MorNeve 06-6-84  


And other unexpected strategies for making your work life work


Julie Morgenstern

Simon & Schuster, 2004, 249 pp.  ISBN 0-7432-5088-5


Morgenstern is an organizing and time management expert, consultant and speaker.  She says she is in the business of “untangling messes.”  She has at least three other books.  This book is chock full of useful tips grouped under nine competencies for thriving in a fast-paced work environment.  There is a brief self-assessment tool for establishing a benchmark and measuring progress. (10)


Productivity is king.  If your productivity is low, is it your problem or their problem?

YOU if

·      “You don’t plan well.

·      You lack confidence on some tasks.

·      You are unable to prioritize.

·      You’re a perfectionist.

·      You feel guilty saying no.

·      You gravitate toward quick, easy tasks.

·      You’re poor at estimating how long things take.

·      You’re physically disorganized.

·      You start many things, finish none.”



·      Your boss, customers, or coworkers are always in crisis mode.

·      Your boss is a perfectionist.

·      The corporate culture is driven by fear.

·      Etc.  (13-14)


What about your relationship to your job?  “Can you identify what distinguishes you from your coworkers?”  “Is your best contribution what your employer is actually asking from you?”   Define the core responsibilities of your job and divide your work into 3 to 5 broad categories.  What’s holding you back?

YOU if

·      You lack the ability to see the big picture.

·      You’re caught in the daily details.

·      You don’t like your role.

·      You feel like a victim.

·      Etc.  (15)


Competency 1.  Embrace Your Work/Life Balance

Breaking away from work is very difficult for some.  Personal life is often the first to go.  “When our balance is off, our performance suffers, along with our happiness and motivation.” 


“If you are feeling overworked, exhausted, and depleted, the first step is to let go at work and take care of yourself.”  “Creating a vibrant personal life is one of the best investments you can make in your work!”  “The most successful workers create a balance that ensures they are energized, refreshed, and renewed every day.” (20-21)


“Think of three things that refresh you, that you wish you had more time to do.  Now…do one of them today.” (25)


“Keeping our relationships strong feeds our spirits, grounds us, reinforces our identities, and brings out our best selves.” (28)


“Many people are happier and more at ease when they’re consumed by work.  The practical, measurable results offered by work are more immediately gratifying than the effects of a personal life.”  Sometimes work is a form of escapism…” (32)


If you get to your evenings and weekends without a plan, your time off tends to slip away.  Lethargy sets in. (39)


Balance your life with physical health, escape, and people. (44)


Competency 2.  Develop an entrepreneurial mindset.

You offer value.  Understand and cultivate it.  “You can create absolutely any work configuration you desire.  All you need is a vision of what you want—and the confidence to make it happen.”  “The only true job security today comes from the inside out.”  “We must become secure in the knowledge that we have valuable qualities and talents to offer, and constantly work to identify and meet the needs of the marketplace.” (46)


An entrepreneur is one who launches or manages a business venture. “Your ‘business’ is your entire career.  You are in charge of it.”  “To survive and thrive in the new world of work, you need to stop being the victim, and start thinking and acting like an entrepreneur.” (47)


“Understanding and embracing what motivates you will change the entire energy with which you approach your day.” (48)


Leadership issues are the most powerful contributor to why employees stay and also why they leave.  (50)


“Even if there are things about your job you do not like, focusing on the positive will keep you optimistic and fuel success.”  “Revealing your ambivalence or dissatisfaction in a victimized way is a huge mistake.” (51)


“Cultivate your value.”  “Your value constitutes everything you bring to the job: your strengths, knowledge, talent, experience, and expertise.”  “What unique talents, skills, experiences, attitudes, and connections do you bring to the table?”  (53-4)


Is the value you’re providing what your employer is actually looking for?  “Tune in to what your company does want from you, and do the best job you can in providing it. (61-2)


“It feels good to have a higher purpose.  Vision gets you beyond the drudgery of the moment, puts everything in the context of something bigger, and gives significance to every day.  Even the most menial tasks are exciting when viewed in the broader framework of your higher goals.” (64)  “Having a strong vision, whether it’s your own or an adopted version of your company’s, will keep you marching forward.” (67) For the manager: “Help your staff connect their daily tasks to the company’s vision.” (68)


Competency 3. Choose the most important tasks. 

