Feature Article: Proactive is Productive
No matter how well you plan, an unexpected emergency will occasionally sock you right in the kisser. School closes unexpectedly for a day. My cat runs away. My garage door won’t open. My kids wake up with fevers. The car won’t start. To cover these contingencies, make sure you have a backup strategy, a Plan B, and perhaps a Plan C and D, in place. At a minimum, make arrangements with a neighbor if you have an emergency daycare pick-up need. Keep a helper’s cell phone number with you at all times. My mother-in-law steps in when we have a daycare emergency, and we know how blessed we are to have her availability.

However, there’s a difference between a true emergency and a “crisis” that was created because you didn’t do something before it was due. 

Here are some examples:
• Wrap the present days before the birthday party (not in the car on the way),
• Refill your prescription several pills before you take the last pill (not when you’re out, forcing you to wait at the pharmacy 30 minutes before work),
• Find your tax receipts a month before taxes are due (not when you’re forced to file an extension),
• Buy greeting cards before your card box is empty (not when you have to go to the store to buy one single birthday card),
• Get your car checked out when you hear a noise before it breaks down (not when you’re on the side of the road calling AAA),
• Restock toilet paper before you run out (and are forced to use tissue),
• Stock up on stamps before they’re gone (and you have to stand in a one-hour line during lunch to mail a single bill),
• Take your printer in for maintenance before it breaks down (and you’re forced to purchase another so you can get a mailing out while that one’s in the shop).
• Get your tooth checked if it’s hurting before it gets infected (and has to be pulled).

Participants in my time management classes gave me all of these examples. I share them so you can understand you’re not the only one! But you can change any patterns and take care of things before they become crises. You can call them contingency plans, prevention, time padding, time shifting, pre-work, or frontloading.

You will be amazed at the level of calm you experience when you do things before they are due or you need them. Over a period of weeks and months, if you spend ten minutes more a day (building to 30 and 60 minutes more every day) doing activities before they’re required, soon you’ll have shifted your time wisely. Yes, you’re still doing the same activities, but you’re no longer doing them under deadlines. The biggest bonus, however, will be the amazing sense of tranquility you feel by only dealing with life’s true emergencies.

Since the holidays will soon be upon us, here are a few universal time crunches that can be better managed:

Ho-ho-harrumph. The best time of year to think about the holiday season is long before it starts! Will this year be a season of joy or a season of stress? Avoid waking up tired and blurry-eyed from wrapping 50 gifts until 2:00 AM the night before Christmas. Instead, set up a wrapping station in a utility room, corner, basement, or closet. Wrap gifts as you purchase them. Keep rolls of ribbon organized on a paper towel rack hanging on the wall, and put up pegs or hooks to hang tape and scissors. Put wrap on a card-table or stand it up in a tall wastebasket. Purchase a gift-wrap organizer for flat sheets and nametags. Keep your wrapping station set up throughout the year, if possible.

Replenish holiday items right after the holidays. John is a big shopper. Yes, he’s a guy and actually LOVES to shop (strange, I know)! One of his favorite traditions is to hit the sales the day after Christmas. He especially loves going to Target where he picks up decorations and wrapping paper at discounted prices. He also hits Ace Hardware or Home Depot to add yet one more lawn statue to his (already large) collection. We also purchase sale holiday gifts for the NEXT year—the gifts that won’t go bad—and it just takes some planning.

Prepare your home for the change in seasons. If you’ve ever wanted to snuggle up with your sweetie in front of a blazing fire during a snowstorm, but lit the logs and had black smoke come billowing out into your living room, you know the importance of winterizing your home (Florida, Nevada, and Arizona residents, ignore this). A month or two before the first snow blows in your area, put the following items on your monthly to-do list and crack at them over several weekends: clean and store your warm-weather tools and equipment; cover your air conditioner; make a list of supplies and purchase items like shovels and salt; check and change your furnace filter; cover the outside of your windows with plastic sheeting; roll and store hoses; service your snow blower; seal drafts in windows; change the batteries in smoke detectors. Then when the snow flies, you’ll be ready to relax in front of that fire. Have a glass of wine on me to congratulate yourself.

Make it a productive day! ™

(C) Copyright 2005 Laura Stack, MBA, CSP. All rights reserved. 

This article may be reprinted provided the following credit line is present: "Laura M. Stack, MBA, CSP, is "The Productivity Pro"® and the author of Leave the Office Earlier. She presents keynotes and seminars on time management, information overload, and personal productivity. Contact her at 303-471-7401 or [email protected]."