Can You Ever Be Ready For Christmas?

You’re walking down a street covered in freshly fallen snow when you meet a friend. The pleasantries begin: “So…are you ready for Christmas?” As a conversation starter, this can grate a bit, similar to those other pithy platitudes such as, “Hot enough for you?” I have often thought the best response to that one would be a Mad Magazine snappy answer to a stupid question, “Actually, no. I could use a few more sweltering degrees so I could fill up some buckets with sweat.”

Now it’s the holiday season, the one just after baseball season and just before “I’m broke” season. During this season…let’s just call it December…people forego their usual greetings (“How’s it going?” or “What’s that thing sticking out of your nose?”) to ask, “Are you ready for Christmas?”

The motivation for this line of inquiry has never been clear. Is it an offer of help? If so, one could respond, “No, I’m not ready. Would you mind coming over and setting the table for me?”

Or is it a sanctimonious query meant to engender a sense of guilt?  If you were truthful, you’d confess, “You know, to be honest, the only thing I got so far is a pair of dancing-elf candles for my mother in law.”

Or is the question meant to keep score for seasonal preparedness? Your friend gets two points for baking her asparagus-flavored shortbread snowmen, and you get one point for putting the inflatable penguin on the front lawn. You’ll catch up when you send your animated email cards with the saccharine symphonies, cute bunnies and twinkly stars. The score at halftime is five points to two.

With Christmas looming can you ever truly be ready? You could buy the turkey, stuff it, cook it, and get the gravy ready, say on December 10. Trouble is, the turkey might be somewhat stale by the time Christmas dinner rolls along a couple of weeks later. The slowly spreading green mould on the surface would give things away.

Or, like my mother used to do, you could begin your shopping in the summer. But where’s the fun in that? In middle of a sweltering July heat wave, picking up a woolen scarf, decorated with romping reindeers in a snowy vista is overwhelmingly incongruous.

Or you could skip being prepared at all and save your shopping to the last minute. It’s remarkable the kind of edible delicacies that you can pick up at a Seven-Eleven on Christmas Eve.

Perhaps you can’t truly be ready for Christmas because it’s not a moment in time as much as a series of moments, each offering its own distinct pleasure. Righting the tree after the cat has tipped it over for the third time, for instance.Cat in the Christmas Tree

Even with all those moments, deadlines have to be met. To plan for them, specify exactly what happens on the due date, and work backwards from there. Steven Covey prompted us to “begin with the end in mind”.

So if gifts must be ready by Christmas Eve, then you’ll need to wrap the day before, and buy the wrapping paper the day before that, and finish shopping the day before that, and so on.

Take some inspiration from that Santa guy, one of the more organized people you’ll ever meet. Actually, you don’t meet him; he’s mastered faster than light travel, a nifty skill that would be terrifically handy when you’re stuck in a traffic jam.

Santa is an expert at planning. He negotiates the elf union contract in March, creates a production timetable for bobble head dolls in June, and poses for Christmas cards drawings in September. Leading up to the big night, there can be no delays, extensions, missed appointments, or line ups for the luggage carousel.

So if you want to be productive, be like Santa. Set your end dates and work backwards while establishing to-do lists along the way. Then you’ll be ready. And if not, take solace that you’re not alone. We’re all trying to get ready until the next pleasantry comes along: happy New Year.

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The Cure For Boredom

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300 kids come to our house every Halloween. Instead of candy they get stickers and a “magic scroll”, a rolled up poem that I write every year.   This year, my son inspired me to write  ”The Cure For Boredom.”  I’m passionate about inspiring people to spend their time on what’s most important to them.  Sometimes, what’s most important is just curing your child’s boredom.
Be inspired.





Mommy I’m bored there’s nothing to do

I don’t know what’s next, I don’t have a clue


I’ve read all my comics, my coloring’s done

I’ve played with my toys, they’re not really fun


I finished my homework, there wasn’t too much

Rectangles, triangles, big circles and such


I don’t want to finish my drawing right now

The one of the barn with the horse and the cow


There’s a whole lot of clay, but what should I make

A monster from Mars, or a big birthday cake?


