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The Efficiency Expert: Getting More Done in Less Time (a book proposal)

By Marty Nemko

Many of us are busier than ever. It's hard to even get the basics done, let alone what we wish we had time to do.
A friend of mine, Dr. Michael Edelstein, asked me, "How in the world do you get so much done? I'd love to be a fly on your wall."
How much do I get done?
If they awarded a Ph.D. for efficiency, Marty Nemko would get one. He does hold a Ph.D. in educational psychology but believes the years getting it are his life's least efficiently used, even though his Ph.D. bears a designer label: the University of California, Berkeley. Better evidence of Marty's deserving to write a book on efficiency is how much he's done: He has worked with 3,700 career counseling clients (The San Francisco Bay Guardian named him "The Bay Area's Best Career Coach.",) is in his 24th year hosting a weekly hour-long Work with Marty Nemko on KALW-FM (an NPR station in San Francisco,) has been a guest (including many repeat appearances) on hundreds of national and Bay Area radio and TV shows, has hybridized roses including three currently on the market, has played the piano on over 2,000 professional gigs, is an award-winning play director, played starring roles in a half dozen plays in the last six years, has written three full-length screenplays and two stage plays, plus 600+ published columns (He was a columnist in the Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle before becoming Contributing Editor at U.S. News & World Report,) has given 100 keynote addresses and Toastmasters International named him Northern California's Speaker of the Year. His website, which archives his articles and radio show attracts 300,000 people a year and his blog, which contains 700+ posts, gets another 200,000. Since starting to tweet last October, he's already written 550 tweets. Oh and he has written five well-published books, having sold over 250,000 total copies. And he's had time to maintain a loving marriage with his wife Dr. Barbara Nemko, who herself has accomplished rather a lot. She is winner of her region's Schools Superintendent of the Year, her California state congressional district's Woman of the Year, and is on the California State Superintendent of School's "kitchen cabinet." And he hasn't done a bad job of parenting. His only child, Amy, after working for Hillary Clinton in the White House, attended Yale Law School, is now Assistant U.S. Attorney in Washington, DC. Marty even has time to be a loving daddy to his doggie, Einstein, whose name is false advertising: He's dumb as dirt but sweet as they come.
Fly, welcome to my wall.
Lest I be accused of not practicing what I preach, this will be a slim volume, written so it can be read and fully understood in two hours.

Table of Contents
Efficiency is a Dirty Word... and why it can be your friend. Many people associate "efficiency" with rushing, restriction of creativity, even Nazism. In fact, efficiency can be a freedom finder. Getting your stuff done efficiently frees you to do the things you'd do if you only had the time. Also, if you're efficient, you're being more productive, which means you're making a bigger difference to your sphere of influence, even to the world. That adds to your life's value, to the meaning of your life. The goal of this chapter is to motivate even efficiency-resistant readers and potential book buyers to consider efficiency as a friend.
My Favorite Inefficiencies

Certainly, I hope this book will make you more conscious of how you spend your time, but I'm not arguing you need always be efficient. Indeed I'm not:

Every book on efficiency tells you not to check your email first--do more important thing. But, like a little boy, I can't delay gratification--I'm wondering what good stuff lies therein.

My doggie requires significant time and cost without sufficient practical recompense. Sure, hesometimesreduces my stress although at other times, he increases it, for example, when he chewed my client's $90 sunglasses. Or when he ate my medication and had to have his stomach pumped. Or when I opened the door in the morning to get the newspaper, he raced out of the house and onto the freeway, with me following in my slippers. But I love him--efficiency goes out the window.

Buying more books and videos on Amazon than I have time for. Some that I bought years ago remain unlooked-at. But it's fun shopping.

Gardening, especially flower gardening. It doesn't provide enough exercise to justify it on that basis. I just enjoy comparing varieties, the miracle of growth, the swelling of buds into blossoms, the cycle of life reduced to each year's seasons. Growth is one of the few justifiable uses of the word awesome--even if it is inefficient.

