(You might call this post “a lament for the good old days.”)
Here’s an inescapable truth. The really good athletes are that good because they have a coach yelling at them to “stay focused,” day after day after day after day… Oh, there are a few exceptions: Jerry Rice, Michael Jordan – athletes who would work even more, put in extra time, on their own. But they were the exceptions. The rest of us are mortals – and probably need a coach to yell at us to stay focused.
Recently, Dan Weston (who is best known as the spokesman for The Scooter Store on all those commercials — but I know him as a loyal supporter of the First Friday Book Synopsis), told me about an early version of a personal coach. He knew a woman who would go to the offices of insurance salesmen (at the time, it was almost all men), and help them manage their time better so that they could get more done. Her primary job – helping with the “keeping up with clients” tasks. You know, sending clients cards every year on their birthday – that kind of task.
He said her secret was simple – she nagged them until they mailed the cards. Dan described this as “the nagging mother approach to time management.” He said the salesmen would hire her just to get her to nag them so that they would do what they should do anyway on their own. And they were motivated by the desire to get her off of their case – even though they paid her to get on their case!
And it worked!
It got me to thinking about my old life. This was nearly twenty years ago, the last time I worked in a nice, efficient, multiple worker office setting. (This was in my full-time ministry days). I had my own personal secretary. And, yes, secretary was still the word we used back then. I had a few such helpers through the years, and the last one I had was remarkable. She would come in at the end of the day and straighten up my desk. She would always magically know when I needed what supply/resource. But what she was really good at was this – nagging. You can choose some other word — pestering harassing, cajoling, coaxing… It always boiled down to this – she knew what I needed to do, when I needed to have it finished, and she made it her job to make sure I got it done.
It is amazing how efficient I was. I wrote a monthly column for a national magazine, I prepared some five new presentations every week, I wrote two columns for the church bulletin/newsletter every week, and so much more. She stayed on top of my schedule, got me out the door when I needed to leave, made sure I called/wrote the right people when I needed to. But she was really attentive to those writing deadlines. She had to cajole; nag; sometimes more than once; sometimes more than twice. But I got it done.
She “protected” me from distractions. And she dealt with my deficiencies, which were many. I should have been more cooperative. But…(yes, I could be difficult to work with at times, I’m sorry to report).
And, yes, at times I wanted her off of my case, just as some of those good athletes have moments when they would like to send their coaches on a one-way trip to the North Pole.
But here’s the thing: It was as an amazing period of productivity.
I have read books on time management (like David Allen’s excellent Getting Things Done). I have presented synopses of such books. These books present wonderful, clear principles, like….
Always know your “next action.” Have a weekly meeting with yourself, to plan what you will do the next week.
Always know what to do, when to complete it, and what to do next. Always.
I know the principles. I try to follow such principles.
But I have difficulty.
Alas, we live in the age of administrative assistants, virtual assistants, all positions filled with good people, who do very good and valuable work. But deep down, I suspect that for those of us who have such difficulty staying on task, saying no to distractions, carving out time for those weekly planning meetings with self – what we really need is a nagging mother or a really good cajoling secretary.
I’ve tried the tricks. But I still remember her coming in and saying”
“I need this now – do nothing else until you finish this!”
I miss those words!