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 Peoplenomics.com 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):

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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 LifeHack.org 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 www.backdoorsurvival.com). 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?

George@ure.net

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