From Hope to Trust

How confident are you that all your priorities have been captured outside your head?

For most people, their regular practice is to keep their responsibilities and duties saved only in brain cells. Storing these things in our fallible minds makes it hard to be confident about our next actions. Once people discover this problem, they often try to create elaborate systems to remember. However, this may prove just as problematic. GTD founder David Allen explored this problem in a recent blog post:

It’s natural to want to create a system for priority coding (like “A, B, C” or the flagging feature in many apps) to tell you the most important things to do. But it’s a short-term insurance policy that won’t give you the trust you need when the time comes to take action.

If these complex approaches don’t work, is there a better way? David certainly believes so as he adds:

People would often love to be able to give up the non-stop accountability for their intuitive judgment calls about the moment-to-moment allocation of their resources. That’s why the ABC-priority and daily-to-do-list structures have often seemed so attractive as a way to “get a grip.” But reality has a way of requiring us to be more on our toes than that.

So how can we really know for sure what action to take? Prepare for the worst, imagine the best, and shoot down the middle.

Dive deeper into this philosophy by reading the rest of the post.

Projects vs Areas

Do you have something that is lingering on your to-do list? If so, it could because you have confused a project with an area.

David Allen has often said that the major challenge for knowledge workers is defining their work. Unlike task workers whose duties are given to them by others, the knowledge worker must figure out how to complete their assignments. In many cases they have to determine the specific tasks that needs to be done.

One stumble that knowledge workers encounter is mixing up projects and areas. Failure to differentiate between these two can lead to frustration. In a recent blog post, Tiago Forte clearly identifies the difference between the two.

project is any endeavor that has 1) a desired outcome that will enable you to mark it “complete,” and 2) a deadline or timeframe by which you’d like it done.

An area of responsibility has 1) a standard to be maintained that 2) is continuous over time.

In short, projects end, while areas continue indefinitely.

Understanding this can help clear up a lot of confusion. To explain further, Tiago provides examples:

  • Running a marathon is a project, whereas Health is an area
  • Publishing a book is a project, whereas Writing is an area
  • Saving 3 months’ worth of expenses is a project, whereas Finances is an area
  • A vacation to Thailand is a project, whereas Travel is an area
  • Planning an anniversary dinner is a project, whereas Spouse is an area

Learn more about how to approach projects and areas by reading through Tiago’s post.

Get It Out of Your Head

Even though I have taught productivity practices for over ten years, I still find myself being human and slipping back into old ways. Recently I forgot where I placed something important. It happened weeks ago and I have no clear memory in my head about where it could be. It is very frustrating!

Has that ever happened to you?

This incident reminded me of a central tenet of GTD that should be written on my brain. It is the simple practice of getting stuff out your head and into a trusted system.

David Allen, creator of GTD, has often said that our mind is a crappy office space. It is designed for having ideas, not holding them. Despite our remarkable ability to remember lots of things, the mundane details of life can easily escape our memory at any point. This doesn’t take long to happen. For example, have you ever misplaced the keys that were in your hand five minutes ago? How about the promise you made to your boss about meeting a deadline that sailed out of your head the moment you left her office? And how do we ever forget those big events that one should always remember, like a family birthday or anniversary?

Thankfully, the solution to all this is very simple. Keep lists of important items in a trusted place. For me I use the reminder app and calendar on the iPhone for personal items and my Outlook calendar and its reminder functions for work items. The trick is to overcome the inherent human laziness to put off work to another day. The best practice is to put these reminders into your system immediately to ensure they are captured.

When a system like this is set up, it becomes automatic to complete anything. One example from my life is an end of day list that pops up at 8 pm. This includes items such as ensuring the cars are locked up for the night, that the dog gets her pill, and that my daughter has her school laptop on the charger. It is all simple stuff, but easy to forget when tired brain takes over at the end of a busy day.

Therefore, I invite you to recommit to the practice of getting stuff out of your head and into a trusted system. It is the best way to go to bed with a clear head.

Leading Your Team to Productivity

Back at this year’s Florida Library Association annual conference, the FLA Professional Development Committee released a video highlighting productivity practices, tips and tricks from three leaders in the library field. I was included along with Dr. Leo Lo, Dean and Professor of the College of University Libraries and Learning Services and Dr. Vanessa Reyes, Assistant Professor for the School of Information at the University of South Florida.

I was interviewed by Amy Harris, Instruction & Assessment Librarian at Saint Leo University. During my portion of the presentation, I discussed the basic principle of GTD and how to apply them in the workplace.

The full video can be found on YouTube.

Recording of Tiago Forte Interview

Last week I had the honor of interviewing Tiago Forte about his new book, Building a Second Brain. In a sixty-minute Zoom interview with audience Q&A, we touched on a wide range of aspects around digital note taking and how it compliments a GTD practice. A link to the recording can be found on the Palm Beach County Library System web site.

Below is a selection of the questions I asked Tiago:

  • Briefly share how you became interested in the power of digital notes?
  • Explain the concept of CODE and how it applies to digital note taking.
  • What are the four principles of PARA and do they contribute to designing a Second Brain?
  • What are the best practices around processing digital notes for discoverability?
  • The book highlights how notes can be applied over many different projects. To that end, please explain what is meant by an intermediate packet.
  • What are the biggest mistakes people make when taking digital notes and how can they be avoided?
  • What prompted you to share your publishing journey through your blog?
  • Share a book recommendation (fiction or non-fiction) other than your own.

Stay tuned to the end of the interview where I subject Tiago to a fun game based on the podcast, Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.

