Book Review: Juliet’s School of Possibilities by Laura Vanderkam

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If I suggested that you read a “time management fable”, you’d probably think I was losing my mind. A phrase like “time management fable” calls to mind a litany of business-speak phrases or the holier-than-thou preaching of someone offering “hacks” offered to help you achieve more in a day than you have time to do. Though it is indeed a fable intended to offer insights as to time management, Juliet’s School of Possiblities by Laura Vanderkam avoids those issues. Rather, it is just a story about a young professional who, like many of us, needs a mentor to help her figure out how to manage her time.

I’ve liked Laura Vanderkam since I read I Know How She Does It a few years ago. Her approach, in this most recent fable and in the wider variety of content she offers, is practical and based on facts. She isn’t holier-than-thou. She doesn’t pretend time management is easy. But, she also refuses to fall into the trap of throwing up her hands in disgust at how daunting it can be to manage a professional and personal life in today’s world.

In all honesty, when I read Vanderkam I am reminded more of the ancient Greek philosophers I studied in college than the business self-help gurus available now. Just like Artistotle offered ideas about how to find “the good” in life, Vanderkam offers practical solutions that one can use to live a good life. Her suggestions tend to be good ones because, like many of the ancient Greek philosophers, she is a scientist as much as she is a theorist. Vanderkam does not merely think about time; rather she has studied the use of it for several years. As she’ll tell you in her books, articles and podcasts, she has tracked her own time in 30-minute increments and has studied the time logs for thousands of professionals. In other words, her philosophy on time management is rooted in a painstaking study of countless uses of it in a variety of contexts.

Knowing that Vanderkam has studied time in this way, it makes sense that she sees it as an array of possiblities, rather than the obstacle against which so many busy professionals rage. That view comes through in Juliet’s School of Possibilities where the smart, ambitious, but overworked protagonist, Riley Jenkins, meets a mentor, Juliet, who shows her the divergent possibilities created by each decision she makes as to the use of her time. It is by seeing this divergent path that Jenkins learns she needs to think more about expectations and priorities. She sees the divergent path on a beach (rather than a yellow wood), but still you’ll see it makes all the difference.

I’m sure there are lots of books out there competing for your time. This fable from Vanderkam is a quick, charming read with a good message and more heart than you’d expect. In fact, the book at times is deeply spiritual since it forces the protagonist, and in turn the reader, to examine the merits in how we spend our waking moments. This theme comes through when mentor Juliet offers readers the following prayer: “Expectations are infinite. Time is finite. You are always choosingChoose well.” Though new book choices seem to be infinite and time certainly is finite, Juliet’s School of Possibilities is a good choice for anyone looking for practical and worthwhile insights about time management.

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