Tag Archives: productivity

The Two Minute Guide To Getting Started With Productivity

1) Get your to do list out of our head

SAF#2The mind is for generating ideas, not storing them. Don’t keep your to do list in your head- you risk forgetting something. Plus with your mind freed from your to do list it can work on generating better ideas.

2) If It Takes Two Minutes Or Less Do It Now

If you can do something in 2 minutes or less, dont put it on any lists, just do it. You’ve already accomplished something. This is especially true for tasks you need to delegate e.g. have other people help you with.

3) Be Conscious In Whatever You Do

While working on something, even (especially) routine tasks, ask yourself, why am I doing this? How can I stop doing it? How can I do it better? Asking yourself these three questions will help you improve quality, eliminate unnecessary tasks and gives you automation opportunities.

photo credit: Roby Ferrari

My Dirty Little Secret: An Email Box Is Not A To Do List Violation

SecretZenHabits recently published “The Dirty Little Secrets of Productivity Bloggers” about how bloggers and productivity professionals don’t always follow all the rules of productivity. Today I’ll admit it too- I’m not always productive. Frankly, I don’t think it’s a secret- people aren’t perfect and sometimes it’s more fun not to be perfectly productive. Here I’ll point out one way I violate my own rule of keeping an empty inbox, but why it makes me more productive. First lets’ start with the rule:

An Email Box is Not a To Do List

One of the most common reasons people don’t empty their inbox is because they keep it as a to do list. Here are 5 reasons I point out for why an inbox is not a to do list:

  1. Clear To-Do List– If your inbox and your to do list both have to dos then there is a lot of going back and forth trying to figure out what to do.
  2. Have Specific Information on Tasks– It’s hard to know what to do on email message because the subject line isn’t clear (e.g. “fwd: Re> Hi”).
  3. Nothing Gets Lost– Too many messages makes it hard to manage an inbox to do list.
  4. Easy to see new urgent items– With many messages it’s hard to see what’s important.
  5. Clear Head– Everything has a place: to dos go on a list. Inboxes need to be processed.

Keeping an empty inbox helps you know what you need to accomplish.

My violation

I sometimes keep messages in my inbox as a to do list.

My Reasons

I keep messages as my to do list to remind me to reply later that day. I feel that putting it on my to do list may add some extra steps to find it and it may get cluttered with my other responsibilities so I dont get to it the same day.

Now let’s see how my system goes against the five reasons above and may not be a bad violation:

  1. Clear To-Do List- With minimal items in my inbox it isn’t that hard to see what to do and it keeps these important items front and center.
  2. Have Specific Information on Tasks- Being that i read the emails earlier in the day it’s still fresh in my mind what i need to do about them.
  3. Nothing Gets Lost- With minimal messages no dos get lost.
  4. Easy to see new urgent items- With minimal messages it’s easy to spot what’s important.
  5. Clear Head- Everything still has it’s place. Important to dos for today are in my inbox.

As you see my excuse has some logic to it. Perhaps it can be considered an advances hack. As long as I don’t abuse it I’m fine violating this tenet.

What productivity rules do you violate?

photo credit: Duquesa Mercedes

Are You Finished? Finish What You Start

adiml48I recently received this message forwarded to my email box:

Recently Dr Phil, the talk show host, proclaimed, “The way to achieve inner peace is to finish all the things you have started and have never finished.” So, I looked around my house to see all the things I started and hadn’t finished, and before leaving the house this morning, I finished off a bottle of White Zinfandel, a bottle of Bailey’s Irish Cream, a package of Oreos, the remainder of my old Prozac prescription, the rest of the cheesecake, some Doritos, and a box of chocolates. You have no idea how good I feel right now.

Jokes aside it is important to finish what you start. Unfinished items will clog your to do list. When you leave an item unfinished for a while you should use the “processing” rules:

  • Delete- Don’t do this task (don’t worry about the work you already did if it’s not needed drop the task.)
  • Delegate- maybe someone else can help you finish it.
  • Defer- if you’re not going to get to it soon- defer it. Put it on your someday/maybe list so it’s not cluttering your current to do list.
  • Do now- Can you do it in 5 minutes or less?
  • Designate- if you know you need to meet someone to get further details on this task (or to do it)- designate some time on your calendar.

