How to Find Time to Go Outside (Laura Vanderkam)

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By studying hundreds of time management logs and interviewing some of the most productive men and women in the country, Laura Vanderkam hasn’t just become one of the most sought-after time management experts in the U.S., she has learned what it takes to get the most of time, whether that means doing more for work or making more time to play.

Vanderkam also happens to be the time management expert who taught Amy everything she knows about productivity and getting the most of her time, one of Amy’s favorite subjects. She also has tried Amy’s 20 minutes a day outdoor time experiment.

What she’s learned about time management and getting the most out of the minutes we have can help you find more minutes in your schedule to spend in nature. Hear her best tips, tricks, and insights on this exciting episode of the Humans Outside podcast.

Some of the good stuff:

[1:55] Laura’s favorite outdoor space

[3:04] How she got into time management

[4:03] What she learned from spending time outside

[8:45] The biggest thing she’s personally learned about time

[11:09] The biggest time management mistakes

[21:13] What she tells people who say they don’t have time

[25:05] How to start managing your time

[34:04] Unpacking logistics vs. priorities

[36:44] How to find time to go outside

[40:01] Favorite outdoor gear

[40:24] Most essential outdoor gear

[42:34] Favorite outdoor moment

Connect with this episode:

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Follow us on Instagram and share your outdoor life with the hashtag #humansoutside365.

Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation on The Humans Outside Podcast. Listen to the episode on iTunes, Google Podcasts, or wherever you find your favorite podcasts.

Amy Bushatz 0:01

When I decided in 2017 that I wanted to spend a certain amount of time outside every day for a year, one of my first questions was — how and where was I going to find the time for that? So I tapped back into my long term fascination with time management and the knowledge that I truly do have time for anything I want to do. That’s the end of the story. But how I got there and how exactly I learned to smash my day and other obligations into really, truly having time for all the things I want to do is entirely because of this week’s guest. Laura Vanderkam is a time management researcher and expert, the host of several podcasts, including Before Breakfast and The Best of Both Worlds, author of the new book The New Corner Office: How the Most Successful People Work from Home, and my personal favorite, 168 hours: You Have More Time Than You Think. She also has personally participated in my challenge to spend at least 20 minutes outside every single day. Laura, welcome to the Humans Outside Podcast. It’s such a pleasure to have you.

Laura Vanderkam 1:33

Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate that very kind introduction, though. I’m pretty sure I can’t take credit for many of the wonderful things you’re pulling together over there.

Amy Bushatz 1:43

Well, you taught me at least the basis, but we’ll get into that. We start each of these podcast episodes imagining ourselves in our guest’s favorite outdoor space. Where are we with you today?

Laura Vanderkam 1:55

Well, we’re honestly on my back porch. I wish it was somewhere more exciting than that, I certainly love being on oceans or mountain tops. And those are great when I get there. But in terms of a day to day wonderful spot, my back porch is overlooking the backyard, it’s elevated a bit, so you can see over some of the treetops. The people who had the house before us were very into landscaping, it’s like magic. Even in winter, you can’t really see that many of the neighbors. It looks very secluded. So especially in spring, as things start opening up, it’s a lovely place to hang out. So I’m trying to get out there as much as possible.

Amy Bushatz 2:38

Awesome. I am a fan of our back porch too, but only in the non-winter.

Laura Vanderkam 2:45

Yeah, I’m sure it’s gorgeous in the summer. If you plant enough pine trees, you see stuff year round, then.

Amy Bushatz 2:53

That’s right, fair enough. So talk to us first about how you got into this field of time management and productivity. Have you always been a time management and productivity junkie?

Laura Vanderkam 3:04

I have liked it for a great many years. And certainly before I was known for it professionally, I was into it personally. But you know, I was a writer first and foremost and casting around for different topics that I enjoyed writing about and that other people were interested in reading about, too – so that, you know, narrow overlap of my Venn diagram here. But time is fascinating to me, because everybody has the same amount of time. That’s just such a cool thing if you think about it, because you know, other people have different things going on for them. They may be richer, smarter, better looking than the rest of us, but nobody has more time. And so whenever you meet people who are just doing amazing things with their lives, they’re doing it the same 24 hours the rest of us have. So I have built a career out of studying what these people are doing, so maybe the rest of us can learn from it.

