that has never worked in the office with their co-workers. To get over that feeling of disconnect, Vanderkam suggests companies have a “virtual meet-and-greet” so the new hire feels connected.
Create home-work boundary. The commute to and from work sets an actual boundary from home to work, and that is gone for many. “You can orchestrate some sort of fake commute,” said Vanderkam, “like some sort of transition ritual that will help you get from the home space to the workspace. The start of the day is less challenging because you’re diving into work. It’s the end of the day that’s more challenging.” She said a “shut down ritual” could include something like creating a “to do” list for the next day, call a co-worker and say goodbye, or journal or meditate for a minute. “Something to say, ‘this is the end’ and give yourself permission to be done,” she said.
Things don’t have to happen daily to be important to you. “We often get to the end of the day and say I didn’t get to everything that mattered to me,” she said. “But if you do something a couple times a week, it is still an important part of life and taking that broader view of time allows us to feel that broader sense of abundance.”