How Laura Vanderkam Uses Time Tracking To Achieve Big Goals

Laura Vanderkam

In December 2017, I called Laura Vanderkam to ask her what I needed to know about time tracking if I was going to attempt to do it. What’s time tracking? It’s exactly what it sounds like – keeping tabs on how you spend your time all day, every day, for as long as you want – and I was intrigued by the prospect of attempting to do it.

After reading Vanderkam’s book I Know How She Does ItI knew I wanted to track my time for at least a week to see what I could learn (hint: so much). One of my biggest takeaways was that by analyzing the data on how you do spend your time, you can make better-informed decisions about how you want to spend your time and how you’re going to do that.

When Vanderkam came out with her latest book, Off The ClockI knew there was no better time to have her as a guest on our podcast, #WeGotGoals.

We’ve interviewed some pretty hardcore goal-setters and getters in the past, and discussed anything from how someone might attempt to sell every cup of coffee in the entire world, to doing whatever it takes to become the fastest woman in the world.

Vanderkam is a high achiever whose goals take a different spin: she led the goal setting conversation with what she calls “better than nothing goals” – not Big, Hairy, and Audacious, but incredibly powerful nonetheless.

Case in point, Vanderkam has run at least one mile a day for more than 500 consecutive days. She talks about how that wouldn’t have been possible if she’d set a goal to run a marathon or even to run 30 miles a week, but that one mile is “like nothing,” she says, and she’s really content with and proud of that goal and the way it makes her feel.

Clearly, Vankderkam is a process-driven person versus an outcome-based goal setter, as proven by her three year time-tracking streak. Prior to writing I Know How She Does Itshe set the big goal to track all of her time for one year. Turns out, she liked the accountability it gave her so much, she just kept going. And the lessons she learned over three years of tracking time – plus input from other case studies and experts – make up the newest addition to her collection as an author Off The Clock.

What time tracking taught her

All of this tracking has helped her as she sets goals and spends her time in two key ways:

1. She remembers how she spent her time more fondly and with gratitude: By looking over her own spreadsheets to reflect back on where the hours went, Vanderkam sees all the things she’s done – something our brains don’t tend to do without bias. Vanderkam notes that our brains have the tendency to remember the negative over the positive (a phenomenon that’s been tested and proven), but she’s able to reminisce on her past more fondly and strip some of those negative connotations away.

2. She’s able to separate the days from one another: She also took notice of what habits she tends to fall into and asks herself, “How is today going to be different from other days?” Vanderkam does this because it helps her to expand time by making memories more, well, memorable.

“When the brain thinks about time, its sense of memory perception is affected by how many memories you have in that unit of time,” Vanderkam says. When we talk about time flying by, she continues, we’re experiencing the shortcut our brain takes to group similar memories together. “So that’s how life starts to disappear into these memory sinkholes.”

Sure, we need routines to help us make decisions quickly and efficiently, but what are we turning into a routine that would be more fun if we did something otherwise? Vanderkam encourages doing things differently, from trying something new to simply walking a different route to work to make your brain remember days differently and apart from each other.


Ready to hear all of her big goals?

Listen to her on the full episode of #WeGotGoals on Apple Podcasts here. You’ll hear the big goals she’s outlined for the future and why she’s still tracking her time down to the half-hour each and every day.

If you like the show as much as we do, be sure to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts and leave it a rating and a review it really does help. And stick around until the end of the episode, goal getters. We have real life goal getting to share from a listener.



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About Maggie Umberger

Maggie moved to Chicago from North Carolina in 2014 with a degree in Journalism and Spanish, a 200-hour yoga certification, a group fitness cert and a passion to teach and to sweat. It wasn't until she found aSweatLife that she really started to feel at home. Here, she's incorporated her passion for health and wellness into her career as she helps to build the network of Ambassadors, trainers and fitness enthusiasts that exist within the aSweatLife ecosystem. You can also find her coaching at CrossTown Fitness and teaching yoga classes at Bare Feet Power Yoga, Yoga Six and exhale.