I actually started this post months ago. I feel much better, it’s one less draft I need to worry about and I now have a post for tomorrow (today, for those of you reading it).

photo credit: Cara_VSAngel

The Two Minute Guide to Getting Things Done (GTD)

One of the biggest obstacles to getting more productive is getting started. Here’s a two minute guide to Getting Things Done (GTD).

1. Capture– Get all your to dos into inboxes. e.g. mail goes in one spot, verbal to dos go in your notebook etc.

2. Process– Go through all your inboxes and empty out anything in your head onto a to do list. Here’s how to filter your list:
  • Delete- If you wont need it, get rid of it.
  • File- file away anything you’ll need later- but dont need now
  • Delegate- if someone else should be doing it- let them know. keep a to do item to follow up
  • Defer- Is this task not important enough to be done soon? Put it on a “someday/maybe” list. Review the list weekly.
  • Do now- Is it a task that will take 2 minutes or less? Do it. That includes putting appointments in your calender, adding addresses to your contact list etc.
3. Do– Do your to do list.
4. Weekly review– Be on top of your to do list.
Of course there’s much more but if you start with this then you’re already ahead of most people.

Productivity vs Success: Why Do You Need Both

SuccessPeople throw out the term productivity all the time so it has earned a negative connotation.

Productivity is a process- do it better, faster, cheaper, with more quality. Success is a result- when your efforts work out well.

You can be successful without being productive- think of digging a large hole with a spoon. You can be productive without being successful- think of digging efficiently with a shovel for a treasure, but in the wrong spot.

To maximize your machine you must identify success and get there in the most productive way possible.

Ultimately success is most important (as evidenced by the name of this blog)- because if you aren’t succeeding you aren’t getting anywhere.

photo credit: aloshbennett

Why Should You Be More Productive?

After reading The Alternative Productivity Manifesto and some of the comments I realized that some people just don’t get it. I can’t believe that some people think productivity is useless or worse. Productivity is just maximizing your resources. Productivity is there to get you more of what you want. More productivity = more time, more pay… you just have to channel your productivity to what you want. If they can’t figure out what they want then they have bigger issues.

Have a Productive day! Have a successful day! Success is when you use productivity to make things better.

Let’s Fight: Why Don’t You Keep Your Inbox Empty?

No new mail!I don’t like to fight with anyone, especially not my readers but the more “productive” I become the less I understand the need for overflowing email in an inbox. In this article I’ll go through why email inboxes should be empty. I also take on the reasons people think it’s better to keep your inbox full and dispel them. I’m trying to be open minded so let me know your reasons for not keeping it empty.

Reasons To Empty Your Inbox

Clear To-Do List

With an empty inbox all your tasks, follow ups etc are on your to-do list. There is no reason to look through last week’s messages to figure out what you need to do now.

Have Specific Information on Tasks

An email can be a long novel with tasks for you generously interspersed in it. When you create a task based on an email you get to write what you need to do in your own words. This way you see the task on your list as “Run Monthly Expense Report for February” and not “Re: FWD> RE: MC/GRF4 Return Test Files Available”

Nothing Gets Lost

With an empty inbox there’s no email from two days ago hiding 50 items below your visible screen with an important item to do.

Easy to see new urgent items

You have just new mail in your box so it’s easy to spot when something important comes in.

Clear Head

An empty inbox leads to clear thinking. You know exactly what you need to work on: process any new email that comes in and do your to-do list. Don’t underestimate the advantage of clear thinking. At a moment’s notice you know exactly what you need to do today and what you can see what you won’t be able to accomplish. This enables you to focus on what you need to do and not on all the emails around what you need to do.

Reasons Not To Empty Your Inbox

After reading about all the advantages to an empty inbox you’re wondering why would anyone not want to empty it. There are three reasons I hear most often, I’ll counter them below.

Easier to Find Email

Some people keep their email in their inbox to make it easier to find. Searching for an old email is a chore in Microsoft Outlook (and some other mail programs)- you need to go to locate the right folder and even then it’s very slow and limited. The solution is to download Windows Desktop or Google Desktop. These programs are both free and allow you to search your email or your entire computer fast. So store your email in whatever folder structure you want- or no folder structure- you can easily find it.

