Work Simply: Embracing the Power of Your Personal Productivity Style

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9781591847304: Work Simply: Embracing the Power of Your Personal Productivity Style

Make work simple by using the tools and tactics that are right for you

Your time is under attack. You just can’t get enough done. You find yourself wondering where the hours go. You’ve tried every time-management system you can get your hands on—and they’ve only succeeded in making your work more complicated.

Sound familiar?

If you sometimes feel you spend more time managing your productivity than doing actual work, it’s time for a change. In Work Simply, renowned productivity expert Carson Tate offers a step-by-step guide to making work simple again by using the style that works best for you.

Tate has helped thousands of men and women better manage their time and become more productive. Her success owes partly to the realization that most of us fit into one of four distinct productivity styles: Arrangers, who think about their projects in terms of the people involved; Prioritizers, who are the definition of “goal-oriented”; Visualizers, who possess a unique ability to comprehend the big picture; and Planners, who live for the details.

In this book, you’ll learn

  • How to identify your own productivity style as well as the styles of those around you—bosses, coworkers, staff, and family.
  • How to select your “tools of the trade” to maximize your effectiveness, from the style of pen you use to the way you decorate your office.
  • When face-to-face conversations are more effective than e-mails—and vice versa.
  • What it takes to lead the perfect meeting.
  • Why a messy desk is right for some, but a disaster for others—and how to tell.

After reading Work Simply, you’ll come away with a productivity system that truly and fundamentally fits you—and you’ll never feel overwhelmed again.

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About the Author:

CARSON TATE, the founder of Working Simply, is a nationally renowned expert on workplace productivity. She serves as a consultant, coach, public speaker, and executive trainer for a wide range of Fortune 500 companies and other clients. She lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her family.


Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:


A Road Map to the Book

MY HOPE IS THAT THIS BOOK CAN BE A TOOL THAT SUPPORTS you as you reclaim your life by using personalized tools that can make you more productive, creative—and happy.

To assist you as you read this book, I have included a road map of each chapter to give you an overview of the chapter contents and help you quickly determine the reading order that suits you best. By following the links from one balloon to the next, you can see how the ideas in each chapter are connected to one another.

You may find that the ideas in certain chapters quickly grab your attention because they relate so closely to challenges you’re facing in your daily life and work. Feel free to jump from chapter to chapter as your needs and interests dictate. But I recommend you start by reading chapter 1, “Work Smarter, Not Harder,” chapter 2, “Get Ready to Work Smarter,” and chapter 3, “What’s Your Productivity Style?” to assess the root causes of your stress and to identify your Productivity Style. That style will be referred to throughout the book as you develop your personalized path to productivity.


The Day After Christmas

IT WAS DECEMBER 26, 2011—THE DAY AFTER CHRISTMAS. IT was also ten days after the first birthday of my beautiful daughter EC. And I was tired. Very tired. I am sure that’s normal for the mother of a little toddler, especially in the midst of the busiest time of the year and a very special birthday celebration to boot. But I couldn’t help wondering, “How did I end up sitting on the floor, my bones aching, wondering whether I would be able to stand up again?”

Andrew and I had waited a long time after marriage before deciding to start our family—eleven years, in fact. So when I got pregnant, it came as just another challenge for the two of us in the midst of two very rich, very busy lives. Our careers were well established, our friendships were deep, and we were heavily engaged in our community. I was running one successful business while making plans to sell it, launching a separate consulting practice, and working on a master’s degree in organization development, all at the same time. Yes, it felt hectic at times—working on airplanes, juggling homework and client conferences, saying good night to my husband by telephone from halfway across the country. Andrew and I loved our lives just the way they were, and we had every intention of keeping them intact, baby or no.

When the news of my pregnancy was confirmed, I promptly decided that nothing was going to change in my life. In the months that followed, I was true to my word. I did not slow down at all during my pregnancy. I did not cut back on work, school, family, social, and community activities. I even kept up my usual exercise routine, including outdoor runs, right through my thirtieth week.

EC was born on December 16, and the three of us enjoyed a wonderful holiday season as a family in our home in Charlotte, North Carolina. By the end of January, I’d resumed work on my master’s degree and was back on an airplane headed to Phoenix to work with a client for a few days. My total time off after EC’s birth: less than six weeks. I told myself, “After all, if I don’t keep pushing to build my business and make it successful, who will?”

