Laura Stack: The Productivity Pro (R) Leave the Office Earlier
a news"E"letter from The Productivity Pro - Laura Stack
Number 147: August 2011

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In This Issue:
Message from Laura
Feature Article: Assertiveness and Direct Communication: Your Wording is a Critical Productivity Tool
Book Laura
Productivity Resources
Educational Resources
Time Tips and Traps
Laura's Blog
The Multimedia Minute
Hot Links
Words of Wisdom
Laura in the NEWS
Where in the World is Laura?
Subscription and Contact Information
Reprint Information

Book Laura

Book Laura

Have Laura speak to your company, conference or organization! How do you know if Laura would be perfect for your next event, meeting, or training? View the "Laura Stack Is Perfect For This Group" fact sheet.

Productivity Resources

Buy SuperCompetent Amazon.comTo be successful in the business world and reach your full potential in life, it's not enough to be simply competent. Our modern, super-competitive world is full of opportunities for the go-getter, but to take advantage of them, it's essential to become "SuperCompetent." The SuperCompetent person is one that companies fight to get, fight to keep, nurture as team players, and see as future leaders in their business growth. Available now from and at better bookstores everywhere.

Buy The Exhaustion Cure at Amazon.comThe Exhaustion Cure. A holistic approach to increasing your get-up and go, from the productivity expert whose previous books showed people how to Find More Time and Leave the Office Earlier. Available now from

Buy Find More Time at Amazon.comFind More TimeYou can't add more hours to the day, but Laura will help you make the most of the time you have and get things done. Available now from

Leave the Office Earlier, Leave the Office EarlierLaura shows you how you CAN get more done than you ever thought possible and still get home to your real life sooner.Available now from

More of The Productivity Pro's Resources

Featured Educational Resource from The Productivity Pro®

LAURA LIVE: “Smart Time Management: 10 Characteristics of Highly Productive People" DVD with mp3 audio version included

In this practical, fast-paced program, time management expert Laura Stack shares insights gathered from some of the most successful people in the world. You'll learn how to stay focused and concentrate, communicate with your team and boss to improve personal productivity, build consistent personal routines, plug productivity leaks in your day, eliminate annoying time wasters, and improve your personal efficiency.

Words of Wisdom
"The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place." -- George Bernard Shaw, British philosopher and writer.

"Quality communication is the foundation of productivity. It has the short-term benefit of getting work done efficiently. Plus, it ...creates client satisfaction, motivates marketing, supports self-esteem, maximizes morale and reinvigorates respect for others." -- Lawrence M. Kohn

"Communication is the real work of leadership." -- Nitin Nohria, 10th (and current) dean of Harvard Business School

"Email, instant messaging, and cell phones give us fabulous communication ability, but because we live and work in our own little worlds, that communication is totally disorganized. " -- Marilyn vos Savant, American newspaper columnist
Laura's Blog

Subscribe to feed:

Recent posts:
Planners and Productivity

SuperCompetent Speaking: How to Cram Lots of Information into Limited Time

Interview with Meeting Genius

Lessons from the 2010 American Time Use Survey

Laura Stack’s EFFICIENCY DIGEST: July 2011

Interview with Women’s Insight Project

Productivity Minute Video: Take Back Your Time From Technology

What Does Office Clutter Cost You?

Hot Links

Home and Office Organization

Should You Let Your Workers Sleep on the Job?

A great way to print web pages

10 Rules to Reverse the Email Spiral

Where in the World
is Laura?

These are all private client engagements with Laura Stack. At this time, Laura does not offer open enrollment seminars to the general public. If you're interested in bringing Laura to your organization to present a training seminar for your employees on the day prior or the day after one of these engagements below, please contact John Stack for special "piggyback" pricing.

