How they get it all together

BARBARA FRUM August 1 1973

How they get it all together

BARBARA FRUM August 1 1973

How they get it all together


Some people unfailingly inspire the awestruck question “How do they do so much?” We’ve asked six such super-achievers to give us their answers, on the theory that with a little borrowed moxie we too might realize the hum of a well-run life. It turns out that although getting to the top takes an amalgam of quali-

ties — ambition, energy, talent and luck — staying there takes mostly organization. The goal becomes not tranquillity but productivity — pursued through time maps, clock-stretch schemes and a clear-eyed view of priorities. These people don’t save time. They know how to spend it. Take heed.


I know how to say “No” quickly. You’d be surprised how much time that saves. I never second-guess myself. I make the decision and that’s it. There are only two kinds of problems, those that get better and almost solve themselves and those that get worse. You can afford to let the first, type ride, but you better get the second fast. The trick is, of course, knowing which is which. And you have to be able to identify time wasters. I schedule them close to other appointments so the pressure’s on them when the other people arrive. I don’t keep trivial things in my mind. I’ve solved that problem by having a very good system of indexing and bringing matters forward. If I want to think about something tomorrow, I write it down on a piece of paper and have somebody hand me the piece of paper tomorrow. And I don’t let my secretary type them. I don’t want her to waste her time either. She just hands me back my pieces of paper. I write things like grocery lists, things to bring

home, things I have to do of a routine or domestic nature, uh, get the dog clipped, get tickets for Sonny and Cher. I write those things down on separate pieces of paper and stuff them in my left pocket. So I don’t clutter my mind with those, I take those off my mind. I write a lot of other things down on little white cards, speech notes, things I want to talk to the PM about so I don’t waste his time and he doesn’t waste mine,

commitments to constituents or public meetings. They go in my inside coat pocket. So you’ve got a mobile office. It sounds chaotic, but it works.

You’ve got to keep track of what you’ve said, and if you’ve made a commitment you’ve got to have what you’ve promised quite clear, because they’re going to have it clear.

Correspondence is something I get out of the way first thing. I want it off my mind early.

Later, the telephone calls start and then the meetings start and I want to stay loose for those, you see. I get on the phone with people to find out what they’re thinking every morning. How they’re reacting to what the government is doing and what parliament is doing or what one is doing oneself. I do it every day. Just throw a couple of calls in. No regular pattern because I wouldn’t want them to prepare for the conversation. I feel more in touch that way and also it restores one’s sanity, you know. They’re outside the system so they can look at it a bit more calmly. I never write a memo. And I never dictate a memo. There’s a lot of time wasted in writing memos. It’s a favorite game of government and big corporations, to sort of protect yourself. I pick up a telephone. Or I see somebody. I like a clean desk. The more things you have on your desk the more time you’re wasting because you spend most of it looking to see what’s there. I can’t control my days because I can’t control events. But I can control my responses to them. I can choose between meetings, between appointments. This job you could .go 24 hours a day on. You don’t have to be at every meeting you know. A lot of people go to meetings because they’re insecure. They feel if they’re not there somebody’s going to cut them out. Or cut them up. And if I’m getting stale on a day, either because I haven’t had a holiday or I’m tired or I’m just cheesed off, then I just walk out of the office and go to a movie or play tennis. I’m sure there are lots of more efficient ways of doing things than I do them, but there’s got to be a quotient of inefficiency, a quotient of spontaneity, a quotient of chaos every once in a while to keep you used, involved, to keep you from going absolutely hygienic and sterile. You’ve got to be efficient enough to get rid of the anxiety and frustration so you can concentrate on the really innovative things, the people things, the imaginative things, the new and lively things. If you have a sense of anxiety when you walk home, the job’s too big for you. You should have another job.

Actually the thing that saves my life is that my very dearest girl friend, Irene Byrd, does all my personal work. She runs my house while I’m away, and I’m away 80% of the year. One year runs into another without a break. Like last Saturday night I sang in Tel Aviv, Sunday I visited my daughter in Switzerland, Monday I sang in New York. I think we all say we’re going to do less next year and end up doing more. It’s awful. I’d love to have a time when I didn’t have anything to learn for a week. Mentally all the time I’m walking around I’m working on what’s coming up next week or next month. It used to be I couldn’t say “No” to anything. Now I use Irene as a buffer. Like Miss Forrester is coming to Cincinnatti and we want to give her flowers, what color is she going to wear? Well, Irene can do all that. She makes a list every day and we have a little chat and I’ll say “. . . yes . . . no . . . I’ll wear purple . . .” If I’m home she screens calls for me and if I’m out of town I talk to her daily by phone. My worst enemy is the telephone. Even though Irene answers it, it’s still always something you have to make a decision about. And you have no idea the mail I get. Incredible. Questionnaires. Who’s Who in Music, Who’s Who in the female world. And they send you these long 12-page


