How Productivity Pro Laura Vanderkam Does It All


If you’re a productivity wisdom seeker like me — you’ve probably heard of Laura Vanderkam at some point.  I’ve followed her for years and recently read her e-book What the Most Productive People Do Before Breakfast and wrote about it.

She’s written several other time-management and productivity books, including the forthcoming I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make The Most Of Their Time (Portfolio, June 9, 2015.)

She was kind enough to post a guest article I wrote for her audience on her own site about how to create the ultimate to-do list.

But I wanted to know more about her and highlight her as one of my featured List Producers!

Why do you call yourself a compulsive list producer? 

I don’t know if I’m compulsive, but I do like my lists! I find lists to be a simple way to organize my thoughts and remember things that I would otherwise forget. That in turn makes life much smoother. With two working parents and four kids, there are a lot of moving parts around here.

What do you make lists about? 

Priorities and goals, and then practical matters like what I’m supposed to get at the grocery store. 

How often do you make lists? 

Every Friday, I make a weekly priority list that contains the next week’s professional and personal goals. That might include items such as finishing a book chapter, reaching out to a particular contact, a parent-teacher conference, and running three times. Based on the weekly list, and on things that come up, I make daily to-do lists, generally the night before (so Tuesday’s list is constructed on Monday). I have lists of my annual goals, broken down into quarterly chunks. I made a bucket list years ago, but I need to revisit that.

Why do you make lists? 

What’s listed gets done. Time passes whether we think about what we want to do with it or not, and lists help me be intentional about my time.

What type of list do you make the most?

My lists are almost always task-based. I do make agendas for meetings or phone calls I’m chairing, but I don’t do that too frequently. I’m not sure I’ve ever made a pro/con list. I guess that’s just not how I make decisions!

How do you make lists? 

My lists are almost all hand-written. I have a little notebook I keep on my desk for such things. I write grocery lists on junk mail. If I have my phone with me and I think of something to add to my to-do list, I’ll email it to myself, but that’s so I’ll remember to add it to the handwritten list. I have never downloaded an app to my phone, so clearly that’s out.

How have you found lists help you succeed in your personal and professional life? 

Lists help keep my work projects moving forward, but I’ve found that they’re just as important for my personal life. Family and leisure time is easy to squander if we’re not careful. Because I set aside time regularly to look at my calendar and make priority lists, I’ve seen that over the next two weeks both my older children each have a teacher in-service day off from school. So I’ve put on my list to plan something special with each of them during those times. If I didn’t put those priorities on my list, I’d forget about those days off and they’d probably just wind up playing video games. They’d be fine with that, but I’d feel like we missed an opportunity.

What’s #1 on your bucket list?

I know everyone says this but I’d like to travel more. I have made some bucket list trips in recent years, like to the Netherlands during tulip time last April, but travel is often difficult (not impossible! but difficult) with little kids. I look forward to traveling more with them when they’re older, and I intend to spend my entire 50s taking the trips I didn’t take in my 20s.

What keeps popping up on your list over and over again? 

I’m generally good about doing things that go on my list. I view my to-do list as a contract with myself. I make limited lists partly because I don’t want to overcommit myself, and I don’t want to view my to-do list as a daily source of failure. There’s really no point in putting 30 things on a list and then only doing 10 of them. That said, I seem to have trouble making time to back up files. For whatever reason, I tend to punt that one forward when it winds up on my list. I should go do it now!

Laura Vanderkam, Author, I Know How She Does It (2015), 168 Hours, and What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast — a paperback compilation of the bestselling ebook series, all from Portfolio/Penguin. Please visit

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