Getting Real with Reality

The pursuit of productivity is never just a goal in and of itself.

It is possible to whip off lots of items from your “to do” list and not actually accomplish anything of true merit. In fact, there are two things necessary to ensure that your productivity skills are being used for meaningful work. The first is to be clear on strategy, mission and objectives. The second is more subtle, but probably more impactful. It is to understand the current reality. If the truth of the situation is misunderstood, strategy is moot.

In a blog post earlier this year, David Allen of GTD fame mapped out the case for current reality. He notes that many problems stem from a lack of understanding the exact nature of what is really going on.

Companies, departments, and individuals may have big goals, even well expressed, and yet there can be a lack of energy, or a lack of real actions being defined and in motion. Groups bicker about the smallest things and can’t seem to get in gear. And the biggest problem about this is that they don’t know what the problem is. They are probably trying to build a house on sand. There’s no stake in the ground. There’s no traction.

To overcome this problem, David believes it necessary to unearth the relevant facts about the situation, even if they are hard to face. Only then can a person or group move forward.

The great challenge is to face current reality head on without letting it “get to you” and cause you to program the next one as no better. Bean counters are a critical component to the team. You need to know how many beans you have. But if all you’re doing is just protecting your current beans, soon you may not have any more beans to count. You cannot drive by just looking at the rearview mirror.

Read the entire blog post at the Getting Things Done web site.

Empty Inbox – Less Stress

With the high volumes of incoming email we all receive, it can be very tempting to let them pile up. In fact, most people use their inbox as a workflow management and archival system. This approach is highly inefficient and creates unnecessary stress. Thankfully, there is a simple way to resolve this problem: empty your inbox regularly.

For the past ten years I have enjoyed the clarity of an empty inbox. I was inspired to do this after reading Getting Things Done by David Allen. In the book he provides a simple approach to clearing out the inbox no matter the volume. At the core of his technique is the workflow diagram. In a way, the GTD approach is similar to a plumber who ensures that water remains flowing through pipes.

Photo by Solen Feyissa on Pexels.com

To clear any inbox, there are three important things to understand:

1 – An inbox is only for in: The best use of an inbox is to identify new messages. Once they have been read, they must leave the inbox. No skipping over items. Go through every message from newest to oldest until complete.

2 – Empty it regularly: To cope with the high volumes, it is important to clear the inbox every day. Not only does this prevent serious backlog that can impact your efficiency, it can eliminates the stress which comes when important messages are buried under junk.

3 – Create functional folders to store messages: An “action” folder will hold items you need to respond to as soon as possible. A “waiting for” folder will hold reminders of actions you are waiting for others to do. An “archive” folder will hold all non-actionable messages you need to retain. Finally, be sure to trash as much as you can early to reduce clutter.

If you want to enjoy a less stressful work life, be sure to clear out your inbox every day. I speak from a decade of experience on this point. An empty inbox is an awesome sight to behold.

We’re All Alone in this Together

Organizations that are able to form reliable teams tend to accomplish more goals and provide better internal and external customer service. However, there is an unspoken tension around teams. In order for them to work effectively, everyone has to know their assignment. The distribution of work needs to be clear otherwise important items fall through the cracks.

David Allen has explored the intersection of personal productivity and teamwork. In a recent blog post he notes the following:

Have you discovered yet that no matter how big the button is that says “TEAM” you’re wearing at the conference, nobody’s on yours?! That in order to get done what you have to get done, there aren’t a lot of people at your beck and call, making sure your specific actions and projects happen? Ever have the feeling that you’ve got to hold on for dear life to your own projects and outcomes, against the hurricane of events and other people trying to get their world defined and done?

Later in the post, David considers the reason why teams fail to clarify their work.

Problem is most of us never had training or experience in dealing with that syndrome efficiently and effectively. We grew up in a world where you just went to work, and the work to be done was visible and obvious.

What is the solution to this problem? It could be as simple as acknowledging our struggles.

The best teams and relationships, from my experience, are the ones in which the players all acknowledge they’re each alone in the endeavor together. That’s when we can really experience team, and function as one.

Read the entire post on the Getting Things Done web site.

Superhuman Email Management

Knowledge jobs of all types require quick communication. Despite the prevalence of chats, channels, and text, email remains the key way to share detailed information. This makes mastery of email an essential modern skill. The catch is that most people never received training on how to handle it effectively. Thankfully, there are easy to learn principles that make email processing effective and fun.

Tiago Forte first learned email management through GTD. From there he expanded on the practice to create a seamless system to completely process his inbox with ease and turn it into an enlightening high value experience. In a recent article on the Superhuman blog, Tiago spoke to Rahul Vohra at Superhuman for an article that highlights four steps to email mastery.

It starts with changing your perspective on email.

“The key to having a more positive outlook toward email is to nail the management,” says Tiago. “Anytime you don’t have a place for information to flow to, it will pile up, multiply, and become a problem.”

“The solution to having too many emails — and not knowing what to do with them — is not found in your inbox,” says Tiago. “You have to solve that problem elsewhere.”

Later on in the article, Tiago shares a key approach to reframing email, slowing down your reactivity.

“When someone sends you a message — especially a colleague, or someone senior to you — there’s a built-in feeling of urgency,” says Tiago. “But is that urgency real? What is the real expectation of this person?”

“Low reactivity is a spiritual discipline,” reveals Tiago. “Go slightly beyond your normal response time. If you normally respond within an hour, try to respond within a day.”

Discover the whole systematic approach to handling email at the Superhuman blog.