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Productivity Tips to Maximize Your Minutes

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Top 10 Time Tactics:

Tip #12 - Strategies

Fire the Big Guns First. Put your best foot forward. Always lead with your strongest material. If you begin your presentation with the most convincing points – and establish credibility – your remaining arguments will be more compelling. Strut your best stuff first in your application, résumé, screenplay, story, sales literature, article, speech – or courtroom plea! It’s a hard fact of life: most readers will sample the beginning and move on if it doesn’t speak to them. Classic advice to screenwriters: Put your all into the first ten pages.

“Don't forget that the only two things
people read in a story are the
first and last sentences.
Give them blood in the eye on the first one.”

— Herbert Bayard Swope
Hitler's wedding-by-wireless. During the first two summers of college, I worked in a couple branch offices of Bank of America. I heard an amazing story. The Operations Officer in one small town branch told me the tale of a customer who died. As is often the case, her safe deposit box had to be drilled open and inventoried for probate. Inside the box they found newspaper articles and a videotape of a TV news interview laying out the box-holder’s remarkable claim: She married Adolph Hitler! She asserted that she was wed by radio to the leader of Nazi Germany during WWII – she standing on the grounds of the German consulate in San Francisco, he in Berlin, for a ceremony via wireless. Of course, maybe she was crazy and the claim was an aggrandizing fantasy. On the other hand, it is possible that Hitler, in a lucid moment, made contingency plans in case Germany lost the war. Perhaps he set up more than one wife-by-wireless to provide a quiet hiding place to run to if the unthinkable happened. The best time to plan for a contingency is long before you need it.

Tip #15 - Strategies

Hedge your bets. Anticipate likely risks. Use your cell phone/camera to carry images of your passport, drivers license, etc.– and your luggage (in case of loss). Photocopy the contents of your wallet. Copy key cell phone contacts onto paper and keep in your car or wallet. Carry a copy of your passport on your person when traveling outside the country. Joggers and bikers: carry your ID and medical card. Backup your computer data monthly or weekly. Wear your safety belt. Review your credit report annually. Gather referrals or business cards for computer and auto repair.

“Don't let yourself fall into 'empty.'
Keep cash in the house.
Keep gas in your tank.
Keep an extra roll of toilet paper squirreled away.
Keep your phone charged.”

— Gretchen Rubin
Kayak collision. Kayaking alone in San Francisco Bay, I paddled to the far edge of a small bay where I decided to investigate an urban canal that branched into Sausalito. To do this, I had to lift my kayak out of the water and carry it across a paved bike path which curved along the waterfront. I approached the bike path cautiously, and set down my boat parallel to it. I looked and listened, but detected no danger, so I began the awkward motion to pick up the kayak, turn it perpendicular to the path, and then walk across. If there was ever a key moment in my life, this was one. As I put the boat in motion, a bike raced around the curve and sped past me. If I had moved 5 seconds earlier, I would have blocked the path in time to meet a speeding metal frame carrying a couple hundred pounds of flesh; the bike would have sliced through my plastic boat (and maybe me), and catapulted the rider into the Bay. I was astonished at the carnage I avoided. Go slow in moments of high risk.

Tip #34 - Morning Methods

Be an early riser. Wake up an hour earlier, painlessly: Keep the same bedtime, and let the rest of America change its clocks! In November, when Daylight Saving Time ends, and the whole country advances the clock to return to Standard Time, maintain your usual sleep pattern and simply reset your morning alarm an hour earlier. That is, go to bed an hour earlier (by the new clock), with no change in body time. For example, if you normally go to bed at 11 pm and awaken at 7 am, you’ll change your clock, like everyone else, but continue to follow your regular sleep rhythm with a 10 pm bedtime and a 6 am alarm.

“My formula for success?
Rise early, work late, strike oil.”