I could build an old castle with all of my blocks

Or play that weird game with the hen and the fox.


I’m squirming around in dad’s favorite chair

I turn upside down, put my legs in the air


I might twist around all my fingers and toes

And make a strange face while I turn up my nose


I’m here all alone there’s nothing to do

I sit at the window and stare at the view


I’m bored of this boredom, I’ve now had enough

I don’t want to play with any old stuff


But what I would like when there’s nothing to do

Is just to spend time with someone like you


Let’s play with some cards, I don’t know the name

It’s like crazy eights, a really fun game


I could stop being bored I think I know how

Mom did you hear, can you play with me now?


I really don’t care what we do, you and I

Just reading together or playing “I spy”


The thing I want most from my mom and my dad

Is time spent with me, and that makes me glad


  Mark Ellwood

  October 2014

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Cut The Glut of Email

Our time study research indicates that employees spend 3.3 hours per week on miscellaneous email messages that are not connected with any of their main projects. That’s a massive amount of time that could easily be reduced. Here are some tips for handling email better.


  • If you are concerned about the volume of email you receive, remember, it’s not them, it’s all of us who are guilty. If you send out 2 emails, and copy 20 people on each, you have contributed to the glut of email by sending out 40 emails yourself!
  • Do not copy people needlessly. Ask yourself why you are copying everyone – if it is to make you look good, it probably is not necessary.
  • Ask employees who report to you not to cc you, unless they include a short note explaining why they are copying you.
  • Hire someone to go through your email when you are on vacation and eliminate what is obviously unnecessary.
  • Use the phone instead of sending an email. If you find yourself typing a lot and telling a “story”, then it is better to call.
  • It is very difficult to convince others through email, especially when you know that they already have entrenched positions. Find another way.
  • The best use of email is for short transactions: “Here is the document you requested,” “When is the meeting?”, “Can you provide an answer to a question”, etc.
  • Just say no. If you’re on a mailing list for which you have no interest, reply by unsubscribing.
  • Unsubscribe from newsletters. If you want to learn something, take a course. If you are hoping that occasionally some useful tidbit will come through on a newsletter, then you are wasting your time. Unsubscribe.



  • Check the spelling of your email before sending it. Spelling errors seem generally accepted in email. But go beyond acceptable. Aim for excellence.
  • DON’T TYPE IN ALL CAPS. This is perceived as shouting.
  • Re-read your email before sending it. Writing quickly often results in awkward grammar.
  • Consider carefully what you write; it’s a permanent record and can be easily forwarded to others. Never accuse people, call them names, suggest they aren’t being smart or criticize their spelling. Assume their intentions are genuine and that they are good people. Be polite and assertive if necessary (i.e. to spammers) but not vindictive.
  • Write succinctly.
  • Write descriptive subject lines. Many busy people will only open messages with captivating subject lines. Think creatively.
  • If you must forward a message, put your comments at the top.
  • Do not keep all of your messages in your mail box folder. Create new mail folders with names that categorize your mail and move messages into them. Thus, new mail is quicker to find.
  • Create folders for : Things to do, Upcoming Events, Manager Issues, Subordinate Issues, Reading, Family, and folders for each of your major customers.
  • Be careful with punctuation. A lot of periods can separate thoughts….. but use a lot of exclamation marks and it looks like you’re angry!!!!!!!!!! How does a line of question marks look ??????? You might not intend strong emotion, but the other person might think you do.
  • Avoid cyber-speak. Not everyone is familiar with the cute acronyms used in Email correspondence, such as IMHO (in my humble opinion) or FWIW (for what it’s worth).  Performing a mental translation each time slows down the reader. Do not make reading difficult for them.

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Top Reasons Why People Hate Meetings

Boring Meeting

 Here’s why people hate meetings.

