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?

 

Why I still use RSS

Feedly Logo

A colleague of mine just got turned on to the power of Feedly and it got me thinking about RSS and it’s evolving role in my information diet.

I have always been a reader and voracious consumer of information. I subscribe to numerous magazines and newspapers via Apple’s Newstand on my iPad.  I love to read a good book via Kindle on either my iPad or my Kindle Paperwhite. I also listen to books on Audible on my commute and podcasts when I’m working out at the gym.

But, it has become increasingly difficult to stay on top of all the relevant breaking news in today’s fast-paced world. Surfing the web to try to keep up is not a viable option as it just takes too much time and it is easy to get trapped in a rabbit hole of non-productivity. I have found using RSS feeds is the best way to keep on top of all the news and developments in order to be successful in today’s business and technical world.

Many people have given up on RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds and it is definitely on the decline since Google dropped Reader. However, I still use RSS because I can subscribe to a wide variety of sources and quickly scan what is going on in the world. I consider this a critical part of my overall continual learning experience. I treat my incoming RSS Feeds just like my email inbox and try to process all my feeds to zero every day.

I have tried many RSS readers and since the demise of Google Reader, and now I use Feedly on all of my devices to consume RSS content. I do not use any of the “pretty” feed aggregators that try to make a custom magazine because it is just too inefficient for the volume of feeds I process every day. With Feedly I can quickly scan the headlines to determine which ones I want to click on to get more information. Once I click on a particular item I get a short synopsis of the article or post and then if I want to actually read it I click on the link and it takes me to the web site where I can read the original article.  If I want to keep the article to read later or for some kind of follow up, I just select the “Send to Evernote” option to process later.  If the article is something I want to share with others I use the “Send to Buffer” option to tweet it and post it to LinkedIn. I usually process my feeds the first thing in the morning when I am at the gym on the Precor elliptical trainer.

I currently subscribe to 60 feeds which result in over 500 posts per day and I am able to process them in approximately 20 minutes.  This allows me to keep up on all the news and events from sources I consider relevant to my career and life.  I treat my feeds very Darwinian way in that if a particular feed is not providing relevant information I delete it.  This results in a very fluid OPML file (OPML files are the list of RSS feeds a reader program uses) that is constantly changing.  Frequently I subscribe to a feed to try it out only to decide it does not make the cut and is delete in a week or so.  I also remove feeds that have dedicated iOS apps like Techcrunch, CNet News, The Verge, Boy Genius Report, Engadget, etc. because I prefer to view that content in the native app due to its optimized formatting.

I pride myself on knowing information before others and daily processing of RSS feeds is the key to making this a reality. It gives me a competitive advantage in work and life. I am extremely impressed when someone on my staff tells me something relevant that I do not already know about.  If it happens once in a while then it is just luck or timing but if they consistently know relevant information before me it shows me they have an effective system for processing information and I try to learn how they do it.

How do you process information in today’s fast-paced world?

Do you ‘shine’ your inbox? The upside of nothing in your inbox – quick and easy deletion of junk

Originally posted on Getting Things Done accountant:

I don’t know if clearing your junk mail out of your inbox is a ‘sort’ or a ‘shine’ task in the Kaizen 5S list but it’s definitely in there. It’s the first thing I do in the morning and I keep at it all day.

Somehow I’m on a lot of mailing lists.  I get emails from people wanting to discuss my developer needs, how I can optimize my company’s cloud services et cetera, et cetera.  And I quickly file that all with the delete button because none of this has anything to do with my job.

One thing I’ve discovered is that by getting my inbox down to zero items (that’s not zero unread, that’s zero as in empty) it’s exceedingly easy to see and purge that junk mail.  Of course I could (and I do) use Outlook’s ‘Rules’ function and move mail automatically to Junk or delete it. …

View original 131 more words

Is Inbox Zero Achievable?

EmailWhen Merlin Mann conceived the notion of Inbox Zero, he eloquently described a notion of how to finally gain control of our overflowing email inboxes with the simple concept of aiming for zero mail in our Inbox.

Recently, I was discussing Inbox Zero with someone who thought it was not possible to have a clean inbox at least once a day. They reasoned, that there was no way to be able “do email” for enough of the 24 hours in a day to be able to get to it all. So, why even try?

I know it sounds impossible but the fact of the matter is that there are people who are in complete control of their email. They do achieve Inbox Zero on a consistent basis. They look at email as a part of their personal productivity workflow, not as the bane of their existence.

Here are common traits these successful Inbox Zero’ers employ:
 

They only read an email once

Successful Inbox Zero’ers have a trusted system and a processing method in place to quickly turn those emails into tasks or projects. There is no thinking or procrastinating as to how to process those emails so they can focus on reading the email content, deciding what it is, and processing it.

Your goal when reading emails is not to complete everything, but rather to read the email once and make a decision.  People who have perfected achieving Inbox Zero do this religiously. Never read an email and keep it in your inbox – this forces you to read it again sometime later.

Many times, people read an email and decide to hold off on dealing with that one right now, and then move onto another email. This is BAD because it not only creates a backlog of emails and you will end up looking at that same email at least one more time. Most likely, if you leave an email in your inbox you will re-read it several times.

They employ the Two Minute Rule.

If you can deal with the email in less than two minutes then just do it! You would be surprised what you can do in two minutes! It’s called the “Two Minute Rule” because if you determine an action can be done in two minutes or less, then you actually should do it right then because it’ll take longer to organize it and review it than it would be to actually finish it the first time you notice it. This applies to processing email.

