12 Step Programme to Turn Your Productivity Addiction in to Actually Getting Things Done

28 10 2008

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Thanks for taking the time to visit! Chris

Image by Chim Chim on Flickr via Creative Commons

Image by Chim Chim on Flickr via Creative Commons

The more I read about productivity, the less productive I become.

It seems that no matter how much I try to simplify my productivity system, I am constantly revisiting it. I do know that in the grand scheme of things it is not going to help me, but I enjoy it. I am a productivity hobbyist. And it’s killing my productivity.

Here are just some of the signs that you might be a productivity addict

  1. You spend copious amounts of time reading blogs about GTD implementations.
  2. You search for Microsoft Outlook GTD hacks.
  3. You get excited when someone mentions GTD in a blog post title.
  4. You own a moleskine notebook (and probably several for different lists).
  5. You spent money on a posh inbox.
  6. You miss your weekly review because you are still processing your inbox in to a million sub-folders.
  7. You think about your GTD implementation on a daily basis.

I know these signs, because I have done all of the above and more. Now I am trying to just take action. If you want to achieve you goals, you need to stop thinking and start doing.

What it means to be a Productivity Addict

Being a productivity addict means that you know when you are wasting time therefore you worry about it more. Before you discovered the productivity sub-culture you used to waste less time surfing the internet, and when you did you didn’t worry about it. Now you worry about it. You try and work out more ways to be more productive to overcome this and the cycle continues. The time to stop is now.

12 Steps to Overcome Productivity Addiction

  1. Admit you have a problem (leave a comment to share this).
  2. Do not talk about productivity (just be productive).
  3. Realised that there is only so much that you can tweak your system before you just go back to using pen and paper anyway.
  4. Next time you hear about a new productivity programme, DO NOT sign up to the beta.
  5. Admit the nature of your wrong doing (tell us about your addiction in the comments).
  6. Make a list of 3 things you must do today. Do not do anything else until you have done these.
  7. DO NOT talk about productivity club.
  8. Do absolutely nothing related to productivity at least one day per week, just go with the flow.
  9. Those things you keep moving from one context, list or file to another. Just do them now, or eliminate them. Stop organising them, and start doing them.
  10. Realise that being productive means doing the things that you need to do in a timely fashion. It does not mean doing more things.
  11. Consume only the information you need to do the single task you are concentrating on now. No more.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, try to carry this message to productivity addicts and to practice these principles in all your affairs (modified from AA step 12)

Are you a Productivity Addict?

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Reading around the web:

http://zenhabits.net/2008/10/laser-sharp-focus-get-more-done/

http://lateralaction.com/articles/foolish-productivity/

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Anti-Procrastination

22 10 2008

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Image by γαλώ /* [offline] on Flickr via Creative Commons

Image by γαλώ on Flickr via Creative Commons

Today I’ve got a guest post over on the Saavy Entrepreneur Blog. Please do check it out. Cristina runs an Anti-Procrastination month each October to get back on track with work and stop putting things off. It’s a great idea.

How do you procrastinate?
Think about it, what do you do to procrastinate? I spend loads of time researching various topics on the internet, finding lots information which leads to more information. Then more and more. I’ll make a long list of things to do related to this, more websites to look at, and the spiral continues. This gives me a list of things to do, which is just another way to procrastinate actually doing the important things that I was looking at information about in the first place. Nuts I know.

Celebrating the new Poll feature in WordPress, I’ve set up a quick poll below. Please vote now!

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Time to Take Action

9 10 2008

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Image by amchu on Flickr via Creative Commons

Image by amchu on Flickr via Creative Commons

Action may not always bring happiness, but there is no happiness without action. Benjamin Disraeli

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about taking action. I have to admit I’m the kind of person who spends hours and hours thinking about, researching, talking about and thinking about again lots and lots of ideas. What truly makes a difference however is taking action. There is only so much you can look in to any given thing, such as how to be the best blogger or how to get fit, before you become saturated with information and just have to take action. I have written before about how you should ‘Just Do It’ and that is really what makes the difference.
Too many people just sit around and do nothing. You’ll probably find these are exactly the kind of people who complain about their job, their circumstances, their weight or whatever it is that they are complaining about. Stop complaining and start doing. My mum always used to say to me “If you put as much energy in to doing something as you did in to complaining about it you would have done it by now!”.