• Boss tells you the meeting is urgent, then is always the last to show up

• Difficult to conceal the fact that you really have to take a nap

• “Let’s vote on whether to take a vote”

• Tray of squishy pastry things filled with weird flavored goop

• Agenda? What agenda?

• Usual signal for the end of the meeting is arrival of cleaning staff

• During your presentation, everyone’s watching cat videos on their phones

• Person next to you conducting personal hygiene keeps flicking stuff your way

• Discussion is so far off topic, no one remembers the original point

• Most important thing you get to do is answer the role call

• When there’s a motion to repeal the amendment to the previous motion to disallow, no one knows what they’re voting for

• Woman whose name you can’t remember keeps getting your name wrong

• Two words: long winded

• Guy on the speaker phone sounds like he’s in a coal mine

• Group rushes through a bad proposal so they can beat the traffic to the cottage

• After four hours, place smells like a locker room

And the top reason why people hate meetings is:

• Scheduling yet another meeting to finish everything off

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Wasted Time At Work

“What a waste of time!”

Do you ever hear this at work? It’s an incriminating observation for what is often just a petty inconvenience. Time was wasted, and someone is to blame. Though it’s curious how no one ever dares to take ownership of the problem. In so many cases, it’s always someone else’s fault. “That guy in the other department wasted my time. Of course I would never waste someone else’s time, let alone my own. But jeez, look at all the waste all over the place.”

We accuse others, but we toil in perfection, never attributing wastefulness to our own actions.

So what exactly do we mean by wasted time?

To understand waste, we first need to understand how time should be spent. When people are spending their time well at work, they’re doing what their job descriptions say they should. They’re managing, or selling, or designing, or processing, or teaching.

That’s what they get paid for, what they excel at, and it’s how others see them. They spend their time on the important activities that create results. These are what we call “A” priorities.

Employees also spend time on activities that support their priorities. These are the “B” responsibilities that need to get done.

Employees occasionally do things that aren’t part of their main job, but are imposed by others. These are their “C” requirements. These activities can be substantial. For instance, administrative tasks add up to about 25% of a manager’s time.

Finally, there is necessary time. At work, employees have to take breaks, eat lunch, use the washroom, and travel to customers. Anything else is non-productive time.

There is plenty of non-productive time during working hours, but that doesn’t always mean it is wasted. For instance, if you get up to stretch your legs for a moment, or gaze out the window to reflect, it would be unfair to classify this as wasted time. There’s a necessity for this. You need to relax and recharge.

So companies should expect some amount of time expenditures that are not always productive. Reboot time is just one type of non-productive time. There are others.

Time not spent on the things that should get done fall into three major categories: personal issues, work habits and corporate impediments.

Personal Issues
On occasion, employees take time from their employers. This is what’s traditionally known as wasted time. It’s the goofing off, the theft of time. This includes some of the following activities:

  • Personal calls
  • Long lunches or breaks.
  • Water cooler chats.
  • Social media chats.
  • Entertaining oneself.
  • Entertaining others
  • Unnecessary research
  • Outside interests

Work Habits
The second type of non-productive time involves poor work habits by employees who would never admit to wasting time. In fact, they probably aren’t even aware that their pace is slow. Some of their practices include:

  • Slow moving activity
  • Distractions
  • Poor problem solving
  • Poor systems knowledge
  • E-mail cc and virus warnings
  • Clutter
  • Administrative tasks
  • Lack of training
  • Tardiness
  • Not following instructions

Corporate Impediments
Many employees are at the high end of efficiency. They are not wasting time personally. Their work habits are top notch. But as efficient as they might be, they can end up wasting time because of factors outside of their control.

  • Equipment issues
  • Changing directions
  • Unclear mandate or job description
  • Major changes
  • Legal battles

Others’ Waste
The waste that others cause is one of the biggest reasons why employees’ time is wasted. Some of these include:

  • Unnecessary emails
  • Late starting meetings
  • Meetings without focus
  • Petty requests
  • Unclear communication
  • Mistakes by others
  • Interruptions
  • Poorly run meetings


Some waste is inevitable. It’s an expected part of the corporate environment. People will chat with their friends. They’ll daydream now and then. Things will go wrong. The office will never be a perfect place. That’s what makes it interesting. Anyone who seeks perfection is chasing an illusion.