Amy Bushatz 4:03

Yeah. Super fascinating. You’ve also done the 20 minutes a day Humans Outside 365 Challenge. I spend a lot of time telling folks to try this., so it’s really incredible to me to see someone I respect so much actually doing it, by the way, like, my heart is filled with joy.

Laura Vanderkam 4:21

Oh, good. My heart is filled with joy, too, Amy.

Amy Bushatz 4:25

So, what did you learn by spending that time outside and building that habit?

Laura Vanderkam 4:30

Yeah, so I tried this for the first time, I think it was winter 2019 maybe. And I had read that you were doing it and it sounded like a pretty cool thing to try. Our winters aren’t quite as brutal, I think, as Alaska here outside Philadelphia, but they can still be kind of dark and cold and depressing. And so I said — Well, I know I feel better about life in general when I get outside. It’s just you know, in winter, it’s always challenging to do that. So I said — Well, let me set it as a resolution. You know, for the first three months of the year, I tend to set quarterly resolutions, which is a whole different story. But anyway, so January to March, I am going to go outside for 20 minutes a day. And I don’t know that I hit it 100%, but I’ve got the vast majority of days. I mean, there was one day that was sort of walking around an airport parking garage, but you know.

Amy Bushatz 5:21

Done that!

Laura Vanderkam 5:23

It was actually kind of nice. I mean, when the sun was going down over the highway. So I was just walking, saying — Oh, the sky is bright pink, you know, yes, I’m in a parking garage, but it’s still nice to be outside for a little bit. And it was really, it gave me a different experience of winter. Going outside still makes you feel better even if it’s really crappy, and a lot of the crappiness you can deal with with good enough gear. Now I don’t know that I’m hardcore enough to be outside was like minus 20 degrees as I’ve seen some of your Instagram posts, but here it tends not to get lower than about 15 degrees or so. So I can get gear for that. You can go outside and tromp around in the frozen backyard and come back in and feel energized. So I’m really glad I’ve done it and it’s something I aim to do most winters. Usually I go for a run outside if it’s not really slick, that’s something I can do as well.

Amy Bushatz 6:21

Just so you know, I don’t think that negative 20 is significantly worse than 15. It sounds worse, but in practicality, you just were more of whatever that thing is that you were wearing before. And you do have to cover your face in a way that you don’t at 15 because – this is gonna make it sound even worse – your nose hairs freeze. You can actually feel them start to crystallize. It is the weirdest thing. So it sounds terrible, but like how do you deal with this? Well you wear a buff over your face. And there’s nothing more badass or cooler looking than taking a picture after you’ve done this of like your breath frozen on your eyelashes. 20 minutes is not long enough to actually be suffering after being out there for that long, because if you’ve covered your face and whatever, like it’s just not long enough. So you get all the benefits of looking like a badass and none of the problems and that’s my favorite.

Laura Vanderkam 7:31

That sounds great. If it ever dips that low here, I’ll remember that,

Amy Bushatz 7:34

Please. And I have absolutely spent my 20 minutes walking outside in various sundry parking structures or, my personal favorite, the drop off area of an airport, back and forth with my kids, yelling at them to please stay away from the curb and stay to the side. But you know — how much longer, Mom? 10 more minutes, don’t inhale the exhaust! Yeah, it’s happened. But you know what, it was still better than being inside, and I did notice the trees and there was a nice pink light, like you mentioned. And it was actually super beneficial. And the net gain was that it evened out having to go back through security. Let’s put it that way.

Laura Vanderkam 8:22

So that’s a pretty big gain, big words.

Amy Bushatz 8:27

So since you started in this field, you’ve studied a lot of time logs as part of your research and coached a lot of people about time management. You’ve seen very productive people and probably some totally unproductive people. What’s the biggest thing you’ve personally learned about time?