I like to try and turn short / medium term goals in to habits. So I currently have the short term goal of making taking action my number one habit.

Stop thinking. Start doing.

Take a lot at your goals, aspirations and Lifestyle Projects. Do you have the actions in place to achieve them? Yes? Well watch are you waiting for, take action now!

There is never a “right time”
There is a lot going on in the world (mainly in the media) which would suggest that now is not the right time to do a lot of things. You know what? There is never a “right time”. There is never a time when all the conditions are perfect, everything you need is available and all the planets are aligned in some sort of amazing cosmic symmetry which will enable you to move through life seamlessly. Whilst some may argue that there is the wrong time to do things, the fact is that the right time to do what you want, achieve what you want and go for what you want is NOW!

What have you been putting off? Let me know in the comments below the actions you will take now.

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Skills for Productivity

3 09 2008

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Image by bourgeoisbee on Flickr via Creative Commons

Image by bourgeoisbee on Flickr via Creative Commons

“A winner is someone who recognizes his God-given talents, works his tail off to develop them into skills, and uses these skills to accomplish his goals.” Larry Bird

In the 3 Ts (and an S) of Productivity Series, I am looking at the Tools, Techniques, Tips and Skills for being Productive.

I always want to be able to achieve the most possible, whilst doing the least possible (or spending the least time doing it). Therefore I’ve always tried to find systems or procedures to help me with my pursuit of this goal. I do however have to balance this with my, not perfectionist side, but my quality control which requires me to accept when ‘good is good enough’ and to be of a reasonable standard. These topics will be explored in later posts.

So here are the skills that I think you need to master in order to be productive. How are you getting on with these?

Objectives / Planning / End In Mind
I guess that this is a good place to start! Unless you have objectives for the task you are going to undertake and know what you want to achieve and how you plan to get there, then how can you be effective? If you are not clear on what you want or need to end up with then how can you find the best route to get there?

Know your own SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats)
SWOT is a simple way of illustrating that unless you know (or at least admit) your SWOT in achievements how can you carry out tasks effectively? Know what you are good at and focus on that, delegate other stuff you are not good at. You can change or influence your SWOT but it takes work and planning. Maybe these could be linked to your goals. See my post on SWOT analysis here.

Keep it Simple Stupid KISS.
This is an area that I am both good and bad at. I do enjoy keeping things simple, but I also am always seeking more knowledge on the subject at hand. Whilst a thirst for knowledge is by no means a bad thing, it is only seeking and acquiring the relevant knowledge to achieve a specific ends that is the skill of being effective. Constantly seeking new systems is actually not effective, you’ll probably revert to what you already know anyway.

Know when it is ‘good enough’ is Good Enough
I’m not saying that you should compromise quality to finish a job. Knowing what level of quality is required and when ‘good enough’ is Good Enough is a skill for productivity and knowing the correct level of standards for what you want to achieve.

Single Tasking (Multi-tasking is for whimps)
In modern workplaces many people think it is good to multi-task. This is the whimps way. Single tasking is the key. Remember the times when you were allowed to concentrate on just one thing? Without the constant distractions of the phone email, IM etc. chances are that you probably achieve more in less actual and elapsed time and it was probably better output. You probably created your own distractions and procrastination activities. Focus – find your zone.

Eliminate
There are several things you need to eliminate in order to use these principles.

  • Distractions
  • Unnecessary work
  • Unneeded work
  • Manufactured Emergencies

Become a master eliminator and learn to say NO!

Simplify
Is everything you are doing necessary? Are you taking the simplest route from A to B using the simplest method? The less complex you make things for yourself the more likely you are to achieve your objectives.

