7 of the best productivity secrets I learned from the woman who wrote the book on not wasting time


The best thing about Laura Vanderkam’s productivity advice is that it doesn’t involve any major life overhauls.

In fact, it’s mostly about changing the way you think about time, and about realizing that you do have the capacity to fit in all your personal and professional priorities.

Vanderkam, who is the author of multiple books including, most recently, “I Know How She Does It,” stopped by the Business Insider office in October to talk all things time-management.

Below, I’ve highlighted seven tips on making the most of the hours available to you that really resonated with me.

1. Be realistic about how much you’re working

Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Vanderkam suggests using the “X – 25” rule to figure out how much your supposedly super-busy friends are really working. If they say they log more than 75 hours a week, subtract at least 25 hours from that number. You can do the same when estimating your own work hours.

It’s not that you or your friends are deliberately trying to seem busier than you really are. Vanderkam said it’s more that, when you estimate your work hours, you’ve got in mind an image of a perfect day, when you really did log 12 or so hours straight. Most days, however, aren’t like this. You show up late; you go out for lunch with friends; you leave early to make a kid’s school play.

The important takeaway here, Vanderkam said, is that a “44-hour workweek, or even a 54-hour workweek, can make for a reasonable life.” You likely have more time for yourself and your family than you might think.

2. Start your day with a ‘power hour’ for maximum productivity

Vanderkam suggested scheduling a “power hour” first thing every morning, when you work on a top-priority task — and nothing else. It’s a time for what Vanderkam calls “real work,” or those bigger projects and tasks that help you achieve your goals and your organization’s.

If you instead start weeding through your inbox, you could find yourself still there four hours later.

A “pro-level” version of this strategy, Vanderkam said, is dedicating all of Monday morning to a bigger task that’s more speculative and requires some deep thought.

Flickr / Leo Hidalgo

3. Stop trying to empty your inbox

And about that inbox — stop trying to empty it. For one thing, Vanderkam said, if you treat your inbox like a to-do list, you’re essentially letting other people’s demands control your day. It’s also important to realize that most of what’s in your inbox isn’t urgent or even that important.

“There is no correlation between having an empty inbox and being successful,” Vanderkam said. In fact, part of being successful may be learning to prioritize the people and responsibilities in your life. The time you spend trying to hit inbox zero might be better spent doing the “real work” mentioned above.

4. Consider working on weekends to reduce stress

There’s no reason why weekends should have to be sacred. In fact, Vanderkam said weekends can be a great time to think deeply and work on more speculative tasks, because your coworkers probably won’t be online and distracting you.

What’s more, when you spend a few hours Saturday morning and Sunday evening working, you might be able to leave a little earlier during the week — which may be especially important if you’ve got young kids to take care of.

reading a book on the couch
Set a priority for every weekday evening, such as reading part of a book.Eden, Janine and Jim/Flickr

freetime5. Schedule your free time to be happier

Vanderkam noticed that while we typically spend time outlining professional goals and planning our workweeks, we don’t approach our leisure time with the same mindfulness. That can result in feeling like you’ve wasted your precious free time — or in feeling like you don’t have any free time at all.

She suggested thinking, “What do I want to accomplish that’s meaningful for me and the people I care about?” and setting one priority for every weekday evening, such as reading a chapter of a novel or calling a friend.

6. Take time on Friday afternoons to plan the week ahead

Most of us are already checked out by the time Friday afternoon rolls around. So instead of forcing yourself to work on a big project during this time, Vanderkam recommends planning for the week ahead. Specifically, you’ll want to make a three-category priority list, with slots for work, relationships, and self.

Put two to three items in each category, then look over your calendar for the following week, and see where you can fit them in.

7. Think of your life in 168-hour chunks

In “I Know How She Does It,” Vanderkam warns against falling into the “24-Hour Trap.” In other words, don’t think that the only way to achieve balance is to fit all your personal and professional priorities into a single day.

Instead, Vanderkam suggests embracing the “168-hour option,” meaning you see every hour of the week as usable time — including the weekends (see No. 4).

