Another step on the post-downsizing path

I’ve been thinking about this blog as a way to move forward after being downsized, but I’ve also been hoping – and actually feeling, in some instinctive way – that the blog itself would serve as a vehicle to move me forward. Writing clarifies my thoughts, and helps me figure out what I want and need to do next. Also, blogging provides structure to my week, keeps me writing, and keeps me focused on moving forward, writing and journalism (the subjects of my blog on Tuesdays and Thursdays).

But recently, my blog moved me forward in an unexpected way.

After reading an entry I wrote in late August, the ritual director at my synagogue invited me to speak at a Rosh Hashana service he was leading. He thought the subject of my post – the 80/20 rule, as it applies to time management – would be appropriate for the Jewish New Year.

I accepted his invitation, and he suggested that I talk for seven to ten minutes. I expanded on what I’d written, noting in my talk that this is a time of year for reflection and reassessment, and perhaps for making some decisions about how we want to spend our time in the year ahead. I also asked for input from congregants on some of their priorities for the coming year, and ideas for strategies that might help turn intentions into reality.

I finished by sharing some priorities and strategies of my own.

Aside from the content, a couple of other things were significant to me, on a personal level, about the talk.

1. Although I’d spoken publicly at my congregation and elsewhere (not often, but enough times that I didn’t hesitate to go ahead), this was the first time I’d be speaking as “just me,” not as a staff reporter for The Canadian Jewish News.

I like to think I retained my sense of self during my 22 years at the paper, but leaving a long-time job isn’t just a transition in life, it’s a transition in identity. Often, when I showed up to cover an event, someone would refer to me as “The CJN,” as in, “The CJN is here.” Even now, sometimes I find myself saying “we” when I’m referring to the paper – talking about it as if I’m still part of it.

2. A couple of friends have suggested that I might want to teach adult writing classes, now that I’m moving in a different direction. At first, I dismissed the suggestion, finding the idea daunting. I started to consider it more seriously after my daughter said there might be workshops or classes I could take first, to learn how to teach adults.

As I was writing my Rosh Hashana talk, I began to think that if it went well – speaking in public and sparking a bit of discussion, albeit on a small scale – maybe I should be more open-minded about the possibility of teaching.

I think it went reasonably well… another step on my post-downsizing path.

The 80/20 Rule

I’ve been thinking of blogging about the 80/20 rule for a while. I’ve often wondered – if 80 percent of the work gets done in 20 percent of the time – what happens to the other 80 percent of the time? And how much could we get done if we worked the same way we did during the productive 20 percent of the time?

Sometimes I ask myself, “If I get nothing else done today, what is the one thing I want to accomplish?” If it’s an 80/20 kind of day, then that one thing is usually the 80 percent of the work that gets done in 20 percent of the time.

Earlier this week, the Globe and Mail published an article dealing with the same issue.

The 80/20 rule is formally known as the Pareto principle. According to that rule, 96 minutes – 20 percent of an eight-hour day – can produce “key results,” Harvey Schachter wrote in the Globe’s Report on Business.

When I stopped working, I had a plan for how I would structure my day. I thought it made sense to devote the morning to work-related tasks – setting up my blog, researching job opportunities, networking, and writing. I would do the most important things first.

But it didn’t turn out the way I’d planned. On the first Monday, I spent the morning and early afternoon with a friend who was visiting from out of town. It was the only time she was available. Three days later, I met another friend for coffee in the morning, the best time for her.

In between, I put in one very long day at the computer.

It’s great to have that kind of flexibility.

But on typical blogging days, I work on my blog and post it by mid-morning, sometimes earlier. Blogging is the “big” item on my to-do list on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays – the one I feel I must do regardless of whatever else I do or don’t do.

This week, I added another “big” item to my list. It’s been on my mind that I’ve been talking about writing a book, but haven’t actually worked on it recently.

I started very small, by adding “Work on book” as a daily reminder on my iPhone. I looked at the reminder for a few days in a row, but didn’t act on it. At least I was consciously aware of it. The other day, I decided to start small, writing on my laptop in the kitchen while my oat bran muffins were baking.

When the timer went off after 20 minutes, I took the muffins out of the oven, but kept writing. I didn’t put in 96 minutes, but I made a dent.

Time management

One of the books that made an impression on me when I was a kid was Cheaper by the Dozen, an exuberant 1948 memoir by siblings Frank B. Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey about growing up in a family of twelve children.

Last night, I thought about that book for the first time in years. For the record, I’m a mom of two, but for a long time after reading Cheaper by the Dozen – probably at age 10 – I wanted to have a dozen kids myself when I grew up.

I liked the idea of a big, happy family – impractical as it might have been – but I was also intrigued by the fact that the father was an efficiency expert, incorporating all kinds of little time-savers into the family’s everyday life.

I guess the book came to mind last night because yesterday was a long stay-at-home, catch-up-on-my-to-do-list day. Despite the number of items I crossed off my list, I would have liked to accomplish more.

I do have strategies for staying focused and getting things done, although some are better than others.

For a journalist, there’s nothing like an imminent deadline to intensify focus. Early in my career, someone I interviewed gave me a card with the saying: “If it wasn’t for the last minute, nothing would ever get done!” It hung on my bulletin board for years.

It’s not that I’d recommend leaving things to the last minute, but it’s reassuring to know that it’s possible.

There’s also the “Swiss cheese” method, which involves breaking down an intimidating or labour-intensive task into manageable chunks. I couldn’t remember where I’d heard of it, but apparently it originated in a  1973 book by Alan Lakein, How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life.

That strategy was especially useful when my children were young, and my free time was fragmented and defined by their schedules.

Another helpful tool is the question I often ask myself: “If I get nothing else done today, what one thing do I want to do?”

This morning it’s posting my blog entry.

I may also want to revisit Lakein’s book, but not today. I’ve added it to my list.