Laura Vanderkam 8:45

I think that to spend time well, you need to be intentional about it. And that sounds incredibly simple, but it’s harder than it sounds because time keeps passing whether you think about how you’re spending it or not. And you can’t ever save it, either. And so unlike, money or food or other such things that people track quantities of and make decisions about, it’s much easier to have time go mindlessly than food or money or anything along those lines. So in order to spend time well, you need to have some moment in your life where you step outside the flow of time and ask yourself — well, how would I like to direct this? How would I like to spend it? I sometimes liken it to taking your canoe to the side of the river and looking at the current and saying — Okay, well, how am I going to direct myself through this? As opposed to just, you know, running with it. And you know, some people are bigger planners than others. I certainly don’t mean that in order to be successful you have to plan every 15 minutes of your life. You don’t and I’ve met many successful people who have a much more free flowing style, but they generally are thinking about — well, what would it be good for me to spend my time on, what is less good for me to spend my time on, and how can I consciously structure my schedule in order to spend more time on the things I am excited about and I think that you know, that I do uniquely well, and how can I spend less time on the things that don’t fall into that category? So I personally, the thing that I credit for really, you know, keeping me on top of things such as I ever am, is that I plan my weeks on Fridays. I take a little bit of time on Friday afternoon – because that tends to feel like you’re stepping outside the flow of time, you’re usually not doing all that much on Friday afternoons sliding into the weekend – and just look over the next week and say — Well, what would I like to do professionally? What would I like to do personally? What’s already on my calendar professionally? What’s already on my calendar personally? How can I do a good job on those things? How can I get rid of them if I don’t actually want to do them? But having this little bit of time set aside to direct the flow of time means the time is spent intentionally. You wind up wasting far less time on things you don’t care about.

Amy Bushatz 11:04

What’s the biggest mistake people make while they’re trying to do that?

Laura Vanderkam 11:09

Well, I mean, you could go either way of planning too much or not planning anything at all. I mean, people say — well, what’s the biggest time waster in people’s lives? I think they expect me to say something like television or web surfing or social media or bad meetings or something like that. And all of those are indeed, culprits. Email is another one who can consume all available space. But mindlessness is really the common theme of all of those. And so what you think about a normal time – and we’re social distancing when we’re recording this – but in normal times, on a weekend, people might get up on Saturday morning, sort of not having any idea what they want to do with their time. That takes a long time to decide, and then they’re not sure, and then nothing really happens until the end of the day, and then things are precluded because you didn’t think about it. And so you wind up having this huge chunk of potentially high quality leisure time or family time spent on things that aren’t really all that exciting to you, they’re not particularly rejuvenating or meaningful. And so that’s where a lot of meaningless time tends to wind up. It’s not that any given meeting is, you know, a horrible waste of time that’s changed your life. I mean, it could be. But, you know, spending work days mindlessly happens too.

Amy Bushatz 12:21

I find it like it builds, right? Like, if I have one waste of time, mindless meeting, it feeds into the next one. But if I nip this in the bud, right, in the start of the day, I am better able to have none of those happen the rest of the day. Am I crazy?

Laura Vanderkam 12:41

No. So much of time is how we feel about it. And one of the things I’m often talking with people about is scoring victories early in the day, something that makes you feel like you’re making progress, you’ve won, because that sense of accomplishment can motivate you to do more. Whereas if you start the day not winning, then that sense of not winning can preclude doing anything else the rest of the day too.

Amy Bushatz 13:11

It’s the Eat That Frog principle, I think.

Laura Vanderkam 13:14

Yeah, I mean, there’s something to that. But I mean, I’m not sure that we need to eat many frogs at all. And, you know, ideally, people structure their lives so there aren’t a whole lot of things that they really, really hate to do. Like, I tend to believe that humans don’t do well with suffering long term. So if it’s a work project you truly hate to do, I mean, yes, you might be good doing it first to get it over with, but maybe long term, you say — well, that’s actually maybe not something I’m best at. I need to maneuver my career to be working on different projects that don’t make me feel like I’m eating a frog first thing in the morning. Or, you know, lots of people exercise first thing in the morning and that’s great, but hopefully the kind of exercise you’re doing also doesn’t make you feel like you’re eating a frog. Hopefully it’s something you genuinely enjoy, or at least don’t hate.

Amy Bushatz 14:04

Okay, so but there’s a difference between doing mindless things and being purposefully mindless, right? Like you leave behind the things that are eating your time to get space so that you can better use your time?

Laura Vanderkam 14:20

I certainly don’t think that spending time in a relaxed way or having consciously chosen downtime is a mistake at all. I mean, this is one of these false sort of choices I’ve seen and occasionally people write things about the horrors of time management. I think the title and praise of wasting time has been used in a lot of different ways. I don’t think it’s wasted time to have consciously chosen downtime, like we all need downtime in our lives. The problem is that a lot of us have tons of unconsciously chosen downtime that you have, you know, an hour that you could spend on whatever and you spend it reading tweets that are mean and horrible, and don’t make you feel better about the world. And so how much better would it have been to just like, go outside and stare at the clouds? So I think, you know, there’s nothing wrong with downtime, it’s when it’s mindlessly spent on things that don’t actually matter to us that we have more of a problem.

