Laura Stack: The Productivity Pro (R)

Leave the Office Earlier
a news"E"letter from The Productivity Pro - Laura Stack

Number 91 :: December 2006

Home :: Archive

In This Issue ::
Message from Laura
Feature Article: Best Practices of the Resident Social, Child, and Family Coordinators
Educational Resources
Time Tips and Traps
Ask the Expert
Laura's Blog
Hot Links
Words of Wisdom
Letters to the Editor
Laura in the NEWS
Book Laura
Featured Seminar
Where in the World is Laura?
Subscription and Contact Information
Reprint Information

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The Library Journal, New York, NY named Leave the Office Earlier one of the "Best Business Books 2004"...

Order this indispensable tool for the overworked and time challenged at and receive 20% off its retail price.

More of The Productivity Pro's Resources

Laura in the News!

Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, The Productivity Pro® - Work Essentials ...
Featured articles on the Microsoft Office site written by Laura Stack.

'Extreme' jobs on the rise
Christian Science Monitor - Boston,MA,USA
... Laura Stack, author of Leave the Office Earlier, notes that the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers identifies a preoccupation with work as one of the ...

Amazon Shorts “The Productivity Pro® TIP Series: #1—Managing Time

Words of Wisdom

The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.
- Theodore Roosevelt

The workers of the world will soon be divided into two distinct groups. Those who will control computers and those who will be controlled by computers. It would be best for you to be in the former group.
- Lewis Eigen, 1961

Modern man thinks he loses something-time- when he does not do things quickly, yet he does not know what to do with the time he gains except to kill it.
- Eric Fromm

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 into your organization for an employee training seminar on the day prior or the day after one of these engagements below, please contact Jenny@
for special "piggyback" pricing.

December 2006
14::Highlands Ranch, CO
24 - Jan 1::Denver, CO

January 2007
11::Denver, CO
16::Baltimore, MD
17::Philadelphia, PA
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19::Duquesne, PA
23::Lone Tree, CO
26::Denver, CO
31::Highlands Ranch, CO

1::Louisville, KY
2::Denver, CO
7 - 11::CO, Denver
12 - 13::Las Vegas, NV
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7::Lone Tree, CO
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22 - 28::W. Palm Beach, FL

4::Lone Tree, CO
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26 - 27::Las Vegas, NV

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27::Denver, CO

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4::Nashville, TN

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

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Email: [email protected]
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Reprint Information

© 2006 Laura Stack, MBA, CSP. All rights reserved. Portions of this newsletter may be reprinted in your organization or association newsletter, provided the following credit line is present:

"© 2006 Laura Stack. Laura is the president of The Productivity Pro®, Inc. and the bestselling author of Leave the Office Earlier and Find More Time. She presents keynotes and seminars on time management, information overload, and personal productivity. Contact her at 303-471-7401 or"

The link to Laura's website must be active.

Feature Article

Best Practices of the Resident Social, Child, and Family Coordinators

I’d love to hear from the men on this one, but at least in my circle, why does it seem that the woman is the social coordinator in the family? I’m not kidding when I say my husband wouldn’t have any friends if it weren’t for me. We wouldn’t have any couple friends, either.

I’ve tried to sit back and see if John would reach out to our couple friends to schedule a get-together. But even when he and the man in the couple are close, no dice. He’s perfectly willing to be told, “We have a dinner date tonight” and go with the flow. Kind of makes me crazy, but I do get to see who I want, when I want, so I’m not exactly complaining. BUT being social coordinator does put an extra responsibility onto my already-full plate.

Here are a few ways I handle these responsibilities that might be helpful to you:

Scheduling time with friends. I make sure I connect with good friends in a meaningful way about four times a year. I’m not suggesting rigid scheduling (“Ooops, you’ve had your designated visit this quarter”). To the contrary, scheduling actually helps you make sure a year doesn’t go by without a visit. If you’re not careful, good friends can accidentally slip away. Each time a visit ends, look ahead on your calendar and schedule the next visit. My friends have honestly told me they appreciate my being proactive in nurturing our friendships. They even ask jokingly, “Hi! Are you calling to schedule our next play date?” If I don’t call, they wonder why, and call me. Be careful that you’re not doing all the work, however; if your friends really want to hang out with you, they should take the initiative once in a while.

