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.

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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.

 

Use the 2 Minute Rule to get more stuff done

2 minute ruleOne of the easiest and most productive parts of GTD is called the “2 minute rule”. If you determine an action can be done in two minutes, 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.

So, when you are processing tasks and the task is actionable, then decide if you can complete the task in less than two minutes and if the answer is “yes” then just do it. This is called the “2 Minute Rule” because there is no need to categorize or do any further thinking about the item if you can accomplish the task in less than two minutes – just do it!

Writing down every little thing you have to do takes more time than it’s worth – if you need to send a 30-second reminder e-mail to someone, there’s no sense in taking 60 seconds to write it down and another 30 seconds to put in your trusted system when you could just get it done. Your goal is to get things done, not to flawlessly capture each and every little thing in your perfectly designed system.

Thinking of your time in two-minute increments will allow you to get a lot of things done. When you simply do something, you eliminate all of the prioritizing, scheduling and thinking about tasks. This applies to all aspects of processing your incoming “stuff” no matter if it is calls, email, social media, or any other task that comes your way.

It’s easy to get caught in the trap of adding absolutely everything to your system, including things that can be done in two minutes or less. With enough small and insignificant tasks, you can clog your system and lose considerable time and focus. And, if you overwhelm your system enough, you might even paralyze your productivity completely.

So use the 2 minute rule to get stuff done.

CIO Time Management Sucks

time suck In today’s always-on lifestyle there’s never enough time in a day for busy CIOs – or any manager – to get everything accomplished. So you need to “manage” your time more effectively, and you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish. Of course, we can’t really manage time. There are only 24 hours in a day and there is not a damn thing we can do about it. So, we need to be smart about how we allocate our time.

Do a “mirror check” and check your own daily schedule to see if you’re falling into one of these time management sucks.

Not investing the time necessary to train someone to delegate a task

Admit it. You have several tasks you hate doing that eat up too much of your time. The only reason you haven’t passed them on to your assistant or an employee is you can’t seem to find the time to train somebody else to do it. Make the time. Invest the time in training others to do tasks to get them off your plate. It is tough – especially initially when they are not as productive as you are at accomplishing the task but over time it will pay off in spades.

Not scheduling your priorities early in the day

You’re the boss. You get to set your schedule the way you like it, so be smart about it and schedule your priorities in the morning. Set aside time to work on your priorities first thing in the morning and that way when you get “overtaken by events” you will have time in the afternoon by bumping those lower priority items on your calendar. And, remember that not scheduling your time is the least effective scheduling of all.

Not Managing Distractions

As the person in charge, you must be available for major decisions and to help with emergencies, but it’s likely those points only take up 10 to 20 percent of the interruptions and distractions that hit you every day. Don’t be shy about establishing dedicated “do not disturb” time every day to work on your priorities. This is absolutely critical when you do your Weekly Review.

Not practicing Inbox Zero

Stop complaining about how email is taking so much of your time that you don’t have enough time left for the important stuff and do something about it. It is kind of like complaining about the number of meetings you have to attend and then not doing something about it. If email is taking up a disproportionate amount of your time, then you need to do something about it. Take charge of your situation. Don’t let the constant stream of incoming emails take control of your priorities and time. Practice Inbox Zero and only look at an email once.

Not focusing on one task at a time

You might think you’re being more productive when you multitask and look like you’re being more productive, but the research consistently proves multitasking doesn’t work. It’s actually impossible—you can’t focus on two things at once but rather “context switch” your focus rapidly between tasks. Since it takes as much as 10 minutes to find get back into a high-productivity flow with any given task, multitasking means working at lower effectiveness all day long.

How I use Evernote to run my life (part 2)

Evernote LogoA few weeks ago I outlined how I set up Evernote to be the basis of my Trusted System that I use to run my life.  Now, I am going to share how I use this system in my daily life.

The beauty of Evernote is it’s friction-free ability to get “stuff” into Evernote so you can process it later and ensure you never forget anything that is actionable.  This is critical to having a Trusted System and the stress-free productivity that goes with it.  Almost every morning during the week I go to the gym and alternate between Pilates, cardio  and strength training workouts.

On the cardio days, I use the elliptical trainer and my iPad to read while listening to a up-beat playlist to motivate me to keep my heart rate up.  I start out reading the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and LA Times to catch up on what is going on in the world.  If I find an article that I want to keep, I use the “share” function to email it and I send it to my Evernote email address.