Amy Bushatz 15:24

Sure. It’s like your finances, right? You want to know where your money is going. It’s not that spending it on a latte is bad. It’s that spending it on 17 lattes without knowing that you did that is probably not the best choice.

Laura Vanderkam 15:39

Or not even enjoying them, right? Like, it’s as if you were throwing money at a coffee you didn’t like, you know, and you say — I don’t know why I keep winding up with these, you know, green milkshakes. They’re just here. That’s what it’s like to spend your time on things that are meaningless to us. People have all kinds of these things in their lives, like sorting the mail pile over and over again, puttering around the house, reading clickbait articles online that we don’t even really want to be reading. The reality of time passing mindlessly is why these things keep happening.

Amy Bushatz 16:14

I think my biggest pitfall is that I know that I need to go to bed at like, 8:30 – okay guys, I confess that I’m lame and I go to bed at 8:30. But I get up at 4, so don’t judge me too harshly. I have a habit that the more tired I get, the more I just am scrolling, scrolling, scrolling Facebook or something, for no point and I’m not enjoying it. And I would be much better served if I got up off the couch and went downstairs and went to bed. And I would not be losing anything because I’m not gaining anything by being on the couch to start with. It’s a major problem for me. I gotta get control of that.

Laura Vanderkam 16:54

But it’s very common, because what’s happening is as you’re getting tired, your ability to make good choices is disappearing along with all the sorts of executive functioning and control. And it takes a little bit of effort to go to bed. So you don’t have the ability to put that effort in as it gets later. I sometimes solve this by trying to get ready for bed earlier in the evening. So I’m just ready to fall into bed whenever it is time to put myself down for the night. But I’m also a big fan of going to bed early. I always say that going to bed early is how grown ups sleep in, so nothing wrong with 8:30.

Amy Bushatz 17:33

Yes, thank you. I appreciate it. Thank you for the validation. Oh, that’s funny.

What do you tell people who say they can’t they can’t do it. They can’t manage their time. They don’t want to do that. Gretchen Rubin would call them the rebels right? Because you were suggesting they must do this, therefore they shall not. What do you tell people who, I mean in a way, want to, but they can’t.

Laura Vanderkam 17:59

I was going to just say — Well, great. You know, not my problem.

I want people to live good lives. And I think this is one way to do it. But if you have another way, great, you know, we all can manage our lives as we wish to. I think what happens for a lot of people is that they’ve done okay without thinking about it too much when they’re only responsible for themselves. Because, you know, if you’re just an adult going through life, it doesn’t necessarily matter if you’ve made questionable time management choices. Like if you don’t finish something during the week, heck, you know, just do it on the weekend, right? Make up the time on the weekend. If you don’t make a reservation for dinner, well, it doesn’t matter. You can go sit in a bar somewhere for an hour at a crowded restaurant, back when people did that, and it’ll be fine. Like, you don’t mind having that hour long wait and you don’t have a babysitter meter ticking while you’re doing it. But what happens though, when people have children for instance, or wind up with other caregiving responsibilities, is that you become accountable for your time and not thinking about it just leads to sheer chaos. And, you know, again, maybe you can deal with the chaos, but a lot of people just decide it isn’t worth it. They need to come up with some habits and some routines and some forward thinking in terms of — what is coming up that we need to deal with, and logistically, how do we make that happen? And you know, if you’re thinking about those things, then it’s just a small step to start thinking about time more broadly, and how you’d like to spend it, and what you need to do to make sure that you are spending more time on those things that are good.

Amy Bushatz 21:06

Now that you’ve been doing this for more than a decade, when people tell you they don’t have time for something, what do you say?

