Ways to be more productive: Notes from Dr. Travis Bradbury by Ruth Bradley-St-Cyr

“Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.” —William Penn

Further to my posts about time management and  “What’s on your Bulletin Board”, while on LinkedIn, I stumbled across a new source of inspiration about productivity that I am now GOING to put on my bulletin board (whenever I get around to it). Dr. Travis Bradbury is an expert in emotional intelligence and, presumably, is a Very Productive Person. I love VPPs. As Douglas Adams said about deadlines, I love the whooshing sound VPPs make as they go by.

And yet, I want to be a VPP myself. I am certain this stems from the fact that I have not yet mastered number 4 on the list (see below). I have come to the horrific realization that my worst fault is a fear of boredom, which leads me to take on all sorts of things that I shouldn’t, although sometimes it also leads me to take on things that are actually important, like filling out paperwork to get Syrian refugees into the country. However, the six things on this list are probably my six top faults, using “fear of boredom” as the single organizing principle:

  1. Never touch things twice: Touching things twice is a huge time-waster. Don’t save an email or a phone call to deal with later. As soon as something gets your attention, you should act on it, delegate it, or delete it.
  2. Eat the frog: Do the least appetizing, most dreaded item on your to-do list first. If you let your frogs sit, you waste your day dreading them. If you eat them right away, then you’re freed up to tackle the stuff that excites and inspires you.
  3. The tyranny of the urgent: Little things that have to be done right now get in the way of what really matters. This creates a huge problem, as urgent actions often have little impact. The key here is to delete or delegate.
  4. No is a powerful word: Saying no to a new commitment honours your existing commitments, giving you the opportunity to fulfill them successfully and efficiently.
  5. Check e-mail on a schedule: Take advantage of features that prioritize messages by sender. Set alerts for your most important contacts.
  6. Avoid multitasking: Your brain can only focus on one thing at a time. Never touching things twice means only touching one thing at a time.

By the way, the frog-eating image comes to us courtesy of Mark Twain who said, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” So true. Writers are full of great ideas, aren’t they? Especially about procrastination. Dorothy Parker once said that she missed a deadline because “someone else was using the pencil.”

Another thing you can stick on your bulletin board is a replica of a little present my Dad made for my Grandma. Or perhaps it was the other way around since he was the one with “a lot on his plate” (my favourite platitude from Days of Our Lives, and one that I should use more often in saying NO). Grandma cut out a cardboard circle and wrote “TUIT” on it. When my Dad asked what it was, my Grandma said, “It’s a round tuit of course. You desperately need one.”

So now you know that I come by sarcasm honestly; it is in the DNA, just like procrastination.

See http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/want-to-be-more-productive-never-touch-things-twice-fiff/ for the original article by Dr. Travis Bradbury.

Time Management: Or, Tricking Yourself into Working at Home by Ruth Bradley-St-Cyr

In one of the seminars that I hosted last year, one of the participants was most concerned not with editorial questions, per se, but with the issue of how to manage one’s time as a freelancer. This got me thinking about how I get things done, or perhaps if I get things done in my busy life of editing, research, and teaching.

It is true that working from home has many distractions. Five of my distractions have fur and two are just hairy. (Translation: five cats, a husband, and a teenage son.) There’s also the laundry, the dishes, the infernal ringing of the phone, etc. etc. But I manage to get things done somehow. I did, after all, manage to squeeze a PhD out over the past several years.

I once collaborated on a project with a young, unattached man who said he just sits down to edit and starts his timer to keep track of his hours. As soon as I sit down to edit, the gray cat comes to show me how cute she is by rolling around in front of me and pushing on the space bar. If she moves off, the tortoiseshell baby moves in and lays down on my mouse-moving arm for a nap. Keeping track of my hours has never worked for me, so my editorial estimates are all project based and done by word count. Sometimes this goes very wrong… all words are not created equal!

One method for big projects, like writing a book, is to form a project-oriented support group and meet once a week or so for breakfast. Every week you are accountable to your group for some progress, at least a smidgen, on your project. I modified this method once and teamed up with my friend Trish who similarly has more to do than she can handle. We nagged and goaded each other for a couple of days and both got a tremendous amount done. Somehow this was more motivating than being nagged by my husband to “bill something, for heaven’s sake!”

Although I am haunted by my friend Gillian’s story of finding a ten-year-old To Do list only to discover that she hadn’t done ANY of the things on it, my favourite motivational method by far is the To Do list. My standard To Do list covers a month at a time, one page, double column.

First I sort the items by type: Reading, Writing, Editing, Household/Gardening (not that I garden), Friends/Appointments, Knitting/Crocheting/Sewing, Phone/Correspondence, Miscellaneous, and Regular Gigs. This helps me to remember what I need to do and to set goals for the month – read four novels, finish a baby quilt, editorial deadlines, remember to pick the rhubarb, etc.

Then I ditch those categories and sort the items into weekly lists. This helps me to figure out exactly WHEN a task has the best chance of getting done, considering all the other To Dos. Actually, I’ve had to conclude that every week is two days short of the number of days required to do everything, but it seems I can’t change that.

Since it is intimidating to look at a whole month of To Dos at once, my latest strategy is to list daily To Dos in my Day-Timer. I do this by hand, as it is so satisfying to cross them out. But the trick is not to pick too many, or nothing will get done. I’ve decided that ten is the right number. It just isn’t satisfying to write down ONE thing, especially if it is so big that it might not get done by the end of the day. If you are tackling a big project, then break it down into its component parts.

On good days, the list looks like this: 1. Find dog fabric for Diane; 2. Edit OLBI; 3. Write Post doc application; 4. Read Royal Commission report, etc. But even the most unproductive days look good on paper if you’ve been able to cross off ten things: 1. Pee; 2. Feed cats; 3. Eat breakfast; 4. Sudoku; 5. Brush teeth, etc. Actually, there have been periods (usually post-partum) where I was happy if I managed just to brush my teeth…

Whatever method of self-motivation you choose, make sure also to take advantage of your high-energy times. I used to have those. I miss them. Good luck!