Our two-city marriage. It's hard for me to understand how any couple, unless in the throes of new passion or who financially can't afford it, would prefer to live with each other 24/7. Barbara and I live separately during the week and are together much of the weekend. We started this when she got a job in another city but even if we worked in the same city, I think we'd opt for two places. It's not efficient financially or time-wise, but it feels right.
It's more efficient to take mass transit into the city. It's often faster and I could work on the train, but I love the cocoon of my car.
I go into the radio studio for my weekly show rather than do it remotely from my home. It feels good to have an engineer to look at while I'm talking.
I have two monitors on my desk. My work is on one screen and on the other, the stock market quotes. Distracting, downright hypnotic, and definitely not an efficient use of my time.
Barb and I often prefer to invite people to our home for dinner rather than to go out to eat with them. That clearly takes more time but we enjoy it.
A Day in My Life: from morning ablutions to evening rituals. Here's where you, fly on my wall, see the easy ways I shave time from tasks, even from shaving. As a result, while sacrificing nothing, I gain an hour or more a day. Here are sample tips:
On writing. Despite having a full career coaching practice and a weekly radio show, I've managed to find time to write five well-published books and over 1,000 columns, articles, and blog posts. Key is that I usually choose to write on topics that require no more research than some smart googling. This book is an example. Also, I defer perfectionism: I quickly crank out a draft and then review it multiple times. It's much easier to revise your way to excellence than to generate it out of thin air.
On showering. Within reach of the shower, I keep a memo pad and pencil. We're likely to get good ideas in the shower (and while exercising) because the warm water increases oxygenation to the brain and because we're not otherwise distracted.
On lunch. I took myself out to lunch today. I chose a buffet place because I can get in and out more quickly. I asked for the check in the middle of the meal so when I was ready to leave, I could do so without having to wait for the check and for her to return the credit card slip to me. During lunch, when I wanted to take a break from eating, I took notes for this book in a memo pad. I was parked in such a position that by backing up 10 feet into a quiet intersection (that's illegal of course) I could save the two minutes it would take to drive around the block. I looked around to see if it was safe (including no cops around) and did it. Those activities, in total saved me at least a half hour at lunch and the process of trying to save time was fun.
On the U.S. Mail. I keep the recycling bin and a small trash can at the intersection of my bedroom and the stairs going up to my home-office. Every day when the mail comes in, I sort it as I'm walking to the recycling bin and trash can. Usually, in the 15 seconds it takes to walk there, it's almost sorted. I dump the recyclables, put the plastic-wrapped junk mail in the trash can, and scale the mail-order catalogs and other bedtime reading the 10 feet onto my bed. Tossing/scaling items is another fun way to save bits of time. Finally, I carry upstairs the stuff that requires more time or my computer.
On exercise. After I've said good-bye to my last client of the day, my doggie Einstein and I take the 10-minute drive to the Lafayette Reservoir, a beautiful lake that we briskly walk around six days a week. I bring along my memo pad and an idea to think about. In between enjoying the scenery and other doggies on the path, I think about that idea, jotting down a few notes.
On the Job. We spend more hours at work than on anything else. Being efficient not only makes us productive and proud, it may get us a raise, a promotion, or--in our jobless non-recovery--help us hold onto our job. In this chapter, I'll discuss how to save time in meetings, writing, managing others, and delegating. Sample tip: Let's say your boss requires you to write a weekly accountability report. It may be worth asking, "Would you be willing to try an experiment: a one-month waiver on reporting to see if the freed-up time results in my being more productive?"
The Place You Call Home: buying, renting, decorating. Sample tip: If you're looking for a good real estate agent, call the largest realty firms specializing in your target location. Ask the receptionist, "I'm looking for a buyer's (or renter's) agent who is really wonderful. Anyone you'd recommend?" The receptionist usually knows all the firm's agents. True, company policy may preclude the receptionist from telling you but often that's not the case. Worst case, you go to the firm's website, read the agents' bios and pick your favorite. It's not crucial that the person be wonderful because buyers don't pay agents, and you're recruiting multiple agents. Email each agent the musts and desirables in your new home and assure each Realtor that you're a serious customer with the money needed. In about an hour, you'll have recruited top agents and let them know what you're looking for.
At School. Of course you can save time by downloading others' term papers, cheating on tests, and so on, but then you don't learn anything. Sure, the piece of paper is nice, maybe even a must, but learning to write and think better is, well, better. Sample tip: You're required to take a course you're dreading. More often that you might realize, you can substitute what's called an independent study. Pick a topic you'd be fascinated to study. Using your college's website, find a professor who has related expertise. At his or her office hours, explain that you're fascinated with (insert your topic) and wonder if s/he might be willing to let you do an independent study with her that would substitute for (insert dreaded course.) Often they'll say yes, and on average, the amount of work you have to do in an independent study is less than in most dreaded courses. Besides, you get to study what you're interested in, finally!