Laura Vanderkam 21:13

Well, my favorite phrase is from a lady I interviewed very early in my time management writing journey, who basically said that “I don’t have time” means that it’s not a priority. And I think that is really more accurate language. I mean, almost anything you’d say that you don’t have time for, if somebody offered to pay you $100,000 to do it, like it would rise up the priority list fairly quickly. So it’s not that you don’t have time, it’s that you don’t want to do it. People will come up with all sorts of — but what about this, but what about this? Okay, I’m not saying that everything is because, you know, it’s not a priority. There may be bad consequences to making choices. I’m not saying that all choices are consequence free. But sometimes we’re making choices because of things we assume, as opposed to things that are actually true. And so whenever you find yourself saying I don’t have time for this, try substituting the language of — it’s not a priority for me to do X. And if it’s true, it’s true. Like you can own that truth. I mean, just because it’s a priority for someone else, or you perceive that it might be a priority for the larger world, doesn’t automatically mean that it should be for you. But of course, if you’re saying — Well, actually, it is a priority for me — then, well, time to find at least a little bit of time. I mean, maybe not a ton of time, but, you know, could you find an hour a week, spread out over the course of the week? Could you find an hour for this thing you’re not doing? Well, great. You know, could you find three spots in a week where you could do this thing? A lot of times people could find three spots. They can’t find every day, but maybe three spots, and anything you’re doing three times a week is a habit.

Amy Bushatz 23:06

This comes back to one of the things that Gretchen Rubin taught me about resolutions. The reason I picked 20 minutes, conveniently, I also read some studies that said things like 20 minutes is a pretty good quote unquote dosage of outdoor time, right? There’s actually benefits to it scientifically, which is awesome. But the other reason I picked 20 minutes is because I knew that I would never in a million years make time for 45. Right? I would not make that a priority. I would come up with excuses or something along those lines. And I knew that I could winkle 20 minutes a day out of my schedule by simply not scrolling Facebook, you know, five times, or whatever, right? And that that was something I would actually do. And that’s why I picked that time. It’s about priorities, at least for me, I can say that. I think saying — it’s not my priority — is a softer way to say — I don’t want to.

Laura Vanderkam 24:10

That’s probably true as well. But yeah, you’re onto something with very small steps. You know, because anything you want to do daily, you’re gonna need to do on not your best day. This is the problem people often reach with habits is that they’re setting goals for themselves that assume that it will be their best day. But you can’t have that many best days in life. Like you’re gonna have some bad days, too. And so for it to truly happen daily, it needs to be small enough that you can do it on those bad days. So what is that thing? 20 minutes is doable on a bad day, an hour probably not doable on a bad day. And so that’s why 20 minutes was a lot smarter.

Amy Bushatz 24:52

So if I came to you and said that I wanted to create this habit, 20 minutes a day outside or any habit like that, and I said — Please, help me find the time in my schedule to do this, like, where would we start? What would you do?

Laura Vanderkam 25:05

Well, I always suggest that people try tracking their time, ideally for a week just to see where it’s going. Partly because I have not met anyone who doesn’t have some time that they could repurpose to higher value things if they would like. Like nobody’s schedule is that perfect. And I’m not saying that the schedule isn’t packed full. But there’s probably stuff in it that you don’t wish to be spending that much time on. And maybe you can do something about it. You know, 20 minutes a day is 140 minutes a week, that’s two hours and 10 minutes. So there are 168 hours in a week, which suggests that finding two hours in 10 minutes is maybe not so difficult. Maybe it can be combined with other things. I mean, maybe a conference call can be taken outside. Maybe, you know, instead of going to a restaurant that you don’t have to go outside to get to, maybe there’s one that you park a little further away to get to. There’s just little ways you could deepen time and find these 20 minutes. But by being aware of your time, you probably will see more open spots and say — Oh, well actually, you know, on weekends, I’m seldom doing anything before this time or during the week, I have a little spot of time here. And I could choose to do something with it.

Amy Bushatz 26:26

I like what you just said, because I think we tend to think about how we spend our time in terms of value propositions or morals, right? And you’re not saying that you’re attaching a particular value proposition to any given thing. You’re saying, if you don’t want to spend your time like this, stop. Netflix is not inherently bad. I guess that’s what I’m trying to say. Because we like to pass judgment on people saying — well, you’re just wasting your time doing XYZ thing that I personally don’t find value in. But that’s not what we’re saying.

