Time or Attention? Which Works?

AdamGrant_2016-headshot_previewWhen I ask students why they decided to attend an Efficient Librarian seminar, a common response is that they wanted to learn more about “time management.”  While it seems logical to believe that you can get more work done through better management of the hours in your day, it may not be that straightforward.  In fact, focusing on time management may actually make you less productive.

In a recent article on the New York Times web site, Professor Adam Grant argues that managing our attention, not time, is a better approach to getting things done.  He writes:

“Being prolific is not about time management. There are a limited number of hours in the day, and focusing on time management just makes us more aware of how many of those hours we waste.

“A better option is attention management: Prioritize the people and projects that matter, and it won’t matter how long anything takes.”

This reminds me of a classic David Allen quote from Getting Things Done:

“If you don’t pay appropriate attention to what has your attention, it will take more of your attention than it deserves.”

Read the rest of Adam Grant’s article on the New York Times web site.

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Organizing is a Journey

claire-tompkinsDavid Allen has often said there is a “strategic value” to “clear space.”  In a physical sense, this means ensuring that our work and home spaces are organized and clean.  However, for those starting out with the intention to get organized there is a trap to avoid.  It is very easy to see the whole process as one big heavy lift that needs to be accomplished in a short time.  With this daunting view of the project it is likely they will give up on organizing right from the start.

Claire Tompkins, aka the Clutter Coach, shares in her book, 52 Simple Ways to Get Organized, that organizing is a journey.  It is not meant to be completed in one weekend, but instead is a transformative approach occurring over many weeks or months.  On page 50 of her book, she shares a simple way to frame the task.

“Try on this thought: organizing is a journey, not a destination.  The difference between people who are organized and those who aren’t is that they do a little every day to maintain order.”

She then suggests the following tip:

“Identify one small area that tends to get cluttered regularly and spend five minutes putting things away and throwing things out.”

Sounds like good advice.  Now excuse me while I clean out this drawer …

The Power of Completion

DA-SmallDo you know how many projects lie unfinished in your world?  As we move through life there is a natural force in us that creates new things as they spark our interest.  Unfortunately, I have found this creation often results in lots of projects that quickly lose focus and instead become a source of stress.  It seems that the catch to managing all the stuff we create is finding a way to bring closure to them.

In his latest blog post, David Allen delves into the entwined powers of completing and creating and how their dance affects our lives.

“Seems that we’re here on the planet to learn about and do two things—complete and create. We are responsible for what we have put into motion on all levels, and we must manage the process of what we are putting into motion every moment. 

“Though both aspects are primary, I think a lot of people could use a good bit more emphasis on the complete part. Our cultural personality seems bent on limitless expansion and not necessarily cleaning up after itself.”

Read the rest of the post at the Getting Things Done web site.

 

Only a Time Lord Has Enough Time

tardis-2311634_1280I’m a big fan of the British SF series, Doctor Who.  In the show, an alien called The Doctor flies around the universe in a time machine called the TARDIS.  While The Doctor has a deep knowledge of  temporal mechanics, alas we humans have a very poor understanding of time.  In fact, we often underestimate how much time tasks take to do even when we should know better.

In his book, Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman discusses the “planning fallacy.”  This fallacy occurs when someone routinely underestimates the amount of time it takes to do a task.  For example, if on one occasion we got all the lights and made it to work in 20 minutes, a part of our mind now believes we can always make the trip in that time.  This is despite the fact we know from our prior experience that it normally takes 30 minutes or more.

The repercussion in our daily lives is the tendency to assume we can get more done in a day than is actually possible.  This typically manifests in lengthy to do lists that never get completed.  A practical way to combat the planning fallacy is to make our to do lists shorter.  In her book, 52 Simple Ways to Get Organized, Claire Tompkins suggests the following:

“The problem with underestimating is that you believe you have more time for those things on your list that aren’t getting done, and then you feel discouraged.  Everyone’s daily to do list needs to be a lot shorter.”

