Very, Very Practical Tips for the Busy Person : Part 2
Last updated: 6/16/2002; 10:21:47 AM
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Very, Very Practical Tips for the Busy Person : Part 2

Based on an enthusiastic response from Sooz, I chose to write Part 2 and, soon, Part 3 (and perhaps a Part 4) of this series of articles.

Background Material : I don't know about you but I am busy.  Very busy.  And, if you don't want to make mistakes when you are busy, you need help.  Over the past many years, I have found that these tips really help me quite a bit.  Listed below are 10 tips for busy people.  You'll laugh and some are perhaps a bit silly but I use most of them every single day. 

These are general tips.  I moved computer specific tips to Part 3 since not everyone want's to be all that geeky (they aren't hard just a wee bit more technical).

  1. Pick a time.  When scheduling a meeting for a future date, always, always, always actually PICK A SPECIFIC TIME.  "Monday" is not good and neither is "Monday late"..  That's fine. Should we pick a firm time to make sure it actually happens ?

  2. Always leave your phone number.  Even if you talk to them daily.  Why?  It takes you only a second or 5 but it takes them 20 - 30 to look it up.  Be kind – leave your number.

  3. Communicate clearly.  If you think about all the daily back and forth you go through with emails, phone calls, IMs and faxes, I'll bet that at least 30% of it is due to being unclear or vague.  It's far easier to just write 5 % more text initially than to do the email / other medium back and forth dance.

  4. Commit to a scheduled time.  When you can't get a project going then what works really, really well is getting all parties involved to commit a recurring time, it really helps.  Here's a sample email invitation to kick things off:

Hi George,

Just a thought but I've found that when I schedule things on a recurring basis, for example, 1 hour every monday, I make more progress.



  1. Stop losing things.  I can't tell you how many times I've heard people say things like "I'm running late, I couldn't find my Keys / Wallet / X".  I understand, really I do.  Deal with it.  All you have to do is this:
    • Get a small cardboard box.
    • Velcro it to the top of your monitor or desk (before you laugh, I actually do this.  Looks dumb.  Saves time.  Who cares?).
    • Actually use the cardboard box regularly — put stuff into it and take it out.
  2. Multitask your personal chores.  If you are washing dishes or doing laundry or cleaning or whatever, with a cordless phone, you can actually get a lot done.  I once talked to Scoble for 20 minutes when I was painting the outside of my house, 3 stories up.

  3. Include the time zone.    When you are scheduling anything these days, if the party you are scheduling the activity with isn't literally around the corner, you really should include the time zone (and, if you can, a correction factor where the other party is if you know it).  I've had people thing I am in Europe and Silicon Valley recently and call me accordingly (Yes, an 9:00 am meeting with someone in the U.K. is 3:00 am in Boston).  If you are an American then it's a pretty good bet that you don't understand time zone differences very well, at least I sure don't, so ask the other party "What time is it where you are, right now?" and put it in your schedule accordingly.

  4. Don't put it off.  We all usually think things are harder than they are.  So we put them off and then never do them.  I'm a bona fide expert at this so I do feel qualified to a) point this out and b) stop doing it (For example, I did just file my registration for the O'Reilly Open Source conference).

  5. Queue up all your errands at one time.  It's tremendously inefficient to do errands two or three times a week – you're away from your office, your email, your Instant Messaging and such.  Save your errands up and do them all at once.

  6. Reviewing contracts.  (note this is a little off topic but it takes so much time and this is the only practical way I've seen to review contracts, so…) There are some great attorneys out there (I hear Ernie's great) that make legal issues easy and are practical.  But most of us find legal tasks like contracts hard.  Necessary but hard.  I find that this approach makes it better.   When reviewing contracts, use the following practical techniques:
  7. Never, ever do it orally.  Only in writing.  People forget or deliberately misinterpret things to suit them.  Why deal with it.
  8. Use MS - Word revision marks to make your changes so people can see them or just put them below each paragraph in the contract with [Your Initials] next to them.  Example showing multiple back and forth between 2 people:


Scott> Thank you.  I apologize for not understanding.
Scott> Please clarify in the contract how the authorship appears in each of the below contexts:

Scott> ISBN Record
Scott> Amazon Listing
Scott> Spine of Book
Scott> Library of Congress Record

We can't put anything in the book about Amazon--we'd be foolish to make ourselves legally responsible for a company we can't control. We will provide correct information to Amazon and nag them, but ultimately their web site is in their control.

_ Scott> Ok.  Then the contract should stipulate these are the data items that are provided to Amazon.  Here is the MARC record, whatever. 

For the spine of the book, we will attempt to list the authors names.  We will not list only some authors--it's an all or nothing thing.

Scott> Good.

This is the first book we've done with so many authors and the cover isn't yet designed, so I can't give you a definitive answer to which of all or none will appear on the spine.

Scott> That's fine and understandable _

  1. Make a change or addition below every single item that you don't understand. 
  2. Send it to the other party with all changes.
  3. Ask them to respond in the same fashion.  When they say "Let's talk about it on the phone", respond with "I think my questions are detailed enough that we should do it this way to avoid mistakes and to save your time".
  4. Loop (using different formatting conventions) until either you're happy or one of the two parties folds from exhaustion.  Don't be afraid to loop many times.  A lot of contract negotiation is endurance and playing chicken.  Be polite, courteous and respectful at every point.  MAKE SURE THAT THEY ANSWER YOUR SPECIFIC POINTS FULLY AND COMPLETELY WHEN THEY ANSWER.  Read the above example in which the publishing company's attorney is either incompetent / inept or deliberately vague or simply made an error (it's the point about the ISBN record).
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