Laura Vanderkam 27:00

No, people find value in all sorts of different things. And certainly there’s a lot of really great television out. I mean, it’s, again, not probably how I choose to spend my time. But if somebody else enjoys that as their primary leisure time activity, as long as it’s done mindfully, well, great. Also, I think that there’s a lot of things that look productive, that really aren’t. Like, within the context of work, for instance. People will spend hours trying to be on top of email by checking it constantly, with the result that they never have open chunks of time where they are not in and out of the inbox. And that means they never get the chance to focus. But there was nothing gained by responding to an email within 30 minutes as opposed to within an hour. It was wasting the time, the extra time it took to do that, to be that responsive. The same thing with many meetings. I mean, I never understood why all meetings take 30 or 60 minutes, do all human decisions naturally lend up to 30 or 60 minutes? Well, no, it’s just that, you know, people are accustomed to managing by time, not by what they’re actually trying to get done. And many meetings don’t start with saying — well, this is what’s going to change in the world as a result of our having this meeting. And if nothing’s changed, then it’s unclear why everyone got together in the first place. So you can waste a ton of time that way. I would say that housework, of course, is another thing that expands to fill all available space. And yes, some needs to get done. Like, you don’t want to live in squalor. But I mean, there are people who kind of patrol the house making sure that waste baskets are always empty. Why? It’s just gonna fill up again. So there’s no inspection like coming around, like you get extra bonus points if there was nothing in your wastebasket. So, these are all things that people fill time with and it looks productive that you’re doing it, but I would argue that it might have been wasted time.

Amy Bushatz 29:04

One of my favorite things that you taught me was the power of outsourcing. I don’t think that I had really thought that through before I read your book the first time. And I am a big old fan now. For example, my house cleaner arrives in an hour. But because I looked at my schedule, and I looked at the value of my time, and I determined that paying somebody who was a professional to spend three hours once every other week cleaning my house was worth it. My time is worth more than doing that. And they are better at it than me, and do it faster than I could, and now I’m supporting the economy. There’s just so many good things and all of them end with my house being clean!

Laura Vanderkam 29:47

Yes, great. Nice.

Amy Bushatz 29:49

It’s like just winning all around. Like I said earlier, it fills my heart with joy. What can I say? For me right now though, the biggest challenge isn’t finding time and I think probably a lot of people feel this way. It’s because I know how to do that, right? It’s finding time that also corresponds with brain power. When I have time, I no longer have the energy or focus. I don’t know, maybe this is a commentary on getting older. Do you hear that complaint from other people?

Laura Vanderkam 30:17

Well, certainly, time is time, but not all time is best suited to all things. For instance, a lot of people have this idea that they’re going to write the great American novel at night, in the time that is left over after they have done everything else. They get to nine o’clock at night. The kids are asleep. They’re like — Huh, I’d rather watch Netflix than write the great American novel. And you know, it’s understandable because you’re tired at that point. Yes, it’s an hour but it’s hard to do it unless you have consciously planned out your energy for the day so that you are ready to sit down and do that and the rest of your life supports that structure. Most people have more energy in the morning. This makes sense. You sleep, you add to your energy levels, you know, you may eat in the morning, and then you’ve added to your energy levels more, and then you’re ready to take on the world. If you’ve had coffee, that’s even more the case. But by mid afternoon, most people go into something of a slump. This is when small children nap. And many people who are older than the small child stage would like to nap. And it’s very hard to focus at that point. And the reason, you know, and this can be very challenging for people, I had a question somebody sent in for one of my podcasts that she and her husband were splitting the day with childcare as a lot of people who don’t have access to childcare right now are doing, and her workday then started at 1pm. So the problem is after chasing the kids in the morning and getting to 1pm, I don’t really feel like working. It’s like a, you know, low energy time anyway, and I’m tired. How do I do this? And so I said — Well, you know, you’ve got to come up with some sort of like starting ritual, you know, your own workspace. You might try to choose something for that hour with the kids before the 1pm start that you enjoy, right? That’s not gonna be draining for you. Maybe it’s a walk, or maybe it’s, you know, reading stories or something that’s a little bit more enjoyable for everyone then trying to do sibling battles or something. And then, you know, planning out your work so you know exactly what you’re going to do at 1pm when you start, so you’re not burning energy deciding, and then you’ve burned so much energy deciding that you don’t feel like doing it. I mean, so there are ways you can counter low energy times, but it’s also just helpful to know when they’re coming and then decide — well, is it even going to work? And if it is — what can I do to make sure that my stuff still gets done? And if it isn’t going to work — then you need to rework your schedule. I mean, maybe somebody would be better off getting up from four in the morning and working from four to six, and then dealing with the childcare, and at 1pm taking a nap for an hour, and then getting into their work.