Vanderkam told me that some of the most successful women she spoke to thought of their lives in these 168-hour chunks. For example, one woman traveled half the week, so she figured she might as well use that time to work crazy hours. When she was home, however, she spent less time on work and more time on her relationship- and self-oriented priorities.


Thanks to Business Insider for this great article.

The Rule of 7


The rule of seven simply states that your potential customers need to see or hear your message at least 7 times before it resonates with them enough that they remember you.  Even though this is an old marketing concept it is still a widely respected train of thought.  But why stop there…7 is the minimum number of interactions you need to have but remember to always communicate with your prospects and customers.  In the age of social media advertising when brands are constantly being put on our scrolling screens, in order to stand out and be remembered you need to get a consistent message out across many different mediums.  To learn more about the Rule of 7 in Marketing, here is an article from Effective Business Ideas.

How to Leverage the Rule of 7 in Your Marketing

Build your List the Rule of 7
Build your List – the Rule of 7

1. Build a List

Whether your business is online or offline, start building a list of prospects and potential customers who give you permission to reach out to them.

Online, this is as simple as building an email newsletter. Offline, it’s as simple as having a database of your prospects’ mobile numbers, email addresses, office addresses, etc.

2. Appear Everywhere Your Prospects Are

Ensure you’re everywhere your prospects are; this includes events they attend, blogs they read, newsletters they follow, etc.

Don’t just restrict yourself to your platform; leverage other peoples’ platform to get your prospects to notice you.

3. Get Your Message Across Using Every Form of Media Possible

Use text, audio, video, images and anything else you can think of and afford to use.

The Rule of 7
The Rule of 7 Marketing

4. Get Your Message Across Using Every Medium Possible

Use your website, your blog, your social media accounts, your newsletter, adverts and any other medium you can.


If your business relies on selling to people, you want to be everywhere they are; when they start to see you & your offer everywhere, it slowly starts to become a part of their subconscious. Desire for it gradually builds up, and they take action sooner or later.


Feedback Tips


Giving feedback on an employee’s performance is an essential part of helping them be all that they can be in your capitalist regime. Giving a quick review now and again on what they’re doing right and what they’re doing not-so-right can really help for all parties involved; they get a pat on the back and an incentive to work harder and you get to criticise someone mercilessly. Fun!

However giving feedback can also be tricky. You need to know how to strike a balance between firm and fair; too firm and you won’t have any employees left but too fair and no one will get anything done. Ultimately if you or your employee are leaving the feedback session without knowing exactly what improvements need to be made and how, then you need to work on your technique to better communicate what needs to be done. A poorly handled feedback session will just leave everyone confused and productivity can be left in a worse shape than before. Luckily here’s a handy guide to not do that! Nice.

Courtesy of the Harvard Business Review 2015, reprinted in the Irish Times, here’s a nice and easy top five list of ways to improve your feedback giving skillz. So really everybody gets to improve, far out. Presented by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, the CEO of Hogan Assessment Systems, this guide will have you dishing out feedback like a certified pro.

Understanding Brand Colours

brand colours

One of the most important factors in designing a successful logo is colour. It’s the first thing a consumer will notice and they will associate this reaction with your brand forever. You don’t want to mess it up.

Marketo have compiled this really lovely-looking infographic going through the ins and outs of brand colours and what kind of message a certain colour will send with plenty of neat facts and figures along the way. This infographic gives you the basics of everything you need to know about brand colours with plenty of practical examples and statistics from the world’s top brands themselves.

It is vital to get the right message across to your customer as quickly as possible and this guide is a wonderful starting point.


Easy Steps to Prevent Fraud

prevent fraud

Companies are plagued every year by the damage caused by fraud. From business to not-for-profits to government institutions, organisations of every size are losing over 5% of their annual revenue due to fraud and unethical behaviour. It is becoming more and more pertinent for company owners to become familiar with both detecting and preventing fraud in their ranks. And here’s a handy blog post on how to do just that. Neat!

