Learn from the Productive

Thursday, April 25, 2013

A web site dedicated to small business offers a list of twelve productivity tips from very productive individuals. You may find, as I did, that you already do some of these, but that others are completely new, or at least are things you hadn't considered much in the past. You will get ideas from each item, though.

For example, I have become very big on Item 6, grouping interruptions, in the past few months:

This idea comes from restaurateur Danny Meyer. He has his assistant group all questions that come up during the day in one list so she doesn't have to interrupt him repeatedly during office hours. Take a cue from this and see how you can ask others on your team to group questions, requests and other non-urgent inquiries so you're not distracted by interruptions that don't add value. [link in original]
Interruptions don't just break up work flow. Their time cost includes not just what it takes to attend to the tasks themselves, but also the time it takes to switch from one task to another. (Twice, if you attend to one when in the middle of something else.)

This latter cost can be minimized by looking at a list and grouping similar items together. This is most easily seen by errands that require a car and its inherent time cost. Now that I'm having to use a car for practically all my errands, I have become reacquainted with what I call the "twenty-minute idiot tax". It is usually the case that the time it takes to get into a car, reach a destination, and park will cost about that much. A trip to the grocery thus costs forty minutes plus however long the actual shopping takes. Going to the grocery and the pharmacy separately has about eighty minutes of such overhead, but only sixty minutes (or forty, if the two are in the same location) when the two are grouped. Similarly, if my wife cleans up clutter around the house, I ask her to group together receipts or anything else I normally deal with so I can knock them all off at once. Nevertheless, this item has caused me to be on the lookout for other interruptions I might not have been treating that way, or at least not explicitly.

Item 7, outsourcing personal chores, is a potential gold mine, since I do most of our household chores and shopping. I'd heard of grocery shopping through Amazon, for example, but not its Subscribe and Save program, which might save me or my wife from having to do at least some of our errands.

In addition to the list offering worthwhile suggestions, it is well-stocked with links that can elaborate on many of them.

-- CAV


Dismuke said...

Best bet I know to avoid time drains on shopping is to get in the habit of stocking up on non-perishables, especially those you would have to make a special trip to pick up in the event you run out. For example, never have less than two sticks/cans of deodorant on hand at any time - the one you are using and a spare. And, whenever you already happen to be at the store where you can get the deodorant you like at the best price, replenish your supply at that time even though you may still have many weeks worth at home. You will save time and money by not having to make a special trip to a more expensive store when you run out. If I am at Sam's Club, I always make a mental note as to the status of my paper towel, olive oil and shaving gel supply at home. Their multi-packs of shaving gel last me about a year and their large containers/multipacks of olive oil and paper towel will last me a couple of months.

The big challenge is when it comes to perishables. I eat a lot of produce - and most produce items don't last well much past a week. So that is a weekly chore that I cannot avoid - and I try to plan as much of the rest of my shopping on the same trip as the produce run. Produce is my biggest food expense - so saving 40 percent on produce that is better quality than I can get elsewhere is worth a bit longer drive. But since I am well-stocked on other things, if I am pressed for time, I can usually postpone stopping at other stores until the following week's produce run.

Bottom line - if you are going to be at a store anyway, ask yourself what you can buy so that you don't have to make a trip back for a very long time. That is basically what people in rural areas train themselves to do. If it is a 40 mile trip to the nearest mass retailers and 12 miles to the nearest rinky dink grocery, the last thing you want to have to do is make an unplanned emergency run to the store for some eggs or paper for the printer.

Gus Van Horn said...


That's similar to what I do, although I perfected it when we lived in Boston, and used a car only about once a month. On weekends we'd rent a car, we'd plan trips to places like Walmart or Petsmart, too.

But there was a wrinkle: Storage space in Boston was limited. Mental notes alone could too easily result in running out of something or wasting space on overstocking. I kept the habit of listing things that were running low when they got low. When time to rent a car came, we'd already have a list of what we needed.