Quality over Quantity
This really applies to the amount and quality of work that you do rather than the individual tasks so it is the quality (using above points) of work that you do over the quantity (less hours) that is most important. Measure your results not the time you have spent on a particular activity. Eliminate to find that correct quality. Also know what is good enough.

This post is very much about what I have understood as skills for productivity so far. There is a lot of interrelation between the points and more detail behind all of them. There may also be other ones but these are what I came up with so far in a bid to keep it simple.

My idea for this post came from trying to design (based on research) my own principles for how to be productive. These are more habits/skills for to consciously work on, whilst Covey’s 7 habits are more characteristics. i.e. you either are or aren’t proactive.

What skills do you think are needed to be productive?

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5 Steps to Approach Anything

1 09 2008

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Image by Rickydavid on Flickr via Creative Commons

Image by Rickydavid on Flickr via Creative Commons

“If you procrastinate when faced with a big difficult problem… break the problem into parts, and handle one part at a time.” Robert Collier

Whilst on holiday a while back I wrote quite a number of posts that either have or are yet to appear here on Lifestyle Project. What I noticed as I wrote a post or two per day for the week of my holiday was that there are clear regular themes in my thinking which define how to approach actually getting things done.

I suppose my way of thinking is ultimately a culmination of my reading on GTD, the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and The Four Hour Work week (By the way that is the order I read them in and I would recommend that your read them the opposite way round!).

This is a quick post that I plan to expand on with a series of posts in the future.

How to Approach Anything

When you come across a task, project or challenge, no matter how big or small you can follow this 5 step process and apply it to any situation. I believe that the process is scaleable to projects of any size. For example a really small task you will spend seconds on the first three steps, whereas for a major Project it could be several days.

  1. Objectives
    1. Capture your objectives.
    2. Begin with the End in mind.
    3. What quality standard does this need to be done to really? Don’t seek perfection where it is not needed.
  2. Write it Down
    1. Make your self accountable.
    2. Write down your Objectives.
    3. Plan (mind maps are good for this).
  3. Review, Simplify, Eliminate
    1. Will your plan achieve your objectives?
    2. Have you made this as easy as possible?
    3. Remove steps not needed to achieve the objectives.
    4. Do you need to do all of your actions and meeting all of your objectives?
    5. Will it help in the grand scheme of things? What’s the bigger picture?
  4. Take Action, Just Do It
    1. Don’t procrastinate. Just Do It!
    2. Don’t complicate once you start doing it.
  5. Review, Close, Move On
    1. Have you met your objectives (step one)
    2. Is it good enough? Everything doesn’t have to be perfect; does it meet your Objectives?

If you follow this process I believe that you will have good results in anything you approach. This could be work projects, personal tasks or even when looking at your goals!

Why not try it today and let me know how you get on in the comments below. Just write each of the 5 steps as headings on a piece of paper and get going.

Have a Productive Day!

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Top 10 ways to implement GTD Simply

26 08 2008

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Image by OrangeAcid on Flickr via Creative Commons

Image by OrangeAcid on Flickr via Creative Commons

Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler. Albert Einstein

I thought I’d put a post up about implementing David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD). I won’t use this post to explain what GTD is as it is explained all over the place, but for a good explanation please look here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Getting_Things_Done

I’ve been using GTD for over a year now and I have put together this list for people as a refresher (let’s face it we all fall off the GTD wagon), or for those starting out on the GTD path to productivity. Remember if you can are more organised then (theoretically) you’ll have more time to do what you want (and pursue your Lifestyle Project). So here are my top 10 ways to implement GTD simply:

1. Put everything you need to sort in one place first

Clear your desk, move all your files on your desktop to one folder, move your thousand emails in your inbox in to one folder. You will immediately feel less overwhelmed with a clear desk and inbox (even if the reality is that you have just shifted stuff from one place to another).

