Skills for Productivity

3 09 2008

This your kind of thing? Please think about subscribing via RSS or eMail (it’s free). Thanks for taking the time to visit! Chris

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.

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!

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?


Bookmark and Share

Thanks for reading.

I hope you enjoyed my post. I’d love to hear your comments below or get a Digg or Stumble!

5 Steps to Approach Anything

1 09 2008

This your kind of thing? Please think about subscribing via RSS or eMail (it’s free). Thanks for taking the time to visit! Chris

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!


Bookmark and Share

Thanks for reading.

I hope you enjoyed my post. I’d love to hear your comments below or get a Digg or Stumble!

Top 10 ways to implement GTD Simply

26 08 2008

This your kind of thing? Please think about subscribing via RSS or eMail (it’s free). Thanks for taking the time to visit! Chris

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

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?


Bookmark and Share

Thanks for reading.

I hope you enjoyed my post. I’d love to hear your comments below or get a Digg or Stumble!

Avoid the Hot Air and Get Stuff Done

6 08 2008

This your kind of thing? Please think about subscribing via RSS or eMail (it’s free). Thanks for taking the time to visit! Chris

Image by TKelly on Flickr via Creative Commons

Image by TKelly on Flickr via Creative Commons

“I think people talk too much anyway. Sometimes people are talking to me and in my mind I’m just like “shut up, shut up, shut up…blah blah blah blah blaaaaah.” Ellen Degeneres

On a recent trip to my head office, I really began to notice the amount of Hot Air that spouts from the mouths of the people I work with. They are people with all talk and no action. Since I joined the company over two years ago, a lot has been talked about to do with strategy, change and improvement. However, I have not seen any change. It is all Hot Air, and this is now ingrained in the company to the point where I think that all employees spend more time talking about doing things than actually getting things done. I’m glad that I have bought this observation to my conscious mind so that I can work on it personally so that I don’t sucked in to the same culture.

Here’s my 5 point Plan to cut the crap and get stuff done with other people:

  1. Only talk to people at work when you need something from them. This is like my previous post about only going on to the computer when I need to do something. We all spend hours at work talking about how the company should be run, gossiping etc. I’d much rather get my work done and get out of there. An hour spent talking to my girlfriend is a much better use of my time than an hour spent talking about the same old stuff with a colleague.
  2. Say No, mean no and don’t do it. It is one thing to say no to things, and another to mean it and stick to your work. This is a skill I am still developing but if you master it in the right way you can eliminate the crap and get on with what is going to make a difference.
  3. Cut the Crap. When talking to people or trying to get your work done, cut the crap. Eliminate what you don’t need, get to the point, get it done and move on.
  4. A lot of hot air comes from a group of people ‘Brainstorming’ ideas. Often I find that they go round in circles and the logical conclusion is inevitable 90% of the time. Cut the crap here too, get straight to the point “We WILL do this”, “I’ll get this actioned NOW”. I’ve found that when you are in a position to make decisions, then make them and do it. People will step in quicker if the action you have taken is wrong, whereas if you don’t take the action it could be hours or dozens of CC’d emails later before the a decision is made.
  5. Avoid meetings like the plague. Most meetings are, lets face it, a waste of time. Always ask why a meeting is being held. Ask for an agenda and timescale up front and try and schedule meetings back to back to get them all out of the way at once and avoid overruns “Sorry I can’t stay I have another meeting on the hour.”

Some people may worry that they could give the wrong impression to their peers and superiors with this approach. Remember the goal is to the get stuff done. You will (and should) be measured by your results. You are aiming for a work:life balance and being productive at work is not about doing more, it is about doing what is needed (and only what is needed) better and faster.

If your company doesn’t operate a Results-Only Work Environment, then don’t worry. Just make it your own personal ‘culture’ to work like that and see the results. You should work better and live better.

Bookmark and Share

Thanks for reading.

I hope you enjoyed my post. I’d love to hear your comments below or get a Digg or Stumble!