Amy Bushatz 32:56

Yeah, preach. I have this period of time between seven and when I go to bed, that my kids are gleefully listening to Harry Potter on Audible, and I am doing nothing. And so I’ve decided that this is a great time to do things that don’t take any brainpower. But the problem is that I’m so tired, I can’t think of what they are. So I’ve decided I need to sit down at like 3pm and make up this list of leftover stuff that I can do during that chunk of time, so that I actually have them written down and then don’t have to think about them. I can just, you know, mindlessly do them. I’m talking about things like editing photos, like just things that take no brain power and are such a waste of time, when I’m keyed in, but then I can’t think of them later.

Laura Vanderkam 33:47

I’m a big fan of lists in general, they help our brains remember, you know what we’re going to do when our brains are not equipped to figure that out. I like to end each work day by setting my to do list for the next day because I’m not going to know where I left off on everything in the morning. And I don’t want to burn time deciding, especially now that everyone’s home. You have to seize what work time is available.

Amy Bushatz 34:16

I hope you can unpack something for us a little bit because I’ve mentioned I’ve actually mentioned you saying this in the show a couple of times. So now that we have you here live in the flesh, I’ve heard you talk about the problem of logistics versus time. That one type of problem is a logistics question. And the other one is a time question. Can you unpack that pack that for us a little bit?

Laura Vanderkam 34:40

Well, I mean, I think with 168 hours a week, we certainly have time for all kinds of things. You know, if you are working 40 hours at a full time job and sleeping eight hours a night, so that’s 56 hours a week, that leaves 72 hours for other things. And people like to go through this. I’ve read all this time management literature, people try to point out that big chunks of this are, you know, associated with various things. But much of that you don’t have to do or doesn’t take nearly as long as people claim it does, like there is still time left over. I mean, you can do whatever you want. But that 72 hours is still some time there. The question is, well, can you use it for everything? I don’t know. Like, I mean, if you have a two year old who is around for most of those 72 hours, it’s not going to be automatic that you can say, go get a pedicure, but you may have other resources available to you that if you think through the logistics, then you could go do many of those things. Like, do you have a partner? For instance, if that partner is there and capable of caring for the child like, well, you actually have logistics, the ability to do many things. You just have to talk about it. And you have to make a plan for it because your partner isn’t automatically going to know that’s what you want to do, and may not automatically volunteer to cover the time with the two year old. But if you say — Hey, you know, on this Saturday, I have an idea, like Sunday’s gonna be Family Day, Saturday, you and I split. Like I will take x hours, you take y hours, and each of us could go do whatever we want during that time. Well, that seems like a very reasonable proposition. And everyone knows that’s coming up, you can make your plan for it and know you’ll get time to do some fun things. But if you don’t talk about it, then you won’t.

Amy Bushatz 36:29

Right. So again, priorities, priorities, priorities, and logistics. So if I was going to tell you or a listener was to ask how they possibly can find time to create an outdoor habit, what would you tell them maybe three or four actionable steps?

Laura Vanderkam 36:44

Well, we discussed tracking our time looking at your schedule and identifying a few things that could be that you’re already doing that could be done outside. You know, this is just a way of multitasking well. Whether it’s a phone call that can be done outside, maybe it’s that you walk somewhere instead of driving at some point, maybe you take a workout outside sometime. You can even have a meal outside if you’re in someplace where the weather is nice, but these are all things that could maybe be moved outside. So identify a few of those. You know, you might also note that everybody needs breaks. And unless you are chained to your desk, you could probably go outside for a 10 minute break somewhere in the day, you know, think of it as a smoke break without the cigarettes, you’re just going outside. Just like the smokers in your office would do, only you are not ruining your lungs. Identifying a quick break you could take somewhere during the day when you have a low energy point, and then maybe coming up with, you know, fun family or weekend activities that would get you outside for a little longer period of time. I definitely encourage people to think about their weekends ahead of time. And one of the things You could do is say — Well, what sort of outdoor activities would be feasible looking at the weather report, looking at the temperature, and what else we have on the schedule? When can we build in some outdoor time as a family? That should get you to at least 20 minutes right there.