things to fill out. So this year we finally wrote out my whole history and now Irene can just parcel it out. Irene decides what the children and my husband will eat. She runs the housekeeper, and the cook, and then there’s the gardener and the man who cleans the windows monthly, my manager in New York and a public relations person in New York. I get the feeling sometimes that I’m working for my help. Thank goodness I’m healthy. I don’t catch many colds but I take a lot of vitamins. I take Vitamin B Complex and B 12. B 12, I find, gives me a lot of energy. I don’t care what the doctors say. And I take iron and Vitamin E and something like ascorbic acid because I have a little bit of arthritis in my hand. I don’t need a great deal of sleep and I don’t exhaust myself with nervous energy. If I take a bath and put my feet up above my head it’s like having a nap. I think busy people know how to do more than one thing at a time. In fact, I concentrate better doing two things at once. If I’m sitting memorizing on a plane and my hands are idle I don’t memorize as well as if I’m doing needlepoint or hairpin lace or making Christmas tree decorations. And busy people are fast. When I go shopping I walk in, say “Have you got a yellow scarf so long?” pay my money and leave. And I don’t worry about whether it might have been $10 cheaper in another store. My time is worth more than $10. Actually I’m much better to myself when I’m on tour. When I’m

away I take it easy. I’ll buy a newspaper and put my feet up on the bed and read or watch TV. But at home I’m super mother. I get up every morning at six-thirty and I shower and I dress and I do my hair and I put a face on because I’m not one of those women who looks good undressed. My son once said he was very proud of me because his friends’ mothers looked terrible in the morning but his always looks and smells nice. So I get up and I make their breakfast and that’s when I get all the information out of them that I want. The more you do the more you’re capable of I’ve discovered. My husband says my biggest asset is I only think of tomorrow.


I train every morning and evening so I’ve got those two blocks of time around which everything else has to be juggled. But because of the amount of training I’ve done, I can take more than most people. I can stay up for a couple of days even and it doesn’t bother me that much. I’ve committed myself to so many things now that my time is almost allocated for me. I’ve found ways of thinking in places that really aren’t that good for it, like driving from Toronto to Guelph every day. Instead of just directing the car down the road and wasting time, I think through whole lectures. Now I’m trying to make sleeping a little more productive. One of the advantages of having three or four areas of interest is that you can always beg off by saying you’re busy in one of the other areas. If I don’t want to do a track-andfield clinic I can say I have lectures to prepare. If I’m asked to do something around the university I can say I have to train. Being busy is often a figment of other people’s imaginations. Plato or somebody said that athletes are incredibly slothful, and it’s true.


I’ve thought a lot about managing my time. Anybody who’s got more demands on their time than they can fulfill has got to. I’ve found that if you start the day just five minutes early you feel like you’ve had a relaxed day. If you’re five minutes late all day long, you feel like you’ve had a terrible day. Yet we’re only talking about five minutes. That’s the kind of philosophy that works for me. I really work hard at giving myself an hour alone first thing every morning and another late in the afternoon. Those two periods every day allow you to control yourself, so others aren’t controlling you. It lets you plan your schedule and juggle it if necessary to meet emergencies. If you’ve always got a lot of people waiting to see you, you’ll spend all your time dealing with their problems. You won’t be creating the kind of input that allows them to deal with some of your problems. I will not work late at night and tire myself out. If it’s that important I’d rather get up at five-thirty and finish it then. I do my correspondence, for example, at the end of the day rather than the beginning because my morning time is too precious to waste on such a mechanical thing. I’ll let it pile up all day long, even though some days that does bother me, rather than waste those early hours. You have to keep some checks on your time all day, even if it means your secretary has to remind you. If you’re busy and enjoying what you’re doing, time just goes by and eleven o’clock arrives be-

fore you’ve done what you were supposed to do at ten-thirty. I don’t mean it to sound cold, but you have to allot your time. I have a clock right in front of me at all times and I keep an eye on it. The other thing I use is pieces of paper. I have pads and pencils throughout the house, upstairs and downstairs, in my pocket and three more on my desk. If an idea comes or I think of something I have to do, I write it down right away and put it in my pocket so I’m not tiring myself out trying to remember. So . . . only accept the commitments you can meet, arrange your timetable around yourself so that you get a chance to do some creative thinking instead of just reacting, and use a good diary system to make sure your mind’s at ease.


I almost never get out of this office until seven o’clock. I get here between eight-fifteen and eight-thirty. Twice a week I have French classes and I usually work half a day in the office on the weekend. The rest of the weekend is devoted to household things. What gets dropped in my case is real leisure, really doing nothing. Also things I would like to do if I had time. Like more

theatre and more films. Obviously you instinctively rank activities. You do all the absolutely unshiftable things first. Then you can maximize time by doing several things at once. I rarely watch TV, but when I do I also read and eat.

