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Productive Interview Series: Michael Leddy

Productive Interview Series: Michael Leddy

Productive Interview Series is a quick four questions interview, targets on productive people who have been changing their work/life style with life hacks and self-development tips. It’s my pleasure to interview Michael Leddy, who is our monthly contributor at lifehack.org and the blogger at Orange Crate Art. His articles in here have helped thousands of students around the world.

Michael Leddy

    Who are you?
    I’m a professor in a college English department, teaching mostly poetry, modern American literature, and classics in translation. I’ve done much writing for small specialized audiences (literary criticism and poetry), and for the past two years I’ve done a lot of writing on my blog, Orange Crate Art. Aside from literature, my main interests are musical, mostly jazz and blues. I’m married to Elaine Fine, a violist/violinist and composer.

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    What have you done to increase your productivity?
    Without a datebook, I’d be nowhere. For many years I used Quo Vadis, but for the past two years I’ve used a homemade datebook, a pocket Moleskine notebook with two days per page. (I wrote in the dates for both years.) The Moleskine is like a Swiss Army knife in book form: mine holds schedules, ideas for writing, a paper ruler, a Band-Aid, blank Post-it Notes, some useful quotations. When I’m working on a project or heading toward a crucial week or two of work, I’ll supplement the Moleskine with index cards or a piece of paper. Right now, with final examinations coming up, I have the next eight days worked out on a page from a yellow legal pad.

    As these references to Moleskines and legal pads suggest, I am devoted to “supplies.” I think that using well-made tools can bring some small or large inspiration to one’s work. Most of my writing begins with a fountain pen and a pocket Moleskine or a legal pad. When I grade papers, I use Zebra ballpoints. If I’m writing a draft at the computer, the text-editor Notepad2 (not Word) is my tool of choice. And FlyakiteOSX makes everything on my Windows laptop a pleasure to look at.

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    To counter creeping monotony, I vary my place to work. At home I usually work at a large table that I use as a desk, but to read, I’ll often sit on the floor, up against the side of our upright piano. I also work in the college library, and once in a while I’ll work in the library of the college where Elaine teaches. I have an office, but like many people in academic life, I don’t get much done there.

    What is your best life hack?
    I often use a kitchen timer to implement the 45/15 rule: work for 45 minutes; take a break for 15; repeat as necessary. That’s my variation on 40/20, which I read about on MetaFilter, via a post on lifehack.org. When I’m grading 25 or 50 papers, knowing that a break is coming helps to alleviate the feeling of endlessness.

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    What are your favorite posts at lifehack.org?
    In addition to the post I just mentioned, I’d single out 8 Life Hacks for Health, Wealth and Happiness and the recent Quicksilver tutorial. (There’s a Mac in my future). And I like any post that reminds me to keep doing what I’m already doing.

    Are you confident on your life being productive? Have you applied lifehacks, tips and tricks that help you get through procrastination or any parts of your life? Send us an email – tips at lifehack.org, I am happy to help you to share your experience.

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    Previous Productive Interviews: Henrik Edberg, Andy Mitchell, Patrick Rhone

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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