They create clearly defined tasks

When reading an email, if it is actionable and will take more than 2 minutes to complete, then turn that email into a task (or a project if it is a multi-action item) in your trusted system. Then either delete the original email or move it to your Archive folder. For me, I just forward it to my Evernote email address, delete or archive the email and move to the next email.

When creating your task, remember the subject line of the email is what the sender thought was relevant but not necessarily what you want to e the title of your task to be. When turning the email into a task it is important you re-write the subject line to something that makes sense to you and is actionable. This way when you review your Next Action list, you can better gauge when and where what you want to get done will be done.

They don’t organize email in folders

Over the years, many people have developed elaborate folder structures to file their email. The unfortunate result of this is rather than cleaning your inbox, you are just creating several more inboxes. Now, you have to THINK about how you are going to file that email and you have to spend the time actually navigating to the folder you want to file it in. Even worse, now all those emails most likely will have to re-read.

Instead, you should just have just 4 emails folders: Inbox, Sent Items, Deleted Items and Archive in addition to the mandatory Junk Mail and Drafts for Outlook users. Once you have processed an email you should file it in one big archive folder and then use search if you ever need to reference the email in the future.

Less is more. Inbox Zero is the most efficient way to process email. Period.

Use GTD to Reduce Stress in Your Life

StressThis article from the BBC got me thinking about the ultimate benefit of practicing GTD – reduction of stress. There is a reason David Allen’s first book is called “Getting Things Done – The Art of Stress Free Productivity.”

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.

Our brain is a poor and unreliable repository of all the things we try to cram into it. David calls all this “stuff” and collectively all these thoughts clutter our headspace. Once you get all your stuff out of your head and into your trusted system you experience a profound sense of relief.

Why? Because our brains are optimized for fast decision-making, not 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.

 

Picking Tools for your Trusted System

465515887When building a trusted system, simplicity is the key – less is more. So, it is really important you choose the correct tools that provide the least amount of friction capturing and processing your “stuff”.

One of the ongoing raging debates in the GTD community is what “tools” should you use?  There are people who swear by analog tools like pen, paper, folders and a physical inbox.  Others swear by digital tools and each has their own preferred software to implement their trusted systems.

Some people use a hybrid approach like using paper or the Moleskin for Evernote where you take notes in a traditional pen and paper approach and then take a picture of your notes and it goes into Evernote. Regardless of what type of system you use, you will need to have a physical inbox to collect all the physical pieces of paper that we all still receive.

Because I am a CIO and technology is my job, I tend towards a digital tool set. Cloud, Mobile and Social technologies are reshaping the Information Technology world in profound ways. This reality drives my choices when it comes to the set of tools I use in my implementation of GTD.

My trusted system must be easy to use and with me at all times on all my devices. It must be able to provide friction-free capture of the stuff that comes to me. It must be able to retrieve the relevant information I need at a moments notice. It must be able to handle digital and analog inputs depending on contexts.

I use the cloud-based consumer service Evernote as the foundation of my implementation. Evernote is free and it syncs my data across all the devices in my life.  I can use it on either my iPhone or Google Nexus smartphones that I carry around everywhere I go. I can also use it on either a Mac or a PC if I happen to be using those devices. I can use it on my iPad or any Android-based tablet if I happen to be in that mode. Or, if I do not have access to any of those devices, I can use it on the web with just a browser. This allows me complete flexibility to switch devices at a moments notice and not miss a beat.

For my own personal trusted system I use Evernote. I use a Fujitsu ScanSnap scanner to scan all physical paper directly into Evernote. Evernote’s ecosystem of applications allows me to fine tune how I use it for capture. I use Fast Ever to capture text-based stuff in a friction-free manner. I also use the Evernote Web Clipper to clip web pages into Evernote with one-click ease. That’s it. As simple as I could make it.

Einstein Quote

As Alpert Einstein said “things should be as simple as possible, but no simpler” and that is critical when choosing what tools you will use to implement your trusted system.

The importance of having a single Trusted System

184804867Recently I received a first hand reminder of the importance of having a single place that your brain trusts will have all your stuff. The reason why this is so important is your brain needs to trust all that stuff is somewhere you can access immediately when necessary or else it will not “let go” of that stuff.

I saw a demonstration of what some people thought was “GTD” and was shocked at how they rationalized their multiple “systems” as a trusted system. Anyone who thinks email is a good place for a trusted system just doesn’t get GTD. They might as well just keep everything in their heads because they didn’t get any of the benefits of a unified trusted system for their stuff.

Many people (either consciously or unconsciously) try to keep track of everything they need to do in their mind or across several different “systems”, which is a big mistake. Our brains are optimized for fast decision-making, not 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.

We all use trusted systems today and probably don’t know it.  Your calendar is a trusted system.  Once you put a meeting or appointment into your calendar your brain “lets go of it” and no longer keeps it in your subconscious.  Why does your brain “forget” that meeting?  Because it “trusts” your “system” (calendar) to remember it for you.

Similarly, your Contacts or Rolodex is a trusted system too. Remember back when you used to remember people’s phone numbers?  Not long ago, some people prided themselves on their ability to remember tens or hundreds of phone numbers.  How silly does that seem today?  Why bother taking up long-term memory with that task when you can have a computer, smartphone or physical Rolodex do that job for you?  Your brain trusts your system to remember the names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, etc.

When building a trusted system, simplicity is the key – less is more. Don’t confuse context like @home where the next physical action can only be done at home with “personal” like separating work stuff with personal stuff. In GTD, there is no distinction between business and personal – it is all “stuff” you need to do and it needs to get into your trusted system.

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