Laura Vanderkam is the author of a series of successful books on the subject of time management and productivity. Her books include popular titles such as I Know How She Does It, What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast, and 168 Hours. Laura Vanderkam has also written for several renowned publications, including Fast Company, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal and many more. Laura has dedicated herself to providing valuable advice to people all over the planet, and for one of her books she utilised a time diary study of 1001 days in the lives of professional women and their family, with the result being a practical approach to how to manage all the elements of your life. I am fan of the work of Laura Vanderkam, and have found her insights invaluable. Please enjoy my interview with the wonderful Laura Vanderkam…
When someone asks you ‘what do you do for a living?’ – How do you respond?
I write and speak about time management and productivity.
I’m currently reading an advance copy of a book I’m reviewing. I wind up reading a lot of books for that reason, or because I’m interviewing the author. The most recent book I read just for fun was The Course of Love by Alain de Botton.
What’s your earliest memory of reading?
I have many strong memories of reading. There was my first chapter book, which I read at the end of kindergarten. It was called Squanto, Friend of the Pilgrims by Clyde Robert Bulla. It was exciting for me because I couldn’t read at the start of the year, and by the end I (with the help of my teachers, of course!) had figured it out. That sense of agency is incredibly powerful. Also, it opened up whole new worlds. I have always loved entering new worlds. I remember once as a kid I was reading an adventure story, and I was pacing around in my backyard while reading it. I felt something sharp on my foot, but I was so into the book that I paid no attention. Only later, when I finally looked up from the book, did I realize that my foot was covered in blood. Talk about being transported elsewhere! (The cut wasn’t too serious.)
If you could encourage young people to read one book in particular, what would it be?
I would encourage them to try writing a book. Anyone can write. What makes some people good at it is that they practice a lot. The earlier you start, the better.
What is the worst job you’ve ever had?
I had a fair number of minimum wage type jobs (fast food restaurant, drug store, delivering papers, etc.) but the job I was worst at doing was being someone’s assistant. I took the job to make extra cash while I launched my freelance writing career, and I was absolutely terrible at it. I lasted about 3 months. I’m pretty sure my boss was not sorry to see me go.
Do you read as much as you’d like to?
Short answer: yes. Longer answer: I read quite a bit (I log my time, and know I clocked 327 hours between April 2015 and April 2016!) but a lot of it is fashion and gossip magazine stories. To be sure, some of the magazines I read are pretty meaty (the Economist) but others (Us Weekly) not so much. I have a lot of magazine reading guilt, as I know that in 327 hours I could have read War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy multiple times. I just didn’t.
If you’re in the self-help writing business, I think reading classics in the genre is smart. I think The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey is the most influential, so that’s a good place to begin. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie launched much of the self-help style we take for granted (folksy anecdotes that tell a moral — that sort of thing).
Is there a book that you’ve read more than once? What is it and why did you revisit it?
I read To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf almost yearly. Something about her prose, and the Ramsay family’s drama on that windswept coast, and the wistfulness of the phrase “time passes” always draws me in. I love the image of Mrs. Ramsay lingering in the door of her dinner party, hoping to hold on to the scene even as it is already fading into the past.
What book have you recommended the most to friends and family?
I’ve recently recommended Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. It’s a fascinating take on the history of humanity, with a very contrarian bent. We generally think of agriculture as a good thing. Harari, not so much.
Is there an author whose writing you’re such a fan of, that you’ll read everything they release?
I’ve gotten to be friends with many great non-fiction authors over the past few years, and I love reading what they write! Just a few of them: Gretchen Rubin does a lot of great things for the self-help genre with her conversational yet philosophical approach to happiness. Dorie Clark is so knowledgeable about personal marketing and branding, yet her books manage to be accessible and interesting too. Naomi Schafer Riley writes thought -provoking narrative non-fiction on religion and education, and I’m always interested to see what she’ll come up with next.
If they do, it will take a while. I like to dog ear pages and make notes in my books with a pen. Also, when it comes to gift giving, people like something physical. I know that when I speak at conferences, people like to take home a signed book. I haven’t figured out quite how to sign an ebook yet in a way that makes people feel like they have a souvenir of the experience.
Are there any books you haven’t mentioned that you feel would make your reading list?
I recently re-read Playing Big by Tara Mohr, which had some great ideas on tapping into your inner mentor to figure out the right direction for your life and career. She also challenges women in particular to experiment and try things and see what works, taking failure in stride. It’s a good compliment to another book I read recently, called Pivot by Jenny Blake. She suggests people try small career pilot projects to figure out their next big thing. When you’re stuck in life, taking a big leap can seem impossible. But small experiments? That people can do.