I Have a System

Many people say they have a system and that system involves keeping some email in the inbox. The problem I see is that with some to-dos hidden in emails in your growing inbox and some to-dos in other areas you may have conflicts and aren’t sure what to do next. So you start with the one staring at you now and miss an important one. The solution is to separate your to dos from your inbox. In Outlook you can use a program to turn your messages into tasks easily like Clear Context’s IMS. That’s the one I use and it’s improved my ability to process emails exponentially. It has extra buttons like “related messages” which works quickly at finding the email that your to do is about. It also includes special quick filing buttons. There much more it can do check out Clear Context.

It’s Too Hard To Empty My Inbox

Many people have hundreds or even thousands of messages in their inbox- to get through that many emails can be a major obstacle. The solution is to transition to an empty inbox and not just do it in one step/day.

1) Move your inbox to a new folder- Create a new folder let’s say it’s called inbox2. Move all messages from your inbox into inbox2. Maintain your old system (if you have one) on inbox2.

2) Start with a new inbox- From now on commit to emptying your inbox daily. Put items you need to work on in your to do list. In Outlook you can drag your message to the tasks icon to automatically create yourself a to do or you can use Clear Context IMS to do it easier.

3) Process your old inbox- Find chunks of your old inbox that you can file away. For example, if you’re subscribed to a list put all email from that list into a folder. Then you can put one to do item on your list- read that folder. You may decide you don’t want to read a certain list. Trash all those messages and unsubscribe. You may be able to get rid of another chunk by picking a date (say a month ago) and decide that you’ll move all those into an archive folder. Let’s face it if you haven’t done something about an email from a month ago you never will. If you need to reference it, you know where to find it. Similarly if you come across a long conversation that is no longer relevant sort by subject and move all those emails into your archives. Now sort by sender and get rid of batches of old emails. Continue your process trying to get rid of chunks of your old inbox. Hopefully by the time you’re done with the process your inbox2 folder will be tamed.

4) Maintain your old system- Keep doing what you used to so you don’t miss out on important tasks. Keep looking for opportunities to move tasks into your new system. Grab a bunch of inbox2 emails related to certain topic and file it in a folder and create an item on your to do list listing the next action on that project.

5) Finish the transition- When you get a good handle on inbox2 and there are just a few items left take the time to transition it to your new inbox and take appropriate action. Now destroy inbox2, you’re done- you have achieved an empty inbox.

6) Limit what comes in to your Inbox- One way to maintain an empty inbox is to limit what comes in to it. Be diligent about unsubscribing from lists that are no longer relevant. Create mail filters that file reference material or other mailing lists in their own folder so it doesn’t clutter what you need to do immediately. Schedule time to check those folders periodically.

This process can take time. Dedicate time each day to help the transition to an empty inbox. You’ll see once you experience an empty inbox you’ll feel free.

Merlin Mann has written an interesting set of articles helping people empty their inbox. He even has a presentation. 2Time contends that “Email Inboxes are a great indicator of professional productivity“. I’m not saying it’s the only indicator but it’s a good measure.

Does your inbox have items in it? Let me know why. Convince me. Are there more good reasons to have an empty inbox- let me know.

photo credit: Collin Anderson

The Big Fat Productivity Curse

Productive Eating- Not!
Being more productive has many advantages including getting more done and feeling empowered. But productivity on its own, can cause your belt to become less productive. You see there is no need for a belt when your stomach gets so big it can hold your pants without assistance. In fact, the more productive you become the more likely it is that you are getting fatter. Here’s five ways productivity can make you get fat and what you can do about it.

Too Efficient

Being productive can make you too efficient at getting the wrong things done. For example your to do list will work perfectly when you’re shopping- even when this means adding a “family size” bag of chips to go with the super-sized chocolate bar. You end up buying all the wrong things because you’re used to it and you’re good at it.

Solution: Take the bad foods off your list. Replace it with healthy (or at least healthier) alternatives. Avoid being in a position to see the “bad” items.

Work Long Hours

A strange phenomenon happens to productive people, they get more responsibility. More responsibility equals more work. Long sedentary hours especially when coupled with the lack of time to exercise leads to more weight.
Solution: Schedule breaks. Delegate: see if others can do some of your tasks(especially the ones you did before you got increased responsibility). Train others to do what you do- it’s worth the investment. Studies have shown that long hours lead to decreased mental function, so limit your work time. Use the extra time to do something fun and active.

Look to fill every second

Productive people don’t want to waste a second. You are always looking to use every minute of their time. So if you have an extra minute that may mean an downing an extra snack or treating yourself to a double moca latte.

