How to decrease the stress in your life

StressThere is a reason David Allen’s first book is called “Getting Things Done – The Art of Stress Free Productivity.” The reason is because practicing GTD provides the most systematic and effective way to manage all the commitments you have to yourself and others. GTD’s key benefit is freedom – freedom from the sources of distraction and stress in your life.

Not sure you believe me? Well there is scientific proof. Check out Getting Things Done: The Science behind Stress-Free Productivity by Francis Heylighen and Clément Vidal which goes into great detail on the science behind GTD and why it works.

Many people confuse GTD with time management but David argues that what is required is not time management but really self management – what we do with ourselves in any situation or context.  It involves dealing effectively with all of the things we have to do and want to do, both personally and professionally.

GTD is about capturing things we collect and create, deciding what – if anything – we want to do about them, organizing the results of that knowledge work into a trusted system we can review appropriately and making intuitive strategic and tactical choices about what to do at any point in time from our options.

In this way, GTD provides a comprehensive approach for increasing productivity while decreasing stress. GTD is a process that accelerates productivity without requiring more effort. In fact, most people experience a great decrease in stress while increasing the amount they get done.

Why? Simply put, it’s because our brains are optimized for fast decision-making, not for storage. Trying to juggle too many things in your head at the same time is a major reason we get stressed out when there’s a lot going on.

The best way to stop mentally thrashing and start being productive is to get all your “stuff” into your trusted system. Once the information is out of your head, it’s far easier to figure out what to do with it. Once you get all your stuff out of your head and into your trusted system you experience a profound sense of relief.

Fall off the GTD Bandwagon? Here’s how to get back on!

Brain ThoughtsEveryone who tries to practice GTD at one time or another “falls off the bandwagon” and this is usually do to not doing a Weekly Review for a few weeks in a row. Subconsciously, your brain knows you do not have a complete list of your commitments in your trusted system so it not longer trusts your system. So, your brain starts trying to remember your commitments and as a result, it all comes off the rails.

In GTD the vital first stage is Collection. Whenever we lose steam in our GTD flow, I feel like the most powerful collection exercise is what David Allen calls “the mind-sweep.” Whenever I feel “out of control” with everything going on in my life and I have fallen off the GTD bandwagon, I try to step back and do a mind-sweep to regain control. It works every time.

The idea behind the mind-sweep is to identify and gather everything that is making claims on your attention or is likely to affect the larger areas of responsibility in your life – everything that’s quietly burning cycles, stealing focus, and whittling away at your attention – so that you can then decide what (if anything) must be done about each of those things. David says “put your attention on what has your attention.”

If it’s not being directly managed in a trusted external system, then it’s resident somewhere in your psyche and that is a bad thing. The point is you need to make sure that everything you need is collected somewhere other than in your head. So, just as you learned Collection as the first step in implementing GTD (and to subsequently maintain your system), it’s precisely the place to start when you’re trying to properly get back into it.

By doing a mind-sweep you’ll discover your head is flooded with stuff that you aren’t or haven’t been doing anything about. Not coincidentally, this is almost always stuff that represents some kind of incompletion, functional fuzziness, or procrastination on your part.

The Mind-Sweep

What you need to do to get your GTD mojo back is to do a mind-sweep. It is really simple. Start with a single sheet of printer paper and a pencil, set a timer for 15 minutes, and just begin scraping every conceivable commitment, anxiety and “open loop” from the corners of your brain. Review this list of “triggers” to help you identify all your stuff. Try it, it works!

  • Anything that’s on your mind now?
  • What do you have to do today?
  • What happened yesterday or the last couple of days, voicemails, emails?
  • Glance at your calendar back 1-2 weeks, events, presentation, family events
  • Glance at calendar next 2 weeks
  • Need to do anything to prepare for the season (vacation, planning, family, social events)
  • Anything for work projects or things that should be project that you haven’t identified as such?
  • Any “problems” that you may need to turn into a project
  • Do a sight walk around in your mind’s eye (look around your office, home, etc)
  • Meetings, people, projects, opportunities
  • All the people in your life right now
  • Conversations you need to have/want to have
  • Are your job responsibilities clear?
  • Fun/things to do with the family
  • Personal/professional development…anything you want to get better at
  • Personal/direct family relationships, good friends, network, pets
  • Anything around creativity or creative expression?
  • All my gear/tools okay?
  • Any medical open loops?

Begin with the hopelessly-behind project that’s making you insane right now, then proceed methodically through every thought that makes you cringe, groan, pause, ponder, or exclaim; these are the runaway background processes that are responsible for subconscious stress and you need them out of your head.

Think about it like brainstorming. Don’t judge the items or think about them in any way, just get them on paper. Remember, this is your opportunity to convert the fuel for subconscious stress into items that can later be made actionable (or deferred or delegated or killed etc). But you can’t do anything about it until it’s been captured and evaluated in your trusted system.

For the sweep to really do its best work, you must call upon extraordinary willpower to stay in collection mode. Remember the day you finally “got” how GTD worked by firewalling your planning time (Weekly Review) from your doing (Processing) time? Same idea here. No straying or switching back and forth between the two. Remember, your brain is smarter than you, and it can’t be tricked into thinking that things are taken care of when they actually aren’t. I would even suggest eliminating use of the two-minute rule during your mid-sweep.