I maintained this pace for the entire first year of EC’s life. I finished writing my master’s thesis, continued to work with clients across the country, and stayed relentlessly focused on building my consulting business. And of course there was the adjustment to motherhood and the joy of being with EC as often as my crazy schedule would allow. I am lucky to have a wonderfully supportive husband who filled in for me as much as humanly possible—but, yes, it was tiring. There were a few too many nights when my hours of sleep numbered four or five instead of seven or eight; a few too many jet-lagged evenings when I smiled at friends or colleagues over dinner table conversation without really hearing a word they’d said.

By the time December rolled around again, I was running on fumes. I’m sure that family and friends, and especially Andrew, were wondering when I planned on slowing down. But in my own mind, the plan was clear. “I can’t stop now!” I thought. “I have to plan EC’s first birthday party, the holidays are coming up, I have a thesis to defend, and clients and employees to entertain.”

But occasionally even I had to admit there were cracks showing in the façade. I recall Andrew staring at me in concern one day that December as I was rushing to set the table for a dinner party we were hosting. “You know,” he finally said in a gentle tone of voice, “you’ve missed a few things this holiday season. Are you okay?”

I was deeply shocked. I remember thinking, “He says I’ve missed a few things! Is that possible? I don’t miss things! That’s not who I am!” When the denial finally wore off, I admitted to myself that of course he was right. I’d forgotten to send a present to his grandmother in Kentucky. I’d forgotten to call our favorite caterer to plan the holiday party for Andrew’s work event until forty-eight hours before the event—during their busiest time of year. I had even missed a conference call with a key client. With all these thoughts whirling in my head, I smiled reassuringly at Andrew, finished laying out the last place setting, and dashed off to tackle the rest of that afternoon’s to-do list.

Somewhere inside me I was wondering, “How many balls have I been dropping? And if Andrew has noticed, who else has noticed? Am I really out of control?” But there was no time to focus on questions like those. I kept going at full speed—or maybe a little bit faster.

I made it all the way through Christmas—and then, on December 26, I crashed headfirst into the wall of my so-called life. And that’s when I found myself sitting on the living room floor, staring up at the twinkling lights on the tree, oblivious to the sounds of EC and Andrew from some other room in our house, aching with an inner weariness unlike anything I’d ever experienced before.

This was more than just physical fatigue or sleep deprivation. This was soul fatigue. I’d achieved what I’d wanted—to keep my rich and busy life intact while being a new mom too. I’d proven I could do it, and there was satisfaction in that. The image of a successful woman that I’d always carried with me was that of a woman who was smart, driven, professionally accomplished, a Mary Poppins mom, a loving wife, a leader in the community—and someone who made it all look effortless with her calm, impeccable style. That superwoman was the gold standard I’d spent years trying to live up to. And in the past year, in some sense, I’d achieved it.

But now, on December 26, I’d woken up and realized I wasn’t living. Not really.

It wasn’t just that I was tired—tired of trying to do it all, tired of trying to live up to some bogus notion of success. It was my memory of EC’s first birthday, ten days before. As I sat there on the floor, I remembered watching EC blow out the candle on her first birthday cake, which was the size of a small castle—one of those telltale symptoms of working-mom guilt. “Isn’t it amazing?” I’d thought. “I have a one-year-old daughter!” And suddenly I’d realized I couldn’t remember a single significant detail or moment from her first year. EC was the single most important thing in my world—and I was living a life that left me fundamentally out of touch with her.

Another memory popped into my head—a conversation I’d recently had with one of my closest friends, whose son had recently turned ten. “I only have eight years left with him at home,” she’d said with a sigh—“only eight more years.” And now I’d just missed the first year of my precious daughter’s life. Was I going to blink and find myself suddenly celebrating EC’s tenth birthday, wondering where all the time had gone?

That was the moment when everything changed for me. The moment when I knew it was time for me to reevaluate my life. Time to get real about who I was and who I wanted to be.

I’d spent the past year frantically racing around the country to build my business. And what was the name of that business? Thinking about it, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. My company is called Working Simply. I teach people how to work more simply, more purposefully—to use smart planning to achieve much more with less effort.

Ironic? Yes, painfully so. But appropriate too. A wise woman once told me, “We teach what we need to learn the most.” Suddenly I grasped the full truth of that saying. Suddenly I realized how much I had to learn along with my clients.

I am very grateful that I woke up the day after Christmas, looked at my beautiful daughter and amazing husband, and decided that my busyness was no longer serving me. That the drive to achieve my idealized notion of success no longer served me. It came with a cost so high that I no longer chose to pay it.

And I realized that “working simply”—the promise I make to my clients—is about more than simply being efficient, well organized, and productive. It’s about moving beyond being busy to reclaim purpose and meaning in life.

