Seductive Productivity ~ A Chat with Leslie Shreve

April 20, 2010

Ah productivity! It is a word I truly love. We feel so accomplished, so in the flow, so, so, so…organized! Yet one look at my frumpy desk will tell you I could be streamlining a few things to make my life a little more flow as I embrace the slow, you know?

So I did what any self-respecting blogger would do. I reached out to my network to find some answers. Luckily, I didn’t have to look far. Facebook pal Leslie Obrecht Shreve, a highly articulate and caring productivity specialist, came to my rescue. Just yesterday she kindly called me and offered thirty minutes of her time to discuss her work. I fumbled with my headset as my SkypeIn number rang.

Ever curious, I asked her about herself. She revealed to me that after thirteen years in the corporate world (health care), she felt there was too much pressure and not enough passion.

“Life was going by too fast,” she said. “I wasn’t paying attention to my life.” When she said that, I nearly got a lump in my throat.

Oh, how I can relate to those hours spent chipping away at my soul in a ceaseless grind! Much like myself, she yearned to help more people than the small group that benefited from her efforts. So she, like I, bade Corporate America farewell to journey toward richer shores.

The road was not smooth. In fact, she went into residential organizing (think California closets and clutter control), which she promptly left after six months. “I went back to a business focus because that’s truly where my heart is,” she revealed. “I got away from organizing because to me organization is the foundation of a productive life.”

Eureka! She was on to something. Productivity became her passion. Seven years later, she is still helping people clear the junk that stands in their way so they can manage their tasks better.

We wrangled a bit with the concept of time management. As a proponent of task management, I firmly believe time itself cannot be managed, only the things we do within the time we have. We both agreed it’s about self management. When we are clear with self, we are clear with our lives. Thus we make clearer decisions. And that leads me back to my desk…

Help!” I cried into the microphone, nearly grabbing the monitor as I might Leslie’s shoulders. My desk is an array of, shall we say, creative confusion.

“I have a clothing catalogue to my left, an O magazine in front of me, two children’s books I just must, must, must review to my right. I mean, is that normal?”

It all seemed utterly overwhelming, until Leslie, with that deep-seated calm of the most productive sort, assured me she has a six-step system to clear it all away.

Really? I leaned into the screen to listen more closely.

“It’s all about establishing Mission Control,” she remarked.

Huh? I shifted my weight as I pondered what she had said.
“You’ve got to have the Motherlode to which you refer all things.”

“Like Star Wars?” I giggled, suddenly feeling remarkably childlike.
She giggled, too, making affirmative noises that told me we were on to something.

“Have your computer be your Mission Control. Use the task manager in Outlook. If you’ll be away from your desk, extract what you’ll need on a sheet of paper where you will see it, such as ‘Conference call at 3 pm’.”

I felt a sense of ease glide up my shoulders. You see, I love my little paper reminders that I tuck into my Filofax that pop out at me when I’m at the grocery store or the dentist or the gym. They tell me “Hey, you’ve got your tasks managed, lady. You are in charge!” Outlook seems too mechanized and distant to hand over all the control. I mean what if I have a power outage? I’d be that lone sock flapping from the clothing line. Utterly helpless! I felt a tear well up as I thought about departing from my beloved system that fosters my creative powers.

Leslie’s voice pulled me from my reverie.

“I don’t think there is a normal,” she assured me. “Personally, the way my system has evolved there is access to creativity when your desk is clean.”

Ahhhh….So there it is. “This system,” I whispered, suddenly shy. “Would you share it with me?”

“Indeed,” she smiled.

With the alacrity only the ultra-organized possess, she ticked off the six things we must all know to manage ourselves better. And, are you ready? Here they are!

The six components in Leslie’s Productive Day Success System™:

1)    Organization (foundation for great productivity)
2)    File systems (not just paper, but looking at the file system and organizing and address what’s useful)
3)    Task management in Outlook
4)    Time management (so closely tied to task). Use your calendar tool. “It is neither task or time management; it’s self-management.”
5)    E-documents ; e-file management
6)    Email ~should not be your to-do list ~ You should only have emails in there that you will move to someone else.

She challenged me with her thinking. A size zero inbox? As in, not a single email there? I’ve called for an email smackdown before. There is collosal liberty in the airiness of an empty inbox. In fact, I was thinking of making it an International Holiday, kind of like No TV Week or some such.

“Follow this system,” she promised, and “you’ve moved everything one step closer to done.”

I could feel the chills dance around my vertebrae. Now this was something I could do!

Her closing remarks sealed the deal for me.

“Your most productive day is not first come, first serve. It’s about prioritization. It’s about being proactive, not reactive. Put yourself back in the driver’s seat of your life.”

I thanked her for the goose bumps  as we ended the call, then implemented some of her ideas immediately. I’m not sure my desk will ever be spanked into complete submission, but as a dedicated space for Mission Control it will reflect a bit more order, thanks to Leslie and her fabulous six-step system.

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