  • Accept that some portion of work time will be wasted. It will probably be minor. Writing policies about how long water cooler chats should is a waste itself.
  • Assign meaningful work so that employees keep busy and feel that their contributions are making a difference.
  • Establish protocols for internal communication, particularly for email.
  • Disconnect employees from anything they don’t need on the internet. Do employees really need access to YouTube, Facebook, or Pinterest at work?
  • Make employees accountable for their results in performance reviews and in periodic goal setting sessions.
  • Train employees on soft skills such as supervision, time management, communication, and problem solving.
  • Provide employee assistance programs for those occasions when pressures from outside work affect what goes on inside work.
  • Engage in process improvement projects to understand how time is being allocated and to create systemic improvements through automation, re-structuring, and centralization.


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Save Time While Outsourcing

I am a big fan of outsourcing for services. Sometimes it takes a while to hire the person you want. But I found a way to do it faster.

I conduct time studies for large organizations that want to improve their productivity. During my projects, I outsource shipping preparation, data entry, programming, and anything else that’s repetitive and that I can delegate. Recently I used an on-line recruitment site to find a new programmer. You can find some really good people on line, but you can also be swamped with resumes and applications. So here’s a story and a tip on how to find the best.

I posted a job listing on one of the popular sites where thousands of contractors are available to do work. I was very precise about what was needed, essentially programming work to upgrade our new  web site, as well as on-going maintenance. My previous contractor decided to get a full time job, so I needed to find someone new.

My job posting mentioned the usual batch of skills that would be needed, as well as the web site name. I asked people to respond if they had the right technical qualifications and to express their enthusiasm for the project. But there, deeply buried in the middle of about three hundred words of text that I had written was a simple statement.  “In your response, please indicate the name of the city where our company’s headquarters is located.”

You don’t have to be a brain surgeon to figure this out. If you go to the web site and poke around a bit, you’ll discover that we’re in Toronto.

I posted the job listing and watched while the applications came pouring in, dozens and dozens.  They all contained great qualifications and a general enthusiasm to take on the project. But how would I screen them all? Easy, by seeing who answered the buried question. The applications were all viewable on-line and I used a simple “find” function to look for the word “Toronto.” I didn’t even look at the responses. It was incredible how fast I rejected the vast majority of them.  This left me with just 24 applicants out of the 120 total. Blunt? Well, consider this. Do you really want to hire someone whocan’ even follow simple instructions?

From there came phase two of the screening process, I offered almost all 24a test job, for which I would pay for two hours of their time. The test job involved signing up on the site, and providing a maximum two-page project plan, responding to a few questions I asked in the test project briefing.

Only seven responded with a two-page summary. This was turning out to be quite the screening process. Prior to this, I had hardly even looked at any of the resumes. Now I did, and I spoke with almost all of those who submitted project plans via Skype.

The person I hired had suggested that he had some additional ideas. “Send them over,” I said. And he did. That, plus his enthusiasm won him the job.

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Conduct A Time Study To Improve Productivity

Pick up just about any time management book and you’ll find a common piece of advice somewhere near the beginning. “Conduct a time study on all of your activities for a week”. This will be accompanied by a nifty table with snappy rows and impressive columns all nicely laid out for you to fill in. The text goes on to ask you to analyze the results of your time study, doesn’t give much more perspective than that.

Indeed understanding time use can be a useful diagnostic tool for understanding productivity. I’ve been running a time study consulting business since 1990, using the innovative TimeCorder device that I invented and launched in 1989. Whether you use a TimeCorder, or an app, or the back of an envelope, or a form from a time management book, understanding something about your time usage can be useful. Only when you measure your productivity can you improve it.