Now that your 15 minutes is up, look at the list and process it. Most of the items on it will be projects of some sort. Get them into your trusted system and you will immediately feel the joy of getting them out of your head – guaranteed.

Do you have a “Stop Doing List?”

Stop Doing ListThe bestselling author Jim Collins gave the keynote address this morning at BoxWorks 2014 and he did a fantastic job of motivating and inspiring me.

While he gave many worthwhile stories and concepts that are very relevant to CIOs and GTD practitioners, he ended with a simple question that I am going to incorporate into my trusted system.

He asked the crowd how many people had to-do lists and everyone’s hands went up. Then he asked who had a “stop doing list” and very few hands went up.

I am going to incorporate this into my Weekly Review because the “stop doing list” will become a mechanism for disciplined thought about how to allocate the most precious of all resources: time.

At the top of my “stop doing list” is going to be agreeing to low-value commitments. Many times I regret saying “yes” to a request of a colleague, friend, family member, salesperson, vendor, charity, conference, etc.

Deciding that I’m not going to do something is one of the most challenging aspects of self-management. Most of us hate to say “no” — to ourselves and to others. But there are practical things we can do to make that process more positive and dynamic.

This dovetails perfectly with GTD because if you do have a complete and trusted inventory of your current commitments, at every level, your ability to decline potential new ones will automatically be enhanced. Knowing when to say yes or no is a big part of stress-free productivity.

State Of Oregon vs Oracle: A Reminder To Software Practicioners That You Can’t Outsource Solution Design, Validation Or Accountability

Michael Keithley:

Excellent analysis and advice for any CIO.

Originally posted on Expert SaaS:

MalletI just finished reading the State of Oregon’s complaint against Oracle in it’s entirety.  I encourage every one of you to read it as well.  In the meantime, I’ll paraphrase:

“We the State of Oregon were not staffed properly to design an insurance exchange.  In 2011 we allocated $240 million toward a vendor who convinced us they could design and deliver it.  When they showed up 2-3 years later with the solution, it did not work and all that money was wasted.  We provided 450 requirements to their presales team on which basis they promised that their combination of products would cover 95% of our needs without modification.  We found out things were going poorly 2+ years into the project and we collectively cut scope.  Then it failed anyway.  We found out through that failure that the promises the sales guys made weren’t true and that Oracle had a bunch of…

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CIOs continue to resist Bezos Law at their own peril

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos speaks at a news conference during the launch of Amazon's new tablets in New YorkI just returned from CIO Magazine’s CIO 100 Symposium and Awards where the “Top 100 CIO’s” were recognized for their achievements. I was shocked to find that even among this elite group of CIOs there were still a significant amount of CIOs who were resisting the cloud. They had a multitude of reasons or rationalizations as to why they were not embracing the cloud.

When asked what I was most proud of I said “getting out of the datacenter business” and returning the on-premise square footage to the business. Many heads nodded in agreement but there were also many CIOs who thought I was crazy. In discussing why they felt this way I came to the conclusion that many CIOs rose up thru the technical ranks and they derive their sense of self esteem and job security around their historical success of owning and understanding the technology. The cloud was perceived as just too risky for them to give up control.

Many CIOs rationalized they were in the cloud by stating they had a “private cloud” and when I pressed them on what they meant by that  they told me about how virtualized their datacenter was as if VMs somehow equaled cloud. I asked them what the attributes of a cloud was to them and they kept coming back to VMs. Virtual Machines are rapidly becoming yesterday’s news as Containers like Docker are becoming the most efficient way to run workloads. But even this misses the point entirely as I pointed out in a previous post “What does Bezos’ Law mean for CIOs?”

Then, today I read this article by Greg O’Connor, “Bezos’s law signals it’s time to ditch the data center” and it further laid out the case for embracing the public cloud and getting out of the datacenter business. In it Greg points out:

“Previously, I posited that the future of cloud computing is the availability of more computing power at a much lower cost. I termed this “Bezos’s law,” and defined it as the observation that, over the history of cloud, a unit of computing power price is reduced by 50 percent approximately every three years.”

“Now comes new cloud computing data based on Total Cost of Infrastructure (TCOI), proving cloud providers are innovating and reducing costs in areas beyond hardware. The result is a more compelling case for cloud as a far cheaper platform than a build-your-own data center. Further, the economic gap that favors the cloud provider platform will only widen over time.”

This seems so obvious to me but clearly many CIOs don’t get it. I stand by my statement that “Bezos Law is today’s version of Moore’s Law and CIOs who do not recognize this will be rapidly replaced.”

 

 

How to Leverage an Assistant to Manage Your Calendar

CalendarMy previous post was dedicated to effective calendar management and in this post I want to focus on leveraging an assistant or executive admin to manage your calendar. If you are a CIO or a senior executive who is fortunate enough to have an assistant, then you know how they can improve your effectiveness. I’ve am blessed to have an incredibly great assistant who makes me significantly more productive and frees me up to focus on higher-level tasks.

