Photograph by Getty Images/Cultura RF

If you want a life that involves professional success and plenty of time for personal pursuits, you need to be strategic about how you spend your work hours.

By Laura Vanderkam
June 8, 2015

Perhaps it speaks to my secret wonky side, but I knew who Lisa Camooso Miller was before she offered to share her schedule with me. The former communications director for the Republican National Committee, who is now a partner at Blueprint, a Washington D.C. communications firm, appears regularly on Fox News, CNN, and other places.

Yet for all her fascinating political history, when she turned in her time log for my book on 1,001 days in the lives of professional women and their families, she told me “I could be, maybe, the least interesting person on the planet.” Certainly, her days were regimented: up at 5 a.m. for CrossFit, ending precisely at 10 p.m. on school nights. But here’s something that was interesting: she spent a lot of her work hours grabbing coffee with people.

When I asked her about this caffeine habit, I learned it was a matter of strategy, not addiction. She can hunker down at work when she needs to. However, since it’s her relationships with reporters and various political power players that open doors for her company, she doesn’t just stay at the office. She invests time in these relationships whenever possible. Hence the coffees all over her schedule. While I’ve been told many times that parents “can’t” do happy hours, Miller shared that she’d even figured out how to navigate the Republican strategist world, with its occasional required booziness, and get home at a reasonable hour. “I do what I call ‘mom o’clock,’” she said. “I meet for a cocktail with a reporter at four thirty.” By 5:30 p.m. they’ve bonded, and Miller can be home by 6:15. This schedule may not look like other people’s schedules, but for Miller, it means she can have both a thriving family life and professional influence.

I think these are smart strategies for others to consider, too. If you want to have it all—a life that involves professional success and plenty of time for personal pursuits as well—then you need to be strategic about how you spend your work hours. Invested well, work hours generate great returns. The problem is that when you have a full life outside of work, you often face the temptation to focus just on the work in front of you. Yet part of achieving happiness in both work and life is feeling like your career is going somewhere. You are broadening your scope, one coffee and happy hour at a time. Achieving such growth requires a balance between hard-nosed efficiency and a more abundant perspective on time. It’s not about face time, it’s about being what I call “strategically seen.”

 

There are lots of ways to do this. First, don’t talk yourself into false choices: “I’m a working parent and therefore I can’t go to networking events.” You don’t have to go to post-work events every night. No one wants to spend every night away from home, even if all you’re caring for are houseplants. If you keep such interactions as a possibility, though, people will still ask you. You will stay in the loop. Try giving yourself a budget of three events per month. There are 30-31 days in a month, so three events is roughly 10% of your nights. Ninety percent of the time you’re with your family, but that 10% invested at work can go a long way. If you’re a manager, taking your team out three times a month will temper any no-nonsense instruction with more relaxed time together, and that will keep you from being interpreted as cold (which can hurt your upward feedback—not fair, necessarily, but it happens).

Second, make the most of any work travel. If you’re already away from your family, you may as well pack your days with get-togethers. If you’re going to a conference, don’t rely on serendipity. Find out who will be attending that you’d like to see, and invite people for a small gathering early on. If people can’t come to that, make appointments for breakfast, coffee, or drinks. Don’t worry about missing the panels. Panels serve as a way to get big name people to attend the conference. They’re not the point, so go ahead and hang out in the hallway. Be your most extroverted self, and say hello to anyone who looks intriguing. Say yes to the karaoke invitation for post-panel hours.

Finally, like Miller, look for ways to be seen during the day. Your inbox will always be a mess, so when faced with the choice, go grab lunch or coffee with someone rather than emptying it out. If dinner isn’t in the cards, go out for breakfast. Use your breaks to chat with people about their lives and interests. We take breaks anyway, often surfing the web with spare minutes here and there. Better to use this time to invest in relationships. Efficiency is great, but business is never just business. People who make success possible recognize this, and structure their lives to be strategically seen (and still make it home more often than not).

Adapted from I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time by Laura Vanderkam, in agreement with Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © Laura Vanderkam, 2015.

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