Laura Vanderkam calls it the “24-hour trap.”
It’s the idea that a work-life balance has to happen every day – that every 24 hours must be neatly divided between your professional responsibilities and everything else you care about. And it’s a “trap” because it’s virtually impossible for many people to achieve, especially parents who hold jobs outside the home.
A better option, Vanderkam says, is to think in terms of 168 hours, or full weeks. Even if you can’t fit in a full eight hours of work, two meals with your kids, and a date with your partner every single day, you can probably make time for everyone over the course of seven days.
Vanderkam is the author of multiple books on productivity and time management, including, most recently, “I Know How She Does It.” In the book she writes that most people think of the week as Monday through midday Thursday. If they can’t fit all their personal and professional priorities into that time period, they feel like a terrible employee, a terrible parent, or a dysfunctional human being.
Vanderkam urges readers to embrace Friday through Sunday as usable time too. For one thing, you might want to do some work on the weekends so you can leave the office at a reasonable hour during the week. Or it could simply mean seeing the hours you spend with your kids on Saturdays and Sundays as an investment in your family, instead of discounting them.
“Any given 24 hours might not be balanced, but the 168-hour week can be,” Vanderkam writes.
For the book, Vanderkam had dozens of high-earning women keep time logs, and she analyzed them for trends and surprises. Some women whose logs she analyzed deliberately worked long days part of the week and shorter days the rest of the week so they could be with their families.
Perhaps the most important takeaway is that you can still be a good parent, or a good member of an organization, even if your days don’t look “balanced” in the traditional sense. So don’t necessarily assume you can’t pursue a career in consulting, for example, because it requires some travel and you have kids at home.
With a little creativity, you can probably make it happen.