“Workers who can consistently decide with clarity and ease which tasks are most important when under pressure are the most prized in every organization.” (71)  “…everything you spend your time on should be assessed in terms of its proximity to the revenue line.” [i.e. company’s desired results dlm] (72)


“You’ll always be safe if you start [your day] with the task closest to the revenue line, because it clears the decks, providing you with a sense of relief rather than stress.” (73)  “You must retrain yourself to choose the important over the quick, the tough over the easy, no matter how intimidating the project may be.” (74)


“The only real chance you have at choosing the most important tasks begins with keeping a complete list of everything you need to do in one place.” (76)


What to relinquish?  “Letting go is perhaps the most difficult challenge of all, especially for the high achiever in all of us.” (86)  Lighten your load with the 4 Ds:  Delete, Delay, Delegate, Diminish. (87)


Competency 4.  Create the time to get things done.

“Tasks that require short bursts of attentiveness…are easy to get done, but responsibilities that require more time and deliberation…are harder to tend to.  [But] those bigger, more thoughtful tasks are where you have the opportunity to shine and make your most valuable contribution.” (96)


“Avoid e-mail for the first hour of the day.”  “E-mail is undoubtedly the world’s most convenient procrastination device…nothing but a bunch of interruptions and distractions…”  “The most dramatic, effective way to boost your productivity is to … devote that first hour every day to your most critical task.”  (97)


“Decide the night before exactly what you are going to tackle during that hour.”  Ask: What can I do to earn my salary by 10 a.m.?  If you postpone your most important task, it hangs over your head all day. (98) [Don’t I know it!? dlm]


Ways to loosen the e-mail grip: (100-101)

·      Keep your e-mail alarm off.

·      Process e-mails fully during your e-mail sessions.

·      Say what you need in the subject line and minimize the message.

·      Start longer e-mails by telling the reader at the beginning what you want.

·      Stick to one or two points per e-mail.

·      Create stock responses to routine requests.

·      Limit copies to others.


“Concentrate on one task at a time, and group similar tasks.”  Multi-tasking is counterproductive. (102)  “Focus on the joy of completion.” (105)  Plan your day around your energy cycles, or some other natural phenomenon such as your business work flow.  (107)


Competency 5.  Control the nibblers. 

Nibblers are distractions such as perfectionism, procrastination, interruptions, and meetings.  (116)  “Just like the trunk of a car, your day is a container in which you need to fit a certain number of tasks.”  You control the size and shape of the container.  When you carefully arrange things inside, you can fit more in.  You choose how to make them fit. (118)


List your top three time-wasters here:

1.      ______________________

2.      ______________________

3.      ______________________

Ask yourself: Why am I doing this?  What is the gain?  What is the risk?

Limiting the size of the container is the best way to eliminate dillydallying.  (119)

Apply perfectionism only where it really counts. 


When you procrastinate identify the cause of your hesitation.  Is it

·      The task is too big?

·      Performance anxiety—the fear of making a decision?

·      Fear of what comes next?

What to do:

·      Break it down into smaller tasks.

·      Start somewhere easier than the beginning

·      Do a fast and sloppy version

·      Focus on the payoff

·      Remember past victories

·      Set time limits

·      Choose the best time of day.  (125-27)


Competency 6.  Organize at the speed of change.

You must be exceptionally organized to handle today’s high volume of information.  Target the areas that need fixing:  1. You can’t find things.  2.  Other people can’t find things. 3. You’re out of storage space. (142)


Where is your problem?  Your desktop? Paper filing system? Computer filing system? E-mail? Database/contacts? Briefcase? Reading materials? Supplies?