2. Use paper for your lists – don’t use outlook, fancy online tools etc.

Lists and the use of lists are central to the GTD methodology. I have experimented with literally hundreds of online to do management systems, excel spreadsheet designs, outlook categories etc. What have I learned from this? Paper is the absolute best place to keep your lists. It is non-linear. Sure it is fun to play around with the latest system but there is bound to be something that it doesn’t do that will mean you just look for another system.

3. Get an physical Inbox and use it from now on

This doesn’t actually need to be an inbox; it just needs to be a designated place where you put all of your ‘stuff’.

4. Make “Do it, Defer it, Delegate it” your mantra

Write it on a Post-it note and stick it on your monitor and your inbox. Make it your mantra. Whenever you designate time to processing, say it for everything that you pick up to deal with.

5. The Waiting for list is very powerful.

This is especially true if you are delegating as much as possible. You want to do less don’t you? Then you should delegate as much as possible. The unfortunate nature of human beings is that they don’t always do what you ask them to. Keep a waiting for list so you can keep on top of everything you are expecting someone else to do. Simply initials of delegate, date delegated and task are the only things you need to record. Cross it off when it is done. I find that keeping the date delegated is useful when chasing people up.

6. Set up your filing system before you start and keep it simple.

For online filing just use an archive dump folder as search tools are good enough. For physical filing David Allen suggests a simple A-Z system. Personally I find myself filing physical stuff less and less so my existing system for papers works just fine. For my electronic documents search tools make just archiving everything the easiest thing to do by a mile.

7. Resist the temptation to read too much and try out every single new to-do list application etc. for your system.

That’s part of the reason this list is about keeping things simple. You can spend weeks of your life reading up how to ‘Sharpen your Saw’ and get your system as perfect as possible. The reality is that once you know the principles the best thing you can do is simple to apply them and start getting things done.

8. Simplify your email folders

Establish a filing system for your emails and keep it simple. That way when you have an email you will quickly be able to put it where it needs to go. Base it on the mantra, and remember if your system is simple and easy to use, then you are more likely to use it.

a) Do It – once you’ve done with the email archive it. Have just one or few archive folder for your emails rather than loads of folders for different things. You can use the wide variety of search tool to find emails in the future quite easily.

b) Defer it – pop it in a ‘Follow up’ folder and make a note of it on your next actions list – easy!

c) Delegate it – pop it into a ‘Hold’ or ‘Waiting for’ folder. You could of course set up some fancy rules to do this for you when you delegate someone something by email.

d) Delete it – If something is for information only or of no relevance then delete it. Or you could actually just archive it just in case. Either way if it no longer serves any purpose then get it out of your inbox and move on. Remember every time you re-read an email you waste time.

9. Process your email in batches at set times rather than keep checking throughout the day.

You’ll find that if you set aside a time to go through all of your emails in one go then you are more likely to stick to your GTD mantra and whizz through them. I actually rather sadly enjoy seeing how quickly I can get my inbox to zero (and get out of there!). If you spend your whole time with one eye on your inbox then you’ll be constantly distracted and unproductive. Switch off email popups etc and focus.

10. Make sure you do the weekly review.

I’ll admit it; this is by far the weakest part of my implementation. Setting aside structured time to do my weekly review is sadly lacking. This is stupid of me as I know how valuable it can be. I do find that I ‘can’t be bothered’ as much on a Friday so often now find that I do an ‘informal’ weekly review on a Monday as I set out my tasks for the week. The fact is when you do a weekly review and go through everything and eliminate as much as possible you have a much better grasp of what you have to do and how you’ll get it done.

Let me know how you get on or if I’ve missed anything in the comments below! Do you use GTD? How simple is your implementation?

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Tools for Productivity

13 08 2008

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Image By Teo at Flickr via Creative Commons

Image By Teo at Flickr via Creative Commons

“What you have to do and the way you have to do it is incredibly simple. Whether you are willing to do it, that’s another matter.” Peter F. Drucker

There are various types of tools that can help you in your quest to be a super productive being. They enable you to be put into practice the skills and techniques of a productivity. Tools to fulfill these requirements are increasingly being developed and refined with more and more becoming available everyday. If you are anything like me, you’ll probably enjoy discovering and trying these tools. But beware – this is essentially procrastination and you’ll probably try and justify ‘sharpening your system’ as productive work, when in fact getting stuff done is far more effective.

