Category Archives: productivity

3 Steps to a Promotion

Pyramid?

So you want a promotion? There’s only one thing that you need to do to get your boss on you side- figure out what he wants. Give it to him. Make Sure he knows it. Then ask.

1. Give Your Boss What He Wants

A boss can want many things, but you need to think of the big picture. Let me start you off: he wants you to do your job well without bothering him. He wants you to do it so well that you and he get complimented. Most of all he wants you to solve problems- even those not recognized yet.

So you think you’re doing the above?

2. Get noticed

Forward some positive feedback emails to your boss (as you get them). Keep a folder with all your feedback so good things are on your mind should you need to bring it up. Act like you’re in customer service (even if you aren’t). Make sure your “client” is satisfied.

3. Make Your Move

Sometimes all you need to do is ask. Approach your boss and ask for a promotion. Set a time line and deliverable. Make sure your both in agreement on next steps. Now go get it!

If you dont think it’s moving well it may be time to look elsewhere…

What are your tips for a promotion?
Creative Commons License photo credit: tanakawho

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

The 9 Ds of Processing: Turn Your Excessive Time Demands into Manageable Tasks

weekend book binding43 unread emails, 1713 emails in out inbox, 18 new letters in the mail, 33 ideas in our head, 4 piles of papers on our desk, 36 items on our to do list and a blinking answering machine. Our inboxes (electronic and physical) are constantly being filled with more demands on our time. To keep our sanity and be productive we must take a short time to “process” our overflowing inboxes and get it empty (or as close as possible). This will ensure that our task lists are filled with manageable tasks.

Here’s a quick mnemonic to making this process go faster and efficiently- use the 9 Ds: Delete, Deposit (file), Deflect, Deter, Delegate, Defer, Designate(calendar), Do Now, (To) Do List.

Delete

If an item is junk or you’ll never need it, get rid of it right away. Newspapers are trash(yesterday’s news is worthless), old magazines are trash(you’re not going to get to it anyway), junk email should be vaporized, old clothes go to good will, you get the idea. Bonus: figure out how to never deal with it again (e.g. unsubcribe from lists, sign up on do not call lists etc.)

Deposit

File your reference information. Many of the files on your desk or old emails are no longer needed except as a reference just in case. If you think you’ll need it someday- just put it in a obvious file folder- out of site so when you’ll need it you can quickly find. Get it out of the way so it’s not cluttering your workspace.

Deflect

If you are definitely the wrong person for this task then quickly point the requestor to the right place and get this out of your boxes. You don’t to do this immediately so you don’t hold up the project.

Deter

Learn how to say no. Not every request that comes to your inbox means you must do it. See if it fits within your responsibilities and/or goals. If not just say “no”.

Delegate

There are some tasks that should be done but someone else can help you with it. If someone on your staff or your spouse etc can do it let them help you especially if they can do it better. Some people get in the mindset that only they can do a task, that they do it best. Given some else a chance. Keep in mind when you delegate you are not completely giving up the task, you will still get the last word and should keep a follow-up on your task list so the issue is done on time with quality.

Defer

Some tasks are interesting but it’s not important or urgent. Put it on your “someday/maybe list”. This way you’ll still have it on your radar but it wont clutter your mind. Examples of items to defer are painting the house (you dont have time for it now anyway), launching a completely new product etc or other tasks that you know aren’t needed in the near future.

Designate

Designate a specific time for an appointment. Just put it on your calendar and move on. An appointment should sit in one central place so you dont double book your time or miss appointments.

Do Now

Any task that takes two minutes or less should be done quickly. No excuses- do it. It will feel great to shorten your to do list.

(To) Do List

All other tasks go on your “to do” list. Just get it out of your inbox.

This post was inspired by: Matthew Cornell’s post The Path of Maximum Productivity: Seven tensions, and how to resolve them. Thanks Matthew.

photo credit: nate steiner

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

8 Steps to a Productive Day

Path to a productive dayThe Getting Things Done Yahoo Group is having an interesting discussion about Control mechanisms.

Without control mechanisms of some type in place, doesn’t that pretty much leave you in the lap of the gods so to speak?

In my response I outlined 8 steps to being productive. I try to instill control, yet give the flexibility to be creative and maximize your day. It all starts with thinking first.

Preplanning

At the end of each day you should plan your next day. This may be an outgrowth of your weekly review- or as it should be called “The Weekly Preview”. Depending on your type of job think this is impossible, but it’s not. For example, if you are in constant crisis mode most of your plan may be thrown out each morning but your plan should be to get the bottom of the crisis so you can move past it.

