Laura Vanderkam ’01
Laura Vanderkam ’01

The image of the harried mom struggling to juggle a career and children is ingrained in our notion of modern life. But is it accurate? Writer Laura Vanderkam ’01 decided to gather some hard data on the subject. She collected time logs for 1,001 days in the lives of women who make at least $100,000 a year and found that most were not as frenetic as pictured: the women averaged a little under eight hours of sleep a night, and about three-quarters of them had time to do something personal during the workday. The logs revealed very few women consistently worked more than 60 hours a week, even if they claimed to.

“It turns out having a demanding career and a family means you will not be a sleep-deprived mess,” says Vanderkam, who describes her findings — and offers examples of strategies her subjects use to get everything done — in I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time.

Many women in the book were able to fit work and children together by creating flexible schedules such as a split shift — working seven hours a day at the office and another two from home in the evening, for instance. More employers, Vanderkam found, are willing to give their workers flexibility in their schedules because “increasingly if you want a certain caliber of people, you need to give on that,” she says.

Vanderkam says the image of 80-hour work weeks in certain fields may discourage young women from pursuing those careers, and women “limit their earning power when they choose not to consider ‘big’ jobs that would require a few extra hours of work on the margins,” she writes. “Some professions get these reputations that you’ll be working around the clock, and young women say, ‘I want a personal life. I can’t do that,’ ” she says. “But if they knew it was 50 hours a week, they would have a very different impression.”