In this post I’m going to look at the key ‘Tools of Productivity’ that I have thus far identified. I have identified more that this, but in the interest of elimination and simplification seek to present the essentials.

Planning Tools
Remember to begin with the end in mind. In others posts I have either or will describe how planning is a great skill of a productive and effective person. I’m not using this to tell you why you should be planning (I’ll do that in another post). Just be sure that you have the right tools available.

My preferred planning tool is mind maps on paper. Paper is not constrained and this property along with mind mapping allows free flow thinking and amendments. Remember though that papers tools are not automatically backup up like online tools. If you want to try mind mapping online there are loads of free sites. I’ve tried MindMeister and is seems good.

Other planning tools: Lists, Planning software (for example MS project) I find many tools to complex for most purposes except where I am forced to use it in a professional context.

Lists
I’m a big fan of lists. I keep lists for everything. Things to do, music to buy, dreams (places to go), checklists for planning etc. I find that simple is best so I keep lists in a fairly linear fashion. However, as my lists are important to backup my brain. It’s best not to store information in your brain for a number of reasons!

I was using Gubb for my lists, but I have recently switched to Zenbe on the iPhone, and it is great that it is synced to a website for backup piece of mind.

At work I still haven’t found the right list management system for me. I’m currently using excel for it’s sorting facilities as I manage a team of people and deliverables it is quite useful for this.

Another thing to note is that I do not use Outlook at work for my to-do list management. This is for a very important reason. To keep me out of my email!

Calendar / Reminder System
You should try and schedule as much of your activity in a calendar system to enforce deadlines and make sure you do it. Notice how if something non-important is in your calendar like a staff meeting then you still give time to attend? Make the same commitment to personal high importance tasks.

For work I use Outlook , as it is the standard at my place of work. You can do fancy stuff like colour code etc. but I’ve been there done that and spend the wasted hours maintaining it with the false belief it will make things easier. For me simple is best.

For personal calendar and remind I use iwantsandy.com. I love the interaction element of this tool and I have written a review of iwantSandy here. I think that it is important to enjoy using your system and that is what Sandy gives to me. I am looking to move more of my system to Sandy as more features come available, as having everything in one place is food for the interests of keeping stuff simple.

Outsourcing / Delegation
These are great tools for getting stuff done but do require time and patience and learning for using as an effective tool. You should think of delegation at work (and personal outsourcing as appropriate) as you first option for every task. This way you can eliminate as much as you can. “Can’t someone else do it?” – make this your Mantra. See my other post on delegation.

Against the recommendations of GTD I do keep separate work and personal systems. Both of my systems are accessible from both places. I don’t want them to overlaps to that I can concentrate on the different contexts of work and home in isolation when I need to.

Email
I will write an separate post about this, but seen as email and internet are the biggest distractions in the modern workplace it is worth using the tools available to maximum benefit. Make email your slave not your master.

1) Auto-Responder – Set an out-of-office so that you can dictate when you check emails.
2) Filters – I have a CC folder for mails I am copied on which means that when I look at this folder I approach with the different mind set. I also use a waiting for filter, so that when I send an email I have @wf in the email so my filter puts a copy in my waiting for list.
3) Delete Key – Use it
4) One inbox – Email is great for capture. If someone asks you to do something say ‘can you send me an email so I don’t forget’
5) Turn off notification popups – if you don’t see the popups you’ll be less inclined to dip in to your inbox as often.
6) Turn off Auto Send/Receive – you choose when you want to get emails.

So these are the key tools in my current Productivity arsenal. I’m sure that I’ll review this post and refine it and it is something that I could go in to a lot of depth about. I wrote this post in draft a few months ago, and in that type my system has evolved and changed – I am coming to accept that this is a side effect of the productivity culture.

This post will eventually form part of a series on Productivity: Tools, Skills & Techniques.

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