Getting On Base: The Art of Baseball Productivity

In a recent game against the Chicago White Sox, a Kansas City Royals rookie saw a prime batting opportunity for what it truly was: a chance to network with perennial All-Star Paul Konerko.

"Second and third with no outs? Most guys would swing for the fences," says the player. "Me, I bunted." In doing so, he turned a simple at-bat into opportunity.

"Konerko respected that," the player said. "I know it. Sure, he said, 'Fuck you, rookie,' just like any other player would have, but after 10 or 12 more of those bunts, I know he'll respect me and view me as a valuable business associate. I'm sure they had a good laugh about it in the other dugout, but when our playing days are done, Paul Konerko and I are going to have a lot to talk about. That was a productive out, and he knew that."

Maintaining a tickler file of useful facts and at-a-glance information is another way of generating productivity out of each and every at-bat. When facing Dodgers pitcher Scott Erickson, a batter should have a very good idea of what he'll see thrown at him - namely, a 77-mph fastball.

"Preparing for anything else is just silly," says Erickson. "Honestly, I don't know why players practice swinging at curveballs and sliders when there are pitchers like me in the big leagues." As a businessman, though, Erickson isn't predictable - he's reliable. His clients know exactly what to expect from him every time they work with him. Even sixty feet away, they can read what's on his mind every time they interface.

A system of "next actions" can also enhance and increase the efficacy of baseball project management. The aforementioned Kansas City rookie's next actions, kept within his tickler file, might have looked something like this:

Project: Bunt with 2nd/3rd/no outs
N.A.: eat a bag of sunflower seeds
N.A.: watch "Robin Hood: Men in Tights" with Zack Greinke.
Context: @dugout

Not a moment of one's game is wasted when one is constantly aware of what one is to do next. While the rookie is trudging back to the dugout basking in the adulation of his fans and teammates, he will already be thinking of the delicious crunch of David-brand sunflower seeds, and the hilarious antics of Cary Elwes and a young Dave Chappelle.

Next actions assist the rank-and-file position players in developing their skills, but they also help to create highly effective baseball life coaches through the shrewd application of basic management techniques. Consider Tampa Bay Devil Rays manager Lou Piniella's recent tickler file:

Project: Drink bottle of Old Grand-Dad
Sub-Project: watch "Celebrity Poker Showdown"
N.A.: make lewd comment about Mimi Rogers
N.A.: hurl empty whiskey bottle at Travis Harper's head
Sub-Sub-Project: sob quietly in clubhouse shower until conclusion of game.
Context: @dugout

Piniella is constantly aware of his objectives and surroundings. During the accomplishment of his initial project, for instance, he is watching Travis Harper to make sure that the player doesn't put on a batting helmet, thus dulling the disciplinary impact of the bottle of Old Grand-Dad. He has one eye on the entrance to the shower in order to ensure that Aubrey Huff isn't plucking his eyebrows when Piniella's meltdown reaches its inevitable denouement. This attention to Next Actions makes Piniella the legend he is; by remaining adroit, flexible, and organized, he is able to keep his mind flowing like water - and his teams routinely winning as many as sixty games year after year.

A basic truism of success in baseball, as well as business, is this: planning your day out, down to the letter, means that you don't waste valuable time standing around on third base or fouling off extra pitches into the stands. The organized baseball player can minimize the amount of time he spends actually playing baseball in order to concentrate on other, more lucrative pursuits, such as day trading, speculating on foreclosed residential property, or, in baseball's dense jargon, "beaver shooting." One assumes that hunting wildlife for one's family consumption is a little extreme when one makes millions, but fellow businessmen would be unwise as to downplay the significance of one's rural upbringing.

There are many methods of arranging and storing this data in efficient ways. A player ought to look at his personal effects as a sort of suit of productivity armor. He can store short summaries of opposing batters and pitchers in his wristbands. He can remind himself of keys to success by writing them on the butt of his baseball bat, like former Orioles infielder Billy Ripken. He can even create a small, portable tickler file out of simple 3x5 index cards and carry them with him - in his pocket, under his cap, in his jockstrap. At any point during the game, he ought to feel comfortable calling time, sitting down and getting into his "me zone," and writing down the thing that troubles him most. With this at the top of his to-do list, he can return to his job clear-headed, much to the delight and amazement of the thousands of cheering fans who will undoubtedly recognize and applaud his innovative strategies.

Personal productivity guru David Allen is the acclaimed author of "Getting Things Done" and "Ready For Anything."


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