Solution: Allow yourself time to soak in your surroundings and think. Thinking can lead to creative solutions. Let yourself unwind, being stressed can make you less productive.

Multitasking

Productive people look to save time – this includes doing two tasks at once aka multitasking. Sometimes people will combine food with another task- thinking they’re saving time. The problem is that they’re so busy doing the other task, like watching TV, they don’t realize they’re eating. Before they know it they have scarfed down a huge meal and they don’t even know what they ate.

Solution: Multitasking has been proven not to work, doing two tasks at once means one or both won’t get done well. Don’t multitask! You can combine tasks if you want though. Combining a task means that you’ll spend the right amount of time on each one- you are just doing them together. For example, you can schedule a meal with a friend- you’ll get your networking/socializing opportunity yet you wont be scarfing down the food. You’ll be eating at a reasonable pace and interacting- the best of both worlds.

Finish Everything

Productive people like to finish everything they start. That means that super-sized meal will be finished in no time even if it isn’t needed.

Solution: Stop yourself, realize food is not a task. Even simpler, take smaller portions.

Of course there’s more you can do to become leaner and healthier but frankly changing your approach is easier than dieting or exercising. Keep your eyes open and see where your habits are bringing you into bad situations. Then use your productivity skills to productively wipe it out.

Photo credit: Melting Mama

The Best Productivity System For You Guaranteed

Everyone has their own way of doing what it takes to be successful. Is your system better than mine? Or is mine better than yours? Maybe David’s way is better than both of ours? The answer to all three of these questions is undoubtedly “Yes”.

For you, your way is better. For me, my way is better etc. Lets face it, we all do things differently. We do things different because we are in different situations. You may have a home office and need to set up barriers not to let work into your home life and I may have be overwhelmed with email and dealing with that burden is my primary goal.

No matter how well we do things our system is not perfect. This is why you’re reading and trying to get tips to improve yourself- to be more productive. I’m here to find common ground to see where we agree (or should agree)- there are certain fundamentals for success.

My goal on this site is to identify the fundamentals (roadmap and tools) to achieving success. Then you can choose how you want to implement it. You already perform many of the fundamentals yourself but we need to organize it so that we dont need to think about what’s next. Identifying a roadmap will give you a way to tackle any project. The tools will help you get there faster.

The key to any project is to start with basic building blocks: Think, Do, Enjoy. In short:

  • Think before you do something.
  • Do- Do it the best way you can.
  • Enjoy it- gives motivation and meaning to what needs to be done

There’s much more to each of those phases, but I’ve only introduced you to the basics, which you can already apply. The key is to start small- you can’t make a radical change overnight. Building your success machine will take time. You need to take on one task at a time execute it well and gradually take on more as you integrate this into your life. This process is called layering: you start with one success and build on it. Now you’ve just added a new tool to your success tool box (I’m sure you always had it but it never had a name). Next time you have a large project you’ll take the time to think first- how can I break this down into smaller parts. How can I get something done? Pretty soon you’ll be a pro at layering and your productivity will soar.

Should you use an outlook/palm combination or is it a gmail/remember the milk combination to track your to dos? That’s up to you. If i take you out of your comfort zone you wont listen to even the best system. The key to getting more productive and successful is taking it one step at a time.

The best system for you is the one that works for you. Look around here, read Getting Things Done, read other blogs take the best ideas and implement them in your life. Then you’re guaranteed to increase your chance for success.

Review It Like You Mean It and You’ll Accomplish More

For many people the weekly review is a chore- it gets in the way of doing real stuff and there’s no time- if they do it at all. Below is a way to make you’re weekly review more rewarding and allow you to accomplish more.

First avoid clutter in your review. Just review your next actions and projects. LifeHack recently had an interesting article 12 Ways to Upgrade Your Weekly Review. They mention many important elements but if you’ve turned your dreams into goals and thus actionable plans most of the reviews suggested aren’t necessary. They are on your to do list/ projects: Health, social, financial etc.

On the other hand it is important to do an optimization and productivity review. They will keep you working optimally. That’s where the Accomplishment Review comes in. It will encompass the optimization and productivity review and will be fun to do. It also gives you something solid to base your ideas off- your completed projects.

The Accomplishment Review is when you look over your completed tasks over the last week. Take pride in all you’ve done and see where you can improve by adding efficiencies. This will give you more enjoyment and motivate you in the future.

Next Action: Incorporate the accomplishment review into your review this week. Report back what you learned.