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Review: Simple St. James says

"Simplify Your Work Life: Ways To Change the Way You Work So You Have More Time To Live"
By Elaine St. James
Hyperion Books, 296 pages, January

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In this story:

Complications

Simple-minded

RELATED STORIES, SITES icon



(CNN) -- Elaine St. James is a simple person. She's written books titled "Simplify Your Life," "Inner Simplicity," "Living the Simple Life," "Simplify Your Life With Kids" and "Simplify Your Christmas." And now, careerists, she's added a sixth title to her simple series: "Simplify Your Work Life."

Simply put, this little book will tell all but the most hopelessly disorganized of workers a lot of simple steps they already know to use, to make better use of their time. And some other steps that are questionable.

Still, boning up on the basics may help some people. After all, as St. James correctly notes, many overworked and stressed Americans are struggling mightily to achieve a work-life balance.

Complications

St. James' book enumerates 85 suggestions -- they're numbered for simplicity's sake -- for simplifying your work life. Most are written in two or three pages, and these are short pages. You won't find much depth and analysis here. The reader is asked to accept many of St. James' debatable assertions at face value.

  QUICK VOTE
graphic Do you place any stock in such books as Elaine St. James' "Simplify Your Work Life?"

Yes. The more such rational guides I read, the better control I get of my work and life.
I can't decide. They seem to make me feel better for a short time, then the effects evaporate and it's all crazy again.
No. The whole self-help market is a gigantic rip-off, pure and ... simple.
View Results

 

The author says, for example, that "the typical executive receives over 200 pieces of unsolicited mail each month." She urges writing to the Mail Preference Service to be removed from junk mailing lists. Reading junk mail, "robs you of time and energy you need for more important things," she writes.

Really? Does the "typical executive" really open all his or her own mail, or does a staffer open some or all of it first? Can't this executive determine from the return address whether junk mail is worth opening, and if not, quickly toss it? And isn't some junk mail useful, containing special offers for subscriptions to publications that may help people in their businesses, or sales on office products and so on?

St. James, whose background is in managing a real-estate investment business, seems naïve in some of her suggestions. In urging us to work fewer hours, for example, she claims that her income doubled once she cut her work schedule from 60 to 40 hours a week. When she further reduced her work week to 30 hours, her income quintupled, she says.

Aside from the fact that this simply isn't likely to happen for most workers, St. James doesn't take into account that many employees are paid by the hour. Fewer hours equals less money.

"As much as possible, avoid long boring office meetings that drain your time and energy," Elaine St. James advises. Does she seriously think employees want to waste time in such meetings? It would be more useful for St. James to enlighten us on how to get out of attending pointless meetings in the first place. But on this, she's silent.

St. James also seems to think that a 32-hour work week will become the standard in the United States because it "makes so much sense." Has she not read the studies showing that Americans are working more hours than ever, not fewer? What workplace trends lead her to think this may come to pass? She doesn't say.

Another of St. James' timesavers is to spend less time commuting to work. Among her suggestions: Move closer to your office, change to a job closer to home or rearrange your schedule so you can drive during off-peak traffic times.

She doesn't explain how dual-earner couples are supposed to move close to their jobs if they work in opposite directions from one another. She seems unaware that some people live far from work because that's where housing is more affordable. Nor does St. James seem to realize that many workers have to drive to work during rush hour, either because the nature of the work requires it, or because their employer is inflexible on the subject.

Simple-minded

St. James blithely doles out these and other nuggets of wisdom, apparently oblivious to how difficult, if not impossible, it is for workers to comply with some of them.

"As much as possible, avoid long boring office meetings that drain your time and energy," she advises. Does she seriously think employees want to waste time in such meetings? It would be more useful for St. James to enlighten us on how to get out of attending pointless meetings in the first place. But on this, she's silent.

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Elaine St. James  

St. James, who lives her presumably simple life in Santa Barbara, California, sometimes lapses into New Age rhetoric, suggesting that one learn to sing because singing "can strengthen your mind, unlock your creativity, and even heal your body." Take time to "sit quietly and daydream, or go play and have some fun," she advises, and "learn the art of the inner smile."

Some of her advice is flatly questionable. She suggests that workers, if allowed, take naps on the job, something that many sleep researchers also recommend. But St. James says these naps should be either 10 minutes or 60 minutes in length. Some experts think 10 minutes isn't long enough, while 60 minutes is too long.

Readers may also find some of St. James' suggestions and observations a bit anal. She informs us, for example, that she keeps one, and only one, writing implement at her desk. "For years I had a cup filled with pens and pencils on my desk," she says. "Invariably, I'd end up with pencils all over the place, but I could never put my hand on one when I needed it."

The problem with St. James' book, like so many of the self-help genre, is that it offers pat answers to complex issues. If only life were so simple.

She also suggests reading your mail at the same time every day (except that pesky junk mail, of course), and separating it into three piles: a) Handle or Read Now; b) Handle Later; and c) Read Later.

So does St. James have any useful ideas for simplifying your work life? Well, sure. She suggests opting for a flexible, less demanding work schedule. Starting your own business. Scaling back your lifestyle so you need less money. Becoming more knowledgeable about tax laws.

Laudable ideas, perhaps, but complicated enough that these endeavors could be -- and have been -- the subjects of entire books. Here, they're relegated to a few pages.

Ultimately, careerists may find this book valuable in direct proportion to how much disorganization and disarray there is in their work lives. The problem with St. James' book, like so many of the self-help genre, is that it offers pat answers to complex issues. If only life were so simple.

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RELATED SITES:
Cornell Employment and Family and Careers Institute
Families and Work Institute
Hyperion Books


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