Coping: The Gift of Productivity

The other morning Elaine and I were sitting around talking about gifts. And I came to the conclusion that one of the best gifts I could give you as a reader of UrbanSurvival (and hopefully our premium service) would be the gift of productivity.

A lot of readers have asked me over the years. “How is it you get so much done? It seems like you get more done in a day than anyone I know…”

Once upon a time, this might have been true. But honestly, here in the past three or four years I have fallen victim to a terrible disease: it’s called retirement.

Prior to retirement, I was habitually making lists of daily activities. Everything I did, no matter how trivial or small or unimportant it might have seemed ended up on my master list of stuff to do. Or, it didn’t happen.

I would drink my coffee, thoughtfully arranging the list, and then set about accomplishing every task on the list with no regard to anything else that might come along. That usually included emergencies, personal exchanges, chit-chat, all of those things that get in the way of people being truly productive.

Elaine has never had this problem. Three years in the highly structured life of the military and Sgt. Elaine had her fill of planning and structure apparently.

She is much different in how she goes about things, arguing that everything needs to be done anyway so why bother making a list of it?  Just get on with doing it.

We will likely never agree on this fundamental difference, but it carries into all aspects of life, even into personal/romance time. While she’s of the “just go with things has they happen…” variety, I’ve got another approach. “Chilled wine at 4:30, second glass at 4:45. Finish dinner prep at 5, serve at 5:10 with more wine. Start dishwasher by 5:30, turn on soft music and get to the romancing part around 5:38. Take time off list until 6:47 and then back on tasks…..

The learning point is that in business, if you only do those things as you stumble across them, you end up doing only those things which are FUN but not really IMPORTANT to achieving the business purpose you’ve set about.

So on Sunday, I challenged Elaine to make a list of activities each and every day, and see if that wouldn’t help her find more spare time in her day, so she could actually focus on the important things to her.

Although Elaine and I score very similar using the Gregorc style delimiter (which you can read about over here, and which is a very useful way of finding out how your work style and someone else’s will mesh) our approach to getting things done is as different as day and night.

This is despite the fact that our Style Delimiter results were nearly identical. We are both extremely balanced in how we approach problem-solving.

Elaine looks at a daily task list as kind of a work of art in progress. While she’s on her way to a bedroom to straighten up this or that – which might be on the list, she might notice the rug has a speck on it, visible only to her keen eyesight. She’ll dutifully pause, haul out the vacuum cleaner, and get after that speck of dirt with all the diligence and fervor of a religious true believer. It wasn’t on the list, however.

In the same circumstance, my approach is to admit that I cannot spend all of my time vacuuming the floor. So I’d put it on my list for tomorrow if necessary. The idea of vacuuming the floor based on condition is fine, but if it isn’t on my list for action today, it sure as hell is not going to happen.

The Paradox of Dinner

Stephen R. Covey wrote an amazing book some number of years back: it’s called the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

He interviewed shakers and movers to figure out how they moved and shook then wrote a book.

The very first item on his list is becoming proactive. Around here, the difference in how Elaine and I approach making dinner is a fine illustration of personal style.

As I make up my morning list (here lately, with a light crown on, and a cup of coffee with the rest of my vitamin supplements) I work out with laser precision what will be served for dinner if I’m cooking. If there are missing ingredients, I put ‘em on the shopping list.

It is no criticism of Elaine that her approach to dinner is to run the clock until dinnertime (bouncing from this to that and then over there) ending with an adventure in spontaneity.  It works with her bon vivant way.

Since we have a high-power microwave, defrosting anything can be done in a matter of minutes, and as a result, dinner happens when it happens. Where’s the fun in all this planning stuff?

Artists love “happenings” while engineers like plans coming to fruition, I guess.

If you decide to adopt at least some list-making, there is one more trap that I see Elaine falling into you should be warned of.

Again, this is no criticism: She oftentimes will make lists, but then the list gets misplaced, and she can’t find it.

I’m at the other end of things. My list is always in one (and only one) spot: Microsoft Outlook. In fact, earlier this week my list looked like this (sample):

Every time something is done, I click the “Mark as Complete” and the item goes away. Then later, say on Friday afternoon or after Peoplenomics is posted Saturday, I look at the list for the week and consider (in a broader context) what I have accomplished and is it leading me to my overall – larger goals – in Life?

There is no shortage of time management, task managers, Microsoft Project-like tools.

There’s a great article over at that runs through 15 very good options.

Personally, I’m not too keen on some apps. Things like Microsoft OneNote, or the online EverNote product seem at times like overkill.  I’m suspicious on programs that require connectivity, too.