August 2011

16::Bellevue, WA

17::Denver, CO

17::Greenwood Village, CO

20::Smyrna, GA

22::Denver, CO

23-25::Indianapolis, IN

26::Thornton, CO

29::Denver, CO

31::Denver, CO


September 2011

10::Ann Arbor, MI

17::Pittsburgh, PA

18::Columbus, OH

19::Louisville, KY

20: Washington, DC

23::Denver, CO

26::Denver, CO

27::Denver, CO

29::Denver, CO


October 2011

10::Clinton Township, MI

12::Colorado Springs, CO

17::San Francisco, CA

18::Bakersfield, CA

20::Purchase, NY

21::Denver, CO

24::Denver, CO

27::Denver, CO


November 2011

11::Dallas, TX

12::Houston, TX

18-20::Phoenix, AZ

21::Denver, CO

26-29::Toronto, Canada


December 2011

2::Vail, Colorado

5-7::Key Biscayne, FL

15::Denver, CO

16::Denver, CO

17-18::Denver, CO


January 2012

7::San Francisco, CA

10-11::Orlando, FL

12::Palm Springs, CA

18::Salt Lake City, UT


February 2012

3-5::Dallas, TX


March 2012

9::Cleveland, OH

12::Grapevine, TX

14::Grapevine, TX

20-27::Paris, France

28-30::Ghent, Belgium


Visit Laura's Calendar On-line for her complete availability.


Feature Article:

Assertiveness and Direct Communication: Your Wording is a Critical Productivity Tool


One of the factors that sets human beings apart from the rest of Creation—that has, in fact, helped make us the dominant species on this planet—is our ability to communicate in great detail, with a minimum of confusion and unproductive "noise." That said, it's amazing how easy it is to fail to communicate properly. The annals of history are replete with episodes of poor communication (or a complete lack thereof) that led to widespread misery and pain. On a lesser scale, individuals and businesses have to deal with miscommunication issues every single day; and in the workplace, such issues can have a severe impact not just on individual productivity, but on the overall bottom line.

Even when the lines of communication are wide open, you can fail to communicate if you use the wrong words in the wrong way, or simply use too many words. Beating around the bush, couching your message in obscure terms, or burying it in a mass of unnecessary verbiage may cause mental static in the people you're trying to communicate with, resulting in confusion and irritation. At best, this will slow them down; at worst, they may ignore you altogether. Either outcome will damage productivity, both yours and theirs.

Therefore, whether you're communicating with employees or superiors, you have to make every effort to get your point across with a minimum of noise. It's crucial to choose your words with great care, so that you can say precisely what you mean as directly as you can without being curt or offensive.

Let's look at several ways to accomplish that.

Get Straight to the Point

Have you ever tried to discuss something with someone who rambled, refused to be pinned down, or liked to dance around the subject? If you have, then you know how annoying it can be—and how non-productive. Maybe the speaker was afraid you'd be angry or upset if he came right out and said what he had to say; maybe he simply wanted attention; or maybe he just liked to listen to himself speak.

The reason why doesn't matter. It doesn't even matter if the person was amusing or instructive to listen to, as some ramblers are. What matters is that they wasted your time, and theirs, by not getting straight to the point. You don't want to do this to other people, so your communications, especially your written ones, should be brief and concise.

Some people avoid terseness because they don't want to seem rude; and admittedly, verbal interaction is often necessary, or at least useful, in the workplace as a form of social lubrication. There's no doubt that politeness pays, and that you should do your best to stay in your co-workers' good graces by being genuinely nice. Nonetheless, in most workplace situations there's no excuse not to get right to the point. You can smile when you do it; this should take the edge off for those who are easily offended.

If being straightforward is a problem for you, practice what you want to say in advance. Take a results-oriented stance, envisioning exactly what you're trying to achieve. Then edit your message toward that end (mentally in the case of verbal communication, literally in the case of written words) to make it plain and specific. Tweak your message as necessary to avoid sounding brusque, then deliver it assertively, as simply as possible.

Avoid Unnecessary Qualifiers and Hedging

Some people just can't seem to deliver any message, especially a request, firmly and directly. They hem in everything they say with so many qualifiers—"what if’s," "maybe’s," and "could be’s"—that ultimately, what they're trying to say gets lost, causing the recipients to waste time on interpretation and clarification.