Amy Bushatz 38:15

Multitasking sometimes is the great Satan of the productivity world. You know, people go back and forth, right? Like, — oh, you should multitask! And then — No, don’t multitask, that ruins your flow. Okay. But what we’re saying is multitask smartly.

Laura Vanderkam 38:33

Yeah, and I don’t think that this is what people would talk about as multitasking. I mean, when you’re listening to a podcast while driving, you are multitasking. But most people don’t think of it that way, or even listening to the radio. Or if you are listening to music while cooking dinner or something. These are little ways of multitasking but you’re not using the same part of your brain. It is not the same as trying to listen into a conference call and checking email at the same time. That is multitasking. That doesn’t really work, or else you’re just not paying attention to one of those things.

Amy Bushatz 39:04

Or maybe you shouldn’t be on the conference call.

Laura Vanderkam 39:06

If you can multitask during a conference call, you probably shouldn’t be on it. That’s a good rule of thumb. But you know, going on a walk with a friend is multitasking. But it’s not a bad sort of it. You know, having lunch with a friend, you’re eating and socializing, that’s two things. But you know, most of us don’t think of that as a bad form of multitasking.

Amy Bushatz 39:29

I do find the proposition of doing two things at once irresistible. Successfully and correctly, let’s put it that way. I could talk to you for literally all day, but instead, we’re going to go into our leftovers round. I want to know since you do have this outdoor habit, what is your favorite outdoor gear?

Laura Vanderkam 39:50

So this is not the same question of the one we have to have, right?

Amy Bushatz 39:55

I find that there’s really two different types, right? There’s things that we love and then things that we can’t Without

Laura Vanderkam 40:01

So, huh? Okay, so I enjoy a big towel.

It’s good to have something to sit on on the ground and it, you know, makes me think of the beach and sometimes I use them at the beach and it’s really nice to just sink into a big fluffy towel. So I’d say that would be one of my favorite outdoor items.

Amy Bushatz 40:24

And what’s your most essential?

Laura Vanderkam 40:26

Rain pants!

One of my sons is in the Cub Scouts, and we do camping trips, usually every October and every May. And I feel like our Cub Scout Troop has its own personal rain cloud that follows us around because it rains every single camp out. And I feel like, you know we had raincoats, but it was still just ridiculous. And then last time I was like — Okay, I’m gonna buy rain pants. And so he and I wore our rain pants on the trip and it was actually so much more pleasant because our legs weren’t wet.

Amy Bushatz 41:12

The day I decided I was going to spend this amount of time outside every day, it was raining. And I was sitting outside feeling angry because it was raining and because I had waited for Alaska to be not doing something terrible for a long time, months and months and months. This is like Memorial Day weekend, okay. And I sat there and I said to myself — Amy, if you sit here and wait for Alaska to do what you want, like it’s never going to happen. You should probably get over that. And two, let’s have a think about the practical things that were missing to make this doable. And the very first thing I did was walk inside in order rain pants, because I was like — so help me God. We are going outside and we are going to be dry.

Laura Vanderkam 42:00

Yeah, the rain pants are key. I mean, I run outside a lot too and I run in the winter. I was yeah buying warm fuzzy pants. I had, you know, running tights, but I realized I don’t like spandexy tights even if they’re allegedly windproof or whatever. I don’t like wearing them outside in the winter. So I’m going to buy warm fuzzy polartec pants and run in those.

Amy Bushatz 42:23

Alright, final question. If you’re going to close your eyes and picture or remember your most favorite outdoor time ever, where are you and what are you doing?

Laura Vanderkam 42:34

I think I’m running on the beach. I have run on a lot of beaches, and many of them are gorgeous. I’m not sure I have a favorite one. I always love California if I can run along the beach in San Diego. There’s one I remember just because we had a family trip to San Diego, I think was early 2016. And my husband and I each agreed to take the kids for a day and give the other party a day off. And he wound up going kind of over the top and took our kids we had at the time to Disneyland, which was like two hours away from San Diego, and then they spent the whole day there and came back. So I had this whole day to myself and I went on a nice long run along the cliffs in San Diego. It was just one of the most beautiful experiences ever.

Amy Bushatz 43:18

Amazing. Laura, thank you so much for being on the Humans Outside Podcast today.

Laura Vanderkam 43:22

Thank you so much for having me.

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