Microsoft Interviews Laura Stack

MSFT: How many books have you written?

[Laura Stack] Two published by Broadway Books, a division of Random House.  The first was Leave the Office Earlier (2004), and the newest is Find More Time.

MSFT: Why did you write “Find More Time” and how will it help people?

[Laura Stack] My readers asked me for it.  After reading my first book on workplace productivity, they said, “Okay, now that I’m more productive in the office and getting out of work on time, now what?  How can I be more productive on my ‘second shift’ at home?”

MSFT: Is it complementary to “Leave the Office Earlier?”
[Laura Stack] Yes, it’s the next step.  This book picks up where Leave the Office Earlier leaves off. Now that you’re more productive during your workday, this complementary book teaches you how to get things done at home, rather than feeling that you never have enough time. You can create a fulfilling, productive life…or just wander through it aimlessly, never quite satisfied with what you accomplish.  You don’t have to read my books in any particular order: One book doesn’t depend on the other and there’s no duplication of content.

MSFT: What’s so special about this book?
[Laura Stack]  Most self-help books focus on a single skill such as organizing, stress, or time management.  This book takes a wholistic productivity approach and looks at the big picture of everything you’re trying to accomplish at home and what prevents you from getting things done.  It takes a classic study in productivity and moves it from the workplace to the home.

MSFT: What can readers find here that they can’t get in any other book on the market today?
[Laura Stack] I’ve read a lot of books on how to organize your kitchen but don’t know of another one that is written from a productivity perspective at home: efficiencies, time savers, tasks, errands, bills, chores, etc.

MSFT: What qualifies you to author such books?
[Laura Stack] I’ve been studying, researching, writing and speaking personal productivity full time since 1992.  Productivity is my passion and obsession.  I see how productivity helps people gain time to do the things they really want in life, and it spurs me to learn more about it every day.  I’m a prolific reader and writer.  I educate through my books, speeches, training seminars, Webinars, a newsletter and my blog.

MSFT: How do you define productivity?
[Laura Stack] The value of your output (results) relative to your inputs (time and effort).

MSFT: What did you do before you became a consultant, and how/why did you choose this career path?
[Laura Stack] I always knew I wanted to be a professional speaker, so I geared my school and career choices around that path.  I worked at Fortune 50 company as a trainer while working on my MBA, then taught as an adjunct professor for a while, then joined CareerTrack and taught time management and organization public seminars around the country, and then started my business in 1992.

MSFT: How did you come up with the 8 pillars of personal productivity featured in the book?
[Laura Stack] Think about how a home in a high flood zone is constructed.  It is most likely built on a platform supported by strong pillars or columns. If one or several pillars are weak or missing, the house’s stability is threatened. But if the pillars are strong, they can save the home from damage when a hurricane or flood comes through.  In the same way, pillars also support your life—your personal “house.” The strength of your supportive structures determines your ability to perform at your productive best. When one pillar is weak or non-existent, you feel unstable and your life begins to tilt. If several of your life pillars need repair, you may feel like the walls are collapsing around you—or even feel like you could crash. But when the pillars are strong, you won’t be bothered at all when the “floods” hit: activities to schedule, meals to cook, laundry to do, and projects to tackle that you hadn’t even anticipated. It’s vital to discover and strengthen the weak pillars in your life, so you can weather the challenges that come your way—or at least reduce their impact. With proper life support—with strong pillars—you can function optimally.

This book identifies eight pillars of personal productivity that support successful lives. Each pillar is a chapter with the first letter of each factor starting with the letter “P”:

PILLAR 1: PLANS

PILLAR 2: PRIORITIES

PILLAR 3: PERSONALITY

PILLAR 4: PESTS

PILLAR 5: POSSESSIONS

PILLAR 6: PAPER

Pillar 7: POST

PILLAR 8: PLAY

The concept is simple. When all eight pillars of productivity support you equally, you’re better able to accomplish your life goals.

MSFT: What’s the best way to read/use this book – do you need to follow the chapters sequentially or can you skip around?
[Laura Stack] No, you don’t have to read the chapters in order; I use a Web hyperlink concept.  After all, you wouldn’t choose to work on the same issues that others select. Each pillar (chapter) has ten components, so the comprehensive 80-item quiz guides you to “jump” right to the chapter and specific items that addresses your weakest pillar.

MSFT: Why did you include quizzes with each chapter—do you expect people to really do them?
[Laura Stack] Everyone loves the quizzes!  Each chapter in this book features a quiz that details the most important components in determining the strength of the pillar. The quizzes are organic; the learning is created from within them.  To customize your personal productivity program, I’d recommend taking the quiz first and starting with the chapter with the lowest score.

