Donald Wetmore | Survival Guide: Perspectives from the field

Interview with Donald Wetmore, founder and president, Productivity Institute

"I'm very jealous of how I spend my time," Donald Wetmore, founder and president, Productivity Institute, says.

Courtesy photo

How great would it be if you could cut down on the meetings you have to sit through? Reclaim time you spend spinning your wheels, personally and professionally?

For the past 25 years, that's exactly what Donald Wetmore has taught to companies such as General Electric Co., JP Morgan Chase & Co. and Raytheon Co.

It starts with time management. "I'm very jealous of how I spend my time," Wetmore said. He keeps a log and tallies how he spends his days. But it's more than time management, he said. It's "life management."

He's set down those principles in "The Productivity Handbook: New Ways of Leveraging Your Time, Information and Communications," and the Keep it Simple Series "Guide to Organizing Your Life."

Wetmore recently spoke with Deputy Editor William Welsh about how to increase personal productivity, avoid procrastination and, best of all, avoid unnecessary meetings.

WT: Why are we now seeing greater emphasis on time management by corporations and individuals?

Wetmore: Until 10 years ago, the idea of work-life balance was considered too much of a soft skill. Companies didn't pay a lot of attention to it. But in the last 10 years ? certainly since Sept. 11 ? there has been a real sea change, and it is something they are looking for.

WT: Why has this become more important since 9/11?

Wetmore: People have become more conscious of their time. The trend really began in the mid-1990s. When 9/11 came along, it brought a greater sensitivity to quality issues and spending time with family. Employees are demanding it, and companies are responding to it.

They're doing it not out of benevolence, but because it just makes sense. One of every three people leaves his job each year. There is a huge turnover in our work force. While some of it is [an outcome of] issues of competence, most of it is voluntary. The major reason for voluntary termination is burnout.

WT: What is the core of your life-management philosophy?

Wetmore: One of the important core principles I share is the notion of work and life balance. So much time is wasted because we were out of balance to begin with. I talk about the seven vital areas of life: health, family, financial, intellectual, social, professional, spiritual. If any one of those is out of whack, it upsets the whole table.

WT: You wrote in "The Productivity Handbook" that true productivity doesn't mean doing things faster, but more effectively. Can you explain that?

Wetmore: There is little corollary between the quantity of time someone puts in and what the output is in any one of those seven areas. On the issue of money, earnings levels range from zero to billions.

People like Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey don't have billions of times more time. They are certainly not billions of times smarter than the average bear. It is just they use their time differently. Quantum increases in our results come from just doing what we do, but improving a little bit here and there.

WT: Can you give an example?

Wetmore: A technique to literally pick up an extra hour a day and get back 365 hours a year is to take a speed-reading class.

WT: How does someone begin to balance his life?

Wetmore: I encourage people I work with to think about where they want to end up on the last day of their lives in each one of those seven vital areas. Then you work your way backwards and figure out what you have to do each year, month and day to get there.

WT: How does a procrastinator begin to overcome that problem?

Wetmore: In terms of prioritizing things, you can evaluate tasks as follows: A is crucial, B is important, C is of little value, and D is of no value. Procrastination is useful if you are procrastinating the Cs and the Ds. The problem is many of us are procrastinating the As and Bs.

WT: How can managers make meetings less onerous and better managed?

Wetmore: Meetings have to be one of the biggest institutional time wasters. To get a handle on meetings, you should ask yourself four questions: Is the meeting necessary? Am I necessary to the meeting? What is on the agenda? Who will conduct follow-up?

Good time-managers get beyond allocating their time solely on the basis of those who demand it. Just because someone demands it doesn't entitle them to another person's time. If we are going to be good time-managers, we have to allocate our time on the basis of those who deserve it.

The Productivity Institute Web site is at

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