Book Review

Work Less, Do More: the 14-Day Productivity Makeover, by Jan Yager, Ph.D.

Reviewed by Barbara Florio Graham
True North Perspective

Barbara Florio Graham is the author of Five Fast Steps to Better Writing, Five Fast Steps to Low-Cost Publicity, and Mewsings/Musings. Her website is www.SimonTeakettle.com.

This mantra has been popular for some time, but certainly even more important in the current financial situation. We all have to make the most of every working hour to maximize earnings and diminish stress.

Yager's book (published by Sterling) promises to eliminate distractions, conquer e-mail overload, run more effective meetings, and avoid time-wasters. That's a tall order, but Yager breaks these tasks down so that you can quickly find what you need.

The "14-day" formula is really not necessary. It's a handy way to organize the material, but each chapter clearly identifies what it covers, so if you don't need to read Getting Started or Goal Setting, you can just go directly to the chapters on prioritizing or e-mail.

The third chapter, dealing with the five "Ps: Procrastination, Perfectionism, Poor Planning, Pacing, and Petulance," echo some of what I teach in my Time Management course for writers and self-employed entrepreneurs. But I learned many new tricks from this book. The chapter on Prioritizing introduces a concept new to me, the WOO factor. WOO stands for Window of Opportunity, and reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar:

There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.

Procrastinators are not the only ones who often miss their window of opportunity, those who are easily distracted and plan poorly can lose out as well.

Yager is not too hard on multi-taskers (thank goodness, as that's one of my bad habits), and offers many helpful lists, such as How to Say No Graciously, how to detect if you're stressed, and 15 ways to add more productive time to your workday. One thing she doesn't have on this list is a key tip I learned from Carol Shields. She wrote her Pulitzer-Prize-winning book while living in Ottawa, with five children at home. Carol told me that she was very careful about what she allowed herself to do in the morning before she went to her desk to start writing. She got dressed, got the kids off to school, cleaned off the kitchen table and counters, made the bed, got dressed, brushed her teeth and her hair, and washed her face.

She pointed out that even taking a shower often tempts a woman writer to clean the entire bathroom, that getting a few things out for that night's dinner can lead to reorganizing a cabinet, deciding to bake something, or making a shopping list.

It's not just women writers, but also men who work from home, who have to be careful not to get involved in other worthwhile and necessary chores before settling down to write. One can easily spend an entire day on household or outdoor chores, with watering a few plants leading to washing the car, cleaning the inside of the car, and pretty soon half a day is gone.

I am proud to have called Carol a friend, and mourned her death, much too early. I think of her every day as I follow a routine very similar to hers (no kids to get off to school, but a cat to feed instead).

Yager closes her book with 21 Top Time Management Ideas, some gleaned from other sources. These include not overbooking your day (you have to leave room for urgent priorities that arise suddenly), and to "spread your net wide," so you don't waste time and energy chasing one lead while allowing other options to slip through your fingers.

Buy this book, for yourself, your Significant Other, your kids, your boss, and your co-workers. Forget the 14 days. Find your weaknesses in the Table of Contents and plunge in. You'll end up working less and doing more.

15 May 2009 — Return to cover.
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