But once you discover that you spend ten hours per week on one of your major activities, what does that mean? Most statistics gleaned from research are only helpful when they are placed in context. How do those ten hours compare to other people who are like you? Perhaps they are similar, but do those people have the same job or family situation? Also, how has the data changed? Are those ten hours going up or down over time? Are there occasional peak periods? If so, what causes them? And how does your time use in one area affect all of the other areas? An illustration of this is when overtime hours are examined. If you work longer hours than usual during a particular week, that time has to come from somewhere else. Something has to give. More work might mean less family time, or less exercise.

When you spend more time on one thing, then some other thing will either disappear completely or become compressed. Time for meals is an example of this. With all those overtime hours, chances are you’re not eating massively lower amounts of food. You may simply be compressing your meal time. Rushed breakfasts, lunch on the go, and fast food for dinner take the place of long lingering meals over a glass of wine and good conversation. Another artifact of large amounts of time use in one area is overlapping activities. More and more you start doing two things at once. So those rushed meals are eaten at your desk or (heaven forbid) in the car while driving to work. Ask a busy mother what keeps her going, and she’ll tell you how she can feed children, speak on the phone and clean dishes, all at once.

Based on our time study research, the thing you are most likely to discover is that you spend fewer hours than you might like on your highest priority tasks while spending much more of your time than you would like on low priority tasks. In the work place, those low priority tasks are administrative activities; filing out reports, going to staff meetings, answering routine internal requests and other activities that aren’t part of the main thrust of your job. Outside of work, those lower priority tasks will be household chores, shopping for groceries, minor repairs, laundry, and cleaning up.

So track your time and put it into perspective. You are likely to be surprised about something. Then you have to figure out what to do next. Are you happy with the way things are or do you genuinely want to improve your productivity? A thorough time study analysis leads to insight. And that leads to results. Your time is worth it.

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Get Procrastination Support and Get Stuff Done

Want to get stuff done? Do you keep putting off important tasks? Can’t seem to get started? Need procrastination support? That’s why we launched The site inspires users to get stuff done by linking them up with random buddies to whom they are accountable.

BuddyHive; Buddy up and get stuff done

Our time study research shows that procrastination in the workplace is among the top 20 productivity inhibitors that employees face.  And procrastination is not just a problem for those at work. Stay-at-home mothers and fathers, students, and those who are in between jobs also find that there are some tasks that are simply hard to get to. You may have support systems in place; a spouse who offers advice or a boss who provides direction. But for some reason, the support you get from the people you know doesn’t always work. No matter how much nagging your receive from your spouse, those unfinished tasks just never seem to get done. You can take a time management course that gives you lots of theory. There are numerous ways to overcome procrastination; break large tasks into smaller ones, give yourself a reward for completing a task, visualize a positive outcome rather than a negative one. If you can do any of those, you’re on your way.

But in many cases, you just might need to be more accountable. And that’s where you need a buddy – someone who is looking out for you. And what if that person needed your help in return? has just launched a new feature that builds the community aspect of the site. From the start, the idea was to link people up with each other to provide support, encouragement, tips, advice – mostly to provide accountability.

Now there’s a new community feature. As always, buddies are teamed up. Now, anyone who is registered on the system can “drop in” to look at messages that have been sent within the last two weeks. Then they can offer their own advice. The buddy relationship comes first, but now the community can help as well.

At, just go to the “Hive” tab and click on “Tasks Underway” to see all the tasks where buddies have been in touch with each other during the last two weeks. Think you can offer help? Once you’re registered, just click on the “Offer Advice” button, and add your comments to the conversation

You can receive advice from others too. Once you send a message to your own buddy, your task will go to the top of the list, and you can receive support from registered users.

Meanwhile, buddies are getting all kinds of things done. From work to hobbies to household tasks to studying, accountability makes a difference.

Here are some of the recent tasks that buddies have accomplished:

  • I was able to clean my storage room
  • I was able to redo my resume
  • I was able to produce a business plan within two weeks.
  • I was able to practice for an English Essay
  • I was able to complete a consulting report for client in the UK

Get the procrastination support you need. Buddy up and get stuff done. You never know who you’ll meet.

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