Finding Relationships. Many people cringe at the thought of using online dating services such as They say it feels too unnatural or that people behave unnaturally, for example, saying they're 35 and cute when they're 50 and aesthetically challenged. That's true but when day is done, if you write a profile that candidly reveals your and your potential partner's strengths and weaknesses, and you cut your losses early, online dating services are the most efficient way to find a partner you can love for a long time. No other way comes close to screening the frogs out and potential princes in--the computer matches your personality, looks, and preferences against many thousands of people. Think about how many bars and set-ups you'd have to go through to equal that number! Now that would be inefficient. This chapter will discuss how to write the ideal relationship ad and how to separate the frogs from the princes and princesses. It will also discuss other efficient sources of love: from supermarket flirting to making the most of a professional conference to taking a class that your Mr/Ms Right is likely to take.
Growing Your Relationships: This chapter will have sections on efficient ways to improve your romantic relationship and well as with your parents and children. Sample tip: When my marriage was going through a rough patch, Barb and I tried using self-help books and then therapy to no avail. We would walk out of the therapist's office $150 poorer and laugh that we could have improved our relationship more if we had spent the $150 at the mall on retail therapy. What did help our marriage was something faster and more fun. We held what I call a relationship summit. We went away for a week's vacation. Each morning at breakfast, we'd spend a half hour discussing one aspect of our marriage: career, money, sex, communication, our child, and the house. We'd start with my proposing one thing I wanted to do differently to improve things. When Barbara agreed that what I proposed would help, she then proposed something she'd do to improve. What made the marriage summit potent is that we said what we ourselves would do. not what our partner should do. Also helpful, we agreed that when we got back home, when we caught each other doing something right, we'd give a thumbs-up and when we screwed up, a thumbs-down: no recriminations, no lectures. To lock in our gains, we scheduled a weekly dinner out, the first ten minutes of which were to report how we felt we did the previous week with regard to one specific goal and to propose one thing each of us wanted to focus on improving during the next week. The relationship summit and weekly follow-up dinners have helped our marriage. While our marriage isn't made in heaven, we've made it work here on earth--for 38 years now!
Here's a tip for efficient parenting. When your child misbehaves, simply try saying, "I'm disappointed, insert your child's name." Then be silent, hoping s/he'll apologize or propose a solution. If s/he gets defensive or continues to refuse to, for example, clean up his room, just say something like, "Of course, I can't force you to do it but I certainly am disappointed. I expect more of you, Johnny." Then walk out. Unlike arguing or punishment, that approach builds intrinsic motivation, an internal sense of responsibility, and it's faster. Efficiency in parenting.
Investing. To make you feel you need a professional's help, many financial advisors make investing seem more complicated and time-consuming than it need be. Most people would be wise to simply put their money into a Vanguard All-In-One Fund. Those funds range from low-risk to higher-risk, but with potentially greater reward. All those funds offer diversification, low cost, and tax advantages. To make your investing even more efficient, do not try to time the market. Make a rule that as soon as you have $X extra dollars in your checking account, that day, you buy more shares of your Vanguard fund. Why? That automatically gets you buying more shares when prices are low and fewer shares when prices are high. If you try to time the market, not only is the price-watching process time-consuming and stressful, psychology is such that you're usually following the herd and thus buying when prices are high.
Your Health. The first part of this chapter will be called, Prevention: The Efficient Way to Health. Sample tip: Ritualize what's easy. I enjoy a brisk walk around a lake followed by eating a big salad. I make that part of every day's routine, thereby building-in a healthy habit into my life. That section will discuss weight management, drug/alcohol abuse, cigarette smoking, and stress reduction. The chapter's other section will be called, So You've Received a Serious Diagnosis. Sample content: Google docs. No I'm not talking about the joint-authorship software. I'm talking about Googling doctors to find a source of a good second opinion. Let's say you've just been diagnosed with Hodgkins Disease. Simply google ["Hodgkins Disease" oncologist reviews (insert your nearest big city)]. In just a few minutes, you'll likely find reviews of and links to doctors who specialize in your condition.
Eating. This chapter's first section will be called Eating In, a subsection of which will be called, Five-Minute Meals. Those are healthy, filling, delicious meals that, with no more than a microwave and a toaster oven, can be ready in five minutes or less. Example: I microwave salmon or chicken breast for five minutes. While it's cooking, I assemble and eat a salad. When the salmon or chicken is done, I replace it with vegetables, which get microwaved for two minutes. When it's done, I season the salmon and vegetables, and enjoy them with a piece of whole grain bread and butter. Dessert is fresh fruit.
I purchase most things frozen because frozen is actually fresher than "fresh," plus, I don't have to shop for them as often. I do most of my shopping at Trader Joe's because they carry a lot of healthy frozen foods and, because they're smaller than big supermarkets, I'm out of there fast. Oh and TJ's prices are lower.
The chapter's second section will be Eating Out. Sample tip: I like to repeat-visit favorite restaurants. Not only am I likely to be pleased, it evokes fond memories of visits past. But when I'm looking for a new restaurant, I use online review sites like In just a couple of easy minutes, I can find beloved eateries with a menu and ambiance that feels right.