On Sunday evening I get into bed to eat my supper and I watch anything, and I do it with a book. So it’s a kind of total collapse. My kids are around and my husband, and I read things that are in no way self-improving or demanding — like novels or Vogue — and I watch lots of crummy programs. It’s beautiful. The business lunch is an obvious example of dual activity. Or going to the hairdresser. I do that during my lunch hour, and I work under a hair drier. Then you can economize on time by accumulating activities and doing them all at once. I have to do that with shopping. I simply can’t shop more than once a week, so there’s the whole business of an organized way of making lists. I have a thing in the kitchen with room for writing out menus for five days, and room below that for building a grocery list. It’s absolutely essential on Saturday that 1 know whatever is required for the coming week, what the children need, what my entertainment

list requires. I buy certain things in the supermarket, my vegetables, meat and fish elsewhere, and that adds time, but I’m not prepared to reduce quality. So there must be lists. I must say, though, I really enjoy it. This terrible thing of being addicted to work is absolutely genuine. If there’s a day that’s light I feel I must have done something wrong, which suggests this is either compulsive or certainly self-imposed.


The answer to how to get so many things done is very simple, first you work like a bastard, second you sacrifice, and third, you change your lifestyle. I used to read a novel a week, but I

haven’t read one now in three years. I used to play four or five rounds of golf a week. Last year I played maybe 36 holes. I’ve given up watching baseball and I used to be a real fan. I’ve given up drinking and smoking. Now I spend my weekends reading things like the Corporations and Labor Unions Return Act. If I have a trick it’s a little hand tape recorder and whenever I come to something that interests me, like the real rate of poverty in the slums of Montreal or what’s the state of income in Canada compared to Italy, I just dictate it. My secretary types it all on three-by-five-inch cards that are prepared for me once or twice a week, and then they all go into a very complicated filing system. So if I want to know about oil and gas and I’m not sure what the gas production in Alberta is, I just look under “Natural Gas-Alberta-Production” and there it is. I’m never unaware of the value of the time I spend. I use airplanes to make notes and dictate messages to myself. I also keep a file in my own name which I review once a week, letters I’ve written that I want to be reminded of, people who’ve promised to get back to me, people I’ve promised to do something for, notes about ideas. I like to see things on paper. My appointment book is a three-foot square calendar which shows every day of the year and it’s in front of me at all times on the wall. We paste it up ourselves every year. I can see at a glance that way exactly where I’m going to be any day of the year. And very important, I’ve taught myself to say “No.” That’s one of the great secrets of life, avoiding meetings you hate and refusing invitations to dumb cocktail parties where you can’t begin to hear yourself talk.

Arthur Erickson


Don’t try to do everything yourself. You must have lots of people to delegate authority to. I have a team of people digesting things for me, doing research, digging out the facts, so I can spend my time where I feel it’s more valuable. I can’t waste my time on unimportant detail. I make no commitments more than a month ahead. Whenever I have, it’s screwed up my schedule. You have to be very loose and trust that things will turn out well. It makes life more interesting that way and unpredictable. It’s non-planning. Accepting events as they occur. Taking advantage. It’s a game of judo, you know. You take advantage of the thrust that comes at you and use its energy for your own purposes. I don’t have television at all. You find things out anyway, somehow or other. If it’s important enough it gets to you. I make lists because I have such a bad memory, and then I usually forget what I wrote the list on and it gets thrown away. I think that unconsciously I probably put myself in little states of panic to get work done. Unconsciously though. I have good nerves and I think that’s pretty important. I don’t get overwrought. When you get overwrought you wear yourself out. I eat simple food and fresh food. And not too much. I never go out for lunch in Vancouver. I have a pear and Camembert, and nothing else. One

thing that’s important to me is being able to get away from everyone. It’s my time of recuperation. I don’t plan it but when the opportunity arises I take it. My house is a little oasis. I can get an enormous amount of solitude and peace there. And that’s when I get everything back together again. I put the telephone in the refrigerator so I can’t hear it. That’s called a cold reception.. The secret for me is a variety of challenges and pace and prospects.


I keep all my appointments on my refrigerator because I know I have to go there every day. Several times. I’ve got magnets all over it and it’s really quite organized, a section for parking tickets, a section for work commitments, a section for parties. It was that or the john, but I haven’t got a wall there that faces me. I don’t carry an appointment book with me because I like people to call me at home where my refrigerator is. I’m up to my neck in lists anyway. Beginning with “Get up seven-fifteen.” Actually I set the clock for ten because I don’t like the look of a clock that says seven. Lucky I don’t have to take birth control pills because I’d have to write that down too. Also I stay away from people who bore me. ■