How can women have it all?

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Originally published in Management Today

The time management tips in I Know How She Does It aren’t the answer for women trying to juggle corporate jobs and kids, says Christine Armstrong.

Laura Vanderkam has collected and studied 133 weekly time logs – which she calls mosaics – of high-earning women ($100,000/£64,000 per year) with at least one child under 18 living at home. I’d qualify and have spent the last two years interviewing Power Mums for MT. So I’ve chosen to invest my Italian holiday with three kids under six devouring her analysis. She would be proud of my ability to combine family fun and productive work: my husband thinks I’m bloody annoying.

Her thesis is that working mums are full of it, loving nothing more than a self-pitying moan as celebrated wittily in Allison Pearson’s I Don’t Know How She Does It. We perpetuate the myth that we have no time, not enough sleep and claim we work far more hours than we actually do. It is perfectly possible, in her view to have it all: work a 60-hour week and have time to see our kids, sleep, have fun, have sex, go to the gym and do weird things like scrapbooking.

This thesis feels very American. Not a single woman I’ve ever interviewed has cited her workload in weekly hours or used it as a badge of honour the way she suggests. Some are or have been very tired: Sukhi Kaler talks about the dark days of having very small children. Some struggle with practical tasks: Nina Bhatia battles to find people to help her teenage girls with their homework. But self-deluded whinge-bags? Mmm. Not what I see.

There is great wisdom here for women who have control over their own time as she does. If you’re an entrepreneur (Emma Bridgewater) , a journalist (Zoe Williams) or outside of a hierarchy, her advice is golden. The middle of the week is Thursday lunchtime. Housework fills the time you give it: stop picking up the toys that’ll be thrown out again tomorrow and read your book. Plan things you want to do and use your weekends well rather than muddling through meaninglessly. Invest in the volume of childcare you actually need. Working part time is often just a licence to work flexitime with a high financial penalty attached (a point Nicola Rabson made before going back to full-time).

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