Transportation. This chapter will cover buying and maintaining vehicles, the case for and against mass transit, bicycles, and motorcycles. Sample tip: Buying a car is one of the few areas in which buying a less expensive model will save you not just money but time and hassle. Consumer Reports reminds us that most status brands: BMW, Mercedes, Jaguar, etc require far more preventive maintenance and break down far more often than less expensive cars, the most reliable of which are Toyotas. Over your lifetime, you can save literally hundreds of thousands of dollars in purchase cost and repairs, not to mention reduce the hassles of taking it into the shop, let alone getting towed, just by following this simple rule: Buy three-year-old Toyotas that you've gotten checked out by a good repair shop. Keep the car until it becomes unreliable.

Getting Information. In the information age, not only is knowledge power, but s/he who can access the right information quickly has great power. Sample content: Google is God. We take Google for granted because it's free and so accessible. Remember that Google searches much of the world's writings, instantly accessible--and if you know how to use Google-search's advanced features, you can get even better, on-target information. To become a MasterGoogler, spend just one hour studying this article on Google searching: It will be one of the efficiency-enhancing hours you'll ever spend.

If Google is God, Wikipedia is a son of God. In the old days, when we wanted to learn about something, we went to our World Book or Encyclopedia Britannica. Wikipedia is not only free and kept constantly up-to-date, on average, the information is more accurate and less-biased. Traditional encyclopedia entries are written by one person, with his or her errors and biases. In contrast, the whole world can contribute to and edit a Wikipedia profile. That adds both brainpower and self-correction into each profile.

Can't Make Yourself Try to Be More Efficient? Advice for space cadets and other inefficient types. This chapter will offer advice and inspirational quotes for six categories of efficiency-resistant people:

The Space Cadet: unaware of time and where it goes. Sample tip: Set a kitchen timer for 30 seconds. Meanwhile, start drawing a picture of yourself. Stop when you think 30 seconds is approaching. Doing that a number of times can help you get a better sense of what 30 seconds is and become more time-conscious so that too much time doesn't inadvertently slip away.

The Inefficacious: Your efforts to be efficient have yielded too little time-saving so you figure, why bother? I'll help the reader find ways to become more efficacious, for example, assemble a team of advisers.

The Depressed. Many people are too depressed to care to be efficient even if their life suffers. I'll offer efficient ways for people to manage their depression. Only if their depression is under control are they likely to care about to become more efficient. In addition, I'll help readers develop a picture of a better, yet realistic future, which can motivate depressed people.

The Anxious: Sample content: Name what you're anxious about. A label can make it less onerous. Then ask yourself, "What's the worst that could happen, and could you survive it?" Would being more efficient make that worst-case scenario less likely? Anxious people also tend to be helped by routinizing techniques such as setting deadlines, having someone to check in with, using a timer, making a detailed schedule the night before, etc.