— J. Paul Getty
Speed moving. My first job out of college was to work as assistant to Richard Meltzer, founder and chairman of the advertising agency, Meltzer, Aron & Lemen. He was a ‘grey eminence’ in the advertising biz and I knew I would learn a lot from him, but it turned out a bit differently than I expected. He was selling his piece of the firm to another advertising mogul from Palo Alto, and retiring to create a solo marketing consulting firm. We worked out of his top floor corner office with a fabulous view of San Francisco Bay. But, a few months in, we were suddenly in crisis. The new partner didn’t bring with him the promised clients, and as the 1980 recession kicked in, expected work didn’t materialize – but they had already hired the staff. As cash started to bleed, I was told confidentially of one tactic they used: They paid the payroll taxes, but stalled issuing the payroll checks. (Non payment of taxes is a federal offense.) As the situation darkened, Dick learned the firm was going to declare bankruptcy on Monday; so over the weekend we moved our office – from one high-rise tower to another at their prestige address, One Market Plaza. To avoid damage to his reputation, he had decided he needed to not be there on the day the firm collapsed.

Tip #35 - Morning Methods

Go early to avoid bumping. Studies show, surgery and airline flights are much more vulnerable to delay in the afternoon. Morning pile-ups make everyone wait.

“Minor surgery is surgery
someone else is having.”

— J. Carl Cook
Early morning advantage. About 3:00 am, the police entered the 1950s building I lived in, came to my apartment, and knocked loudly on my door. They had come to investigate if I had murdered or kidnaped someone, I suppose. Surprised and groggy, I opened up to hear a strange story. They said a 911 call had been placed from my residence; no voice, just a call and disconnect. After they looked around to their satisfaction, they explained that sometimes old equipment malfunctioned to cause such calls. They often investigate early in the morning, because that’s when people are most disoriented – sleepy and slow to react or make up a lie – the best strategy for what might turn into a chase or a fight. There’s a best time for everything.

Tip #63 - Timing Trends

Avoid the crowd. Save time and money, and gain flexibility, by following the path less traveled: Vacation during the shoulder season. Shop at busy stores mornings, early in the week. Be a contrarian investor. Go to the movies on Mondays; avoid banks on paydays; skip free admission days at museums. Exploit seasonal bargains (skis in March, storm windows in June, snow blowers in August). Plan a year ahead ...

“Swim upstream.
Go the other way.
Ignore the conventional wisdom.”

— Sam Walton
Make hay while the sun shines. In high school, I took up weight-lifting. After a while playing with sand weights in my back yard, I fell in with a couple of serious power lifters I met at school and began working out with the heavy weights, three days a week. After 3 months, I was wearing gym shorts during PE class one day and stood up as I looked down – and noticed that I had developed impressive quadriceps. Proper training at the right time in life – exploiting the hormones of an 18-year-old – had made it easy to achieve my goal: muscles.

Tip #69 - Timing Trends

Thursdays online: Post early so buyers researching on Thursday and Friday nights will see your listing in time for weekend action — if you really want to sell that couch on Craigslist, promote a rental on Airbnb, or advertise a house for sale on MLS ...

“A whopping 89 percent of buyers start their home search online. How your house looks online is the modern equivalent of 'curb appeal.' Rent a wide-angle lens and good lighting, get rid of your clutter and post at least eight great photos to win the beauty contest.”
— Barbara Corcoran
Monday night end run. In 1992, I was elected President of the San Francisco PC Users Group, the oldest and largest personal computer club on the West Coast. They liked me, so I served for 2½ years. In the process I tackled a difficult issue: During football season, we suffered poor attendance because we had our meetings on the second Monday each month. Many preferred Monday Night Football to Monday night meetings. So, with great effort to counter inertia, I engineered a change to third Tuesdays. After that, our attendance grew throughout my term – until the Internet put us out of business by providing such a fabulous research tool.

Tip #81 - Tame the Telephone

Do not call! Politely interrupt fund-raisers and phone surveys with this pleasant and direct mantra: "Please put me on your Do Not Call list — Good luck!”

“For a list of ways technology
has failed to improve
the quality of life,
please press 3.”

— Alice Kahn
Just-in-time Judo. In my years at Cal, I took several martial arts courses. Harmon gym issued the uniforms, but we had to wash them. One weekend, I did my laundry, including my Judo gi. Washing is a slow business, no problem. But the dryer spins fast, and therein is potential energy for disaster. As my laundry dried, the heavy material and reinforced collar of my gi held water; bunched in a corner, it shifted the machine’s spin off balance. The dryer began to vibrate. And wobble. I reappeared on the scene just in time. My stroll toward the dryer turned into a mad dash as I saw it shaking and ‘walking’ off its concrete pad. A fellow loading a washer nearby noticed and threw his hip against the machine to stabilize it – to no avail. A moment later, I was on it and flipped the door up to halt the spin – and save the day. Monitor carefully and allow lots of time for high risk/high payoff tasks.