First you’ll need to determine the most important tasks (MITs) that need to be done the next day. Don’t count daily maintenance tasks like following up and checking email as part of this. If there are 20 things you need to get done then you’re just setting yourself up for failure (unless they aren’t big and you can batch a bunch together and count it as one of your MITs).

Don’t try to fill your full day with MITs- these are just the choices to get you started. Just pick the 1-5 items that you want to get done the next day (keep it 3 or less ideally). Start with items that MUST get done (e.g. deadlines) – that if you don’t do it you’ll need to stay late. Also check your calendar of how much time you’ll have. The more scheduled time you have the less MITs you should plan. Then if you still have open slots, pick tasks that will be best for you for the long term while balancing for project size: smaller projects go first. A better idea is to use layering to cut your most strategic projects into small attainable parts so they don’t get pushed off and are the smaller projects that you end up doing.

At the end of this process you’ll have you a few MITs and a bunch of other tasks. Dont worry these other tasks will still get done.

Here’s how to schedule your productive day:

1. Most Important Tasks

Start with your first MIT first thing when you get in, before you check email or process your other in boxes. Much has been written about the advantages of starting the day early. Getting in early to do a MIT can set your day in the right track. Even if you cant get in early get to your first MIT as soon as possible.

2. Process

When you start processing your in boxes do the quick tasks on the spot. GTD has a two minute rule that in itself can trim items off your to do list before they get there. I would expand this to a 5 minute rule (or even 10) for the following scenarios:

a) Lots of small tasks

Your to do lists are long enough, if you keep having to add 5-10 minute tasks to it and cycle through 5-10 minute tasks every time you want to pick a task you’re just wasting time and energy. Further if you know someone will spend 5 minutes following up on these tasks then it wastes more time. Get it done. Once it’s done it’s no longer on your list and out of your mind. This is part of the reason you didn’t over schedule yourself, so you can properly react to your incoming tasks. If you have a lot of these tasks then you may decide to schedule a MIT for the next day to get rid of the 10 minute tasks.

b) Offensive Opportunities

Sometimes if you take care of a task quickly you can create good will. This can be used with prospects, customers and bosses.

c) Preparation

If you receive information about a task that doesn’t have an immediate deadline don’t just file it away, look at it first. Jot down a quick outline of your thoughts. You may create a few Next Actions right away. Pay special attention to missing information, you’ll want to email people quickly so they have maximum time to do proper research. Seek to get project scope/deadline early on- this will save you lots of rushing at the deadline.

d) Soaking Time

Give yourself time to be creative by figuring what needs to be done and let your mind work in the background. Again an outline helps here. Then let your brain work in the background. You can even schedule a reminder for your self in a few days to jot down a few more notes.

3. Maintenance tasks

These are the small daily tasks you need to do like ticklers/follow ups. Be sure that you go through your follow up list.

4. More MITs

Spend uninterrupted time on your next MIT. Set your environment so you can get in the zone.

5. More Processing/Breaks

Breaks are good for you- just don’t take it to an extreme. Two to five minutes every hour gives you time to rejuvenate. After a break you can switch gears to the next MIT or processing time.

You should schedule processing time at key intervals of your day. Different jobs have different requirements. I would recommend once in the morning, once before and after lunch and one last time before you leave.

6. Context

You can only do certain tasks in certain places. In your Preplanning, you may have scheduled yourself to be in a place to do one of your MITS (e.g. a meeting). Be sure that you think through where you’ll be so you can have a productive time during the transitions e.g. as you wait. Trace your steps through transitions. If you find yourself in your car be sure to have your cell phone or something appropriate to listen to.

7. Seize The Day

After you’re done with your MITs for the day, you pick your next task by gaugin the time available/energy available. If you’re ambitious you can find another MIT, otherwise just slice and dice and get your task list down.

8. Start Planning

Before you leave for the day preplan (see the first section) the next day to get it going on the right foot.

As you see this schedule is rigid but allows flexibility. You may be going along one day doing your tasks and realize that the current task can be ATEd (automated, eliminated or delegated). If you spend some extra time now you’ll receive greater benefits in the future. You can then decide to schedule it for the next day or push off your next MIT to the next day and do the automation on the spot.

I used this flexibility to write this blog post. I started the base of this blog post as a reply to the conversation but as I kept writing I realized it was getting lengthy as there were some concepts I wanted to explain. Some may have quit and said there’s too much to write and not enough time allocated. Instead I took the extra time and it became the foundation for the blog post that I wrote later.

Have a productive day!

Photo credit: Maik Radke