Do you feel like there’s too much to do? Almost everyone does, which is surely why productivity expert Laura Stack wrote her new book, What to Do When There’s Too Much to Do. Released Tuesday, the book promises to teach you how to be so productive that you’ll gain an extra 90 minutes of time each day.
We got our hands on a copy of the book* for your enjoyment.
What to Do is a decent 160 pages before footnotes and such, and a lot of it is, quite honestly, stuff we’ve all heard before. There’s a lot in here about reducing email clutter and going to fewer meetings (oh if only it were that easy). Also, don’t multitask or procrastinate. And stop checking your email every 15 minutes (as Vicki has so handily pointed out). Easier said than done, Stack.
But there are some good ideas, and the book was less idealistic than many in this genre–you know, the ones that suggest just telling your boss you’ll never work on XYZ again–because yeah, that’ll work.
Stack suggests taking a serious look at everything on your to-do list. If you don’t know why you’re doing it, stop (and wait until someone screams). Okay, that might be a little idealistic. But if you’re filing information into a black hole that nobody ever looks at or sorting your boss’s email alphabetically, maybe you can trim some things from your to-do list.
And about that to-do list: you need two of ‘em. This was the good idea, we thought. Instead of one gargantuan list, you need a daily list and a master list. “You must separate what you need to do today from what you don’t need to do today,” Stack says. “Combining the two is very distracting and makes it difficult to determine what to work on next.” When you have downtime, you can review items from your master list and move them to the daily list, which should have no more than ten things on it, as needed.
Stack doesn’t endorse specific technology for managing your lists but we’ve found a combination of Evernote and Remember the Milk works really well. Where she does endorse technology (and where we found her going a little into the weeds) is in detailed discussions of to-do lists and other items in Outlook. Sure, Outlook is still widely used, but by focusing on Outlook to the detriment of others, Stack ignores the many Mac users, the PC users whose IT departments have allowed them to switch to Thunderbird or another client, and all the companies that have switched their mail to Google Apps so that users can access their mail from any client they want or the web interface. Not to mention mobile devices. So feel free to skip those sections.
Again, we found most of this book to be more realistic than most. She even mentions Tim Ferriss and “The Four-Hour Workweek” in order to point out that even the man himself works more than four hours a week; he’s just redefined “work” to not include everything he does for more than four hours. She also points out that while you ought to delegate as much as you can, say no as often as you reasonably can, and so forth, even making all these changes might not get you back down to a 40-hour workweek. “Today, a forty-hour week isn’t plausible for many people, given the expectations or structures of their jobs,” she says. Besides, “some people insist they function better with a more demanding schedule.” But demanding is one thing: breaking down because you’re working a seventy-hour week is something else. There’s surely a happy medium here.
Should you buy this book? At $10, the e-book seems fairly priced and if you need serious productivity help or inspiration, it may be worth it. If you’re unsure, read a sample and look at the “cliffs notes” at Stack’s website.
Have you tried any of these tips and realized you were getting more done? Tell us about it (we could use the help!).
*disclaimer: we got an e-copy through Stack’s publicist.