Productivity for spontaneous sorts

573610429_f05b93a701_mOver the past few weeks, I’ve been doing time makeovers for a number of readers. Last week, we looked at Lisa Lane, who’d taken on a second job during tax season.

Today’s subject is Jamaal Myles. He’s a project manager at a large IT company. He’s starting a company on the side, likes to work out, is married, and is a leader of a church congregation. He has various projects he’d like to tackle, including studying to get his project management certification. His company budgeted to pay for that training this year, so he needs to do it this year.

The problem? The week he tracked for me he spent zero time studying for that certification. He has a lot of flexibility in his job — he tends to work at home in the mornings and head to the office in the afternoon — but that flexibility sometimes extends to his approach to work, too. He told me he tends to let his emotions dictate his work. If he’s in a mood to do something, he will. If not, he’ll put it off.

Talking on the phone, it soon became clear that Myles has a much more spontaneous personality than someone like, say, me. I feel a lot more comfortable if I know that at 9:00 I’ll work on this project, at 10:00 I’ll work on that project, etc. There are many upsides to going with the flow but there also has to be a balance because unfortunately, there are some things that we may never feel like doing, but we need to do for our jobs now or for future career growth.

So how do you find that balance? I suggested Myles start assigning himself one top professional priority per day. On the weekend, he’d make a list of 5 priorities, and assign one to each morning. He’d do that first (“eat that frog” to use Brian Tracy’s phrase) and then he could go with the flow the rest of the work day. Since he’s starting his own company, too, he could use a similar approach, perhaps aiming for one reasonable project per week to accomplish. To ensure he did that, he could find an accountability partner for checking in.

As for studying, he needed to assign himself study time if this was going to happen. Sunday afternoon was pretty open, but he could also find time during the week. Looking at Myles’ time log, I could see that he and his wife often hit the couch together to watch TV at the end of the day. Many couples get into this routine. It’s a low-key way to spend time together, and no one has to plan it in advance. The problem is that often both parties have other things they’d like to devote time to, but neither wants to be the one to speak up and make it seem like he/she doesn’t want to spend time with the other party.

I asked Myles if his wife had any projects he knew that she wanted to pursue — if only she had more time! It turned out that she is a seamstress, and could happily spend her evenings sewing. I suggested he start a conversation with her emphasizing how important it was for her to have time for that, and maybe two evenings a week they should protect time for her craft. Then, of course, he’d study during that time.

Finally, as a church leader who was responsible for speaking on spiritual matters with other church members, Myles needed to make time for scripture reading and reflection. Again, this is the sort of thing we seldom do, spontaneously, during the day, given the constant barrage of email that anyone — and particularly a project manager in IT — is going to face. But he could do it first. When he woke up in the morning, he could get in the habit of spending 5-10 minutes reading a passage, thinking about it, and jotting down notes. That way, when the weekend rolled around, he’d be far more prepared.

Did it work? I checked in a few weeks later. Myles reported his feedback:

Tip 1: Set a task of one major thing you HAVE to do for today. “This is very effective! It helps provide me with the right mindset I need to attack the day with a vengeance, and prioritizing my activities to ensure I accomplish my major task, even if it requires smaller steps throughout the course of the day. Before I used to procrastinate and run from the major task. Now, I run TO the major task to give me a better feeling about how productive my day has been!”

Tip 2: Set LLC goals on Sunday night; get an accountability partner. “I set the accountability partner, we have a weekly call where we review our goals and progress. It’s a true relationship builder and performance enhancer at the same time! We also help each other with advice on our goals. I’ve been able to successfully set goals for the LLC and reach them step by step.”

Tip 3: Set an hour target on studying. Start small with a 2 hour study session on Sunday then see if you can find 2 one hour blocks during the week. “So far, so good. The key is agreeing on the days of weekday study sessions where my wife is also actively busy pursuing projects. When we do this, we synergistically keep each other accountable.”

Tip 4: In the morning, work on reviewing scriptures for church leader role. “This is the best time slot for me to focus on this. No distractions and my mind is fresh to retain information!”

Of course, getting up in the morning to review scripture before work requires going to bed on time, and I’d suggested Myles try giving himself a bedtime — 11:30, for instance, so he could get up at 7. “This is the toughest challenge as I’m a diehard night owl,” he said. “However, I can feel the difference when I go to sleep before midnight and the morning opportunities that follow. It’s important for me to keep doing this in order for a better sleeping cycle to become habitual.”

In other news: Welcome Vanguard readers! Vanguard featured my thoughts on personal finance, money, and happiness in its investor newsletter yesterday, which seems to be widely distributed. I hope you’ll stick around and read some of my posts on money and other topics. I closed comments on old posts due to some spam issues, but you are welcome to email me your thoughts at lvanderkam at yahoo dot com.

Photo courtesy flickr user hans s



4 Responses to Productivity for spontaneous sorts


  1. ARC says:

    I love this series *so* much. I love the idea of tackling one priority a day – that’s actually manageable.

  2. Arden says:

    Another time log! Yay! I’m not spontaneous *at all* but it is interesting to see how someone else attacks productivity. I liked the idea of suggesting his wife find a project to allow him time to study (and her time to do something she wanted).

    I studied for the PMP exam a few years ago and really had to work the time into my week. My boss also allowed me a few study days which didn’t count against my PTO. Maybe an option?

    • Laura says:

      @Arden – yes, often cutting down on evening TV time is as much about managing a relationship as it is about managing time. We get into certain habits.

  3. Crete says:

    A “Project Manager” who can’t manage his time and let’s his emotions dictate his work/life habits. Has he been tested for ADD?
    He’s obviously talented, with leadership qualities, and responds well(even excels) to a set schedule where he otherwise would procrastinate. I’m telling you, it took a trusted friend to get my wife to accept that she was ADD and absolutely must follow a schedule!!!!
    Not prying, just trying to be helpful….