If you have an assistant, I strongly suggest you encourage them to take ownership of your calendar. Make sure he or she understands your priorities and who can — and should — be allowed to override your planned day. Then, let your assistant begin managing your appointments for you. He or she should have 100% control of your calendar and your staff should know they must go thru them to get time on your calendar.

This can be challenging as people will try to circumvent the assistant and go directly to you by popping their heads in your office, calling or texting your mobile phone directly, sending you an email or IM, etc. You must support your assistant by not allowing this to happen. Politely, remind the person who want to get on your calendar that they must go thru your assistant. Otherwise, you circumvent their authority as the arbiters of your calendar and will create confusion and have a sub-optimal situation.

Schedule time to meet with your assistant every morning to do a short “Daily Review” of the upcoming day and the rest of the week to see what is ahead. Look a few weeks out so you can both be on the same page as to what the immediate future holds. Review your current priorities and help them understand the relative importance of potential meetings, lunches, dinners or other requests for your time. Some are truly ASAP while others can be in the next couple of weeks or even in the next month or so.

Make sure your assistant gets enough information for you to make an informed decision as to wither a particular appointment is worth your time or not. What is the agenda? Does is have to be a meeting or can it be handled via email or a phone call? Is there travel involved? If so, how much travel time should be allocated to ensure you will be there on time? What preparation should you do prior to the meeting?

Finally, work together to determine when to say “no.”  There will never be enough time in the day for all the people who want time on your calendar and ultimately that means your assistant will have to figure out what appointments NOT to schedule.

How do you leverage you assistant to manage your calendar?

Effective Calendar Management

CalendarWe all know that in the big picture of things time is our most valuable asset and because your calendar is your trusted system for managing your time, it makes sense to optimize your calendar. Here are some strategies for effective calendar management.

Only use your calendar for date-specific appointments

David Allen explains in Getting Things Done, that the only things that should appear on your calendar are date-specific appointments. That means things like doctor appointments, meetings, and anything that can only be attended to during that time. I’ve actually started to refer to these more as “agreements” than “appointments” because agreements mean that much more to me. Rescheduling an appointment is something that can be done, but rescheduling an agreement seems more daunting and less viable. By using the term “agreement” (which acts as a trigger), I’m less likely to even think about altering what I’ve committed to with someone else…or even myself.

Schedule your personal time

During your weekly review it is important you make appointments in your calendar for things in your life that don’t relate to work. Is your partner out of town so you have to cover him/her on something? When do you need to drop the kids off at school? Do you have a doctor’s appointment? Does your daughter have a  recital? Are you traveling? All of these things are the “big rocks” that should be added to your calendar before anything else. You also need to make time for your own well-being, whether it is going to the gym, going for a run or simply reading a book. If you don’t block out time in your calendar for personal activities work will “eat up” all your time and you will end up with failed relationships, poor health and increased stress.

Align your schedule with your priorities

Most business professionals are extremely busy, but all too many spend their time doing the wrong things. We all have the same amount of time on our hands. What sets successful people apart is the way they prioritize what to do during that limited time. So, the most important thing you need to do is to schedule your priorities. If you don’t schedule your priorities, your calendar will get filled up with other stuff and you wont be spending your time on the highest value items. Schedule the things that really matter first. For me, this is my family time, my weekly review, priority projects, 1:1s with my direct reports and any major commitments I may have. You will never be able to do everything you set out to, so you need to make sure you don’t leave the high-impact things undone.

Schedule your priorities early in the day

Schedule these items in the morning and don’t make them more than 90 minutes. Why? Because if you schedule them in the morning and you get “overtaken by events” and have to do something else you can bump a lower priority item off later in the day. Also, there is ample evidence showing that people’s energy, concentration and effectiveness is greater in the morning than the afternoon. There is also lots of evidence that after an hour and a half people’s effectiveness drops off significantly so if you have a large project you are much better scheduling multiple 90 appointments than to try to slog thru a multiple-hour task.

Schedule multiple 30-minute appointments to process your “inboxes”

For most people this is email but if your honest with yourself you have multiple incoming queues of stuff. If you follow GTD then you have your “unprocessed” queue of stuff. You may have an “inbox” on your desk, you may have incoming calls, you may have RSS feeds, you may have the incoming stream of social media or other incoming queues of “stuff” that needs to be processed. Schedule time to process your stuff to zero. Once you have added these items to your calendar, then whatever free blocks of time are left can be filled with meetings and other lower priority items.

Be ruthless in assessing the value of recurring meetings

Another thing you need to do is to assess how you have allocated your time. Open your calendar and look back at your recurring meetings. Were they worth the time you invested in them? I’ll bet they started out with the best of intentions and actually provided value but over time, they decayed into less value. Take a critical look at your recurring meetings and ask yourself if they continue to be worth the time investment.  Ideally, you will delete these from your calendar. If you’re not comfortable with removing them, then maybe you can reduce their recurrence from daily to weekly or weekly to every other week.

How do you manager your calendar to ensure you are doing the most important things?

 

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