In the weeks that followed, I made a number of important changes in my life and work style. As I’ll explain later in this book, those changes and others I’ve made have profoundly enriched my life and my relationships with colleagues, clients, family, and friends. So now my work is more important to me than ever—because I’m on a mission. A mission to change the way we work and to support individuals, teams, and organizations in working smarter, not harder. A mission that I share with my clients.

If you’ve ever found yourself in the same desperate place I was in that December 26, I hope you’ll join me. To get started, please turn the page . . .


Work Smarter, Not Harder

I SPENT NINE HOURS IN MEETINGS TODAY. MY E-MAIL INBOX has twenty-five thousand messages. I did not have time to use the restroom until 3 p.m. When I got home, my daughter threw my iPhone across the room and told me she was tired of me always being on it. It takes me hours to fall asleep at night because I cannot turn off my brain. I do not remember the last time I did something fun. I feel overwhelmed, stressed out, and frazzled. My life is out of control.

Does this sound familiar? Life in the twenty-first century is busy! We have access to unprecedented amounts of information. We are connected to one another twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Technology has blurred the lines between professional life and personal life. We can do more, so we do.

Statistics confirm this reality. About a third of Americans who work full-time say they work more than fifty hours per week. According to the National Sleep Foundation, moms who work full-time and have school-aged children say they spend less than six hours in bed on weeknights. John de Graaf’s handbook Take Back Your Time reported that dual-income couples say they can find only twelve minutes a day on average to talk to each other.1

This epidemic of busyness comes with a pervasive belief in time management. We tell ourselves that if only we could make better use of downtime (read e-mail in the elevator? At a stoplight? In the line for coffee?) or multitask more cleverly (I can do this conference call and walk the dog and pick up the laundry), we’d get ahead of the busyness and reclaim our free time. But the stark reality is that we are not going to become any less busy. The demands on us at work, at home, from our friends, and from our community are not going to diminish—if anything, they are only going to increase. As we work harder and harder, we invest more hours and energy trying to fight a losing battle. Something’s got to give.

If you’re reading this book, your efforts to solve your busyness problem have probably not paid off. As a result, you’re probably feeling frustrated. Or worse—you feel like a failure. Why can’t you stop procrastinating? Why can’t you get more done? Why isn’t your inbox under control?

The truth is that the problem is not you. It is how you are trying to overcome your busyness that is the problem.


Within weeks of starting my first job out of college, I was sent to the in-house time management training program. Everyone in the entire organization attended the program, which was designed by a world-famous company that specialized in time management strategies. On the first day, the instructor handed out a planner and instructed us to use it to plan our tasks. We were told to prioritize our tasks, using numbers and letters, and record them on the left-hand side of the page in the planner on the date when they were to be completed. If a task was not completed on the designated day, we were instructed to move it to the next day by rewriting it on the left-hand side of the next day’s page in the planner.

I dutifully attended the class and used the planner as instructed. But as the weeks went by, I noticed that my productivity hadn’t seemed to improve. The time I spent filling out the pages in the planner felt like a needless waste. And I wasn’t the only one. As I looked around at my colleagues, I noticed that many of them were really struggling with the system. Busyness, stress, and the feeling of being overwhelmed quickly crept back into our lives.

What happened? Now that we were armed with the secrets of a popular time management program and its specially designed planner, why weren’t we all productive, efficient employees living balanced, purpose-filled lives?

The reason is simple: Time management programs do not work. Such programs teach a process focused almost entirely on how to plan and exercise control over the amount of time spent on a specific task or activity—for example, “Set aside adequate time to prepare the quarterly sales report before your meeting with your manager.” This stems from the erroneous belief that poor allocation of time impairs performance. But such a one-dimensional approach does not account for the reality of work today, which is multifaceted, fast-paced, and constantly changing.

For example, at many companies, corporate goals are often only broadly specified. When I worked for a hospital foundation, one of the corporate goals was to be the preferred provider for cardiac care in the region. I worked in development and was not directly or indirectly responsible for providing patient care. So how did I organize my time to support the company’s goal? I focused on employee giving and exceeding the target for our annual fund, which supported the operational budget of the hospital. As an employee, you must ascertain how to align your individual goals to the larger organizational goals. The numerous demands placed on you require that you not only increase your efforts but, more important, deploy those efforts wisely—otherwise the increased effort is not translated into performance gains.

Time management training is not going to teach you how to work more productively. And that explains why time management training in fact has not been proven to have a direct impact on performance.2

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