Planning family gatherings. Similarly, I often wonder if I didn’t make the calls and coordinate holidays and family activities, would we ever see each other? About a month before a big day, I look at the upcoming holidays, if any, and email the entire family (done easily with a distribution list in Outlook or a group in ACT). I suggest a date and time that would work best with my schedule and get input from my family. By now, they’re used to keeping holidays open until Laura dutifully sends out her family communication. If something comes up early for one of them, I actually get a call requesting a particular day. It’s pretty funny at this point. And honestly, I don’t mind doing the planning. For all I joke about it with them, I always get to schedule it the way that it’s most convenient for me. My family members are pretty good about saying, “It’s my turn to host,” but if you’ve had them over too many times, don’t hesitate to suggest a get-together at another house.

Coordinating school activities, sports, and social plans. Children lead busy lives, don’t they? I’ve heard the phrase “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet until you have teenagers,” so I know future years will become even more complicated. Even though John and I share activity-coordination duties, I’ve found it’s easier if one person takes responsibility for divvying up the jobs. Each Sunday night, we bring our calendars to the family pow-wow and review the upcoming week: who has a birthday party and who is driving to and from; who has a Bible study class and will need the other to watch the kids; when do I have a speaking engagement and won’t be able to pick up the children from daycare; what work is due at school; who needs a permission slip and money for a field trip; when is show-and-tell and who will cover getting the item in the backpack; where do we have dinner plans and when will we ask Grandma to come over and put the kids to bed. You get the idea. We review and plan anything and everything that’s likely to happen and cover our bases. We also do some advance planning at this point and discuss what’s come up since last week: vacation plans, airline tickets to purchase, etc. The kids only need to be involved for the first part of the pow-wow. John and I connect for another 30 minutes or so over a glass of wine (which always makes it fun).

Getting ready for guests. The holidays usually bring with them family members and friends from out-of-town. They usually want to bunk with you and have you play tour guide. For many, hosting guests can be stressful because it changes your routine and personality, and can put a strain on your time. In part, however, stress gets created because you rush around at the last minute pulling things together, making beds, cleaning the house, and shopping for food. If you’re proactive, you’ll start getting ready for a visit weeks before they roll into town. Buy extra supplies, make plans for entertainment, and set up the guest room. My favorite idea comes from my own Daddykins and his wife Naamah who, when my children are visiting for a sleepover, pretend their home is a “Bed and Breakfast.” The children are greeted at the door, sign the register, receive their keys and guest amenities (usually small water bottles, snacks, bars of soap and toiletries), and check into their rooms that are labeled with the corresponding room number received at check-in. Imagining your home as a B&B in this way will help you think through what would make your guests most comfortable. If your in-laws tend to be flaky and not decide until the last-minute whether they are coming, simply explain that you will be excitedly preparing for their visit and will need to know by (x) date whether they are coming or not. If you don’t have a firm answer by then, your family will be making other plans. Take a deep breath, follow through on this a few times, and they will be more cooperative in the future, once they discover you are really serious.

Make it a productive day!

Educational Resources from The Productivity Pro®

Browse the Productivity Store for a variety of resources to improve your personal and professional productivity.

Ask the Expert

Q:Hi Laura,

I'm a VP of Engineering for a financial software firm. I'm constantly finding that my mind is being interrupted by various thoughts (most often my “to-do” list) throughout the day offering very limited attention and concentration on the task at hand. For example, I'm only picking up small parts of 1-1 conversations, have to re-read things multiple times before I “get it”, and my mind tends to drift in meetings (I've even asked questions to things that have already been answered minutes before). This sort of mental competition very often continues when I leave the office.

Have you heard this one before? Do I need medication (seriously)?




No, you do not need medication. If you did, hundreds of thousands of workers just like you would also be on medication. You just need to learn to concentrate and clear your brain. When your brain is too overloaded, it’s nearly impossible to focus on anything. Overtaxed brains, bombarded by so many demands, actually begin to shut down. Have you ever walked into work one morning, looked at all the piles of paper everywhere, notes from your colleagues, emails in your inbox, and just started laughing? Your brain says, “I have no idea what to do first or where to begin, so I’m just going to stop making decisions altogether!”

Here are some ideas to give your mind a break and increase your focus and concentration:

Create structure and deadlines. Your short-term memory is horrible when you’re on overload. Ask your manager and coworkers to put everything in writing. A simple trip to the restroom can be dangerous, as people way-lay you en route with assignments. Simply be honest and say, “I don’t have anything to write with, and I guarantee you I will forget that. Please send me an email about this.” Deadlines help the brain put things into the proper order. Brief weekly meetings with your manager to discuss upcoming priorities may be helpful. Checklists for your regular daily tasks work well.