In other cases, the bad communicator hedges the message with terms that make it seem less important than it might actually be. Instead of simply telling the IT Department that they need a certain backup file right away, for example, they might say something like, "Um, if you have a chance, could you pull this file for me? No hurry." This gives the recipient the opportunity to ignore the request or push it down the priority scale if they want, no matter that it's urgent to the sender...because that hasn't been made clear.

There's a word for this kind of poor communication: "mealy-mouthed," from the old German slang term for an inability to communicate directly. It's often used in a contemptuous way for someone who's unwilling to state a personal opinion, or come down one way or another on an issue. This might play in the social and political rings, but it's painful and unproductive in the business arena.

Some people hedge and qualify out of habit, often because they simply don't want to commit themselves to a specific point or course of action. Other people are mealy-mouthed from the best of intentions, because they don't want to bother or irritate someone, or because they want to soften the blow of a potentially controversial or loaded statement...but you know what road those good intentions pave.

Some qualification is unavoidable, especially when the information you're imparting is based upon the actions of people you have no control over, or the situation is simply uncertain. But again, you can avoid the worst of the problem by delivering your communications assertively and as simply as possible, without unnecessary frills. Avoiding uncertainty or hesitation. Use the active tense rather than passive: say things like, "I need this file..." rather than "This file is needed...", because it sounds more direct and imperative.

Diffidence or timidity will only hold you back, so say precisely what you mean. If someone asks you a question, give them the specific information they've requested. You can be helpful and add additional information if you think it's relevant, but don't waste their time with stuff they clearly don't need. If you're asking for information or imparting instructions, be imperative in your delivery. Never tell someone to get you something "if you get the chance," or "when you can." You need to take charge and make your requirements absolutely clear. Speaking of which...

Make Your Requests and Requirements Plain

The bottom line with workplace communication is that it must be as simple and unambiguous as humanly possible...and there’s the problem. It's easy to advise someone to say only what needs to be said, but it's not always obvious how much that needs to be.

It's possible to be too terse in an attempt to be clear and direct. If you tell someone, "I need information on the Jones account," that's direct, all right; but you're being too vague, because you haven't asked for enough. Which Jones account do you mean? If there are two or three Jones with different first names, you're already tripping over the speed bump of uncertainty. Furthermore, what information do you need? Everything in the whole file, or just this year's financials? And when do you need it—within the next hour, by the close of business, or sometime in the next week?

So don't hesitate to explain as much as you need to in order to be fully understood, especially in terms of deadlines and deliverables required. Just don't dump so much information on the listener that they can't understand what you're trying to say. This can be a difficult judgment call, and again, pre-editing is crucial here. Examine your message closely. If all they really need to know is in the final line of the message, then cut everything else and just use that final line.

It's also important to use the right words to get the point across. If what you're trying to say doesn't seem quite on the mark, then spend some time refining it, because that's likely to pay off in dividends of greater comprehension. As Mark Twain once pointed out, "The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and lightning-bug."

In general, your language should be simple and easy to understand. Don't address someone like they're a third-grader, but on the other hand, don't use fancy words just because you can—and avoid overusing jargon when it's unnecessary. Before you refer to something by an acronym or an abbreviation, be sure that it's a shared term. For example: it won't help to ask a new intern to get you the RFP for the DFW DCH account ASAP if they don't know that an RFP is a Request for Proposal, and DFW DCH is shorthand for the Dallas/Fort Worth branch of the Dalquist, Culpepper, and Harrison law firm.

Acknowledgement in All Directions

In the military, someone who receives a verbal order is often required to repeat it back immediately to acknowledge that they received it. This is especially true in the Navy. It's standard operating procedure for a simple reason: if a message is poorly relayed and the wrong action taken, the results can be disastrous.

Your personal miscommunications may not have devastating results, but they can certainly damage productivity. Therefore, acknowledgement of those communications is absolutely essential. When you receive a message from someone, whether they're above or below you in the chain of command, acknowledge it as quickly as possible. (For superiors, I would recommend that you do so immediately).