Tip #85 - Paying Bills

"Charge It" — after your closing date. Delay large credit card purchases until the day after your billing period ends — to maximize float and ease cash flow. It’s worth $4.17 for each $1,000 payment you delay for a month (30 days at 5% APR).

“Credit cards are like snakes:
Handle 'em long enough,
and one will bite you.”

— Elizabeth Warren
Wild wire escapade. My senior year in high school, I took an ROP class in Banking, and had the opportunity to intern in several local banks. Initially, once a week, I got to sit beside the Collections Desk at a Bank of America branch, where the big money flowed in and out of accounts electronically. It was in fact a big, boxy, gray steel desk – with a pull-out writing panel I used for note-taking. To prevent theft, fund transfers – “wires” – used complex authentication codes which changed frequently; procedures and passwords were posted on the “Code-Key,” kept in a drawer of the Collections Desk. I didn’t know it existed, until it disappeared. It mysteriously went missing, and suddenly the branch was in turmoil over a potentially damaging breach, possibly the first step of a theft. Two investigators came down from San Francisco headquarters; everybody was interviewed – except me. ... When I arrived the next day at my usual time and assumed my usual place at the Collections Desk, I pulled out the writing panel – and the Code-Key popped out! Apparently, it had been placed on the panel, closed, jammed into the desk – and stuck. It had been opened in the search. But I was the lucky one who happened to open it again, after sufficient time had elapsed for the paper to uncrumple and relax enough to become unstuck. Timing is everything.

Tip #86 - Paying Bills

Forget the pennies, round up. When writing routine checks, simplify life by rounding up the dollar amounts. Pay $24.00, instead of $23.45, to your phone, electric, Internet, or credit card company. They'll keep track of the pennies, so you’ll get them back on the next bill. You'll save time writing the amount, facilitate the math, and make it easier to balance your checkbook.

“If it's a penny for your thoughts
and you put in your two cents worth, then someone, somewhere
is making a penny.”

— Steven Wright
Well-timed lesson. When I was 3 years old, my two brothers (ages 5 and 8) led me on a dangerous mission – across the street and down the block. We wanted to see a house in our neighborhood where there had been a fire. (We had heard sirens in the night.) The abandoned house was scorched and smokey, but relatively un-damaged. I remember the smell as we explored and found a prize – a forgotten box of cigars. When we got home, we begged to smoke one. Our Dad, in his infinite wisdom, agreed. In turn, we each took a puff, promptly turned green, and erupted in coughing. After that timely lesson, none of us ever thought to take up smoking.

Tip #88 - Computer

Search for exact text.
When trouble-shooting a computer problem, do an Internet search for the precise error message you received and you’ll get directly to comments from people who’ve been exactly there before you. When shopping for a specific product, search for the model #. Before heading to the airport, see if your flight is on time by searching for your airline + flight #. Search for a small piece — “al am” instead of “constitutional amendment” — it’s easier to type and a faster search.

“To err is human,
but to really foul things up,
you need a computer.”

— Paul Erlich
“Testing, testing.” In 1980, I got early exposure to personal computers by using a Radio Shack TRS-80 (‘trash 80’) in my Treasury duties at CalCan. A software developer named John Cormack created a program for us that analyzed operating vs. capital leases, in accord with the new accounting rule, FASB 13. He told me the cautionary tale of how one of his programmers had created a game for the Atari in BASIC. After testing, it was deemed ready to ship. But the programmer, a teenager, wanted to maximize available memory (ridiculously tight in the early days of PCs) to speed up the game. He ran it through a program that removed all the spaces between the codes. This had worked before, but in this code an ASC (Ascii) command joined with another to produce a bug. After nationwide distribution, it was learned that the game wouldn’t run! The mistake was in the timing of the testing – important at every phase of software development, but critical at the end. Always test after making a change.

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