Ignore uninvited or unwelcome requests for your time. If someone speaks to you when you pass in the hall, protocol dictates that you respond. Not so with email and voicemail. The corporate etiquette has changed. You don’t have to respond to every message, and you shouldn’t feel guilty about it. Some messages simply don’t require a response. Doesn’t it make you crazy when an FYI email was sent to a group of ten colleagues and someone has to “Reply to all” with a smug “I agree”? Arrrgghhh! My mother always taught me, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” I can extrapolate that to be, “If you don’t have something to add, don’t say anything at all.” Even taking the time to say “no” politely can consume a big chunk of your time. Savvy professionals don’t take it personally when people don’t call back; they just move on to another prospect.

Guard your attention. The biggest attention-management culprit I see in the workplace today is instant messaging. You’re right in the middle of reviewing those budget figures, and PING, a coworker asks you a question. You answer and try again to get focused, and PING, someone asks how you’re doing with a little smiley face. Ping! Ping! Ping! You can get so many little windows open at once on your screen that it’s virtually impossible to work. Like so many others, I have turned off my instant messaging function so I can concentrate. Some people haven’t discovered you can “block” messages or take yourself off of buddy lists. If you’re busy with something, go off-line or “invisible.” That way it appears you are offline and unavailable to chat. Unless you work in or interface with customer service or sales, and you need to get or give answers to real time questions—quick—while you have a customer on the phone, turn it off.

Phone and TV aids. Consider getting “caller ID.” You can tell who’s calling and decide whether to accept the interruption. In a similar vein, some people swear by TiVo to record television shows. That way, they can watch them without all the distractions of the commercials, at a time that’s convenient for them.

Do something “mindless.” Some activities have meditative qualities to them: They are repetitive, boring, or don’t require a lot of thinking, such as ironing, needlework, or reading. Time just seems to float by, and the mind slows down. For me, exercise is like this. My best ideas come to me on the treadmill, because I’m focused and my mind is quiet.

Take a deep breath. When your brain is taxed, deep breathing can help restore focus. Sit in a comfortable position, arms at your sides, and shoulders relaxed. Exhale as completely as you can through your mouth, with the chest and abdominal area collapsing and falling inward. Inhale slowly through your nose to the count of five, making your abdomen rise. Your chest, rib cage, and shoulders should not move at all. Exhale slowly through your mouth to the count of ten, sucking in your abdomen. Do 10 to 15 cycles of this breathing for a complete feeling of calm.

Put some of these techniques into play, and you will be well on your way to feeling “normal” again.

Laura's Blog

Recent posts:
Workaholism: a well-defined addiction
'Extreme' jobs on the rise: poor time management skills and workaholism to blame
Setting up your office for maximum productivity
Email etiquette
Maintenance vs. progress
NewsGator Inbox for Outlook 2.6 saves time

Hot Links

Apple-paid research touts 30-inch monitors
InfoWorld - San Francisco,CA,USA
... "'I can surf the Net on one monitor and do something else on the other,' said Peggy Duncan, an Atlanta-based personal productivity expert and principal of PSC ...

New Technology Takes Mental Toll on Workers

*!#@ The E-Mail. Can We Talk?

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.

Featured Seminar

NEW! Extreme Job Required: Surviving the 60-Plus Hour Workweek

This presentation is suited only to “extreme job” holders: those working a minimum of 60 hour workweeks (typically more like 80-100 hours), who are high earners, and have fast-paced jobs with an inordinate scope of responsibility, often under tight deadlines, an unpredictable flow of work, availability to clients 24/7, a large number of direct reports, and a large amount of travel. Our goal is to try to lower stress and resulting burnout and turnover by reducing the number of hours worked by at least five hours per week, while achieve the same results, without reducing customer service or quality. We will discuss challenges in a circle of like-minded peers and share formulas for success and shore up weaknesses.