I’ve always looked at time management as being like architectural expenses in new construction. Spend enough to get everything you want, but remember the planning (or the architecting for that matter) should be less than 10% of cost, whether you denominate in time spent for task management or in dollars for architects. (I can almost hear the 20%er’s screaming, lol.  Yeah, yeah, yeah, you’re all artists….uh huh…right.)

Outlook works fine for me (and my buddy Gaye over at We both came up in management back when Bill Onken was teaching time management. He’s the guy who taught “Monkey Theory” that has been adopted over the years to “Snake Theory” and a lot of others.

The gist of this one is that every time someone brings you a problem, think of it as a Monkey, Snake, or Elephant (or whatever turns your crank).

When someone comes to you, THEY are trying to get the Monkey (snake, or whatever) off THEIR BACK and ONTO YOURS. Your task is to either kill the Monkey (snake, or whatever), send it back with the person bringing it to you, or take it over and immediately kill it in the least possible time.

This way, when the boss (or whoever) comes back to ask “What did you do with that Monkey (or snake or whatever) I handed you?” You will be able to say “Handled it.” Just amongst us, we will laugh knowing that you promptly killed it and you’ve become something of a legendary hit-person at killing Monkeys (snakes over whatevers) that people bring to you.

And so that’s how it works.

When you have a problem presented, feel free to reject the problem. Or delay it until it fits with your schedule….

The Average Person doesn’t spend much time actually learning Microsoft Outlook, outside of its basic email functionality  and hence we have a lot of young people coming up who like the idea of time management with avatars and more.

For people like this check out Habitica and yes, you can have avatars and lots of entertainment value to relearning habits, learning to work in a timely and efficient way, but just remember our 10% rule for overhead of anything.

Many time management projects are just glorified PIMs (personal information managers) and if you know how to operate Tasks in outlook, keep things like Notes in Outlook, too (for shopping lists or resources to buy), then you have the Gift of Productivity already.

If you don’t have a very well worked out plan for the whole day before you pick up your first work implement?

Then, my friend, it’s time to unwrap time a bit and give yourself the greatest present of all.

Freedom to be successful.

Time Management doesn’t have to be a bore.  When I was in the DC Power Instrumentation business, the company president passed out cap guns to everyone in the company two weeks before a critical design/build drop-dead date.

When the date finally arrived, everyone got to “shoot the engineers.”  They’d had their time on the project.  Now it was into Manufacturing and Marketing…

So the Gift of Time is the best thing I could think to get you for Christmas.

Write when you get time.

Or, if you don’t have time, aren’t you ready to do something about that yet?

20 thoughts on “Coping: The Gift of Productivity”

  1. Love the DC Power Instrumentation anecdotal. Fast forward to now, and, sadly, your boss would have been labeled a terrorist for bringing fun into the building.

    • Hell, half the crap we did as kids would be cited as domestic terrorism nowadays, including going out with a .22 at age 11 to learn to do some “plinking” – my parents would be drawn and quartered by the big-city libs who can’t imagine that “children” age 8 and up (with guns) actually played a serious role in the American West. Maybe this loss of cultural memory….oh, don’t get me started…

      • The big-city libs don’t need to imagine children with guns they actually have them and actually shoot people, not rabbits. A couple weeks ago a neighborhood in Chicago had 60 people shot in one weekend. I would probably be against guns too if I (or my kids) had to dodge bullets on the way to work/school. We rural people have no idea what those places are like. Wild West x 1,000.
        On the other hand the big-city libs as you call them really have no idea what country life is like; that you might need a gun (usually to kill some varmit not the guy next door) or to hunt for food. That is not part of their world anymore than living in a ‘hood’ is part of mine.

  2. I’ll be dropping you a note; just as soon as I get a round tuit. Gotta go, I know I’m behind schedule, if I could only find where I put it.

  3. When I wore a younger man’s clothes I would go on frequent camping trips with several friends. One in particular had your “list disease”. A week or more prior to the trip he would start making lists, and lists of the lists he needed to make.
    Me? 15 minutes before we hit the road I would toss all my gear in the trunk of my car and just go.
    We were car camping. There was plenty of room in both our vehicles for every piece of gear we owned. I spent 15 minutes getting ready and he spent hours making lists, then tossed all his gear in his trunk anyway.
    Lists are for the confused and easily distracted.
    It ain’t rocket science! Just do it.