She then suggests that we time our regular tasks to determine exactly how long they take.  With this knowledge in hand, we can then carefully plan our day and combat the planning fallacy.

The other way to solve the problem is procure your own time machine, but that might be hard if you don’t have a Time Lord for a friend.

 

Can’t I Just Ignore It?

Want to guess how many unread emails sit in the average person’s inbox?

10? 20? 40? MORE?

According to a 2017 study, the actual answer is 199!

AdamGrant_2016-headshot_previewAs someone who teaches classes on email productivity, I was dismayed but not surprised by this alarming fact.  The truth is that email comes so fast and furious that it is easy for the unprepared knowledge worker to be overwhelmed.  Yet, is it alright to ignore all those messages and never respond to senders? After all, aren’t they only trying to delegate work onto your already full plate anyway?

In an article for the New York Times, Adam Grant, author of Originals, argues that failing to keep up with your inbox is not only unproductive, but unprofessional as well.  He writes:

“Volume isn’t an excuse for not replying. Ignoring email is an act of incivility.  ‘I’m too busy to answer your email’ really means ‘Your email is not a priority for me right now.’  That’s a popular justification for neglecting your inbox: It’s full of other people’s priorities. But there’s a growing body of evidence that if you care about being good at your job, your inbox should be a priority.”

Read the rest of the article at the New York Times web site.

A Few Thoughts on Procrastination

It has taken me a while, but I have finally come back to the topic of procrastination.  In the surveys for my latest Efficient Librarian workshop, several participants cite procrastination as a big productivity barrier.   After presenting the workshop, a few thoughts on the topic came to mind.

white and tan english bulldog lying on black rug

In Chapter One of Getting Things Done, David Allen wrote about “Why Things are on Your Mind.”   In that section, he lists three reasons.  Any of these three in my opinion can become sources of procrastination.  Let’s look at them.

Lack of Clarity on the Intended Outcome – If we don’t have a clear outcome in mind, there will be little energy to do the work and thus procrastination will set in.

Haven’t Decided on the Next Physical Action Step – Often we don’t have the time to think clearly about our next actions.  Without pre-planned simple physical actions, it is easy to put off progress and procrastinate.

Don’t Have a Trusted System to Store Reminders – It is easy to procrastinate when you have forgotten the goals and actions previously decided.  With life moving quickly, the lack of a trusted system leads us to procrastinate on important items as we chase the latest and loudest.

One final thought on procrastination.  Even if we have clarity on the outcome, the next physical action decided and placed in our trusted system, we still may not do anything if one more detail is lacking: passion.  Quite simply, if we are no longer fired up by the purpose of the project then procrastination becomes the easy default.  Sometimes a project that inspired us in the past is only hanging on because of an internal sense of obligation to it.  Feel free to let those projects go.

Ultimately, the good news is that once we have resolved the three reasons listed above, procrastination quickly dissolves to be replaced by purposeful action and energy.  So, what are you procrastinating about today?  Best not to put it off until tomorrow.

Addressing Anxiety

DA-SmallWhen you travel home from work, do you ever feel a small sense of anxiety coming along for the trip?  With input coming fast and furious throughout the day, it is a challenge to process everything during our 9-5 day.  It is tempting to let it all pile up and resolve to handle it tomorrow.  However, when a part of your mind lingers on unprocessed work, it can be a source of deep unease at home.

In a recent blog post, David Allen shares that even a black belt GTDers like himself is not immune from this source of stress.

“I still have to work with myself to ensure I’ve captured, decided, and tracked all the commitments and creativity that happen with phone calls, meetings, social interactions, and even random communications in passing. I do know that this is one of the sources of much of the free-floating anxiety many professionals experience relative to the gnawing sense of overwhelm that is so pervasive. It seems that there is an unconscious part of us that hangs onto all of those incomplete creations. It is a part that will not let go until it can trust those agreements have been kept or re-negotiated with ourselves.”

Learn how David resolves this tension in his own life at the Getting Things Done blog.