Similarly, request an acknowledgement from anyone you send a message to; and if they don't respond, be proactive about acquiring that acknowledgement. No need to be impolite, just assertive and persistent. Send them a nudge by email or pick up the phone and say, "Hey, I sent you a message about such-and-such yesterday. Did you get it?" It's possible they didn't. Maybe it passed under their radar somehow, or the technology you sent it by just happened to fail you in this instance. This happens occasionally, as all of us can attest.

You can't let anyone use the claim that they didn't get a message as an excuse for not getting something done. Get an acknowledgement—not just so you can cover yourself later, but so you can make sure that they understand what you need and require, and so that you know that they comprehend the urgency of your request.

In a related vein, make it abundantly clear that anyone you send a message to is free to ask questions if they don't understand what you're trying to say. Encourage them to do so, and be patient when they do, so their lack of understanding doesn't result in unproductive errors. The same goes for you: if you don't understand exactly what your interlocutor wants, keep asking questions until you do—even in the face of their irritation and rudeness, if it comes to that. It's more productive to go back and forth a few times than to find out later that the wrong thing got done because of a miscommunication.

The Final Word

When you communicate directly with anyone in the workplace, your phrasing and delivery must be as clear as possible in order to maximize productivity. Be assertive, plain, and straightforward. Never hem and haw. Don't use a ten-dollar word when a nickel word will do and avoid jargon when you can. Finally, immediately acknowledge any communications you receive, and strongly encourage acknowledgement from those you communicate with; require such acknowledgement if possible. Make it clear that others can ask questions in order to clarify your wants and needs, and be willing to ask such questions yourself.

While there will always be some potential for confusion in human interaction (we are only human, after all), solid, clear communication at all levels will ensure that such confusion is minimized. If you follow these simple rules, not only will people not have to waste time (and therefore productivity) trying to figure out what you're trying to say, they're less likely to mistake what you're trying to say. Mistakes waste time, and time really is money—so it's crucial to avoid as many miscommunications as possible.

Make it a productive day! (TM)


If you enjoyed this article, you can register for the August 30, 2011 webinar on exactly how to do this!


(C) Copyright 2011 Laura Stack. All rights reserved.



Time Tips and Traps
To be featured in this section of our newsletter and get a free eBook with our thanks, send your productivity tip or trick to [email protected] with "Tips and Tricks contribution" in the subject line.

We have “dates” w/our kids and w/each other. With the kids, we each take one out to dinner every other week. Since we have two daughters, we each have a one-on-one dinner with each daughter each month. It gives us time to focus on each of them and give them individual attention. They, in turn, have the opportunity to enjoy the full attention of each parent. We started doing it when they were in elementary school and have enjoyed it through four states and three corporate moves.

Thanks for the daily kick in the butt.

Audrey RL Wyatt
author of the award -winning novel, Poles Apart


I wanted to share some Microsoft and computer related productivity tips I’ve found useful.

1. Use Shortcuts for common tasks

• Save: Ctrl + S
• Open: Ctrl + O
• Close: Ctrl + W
• Print: Ctrl + P

2. Minimize clutter on the computer desktop: The clutter is not only cumbersome when locating files but slows computer startup time. Place items in “My Documents,” organized in folders.

3. Quick Access Toolbar: Create buttons on the menu or ribbon for frequently used Microsoft functions.

I hope that your readers find these tips helpful.


Othniel Denis, MBA
Excellent Ones Consulting LLC



I set up a calendar filing system. I have a file folder for each month and file folders numbered 1-30/31. I put meeting and appt. agendas and any other information needed for those meetings, appts., etc. behind the appropriate date. I also put any reminders for any upcoming events and my "to do" for events later in the month. If an event is planned for March, I simply put it in the March file folder to move forward at the end of February. Every morning I print my daily calendar, look behind that day's date and find all relevant material for planned events that day! It really keeps me from "searching" those endless stacks on my desk for what I need for a meeting or appt. at the last minute.
Hope this is helpful to others!

Karen Harris, RN
Director, Service Excellence
University of Missouri Health Care

Laura Stack: The Productivity Pro (r)

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Registration now open! GOT PRODUCTIVITY? Mark your calendars and come to THE PRODUCTIVITY PRO® ACADEMY! You asked for it! A full day with me, LIVE, in Denver, on Friday, October 21, at the beautiful Marriott Denver South at Park Meadows for a productivity boot camp.