Keeping up with information

RSSThen I go on to process my RSS Feeds via Feedly. I love Feedly as my replacement for Google Reader and Feedler Pro. It works across the web on Mac or PC, iOS and Android so no matter what device I am using, I can process my feeds and it will sync across devices.

Sharing information with the world

BufferIf I find an article that I want to share with the world, I use Buffer to tweet it and post it to LinkedIn.  I highly recommend Buffer because it allows you to schedule your tweets and posts so they don’t all come at the same time. This allows your followers to consume your tweets and posts easier.

Leveraging audio content

PodcastsOn strength training  days, I listen to podcasts on my iPhone with the Apple Podcasts player. I use Fast Ever to add the location of the bookmarks that I place in the podcasts to follow-up on them later in Evernote.

Processing email to zero

When I am processing email and I come across an action that is more than two minutes, I forward it to Evernote and drag the email to my Archived folder in case I ever need to original email.

  Processing web sites

web clipperIf I am on the web or I click thru to a web site and see something actionable or a reference item I want to save for future use, I use the Evernote Web Clipper to clip the article to Evernote.

Processing physical paper

scansnapIf I have a physical piece of paper that needs to get into my trusted system I use my ScanSnap to scan it to Evernote. One button is all it takes!

Capturing ideas or actionable items on the go

Fast EverIf I come up with an idea or someone tells me something actionable, I use Fast Ever to input it via text or use Sound Ever to record it as a voice memo.

Capturing ideas or actionable items while driving

Siri

Similarly, If I am driving, I use Siri to do a voice to text conversion to send it to Evernote.  Try it. It works surprisingly well.

All of these processes end up with new actionable items waiting for me in my -Unprocessed folder in Evernote ready to process into the appropriate action and context for that item.  I can’t think of a better way to have a friction-free way to getting stuff into my trusted system than using Evernote.  And for this reason, Evernote has become the most important application I have on all my devices.

Bad-Ass Execution Principles

Don Fornes of Software Advice recently published his Bad-Ass Execution Principles which is based on David Allen’s classic text on organization and productivity, Getting Things Done. One of the great things about GTD is the core concepts can be applied using everything from paper and pencil to today’s modern cloud/mobile tools. It all depends on how you and your company work to best apply the GTD principles to your situation.

Don has adapted these principles to fit their company culture and to reflect the use of online applications like Basecamp, Gmail and Google Calendar. He calls it Bad-Ass Execution Principles.

Getting Stuff Done

Write everything down. Getting things out of your head and onto paper will help you remember them–and documenting everything in one place will help you stay organized. Software Advice uses a web-based project management application called Basecamp to keep track of projects and to-dos.

Break up your projects into next steps. Large projects can seem insurmountable. Breaking them up into actionable items and next steps can help you focus on the task at hand and work through projects systematically.

Immediately deliver value. When assigned a project, it’s important to try to deliver something right away. This will help you get feedback early on, to make sure you’re on the right track and prevent you from investing too much effort in the wrong direction.

Aim for quick wins. A small, positive accomplishment at the beginning of a new project will help establish trust and authority, as well as give your project a kick-start.

Google it! You want employees to feel comfortable asking questions when they need to, but if something is easily researched online, they should be resourceful and solve some problems on their own. This saves management valuable time, and builds problem-solving skills and shows initiative for employees.

Implementation

“Projects” list. Create a list of your projects in one place: paper lists, iPhone notes, or web-based apps will work.

“Next Actions” list. This is a list of the very next step you will take for each project, including emails, phone calls and meetings.

● “Waiting For” list. Track what you are waiting on from others by creating this list in addition to your personal task list. This will help you stay aware of when you need to follow-up with someone.

Keep your inbox clean. Don’t let emails pile up. Is an email actionable? Add it to your “Next Actions” list. If an email isn’t actionable, you should archive it.

Track dates and actions on your calendar. Deadlines, appointments and actions (day-specific and time-specific) should be added to your calendar. Sign up for notifications so that you can get a reminder when the required action is due.

Review your project lists every day. Be sure to look over your calendar and lists every day. As you complete your projects, mark off the tasks. This will give you a sense of accomplishment and keep you organized.

As you can see Don has done an excellent job in melding GTD with the culture and tools of Software Advice. How do you implement GTD at your workplace?