FraudEdge are dedicated to helping Irish organisations combat the dangers of fraud and their post on the Top 10 Fraud Prevention Steps is one of their most useful resources. Laid out in easy-to-read chunks, this list covers pretty much everything you need to know in being proactive in preventing fraud in your own business.

The Five Principles of Retail

The Five Principles of Retail

Whether you’re a newcomer to retail or you’re a veritable veteran, it can never hurt to swot up on the basics for a bit of a refreshers course. The Marketing Donut has condensed all you need to know about retailing into five perfectly manageable bullet points. The list includes familiar faves such as the four ‘P’s and being nice to customers or whatever. Definitely worth a quick read-through if you’re a retailer who wants to know how to retail good.

ISME Briefing Sessions Open for Registration

ISME Briefing Sessions

ISME (Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association) has just released their timetable for this year’s briefing sessions. These sessions are free but places are limited, so register online to guarantee your spot.

The sessions will take place from Wednesday 9th of September to Wednesday 30th of September in over twelve locations across the country including Dublin, Galway and Cork. The events promise enlightening perspectives on business from industry leaders including ISME’s own CEO, Mark Fielding.

If you’re a small/medium business owner looking to earn a few more business-savvy brownie points, this is the place to do it. For a full timetable, check out the link above.

Marketing to Generation Z


The millennials have been the target of a barrage of advertising over the last two decades in the hopes of tiding over the materialistic new kids on the block. However, now that the millennials are aging gracefully into the ripe old demographic of 20-37 year olds, it’s about time for marketers to start shifting their attention to our new and shiny batch of impressionable youths: Generation Z. While only having been born in 1995 or later, these up-and-comers have already established new ideologies and media consumption patterns totally different to their predecessors.

Marketo have compiled a very useful infographic breaking down the characteristics of this new Gen Z which will prove to be vital for any retailer looking to appeal to this new audience. Know your enemy and all that, right? However bear in mid that all of the figures cited in the graph pertain to American Gen Z kids, but it’s still a fairly good stab at what Irish kids are doing nowadays too.

Make Social Media Work For You

In this unforgiving capitalist world of ours, social media seems to ever be on the rise as a means of connecting with your audience. However simply signing up for a new-fangled account on Facebook or Twitter or the next big thing of the next three months won’t be enough – you need to engage with social media smartly so as to benefit not only you but also your customers. Here’s a fun guide from RazorSocial detailing how you can get the most out of your social sites to guarantee you’re reaching the audience you want and delivering the content they need. And if you’re hungry for more after that, RazorSocial have plenty of pieces on business and social media to keep you going.

While you’re here being interested in social media and all, why not another cool reminder to check out our Facebook, the ultimate paradigm of business savvy and the genuine power of friendship? It really is some solid stuff.

Double Your Retail Return – Alex Cochran

In this detailed five step plan, Alex Cochran promises to get you doubling your net profit without having to spend a single cent. Cochran’s blog is populated with tips and tricks on expanding your business and maximising profits and this guide is no exception. ‘Double Your Retail Return’ uses lots of diagrams, bullet points and business-sounding initialisms such as GPROSI in order to whip your business into shape. A must-read for any retailer looking to increase their profit margins.

HSA Guide for Safe Workplace

A solid few minutes were spent debating whether or not to title this post with some ‘Safety Dance’ lyrics but given that safety is THE most important topic we could discuss the council ultimately conceded that that would be a bad call. Maybe some other time.

What’s a GOOD call, however, is making sure the risk statements and safety assessments for your business are up to scratch. If you don’t know what these are, you absolutely need to. And you’re in luck cause here’s a handy link to the HSA‘s dandy guide on making such statements and assessments. The document walks you through the main health hazards you or your employees are liable to, how to minimalize these risks and what to do if something does happen. It lays out all your legal requirements as an employer in easy-to-understand terms which will make it much easier to avoid any accidents in the future. The guide also prepares you to write your own safety and health policy and even includes a number of forms at the very end to fill out and get yourself sorted. Safety is important, go check it out!!