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For you out-of-towners, the hotel has a workout room, full-service restaurant, great bar, concierge room with breakfast for Gold/Platinum level members, and a Starbucks! I was able to secure an amazing $84 room rate!


Monthly Microsoft Outlook 2010 webinar: August 30, 2011

Time: Watch the recording at your convenience or “live” at 10:00AM Pacific / 11:00AM Mountain / 12:00PM Central /1:00PM Eastern

Topic: Advanced E-mail Tricks and Tips.  AutoArchive Old Mail to Your Hard Drive or Shared Drive, Reduce the Size of Your Mailbox, Archive Messages Manually, Outlook Data Files, Importance, Sensitivity, Lock Your Email Text, Delivery Options, Expire Messages, Have Replies Sent to Someone Else, Delayed Send, Categorize Emails in Groups, Share Folders, Assign Delegates, Specify Permissions, Access Other’s Folders, Add to Public Folders, Use Outlook When Not Connected, Create Personalized Fields, Add Your New Fields to Forms, Change Default Forms, Deleting Forms, Writing Word Documents from Contacts, Printing Envelopes and Labels, Add RSS Feeds, Add Heightened Security.

Cost is $39 and includes a workbook with screen shots and detailed step-by-step instructions and recording. For more information and to register click here.

Monthly Productivity Webinar:

August 30, 2011.


Time: Watch the recording at your convenience or “live” at 12:00PM Pacific / 1:00PM Mountain / 2:00PM Central /3:00PM Eastern

Topic: Assertiveness and Direct Communication: Your Wording Is a Critical Productivity Tool. Whether you're communicating with employees or superiors, say what you mean as directly as you can without being curt. Diffidence or timidity isn't going to get you anywhere, because it wastes time in a number of ways. So choose your words carefully. While there will always be some potential for confusion (we're only human, after all), solid, clear wording at all levels will ensure that such confusion is limited. Don't use a ten-dollar word when a nickel one will do; not only will people not have to waste time (and therefore productivity) trying to figure out what you're trying to say, they're less likely to mistake what you're trying to say. Again, mistakes waste time, so it's crucial to avoid as many as possible. Thus, in this class I'll show you how to:
• Get straight to the point with a minimum of fuss.
• Avoid qualifiers and "hedging" in your communications.
• Make your requests and requirements plain.
• Acknowledge communications to others, and urge (or require) them to acknowledge yours, so there can be no excuses about missed messages.

Cost is $29 and includes the recording. For more information and to register click here.


The Productivity Minute

Recent videos from Laura:

Productivity Minute Video: Procrastination – Can We Talk About This Later?

Productivity Minute Video: Refusing Can Free Up Time

Productivity Minute Video: Refusing Can Free Up Time

Productivity Minute Video: Stop Doing Everything At Once

Laura's Demonstration VideoView Laura's Demonstration Video

Laura in the News!

6 Ideas for Creating Fun Rituals with Your Family

Interview with Laura Stack, The Productivity Pro, author of SuperCompetent

12 Steps to Getting Everything Done in Your Day
Reprint Information
All Articles (C) 1999-2011 Laura Stack. All rights reserved. This information may not be distributed, sold, publicly presented, or used in any other manner, except as described below.

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© 2011 Laura Stack. Laura Stack is a personal productivity expert, author, and professional speaker who is dedicated to building high-performance SuperCompetent cultures by creating Maximum Results in Minimum Time® through increased productivity. She is the president of The Productivity Pro®, Inc., a time management training firm specializing in productivity improvement in high-stress organizations. Since 1992, Laura has presented keynotes and seminars on improving output, lowering stress, and saving time in today's workplaces. Her books include SuperCompetent (Wiley, 2010); The Exhaustion Cure (Broadway Books, 2008); Find More Time (2006); and Leave the Office Earlier (2004). To have Laura speak at your next event, call 303-471-7401. Visit to sign up for her free monthly productivity newsletter.
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