The Lazy. Psychotherapists prefer to describe patients not as lazy but in more face-saving terms such as "He procrastinates because of fear of failure and rejection." Alas, fact is, some people are too lazy to push themselves past the fears of failure and rejection that nearly everyone feels. This section will use an aikido-like approach to motivating lazy people to be more efficient: I'll appeal to their desire to be lazy.

Nihilists/Buddhists/Hedonists. Those philosophies ask whether it's worth the effort to be efficient. Sample tip: It may be worth considering this definition of the meaningful life: A life is well-led to the extent it makes a positive difference. All of our activities, indeed all the minutes of our life, could be scored on a Make-a-Difference Meter from -100 (selling crack to kids) to +100 (trying to cure cancer), with 0 being neutral activities such as watching TV. Might it be worth your trying to make your life's average score as high as possible?

For you, might work-life balance be overrated? For example, might you be wise to spend less or no time on time-consuming activities that score poorly on the Make-a-Difference Meter: playing golf, watching sporting events, watching lots of TV, chatting with friends about pop culture, etc.

You might ask, "But won't working long hours make me ineffective, stress me out, maybe make me sick?" By working at things you're good at and retaining perspective, working long hours may be less stressful than many recreations. Ever watch someone watching a football game, playing a video game, or trying to convince their child to do their homework? Of course, this is anecdotal, but I've been working long hours for my entire life and I'm now almost 61, have as much energy as ever, and am in good health.

I draw a distinction between working long hours and working stressed. While I have a tendency to enjoy the adrenaline rush of, well, rushing, I try to avoid it. Evidence is pretty clear that being adrenalized is unhealthy, releasing cortisol, which does bad things to you.

We may or may not change the world, but we can make more of our life by being more conscious of how we spend our time and then use this book's simple yet potent techniques to make a bigger difference to our own lives and to those in our sphere of influence.
You don't want to be one of those people who's always asking, "Where did the day go?" let alone "Where did the years go?" Don't you want to be one of those people who feel, "I'm making good use of my time on this earth. I'm living a life well-led?"
Competing titles
The Efficiency Experthas competing titles but they tend to suffer from one or more of these weaknesses:
  • The author of those titles are efficient and/or brilliant. They incorrectly assume that what works for the author will work for the people who will buy the book: people who are disproportionately not as efficiency oriented and are less brilliant. Most readers will profit more from simple tips and tricks, not complicated systems they're unlikely to stick with.
  • Many people who are inefficient have a psychological issue that must be resolved if they are to feel motivated to and capable of being more efficient. The Efficiency Expert will have a section on six kinds of inefficient people, offering specific counsel and activities to motivate the person to want to become more efficient.
  • Reductionism. It's appealing for a book to have one core principle that ties all its advice together, but with regard to efficiency, I believe that's reductionistic. A measure of eclecticism is required.
  • The books are long. The kind of person who would buy a book on efficiency would prefer a slim volume.
An example of a book that is long on systems, shorter on simple tips, and doesn't at all deal with the psychological issues is The Personal Efficiency Program by Kerry Gleeson (4th edition, Wiley, Dec. 2008.) Nevertheless, it's apparently a strong seller: Its back cover says, "More than one million people worldwide are getting their work done...thanks to The Personal Efficiency Program."
Another strong-selling competitor is Timothy Ferriss's The Four Hour Workweek (2nd edition, Crown, Dec. 2009), which has spawned successful sequel titles. I have foundThe Four Hour Workweek unrealistic for most people. The book has two core recommendations: start an e-business that generates passive income and hire a virtual assistant in India. That isn't as foolproof a formula as the book, let alone its title, implies.
Another strong-selling competitor is The 80/20 Principle The Secret to Achieving More with Less by Richard Koch. (Crown, 1999) . Even though it was published 13 years ago, its Amazon rank is 6,000. It takes the approach of asserting one overarching key to efficiency. While that is appealing, I believe it's reductionistic and ultimately likely to be less helpful than The Efficiency Expert's more eclectic approach.
And of course, there's Stephen Covey's The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, which has been of real value to millions of people and also spawned a series of sequels and ancillary products. It would be hubristic of me to predict that my book will have Seven Habits' magic in the marketplace although I like to think The Efficiency Expert provides ideas that, with less effort than Seven Habits requires could, indeed, make its readers substantially more effective.
Possible Sequels
The Efficiency Expert: Your Career
The Efficiency Expert: Your Education

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