Grey is the New Black

It can be difficult enough finding a target audience to target with your assortment of amazing goods and products, which is why it’s important to not automatically write off any particular group of potential customers. In their study ‘Grey is the New Black‘ conducted on the behalf of Retail ExcellenceBehaviour & Attitudes found that many retailers dismiss older people as a potential demographic because they are all notoriously stuffy and penny-pinching and upsetting to look at obviously. However if we let go of these misconceptions, it becomes clear that this significant portion of the population (nearly 23%) is continuously undervalued as a possible market. For example, over 82% of the age 65+ demographic agreed that they had no large financial commitments as opposed to only 23% of the age 25-49 group. While this study was conducted in 2011, many of the observations still ring true today, maybe even moreso now than back then; the study remarks that while older people are not associated with being tech-savvy, many in this group have come to embrace such technologies as Sky+ Television and Skype. This study is an excellent read if you are looking to expand your market into this underappreciated demographic as it not only includes statistics and figures but also market research into this group to see what older people appreciate in their customer care.

How to Upsell

Wikihow is a pretty wonderful resource on most everything you’re gonna have to face in life, including your business. This particularly excellent article on upselling is a really handy guide on making a closer connection with your customer and convincing them to get more bang out of their buck by splurging on a few more items. All the while the guide is illustrated with an anime-esque young woman staring sultrily and directly into the camera with a fairly distressing number of close-ups dedicated to her hands – it’s a win-win all around, honestly.

Retail Sales Techniques – Evan Carmichael

Here’s a handy video on selling techniques from Evan Carmichael. This channel is packed with videos on tips for success and here we see an especially helpful rundown of three golden rules when it comes to convincing customers to buy what you’re selling. Running just under seven minutes, this video is definitely worth a watch!!

Working long hours and just getting by?

Business Owner Question: I am running a small retail operation and my wife and I are able to take a salary out of it by working long hours and the business just about breaks even. We are beginning to tire and are looking for some inspiration.

Reply: I meet people in your situation quite a lot who have got their shop to a sales level which makes it barely viable for them to take a salary out of it, but leaves nothing left over. Usually, as you describe, long hours go hand in hand with this model.

I can give you lots of recommendations, however, a lot depends on your point of view and how willing you are to re-energise the business and yourselves. I could, for example suggest that you embark on a programme of promotional activity, improving the look and feel of your shop and generally stimulating your customers to a higher level of activity, however that is going to require some funding and certainly more energy.

It sounds like the business has got a little stagnant and you both are stuck in a slight rut. That is not going to change unless you do something. It would be worthwhile putting in some energy in the short term to allow you to drive sales and profitability upwards and possibly reach a point where you could employ someone so at least you could work more reasonable hours. I understand it is tiresome after such a long time, but allowing yourself and the business to stagnate will only worsen the situation.

You should carry out an analysis of the businesses’ current spend and future cash flow forecast. By doing this you could potentially allocate some cash to marketing activities or to employing an extra person to give you a break from the business.

You don’t have to be a big, high-tech company to reinvent your business. In fact, the smaller and leaner your business already is, the faster you can shift gears and zoom back into action.

Sit back and take a cold, hard look at your strengths and weaknesses and possible markets. Ask yourself the hard questions first: Do customers still want and buy the same type of products or services you sell? Have industries and styles changed since you started business? Have you kept up with the changes? If not, what changes should you implement to make your business competitive again?

Do you need to develop new products or services? Don’t guess at what customers want and will pay for. Analyse your existing sales and talk to living, breathing prospects. What do they need? What can you provide? What’s the best way to deliver solutions to them? What’s going to bring in the most profit?

Is there any particular niche that buys regularly from you now? If so, consider how you can bring in more of the same types of customers, and what other merchandise they’d be likely to buy.

Finally, remember why you started the business. Money is commonly fought about in business, but keep in mind that the business is there to make your life overall better. You didn’t go into business to make your lives worse.