Noted time-management expert Laura Vanderkam is the author of many books that help readers do more of the things that matter to them, including Off the Clock, Juliet’s School of Possibilities, and I Know How She Does It. In Vanderkam’s new book Tranquility by Tuesdayshe explores nine practical, actionable solutions for readers to bring more joy and fulfillment into their lives, no matter how chaotic their schedules.
I recently chatted with Laura about the book. In conducting research for the book, Vanderkam presented her nine strategies, or “rules,” and asked 150 participants to conduct a time study. All 150 people came from different backgrounds, held various jobs, and had differing family situations and needs. By experimenting with Vanderkam’s rules—which include pieces of wisdom like give yourself a bedtime, create a back-up time slot for when last-minute responsibilities intrude, and plan the following week on Fridays—participants were able to make more time for the things they care about.
How do you recommend the reader use the book?
Vanderkam: I’d recommend reading through the book once to learn the rules. Then, you could go back through and try to implement one at a time. The 150 people who participated in the Tranquility by Tuesday project—whose experience the book is based on—learned one rule at a time for nine weeks. This was a good pace to try to adopt a habit before moving on; no one got bogged down.
One of your rules is “have a set bedtime.” Is this the rule with the potential to pack the biggest punch for readers?
Vanderkam: While all the Tranquility by Tuesday rules can help calm chaos, I think that adopting a set bedtime will have the biggest impact. That’s why I made it Rule #1! When you get the amount of sleep you need, basically every night, your energy levels will rise significantly. Life will feel more doable. Things that seemed challenging before will no longer feel so oppressive. That’s a lot of payoff for something that can actually feel like a treat! I maintain that going to bed early is how grown-ups sleep.
The rules build upon one another. What if the reader only has a little bit of time and can’t implement all nine? Which rules should they prioritize?
Vanderkam: In addition to giving yourself a bedtime (Rule #1), I’d recommend trying Rule #9: Effortful before Effortless. The next time a spot of leisure time opens up (you’re waiting for a phone call to start, or waiting for the carpool to bring your kids home from soccer practice, for example) challenge yourself to do a little bit of “effortful” fun before the effortless variety. Read for two minutes before opening social media. Or, when you have a longer stretch, do a puzzle for 10 minutes before watching Netflix. You can try this immediately, and it’s not terribly challenging, but it will change your entire experience of leisure time and make it feel far more rejuvenating.
How would you recommend readers use the time tracker with this book?
Vanderkam: Whenever someone tells me they want to spend their time better, I always recommend keeping track of their time. The time tracker helps you determine and see where your time is going. For example, you can track your time during the week in thirty-minute increments. Here’s a link to find out more https://lauravanderkam.com/manage-your-time/ Otherwise, how will you know if you’re changing the right thing? We want to work from good data, and the best way to get that data is to track your time. You don’t have to track your time to follow the Tranquility by Tuesday rules, but I always know—looking back at my past week—if I’ve followed the rules or not because I can see it on my time logs. This allows me to know what I need to tweak.
Based upon the Rule of “Create a Back Up Slot,” ie white space in the calendar that allows for flexibility when responsibilities intrude—what happens if I don’t have time for the habit?
Vanderkam: When something is a priority, we make the time. I’d recommend looking at your schedule and seeing what can go. I’d bet there’s something you can cancel or minimize. But if you don’t, know this — emergencies will happen whether you have a packed schedule or not. You will have to deal with these emergencies. Best to have chosen the space that can absorb them, rather than have life choose it for you.
Based upon the Rule of “Take One Night for You,” what would you recommend if I am too tired to have a night out?
Vanderkam: You could try a weekend morning out if you’re too tired for a night! But if that’s not in the cards, start small. Go take a lunch break to do something you find personally interesting. Or just try something for an hour. I’d also argue that being tired is often a function of being bored with life. If you commit to something fun and energizing, you might discover you are less tired than you imagined.
What happens if my job really doesn’t allow me to leverage the book’s principles? What would you recommend?
Vanderkam: The Tranquility by Tuesday participants worked a wide variety of jobs. Some were flexible and some were not, but just about everyone could figure out a way to do the rules at least some of the time. Look for what you can do. People who worked odd shifts could still aim to protect 7-8 hours to sleep, which is the point of the bedtime rule. No matter what job you have, you can make better choices with small bits of leisure time. Even if you don’t control much about your work, you might still plan out your days and weeks to see what deserves your attention first. The Tranquility by Tuesday rules are designed to be broadly applicable. If you find a rule that doesn’t work, that’s fine. But you might try it, or see if you can modify it and still get the benefits.
Vanderkam’s point is that no matter your job, you can leverage your pockets of time and infuse more fun and meaning into your schedule. The nine Tranquility by Tuesday rules provide the “how.”