Course Objectives

  • Make decisions and disposition work more quickly.
  • Mentor and train others to take over some of your responsibilities.
  • Challenge redundancies and tighten inefficient processes and systems.
  • Contract out low-function household tasks with concierge services.
  • Travel more effectively and get more done during waiting times.
  • Take advantage of technology without letting it control you.
  • Repair damaged relationships and create rituals with loved ones.
  • Take care of yourself with better sleep habits, exercise, and diet.
  • Take advantage of available company work/life programs.
  • Organize your email, paper, and time effectively.
  • Reduce unrealistic expectations of other people and be easier to get along with.
  • Watch the perfectionism: yes, others can do as well as you can.
  • Try to wrap your mind around (gasp!) a two-week vacation.
  • Set reasonable boundaries to keep your work from destroying your personal life.
Laura Stack: The Productivity Pro (r)
Laura Stack, MBA, CSP
Message from Laura

Merry Christmas! Can I still say that? I tire of the all-encompassing, politically correct “Happy Holidays.” Many of you know I’m a Christian, so I wish people Merry Christmas to share from my own heart and my own experience. I hope that you would do the same for me, so I can share in yours. Regardless of how you celebrate— Hanukkah, Kwanza, Santa, etc.—we are still joined by the common bond of love, family, and peace that is the Christmas season. This is a time for slowing down, resting, relaxing, enjoying. Those of you who have been working non-stop...STOP...try not to DO. Please spend more than one day unwinding and reconnecting with your loved ones—a couple weeks would be lovely. Share in family rituals and create some new memories. Look at the busyness of the season not as things to check off your list but as enjoyable activities. You’ve worked hard all year; you deserve this. We’ll talk about ratcheting it up a level in 2007 in the January newsletter, but for now, I wish you a truly unproductive Christmas.

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Time Tips and Traps Offered by Subscribers

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››Priority Manager Learning Link newsletter
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Letters to the Editor

Dear Laura,

I wanted to email you to, first of all, thank you so very much for sharing your wisdom, knowledge and experience through Leave the Office Earlier and Find More Time. I purchased Leave the Office Earlier last year on a bit of a whim, and found it so incredibly helpful, inspiring and practical -- it changed my life more than I thought a book ever could! Now, I have organised my life (thanks, also, for your recommendation for FranklinCovey planners -- I adore my Compact and have found it really helpful), left my previous job, which was a bad fit for me, and found a fulfilling, exciting role within a really dynamic company here in London, and feel so much more in control of my life. Thank you! I wonder, do you by any chance have a list of books that really changed your life or inspired you? Having got so much out of your books, I'm sure I'd benefit from those that inspired and shaped your perspective in the first place.

As I said, one of the things I did after reading your book was to investigate FranklinCovey, and I was fortunate enough that my employer paid for me to participate in the "Focus" and "7 Habits" public programmes earlier this year. I found them both really useful, and I particularly wanted to thank you for leading me along the path to them. I also wanted to ask you whether or not you'd attended them, and especially whether there were any other public programmes like them that you would recommend to somebody who, in the words of his friends and more frank colleagues, is a "disorganised genius". (Modest, I know...but I think it's accurate).

Do let me know if you'll ever be in the UK -- I'd be very interested in arranging a coaching session with you. Thank you, again, for changing my life!

Yours very sincerely, and wishing you every success,

John Walton
London, UK

NOTE FROM LAURA: These are a few of the books that shaped my early thinking in personal productivity:

Carter, Steven and Julia Sokol. Lives Without Balance. Villard Books, New York, NY: 1992.

Covey, Stephen R. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1989.

Davidson, Jeff. Breathing Space: Living & Working At A Comfortable Place In A Sped-Up Society. MasterMedia, New York, NY: 1991.

Griessman, B. Eugene. Time Tactics of Very Successful People. McGraw-Hill, New York, NY: 1994.

Haynes, Marion E. Personal Time Management. Los Altos, CA: Crisp Publications, 1987.

Hemphill, Barbara. Taming The Office Tiger. Kiplinger Books, Washington DC: 1996.

Quinn, Robert E., Sue R. Faerman, Michael P. Thompson, and Michael R. McGrath. Becoming a Master Manager: A Compentency Framework. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1990.

Rechtschaffen, Stephan. Time Shifting: Creating More Time To Enjoy Your Life. Doubleday, New York, NY: 1996.

Scott, Dru. The Telephone and Time Management: Making It a Tool and Not a Tyrant. Los Altos, CA: Crisp Publications, 1988.

Stamp, Daniel. The Invisible Assembly Line: Boosting White Collar Productivity in the New Economy. American Management Association, New York, NY: 1995.