Rethinking Projects

How many projects are you working on right now?

When I ask this question in my seminars, most people answer in the range of 1-10.  The reason for this answer is that they believe projects are big and involved endeavors which take weeks or months to complete.   But I ask in this case are they thinking too big?

person holding turned on laptop

According to GTD, a project is anything that requires more than one action to complete.  By this definition, the number of projects we are working on balloons to fifty or more!  Of course, many of these projects are quickly dispatched in less than a day or even an hour.  The catch is that when we fail to recognize these small items as projects, they tend to pile up around us.  Each little incomplete project takes up mental space, leading to an ongoing background sense of anxiety.

The solution according to GTD is the complete project list.  It asks you to assess your total life work at the moment by listing every project in one place.  Remember, a project is something that can be completed, as opposed to an area of responsibility which is ongoing.  For example, an area of responsibility is personal health, and a project to support it could be to sign up for exercise classes.

This project list helps in at least three significant ways:

1/ The project list serves as a reminder of incomplete items.  This can alleviate worry about losing track of projects that may come back to haunt you later.

2/ A project list forces people to get specific about the next physical actions needed to move the item from an open loop to a completed project. It accelerates completion of work.

3/ By having a full inventory of current workload, it becomes easier to recognize limitations and enables people to safely reject new projects in order to keep their professional dignity and sanity intact.

As David Allen, creator of GTD says, “You can only feel good about what you are not doing when you know what you are not doing.”   Helpful project tips are listed on the Getting Things Done web site.

So draft a project list and keep it updated.  You may be surprised at how much you are really doing!

Advertisements

When to Use Your First Brain

Memory is fleeting or so we are told.  Everyone has had the experience of forgetting something important.  Both David Allen and Tiago Forte have written about the importance of not relying on your brain to remember information, but instead to put the data into a trusted system.  This process is at the core of most productivity advice.

gautama buddha

However, are their times when we should rely on our biological memory over a database or electronic “second brain”?  In a guest post on Tiago Forte’s Praxis blog, Tasshin Fogleman, a Buddhist monk, argues the value of memorization has great merit in this electronic age.  He writes:

Building A Second Brain (BASB) is an effective default for personal knowledge management (PKM) in the digital era. But outsourcing our creative thinking to a second brain has its pitfalls.

A robust memory can be a useful supplement to digital PKM systems. Contrary to Tiago’s assumptions, memory is not a useless, outmoded relic of our biological bodies. It is an astonishing skill, and we would be unwise to overlook it.”

Fogleman proceeds to share several methods to improve our memory, including Spaced Repetition, Mind Palaces, the Mindful Review, and more.  Read all about them in his guest post.

Forte Labs & Public Libraries

This year, ForteLabs stars Tiago and Lauren came to Florida to work directly with Palm Beach County Library staff to help them build their own second brains.  Working in person and remotely, library staff got to explore the latest techniques in the science and art of digital note taking.

Tiago Forte just released an insightful summary of the experience working with us on his Praxis blog.  His post neatly captured the character of modern day librarianship and the opportunities the profession has to be a leader in spreading productivity practices.  He also gained a deeper appreciation of the mission of public libraries.

“Far from being a dusty, stale institution stuck in the past, what we saw on our tour was a vibrant, dynamic, quickly evolving organization full of people who care deeply about accessibility for everyone. Lauren and I were blown away by the breadth of the library system’s programs and services, and all of them offered for free to anyone. We came away with the sense that the library was an absolutely vital part of the community, especially for those with the fewest resources.”

Read the blog post on the Palm Beach County Building a Second Brain project here.  As an added bonus, you can read Tiago’s second posting on the role of public libraries as social infrastructure here.  Thank you Tiago and Lauren!

pbcls-basb

Digital Decluttering

How many files do you have cluttering up your computer’s desktop?  What about that app on your phone that was opened once two years ago and soon forgotten?  And just how many photos have you saved to the cloud?

It appears there is a tendency to ignore the clutter in our electronic spaces.  While a slew of books talk about the stress relief that comes from tidying up our physical belongings, should we also pay attention to our digital world too?  Some believe that with computer memory so cheap there is no downside to storing all our files and apps forever. What could possibly be wrong with this approach?

Writer Kelly Oakes argues in an article from earlier this year on the BBC’s web site that decluttering our digital world is just as important as cleaning up physical spaces.  Kelly writes:

“Emerging research on digital hoarding – a reluctance to get rid of the digital clutter we accumulate through our work and personal lives – suggests that it can make us feel just as stressed and overwhelmed as physical clutter. Not to mention the cybersecurity problems it can cause for individuals and businesses and the way it makes finding that one email you need sometimes seem impossible.”

design desk display eyewear

Learn more by reading the rest of the article on the BCC – Future web site.

Is there an App for GTD?

How hard could it be to build a single app to answer all of our productivity needs?  Right now it seems that we use one app for reminders, another for the calendar, another for our project list, and so on.  It just seems obvious that one app should do the trick, and how come David Allen hasn’t made it yet!

Well it turns out he tried.  At the GTD Summit this summer, David told the group about this project.  It was again shared on his blog.

“At the Summit I briefly shared a vision of the “ultimate GTD app” which consists of 19 pages of hand-drawn drafts of the screens I would want to use. I just said to myself, “Can I click F1 on my computer and get to a clear head?” I spent two days creating those screens. This was in 1994. “Since I drew these, we’ve invested in two serious attempts at producing a software product that would do it (or at least come close). Both ended in a “not yet” conclusion, after tremendous research in the tech and analysis of the market (one in the mid-1990s and the last in the mid-2010s.) “

David has now shared the drafts with the world in the hope that someone will crack the code and make the ultimate GTD app.  Read the entire post on his blog to learn more.

David-Allen-GTD

2nd Brain Paradigm Shifts

Have you shifted a paradigm recently?

Paradigms are philosophical and theoretical frameworks that we all employ in our minds to help us navigate the world.  Whenever someone experiences a radical change in perspective, we tend to say that they underwent a paradigm shift.

Tiago Forte believes that to succeed in our information abundant world, we need to undergo a set a paradigm shifts regarding how we understand and work with knowledge.  In a recent post on his blog, he explores a new way to think about the purpose of his course, Building a Second Brain:

“This may sound strange, but I increasingly believe that the purpose of this course is not to give students new ideas. It’s not even to give them useful techniques. Endless ideas and techniques are already out there for the taking. No, the purpose of this course is to take people through a series of personal paradigm shifts in their relationship to technology, knowledge, and the new world that is evolving ever faster.”

basb

Tiago believe the course allows for at least twenty paradigm shifts!  Have you gone through any of them yet?

What Does the Science Say?

There are many methods and techniques to become organized at home and work.  The list is long and includes GTD, Building a Second Brain, KonMari, and many others.  However, have you ever thought that the gains made by these approaches are only illusionary?   Perhaps they are all simply feel-good methods that work for a short time and then fade away?  In short, is there any science to back up the claims of these systems?

In a blog post on the revamped Getting Things Done web site, David Allen provides a brief overview to explain why methods like GTD have an impact that relates directly to cognitive science.

“Recent cognitive science research shows that the number of things you can mentally prioritize, manage, retain, and recall is . . . (hold on) . . . four! If you park any more than that in your head, you will sub-optimize your cognitive functioning. You will be driven by whatever is latest and loudest—rather than by strategy, intuition, or objective assessment.”

Read the rest of David’s thoughts along with his book suggestions on the Getting Things Done blog.David-Allen-GTD