MSFT: What are the three most important things you want people to remember after reading the book?
[Laura Stack] Determine what you’re trying to achieve in your life, make sure your time reflects the things that are important to you, and improve the things that prevent you from living that life.

MSFT: What’s your favorite productivity/time-saving tip, how did you arrive at it, and why?
[Laura Stack] I just had lunch with one of my best girlfriends, who received an advance copy of the book.  She said she’s saved herself an hour a day just by implementing one of my tips.  She has two small children who are always asking for snacks, drinks, plates, etc.  So she designated one of the bottom drawers in her refrigerator as “kid-friendly” and moved the string cheese, yogurt, applesauce cups, etc., to the bottom where the little ones can reach them.  She moved all the kids cups, silverware, tupperware, etc., to a bottom drawer in the kitchen instead of having them high where the kids couldn’t get them.  Then she bought a small container and poured some milk in there, so the kids could now get their own milk because the gallon was too heavy before.  The kids are thrilled with their new-found independence and have been more than happy to participate in this new “self-serve model.”

MSFT: Do you find most people you consult with/meet work to live, or live to work?
[Laura Stack] I think most people WANT to work so they have enough money to live, but they are working so many hours somewhere along the line they started to confuse their work with their life.  I’m out to reverse that dynamic.  I believe you can care passionately about your personal life and your career without sacrificing either.

MSFT: Are peoples’ attitudes about work/life balance changing and if so why and how?
[Laura Stack] Yes,

U.S.

productivity levels have declined to “normal” levels of 2.5% or so, after record years of almost 5% in 2001-2003.  The pendulum is swinging back the other way to favor the worker.  Many people have grown tired of working long hours, and now that the economy has recovered somewhat, are finally throwing their hands in the air and saying “Enough!”

MSFT: You have such a busy schedule, do you follow your own advice, and if so, how often, or if not, why not? J
[Laura Stack] Haha, yes, I usually test out my own advice on myself.  With three kids under 10, a husband, a house, a full-time job, volunteer work, etc., I live a “normal” life just like my readership.  I wouldn’t be able to do what I do if I didn’t employ these skills and techniques most of the time.

MSFT: Have you ever failed at managing your time, and if so, can you give us an anecdote of why and what the consequences were?
[Laura Stack] Sure!  I’m fallible just like anyone else.  I’m actually fairly lazy.  I don’t like to work hard, so I like to find the most efficient and least brain-damaging way to do something.  I’m also a great procrastinator.  I can find a million other tasks that I MUST complete before I get to that project I’m avoiding.

MSFT: On the flip side, can you share an experience that was an aha! moment that made a huge change in your pattern of work/productivity?
[Laura Stack]  I am a HUGE Outlook junkie.  In fact, I’m proud to have just received my certification as an Office Specialist in Outlook.  When I first got Outlook, it was like, “Okay, here’s how to send an email.”  But once I discovered the journal, filters, views, moving email to tasks, etc., I was so excited about all the neat things I could do and to this day am thrilled when people’s eyes light up when I show them little-known tricks and tips.

MSFT: How many speaking engagements, consultations, etc. do you do in a year/just how busy are you?
[Laura Stack] I average around ten speeches or training seminars a month, so I give well over 100 presentations a year on all kinds of different personal productivity topics:

MSFT: When it’s all said and done, what are the most important things in your life, and how do those compare to what you’re hearing from others when you’re consulting?
[Laura Stack] I am blessed to have found a career that is fun.  I’m one of the lucky ones who can’t tell the difference between working and playing.  I encourage everyone to keep looking, keep trying, keep reaching, until they find that magical career path that lets them put their feet on the floor every day and say, “YES! I can’t wait for this day to begin!”  When you discover that magic, you won’t work another day in your life, and the money you receive is the bonus that now allows you to focus your time on the things that really matter: family, health, happiness, spirituality, etc., whatever is important to you.

MSFT: What is the topic you’re planning to cover in your NEXT book and when might we be seeing it?
[Laura Stack] I can’t tell you, or I’d have to stick pins in your eyes.  Seriously, it’s on ENERGY.  Now people are asking me, great, I’d love to be more productive at work and at home, but I’m just exhausted all the time.  How do you get the energy you need to be productive in the first place?  So that’s the question I’m answering in the next book.  The publishing process is quite lengthy, so I imagine it won’t hit bookstores until fall 2007.  But watch for it!  Thanks for your interest!

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