  4. Every Sunday evening I make my list of things that ‘have to get done’ the following week – there are broken down by day and are entered into an old school steno pad. Then as I think of things throughout the week, I enter them on that list. Cross off as accomplished and carry over what wasn’t accomplished. I don’t crowd each day with a plethora of things to do, allowing time to enjoy the day or deal with whatever last minute emergency has popped up.

    This method has worked for me for the past 30+ years. One of the big benefits is that I don’t have to rely on my memory nor electrical/battery power to view the lists.

  5. My wife, hospice nurse and certified gerontologist, says the most difficult things for Americans as they age is to simplify their lifestyle so they are not enslaved to their stuff trying to live the lifestyle they did at age fifty or younger.

    The path most Americans follow is that they injure themselves trying to take care of things (like square footage) they can no longer physically handle, and then end up disabled or worse, living in some oversized hovel that looks like an old person lives there, dirty, junky and with only a small portion of the stuff/space actually being used.

    One way to gauge this is to carry small adhesive price tags in your pocket, and every time you use something, put a sticker on it with the date.

    People that move that are not compulsive about unpacking will find unopened boxes months or even years after the move.

    • That is the gift to ourselves once we get past late 50’s, downsize. After all the fun of accumulation time to sell it, gift it, donate it, trash it or store it. It is quite a freeing feeling to embrace the process. Once you have had the honor of cleaning out a clutter filled, long-lived relatives abode, you just know that you don’t want to leave that blessing to another.

    • in the end.. stuff has no meaning.
      in the end if we don’t get rid of our stuff someone else will. Someone I love dearly made this statement.
      Isn’t it sad that at the end of your life all that is left is a couple of boxes of assorted crap, a few photo’s and the memories of what you stood for in youth.
      that is the truth. the things you see as important have very little importance during a catastrophic disease or event. what is important is who you are and have become during your life.
      I use to go to funerals of those I had known professionally. there was one extremely wealthy person that didn’t put anything of value on those around them unless they to were wealthy.
      when they passed on I went to the funeral. Surprised to see that the only one on the guest registry was my name and the only ones present was me and the pastor and the people that had to be there.. it was by far the saddest funeral I had ever been to.
      That is why I adopted solar and wind.. I spent the vast majority of my life being a work a holic and discounted what was important for things rather than those around me. because of that individuals funeral I changed and did my own funeral plan and obit.. in the obit.. I went on vacation hopefully the temperature will be moderate and pleasant.. that is it.. no open casket no tearful walk by’s if someone wants to see me come for coffee while I am kicking.. anyone that knows me knows that I have never been on a vacation and will check where I went. then they can get together at a local restaurant bar have a few drinks tell stories and remember who I am not some carcass in a box.

  6. I have always remembered the simple weekly “to do” list from the Laura Ingalls Wilder books:
    wash on Monday, iron on Tuesday, mend on Wednesday, churn on Thursday, clean on Friday, bake on Saturday, rest on Sunday.
    Of course, this was in addition to cooking, child care, animal care, gardening and general straightening up. :-)
    But it did mean that, once you were done, you could relax and read or make paper dolls for the children. In other words, not work. And not feel guilty.

  7. Little drummerboy parody

    He’s going to drain the swamp.
    Trump a pump pump.
    Donald will drain the swamp.
    Trump a pump pump.
    He’ll never lie to you.
    Trump a pump pump
    He’s going to drain the swamp.
    Trump a pump pump.
    Trump a pump pump.
    Trump a pump pump.
    See him mein Trumpf.

  8. My List
    Everything for next month is listed under the first of next month
    Everything I think of that I want to do while I am in next month is recorded on the second of that month
    All list of money transactions to do are recorded on the third

    • The secret to success is using other people’s money then use other people’s needs that equals guaranteed success

    • And for all those out there in comment land I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

  9. When I worked at Bell Helicopter 20 years ago I found a box of old IBM 360 punch cards being readied for disposal. I grabbed several hundreds to use for putting my list of things to do on. To this day I have one or two of those cards in my shirt pocket behind my pocket protector “Nerd Pack”.
    Does anyone know where one can purchase several pocket protectors? I can not find them.
    Red Dog

  10. I use a system with 3×5 cards. Start with a list of everything at all you might want to do. Then give rankings. Then make 5yr 1yr 1 week and 1day cards. Color coding helps, and you put your core concerns on another card. Like family,health, etc. Read the 6 resulting cards each morning. Then check off things as they are knocked out. Sometimes it can be really astounding how big jobs get whittled away in seemingly short intervals.

  11. I use a small note pad.. list all the things that need to be done. if something comes up that is urgent it goes to the top of the list then check them off one by one.

  12. And for all those out there in comment land I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

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