“The best place to look for solutions is wherever you are already organized and most comfortable.”  “Just mirror the systems on the other platforms that already work for you.” (147)


There should be just one place to look for your contacts.  Immediately move every new contact to that place. (149)  “Organizing your desk top is the fastest way to regain control of your office….”  Make three areas: “in,” “working,” and “out.”  Everything on your desk belongs in one of these areas.  (151)  Weed stuff out as you go.  (155) 


Competency 7.  Master delegation.

Done well it boosts productivity, but done improperly, it consumes huge amounts of time. (168)  “Save your time for what you do best, and delegate the rest.” (173)  Delegate the following: (174)

·      “Tasks that deplete you of energy or time for more critical activities.

·      Tasks you honestly aren’t that good at doing

·      Tasks that belong on someone else’s jog description.

·      Tasks you do out of habit, or comfort…but are not the best use of your time.”


Ask two questions:

·      “Does this person have the skill or capacity to do the job?”

·      “Does this person have the motivation to succeed?” (176)


“Delegating effectively requires giving clear instructions, being available for guidance along the way, and evaluating the job when it’s done.” (182) 

1.      “Be clear on the outcome, creative on the path.”

2.      “Define the due date.  Always say when.

3.      “Define limits of authority.

4.      “Define follow-up procedures.” (184-6)


Competency 8.  Work well with others.

“Nine out of every ten people I consult with cite ‘works well with others’ as one of their greatest values on the job.  Yet more often than not I get a completely contrasting picture from bosses, assistants, and coworkers.”  “If you are difficult to work with, no one is likely to tell you.”  “When we view the world through our own filters, it’s easy to miss what others are truly requiring from us.”  (192-93)


Avoid the six gripes: Inaccessibility, unreliability, rigidity, disrespectfulness, vagueness, unfairness. (194)  Where are you strongest?  Weakest?  (197)


“In the end, it’s all about changing what you can control—and that is you.”  “A small adjustment in your own reaction is usually all it takes to alter the chemistry of any relationship.”  “Instead of reacting by feeling victimized, take responsibility for solving the problem.”  “If your boss is inaccessible, you become more accessible.  If he is rigid, become more flexible.” (199)


“Rather than overwhelm yourself trying to repair your relationships with everyone at once, choose one or two key players from the group—perhaps the ones you work most closely with—and try improving your performance with each of them, one trait at a time.  Changing your behavior is a hard thing to do, and by focusing your efforts you’ll find it easier to monitor yourself.” (212)


Competency 9.  Leverage your value.

“You may still be wrangling with four issues that definitely qualify as ‘It’s them’”:

·      Workload

·      Company culture

·      Company changes

·      Compensation

“So should you stick it out?  Fight for change? Move on? Negotiate a solution?  The choice is yours.” (218)


Keep a daily log of what you accomplish (not activities).  This will become your in-house sales tool for your productivity.  (219-221) Ask for more challenging work.


“When you are in a culture that is not a fit for you, it can be a huge assault on your self-esteem.”  (223) Tips: Earn respect and build credibility.  Find an advocate or buddy.  Focus on the positive.  (225)


“If you’re feeling powerless and angry because of a change,

·      Don’t look to the past.  Don’t compare.  Respond to reality.  Look forward and embrace new ideas. (227)

·      Be the host. Help others adjust.  Lead the way.  Make the change as easy on your boss as possible.  See what you can do to make everyone else comfortable.  Don’t demonstrate resistance or anger too freely.  Be the positive one.”  “Take the reins and create more value for yourself.” (228)


“Negotiate for change.” “Tell ‘em what you need. Ask for their reaction.  Listen as much as you talk.  Keep it about the work.” (233)  


“Let it roll off your back.” (237)   Star athletes “don’t waste energy complaining about the uncontrollables, or fighting against them; they over come them.” (238)


“Always go back to Competency 1.  Embrace your work/life balance.  (239)


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