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        illustration of watch face with section dedicated to friends, family, and work to highlight time management

        Ask Lauren:Women In Business

        Reframing Time Management

        From fitting in time for friends to being honest with ourselves about procrastination, columnist Lauren Smith Brody offers guidance on time management strategies without changing who you are in any way.

        Written By
        Lauren Smith Brody
        Illustration
        Maria-Ines Gul

        My sister Blair is a professional copywriter, and every January, she wages a personal one-woman war against the marketing emails and storefronts that proclaim, “New year, new you!” Because, how completely unoriginal. But also because, no thank you! No one needs to be made “new!” Every year, we are the opposite of new. We are older and hopefully a bit wiser with deeper perspective and greater empathy.

        This month’s questions are all about time management in the new year, about finding more time for friends, saying “no” more easily, and not stressing yourself out by procrastinating. All, of course, in the context of surging Covid cases, school closures and seemingly endless childcare juggling. Here’s a promise: None of the answers below will be about changing yourself in any way. Instead, let’s fight the systems around us to be more fair, and let’s go easier on ourselves, seeing not flaws but beautiful adaptations. Just writing this column has helped me. I hope reading it helps you.

        Q: I want to fit in time for friends better. I never drop family or work balls, but hate that I am not a great friend.

        In my work, I hear from so many women who say that they feel guilty that they’re “not great mothers.” But literally 100 percent of the time: They are. The fact that they care means, almost certainly, that their kids are in good hands, but also that these women internalize shame instead of externalizing outrage over the lack of support for parents.

        Let’s airlift that whole idea right onto your worries about not being a great friend. My guess is, you already are one. And yet, you don’t feel it. That’s not your fault. And it’s fixable.

        Two big time management strategies here that I want you to try to embrace:

        • For those of us who grew up on Sex and the City (or SATC reruns), friendship looks like brunch, right? Friends sitting around a table together, rehashing the previous night’s drama. Breaking news: Quality friend time doesn’t have to include mimosas. All of those work and family balls you’re not dropping? I promise you those include friendships you just haven’t labeled as such. Work friends are real friends. The receptionist at the pediatrician who knows that your son vastly prefers Peppa Pig to Bluey stickers? She is your friend. And no, your group girls’ text is not the same as a ladies’ weekend away on the beach, but the delight you get from those pings all day long absolutely counts. The average American work-week is 34.6 hours, and moms spend an additional 28 hours per week on unpaid labor taking care of kids. Look for moments of kindness and friendship during those hours – they’re there and they can bring joy and solidarity to all of the work we do as parents.

        • One of the best ways to be a great friend is to receive friendship. Let people help you. Sounds completely counterintuitive, I know, but stick with me because it’s a eureka moment we all deserve. When you ask a friend to bring your quarantined family some soup, when you lean on a colleague to cover for you while you’re on vacation, when you spend 23 minutes out of a 24-minute call talking about YOUR problems (whoops, sorry Liz O.!), the message you send is: “I am human. I am imperfect. I need help. I trust you. And, please ask me to do the same for you next time.” Friendships, I believe, are built on empathy and humanity above all else. Do you want to be friends with a perfect robot who never runs late for pickup? Or do you want to be friends with someone who screws up occasionally and therefore really, truly empathizes when you do, too? Drop some of those balls, ask for the support you need, and you’ll be asked for some back soon, and then, there ya go: Friendship.

        Q: Saying yes to everything…I have a hard time saying no and end up spending a lot of time doing things I don't really want to do. Any tips for saying no? Or taking control over my own time?

        I have a bit of a hot take on this. I know a lot of people find real power in saying no. I wish I could earnestly tell you to cross your arms, turn on your heels, and bellow NO like a good feminist mom advice columnist probably should.

        But many of us, feminist mom advice columnists included, have been so conditioned to say yes, to be helpful, nurturing pleasers, that I know it’s an unrealistic approach. Instead, for your first step of Yes Detox, try “No, but.”

        No, I will not edit the neighborhood newsletter, but here’s a great picture you can include.

        No, I am not joining that Zoom, but Jayson and I are trading off and he’ll share notes.

        “No, but,” keeps you from wasting precious time and energy ruminating and second-guessing your no.

        Now, Yes Detoxers, you’re ready for the big reframe. I resist the negativity of, “women are so much better at saying no once they become moms,” as if all compromises lean in the direction of our children. Instead, I like to say that we give, “bigger, more deliberate yeses.”

        And it’s true. If you say yes to sending in 24 gluten-free Hungry Caterpillar cupcakes for the preschool Valentine’s party, you know you can’t work late on Feb. 13, because that’s fondant antenna night. If you say yes to the business trip to pitch a new client on the opposite coast during a Covid spike, you know that means saying no to seeing your immuno-compromised mom for a week or two afterwards. It’s got to be worth it to say yes. So that’s a real yes.

        I can’t tell you which compromises make the most sense for you. But I can tell you that if you focus on the big yesses,all of the little no’s will fall into place.

        Q: Whether the task ahead of me is big or small, I’m such a procrastinator. Got any time management tips for getting ahead on things that need to be done instead of waiting until the very last minute?

        Hi, my name is Lauren, and before I started writing these words, I got a glass of water, checked Insta, wrote a Yelp review for our plumber, and took my temperature because I’m on day 12 of stupid breakthrough Covid which also isn’t exactly helping my focus. All of those things took me about 20 minutes.

        Years ago, I then would have spent an additional 20 minutes berating myself for being lazy and unproductive. I’m glad to tell you that I’m over the self-flagellation and instead now embrace my work style as a feature, not a bug. You should too! Here are some specific strategies I’ve learned the hard way:

        First, understand WHY you procrastinate. In addition to being a procrastinator, I am a chronic optimist. I always think that I’ll be able to fit more into my day than is actually possible. Realizing that my motives are idealistic (just not realistic) has helped me be kinder to myself and schedule fewer things.

        The other reason I procrastinate is more of a bitter pill, but one I needed to swallow. I owe thanks to my Mom for helping me figure this one out (I think she got it from Oprah): Early in my career, I used to procrastinate the most over the tasks that were hardest because that way, if I failed, the most obvious thing to blame was that I simply hadn’t spent enough time on them…avoiding any deeper examination of my actual ability or talent. Ugh. Thanks, Oprah. Thanks, Mom. It was a brutal lesson but one that I continue to find very motivating. Now, if I have something really hard or really visible, I “eat a frog” as Mark Twain instructs (I’m paraphrasing: “If you have to eat a frog, eat a frog for breakfast”) and do it first.

        Knowing why you procrastinate will help you determine if it’s part of your process that you can embrace as a warm-up, or a larger avoidance strategy that needs to be met head on. Or both!

        Next, either way, you need a concept I call buffer in your life. Like many procrastinators (maybe you?) I do tend to work better on a tight deadline. Nine times out of 10, the adrenaline rush makes my work tighter and more decisive. But one time out of ten, the power goes out. Or the school nurse calls. Or the dog maybe ate a battery out of the remote and needs an x-ray so she doesn’t die. No amount of adrenaline or brilliance can give me a 25th hour in my day. So instead I’ve learned to give it to myself in the form of a buffer. As a rule, I don’t schedule back to back meetings. I leave 30 minutes in between. When I travel, I try to return home on a Saturday, not a Sunday. When I make bolognese sauce, I make double so there’s always a big container of buffer in the freezer. Ultimately, I haven’t stopped procrastinating. I’ve simply adapted. And now, mostly, it works.