The 5 phases of GTD – Phase 1 “Capture”

ThinkstockPhotos-497130100The capture phase is fairly self explanatory. Whenever you have a thought or action comes to mind that you need or want to do something with (David Allen calls it “stuff) then you need to capture it in a place that your mind will trust that it won’t get lost. This place is called your “trusted system” and it is the key building block of the GTD system.

If your stuff is not being directly managed in an external trusted system, then it’s resident somewhere in your psyche (David calls these open loops) 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.

If you are new to GTD or have lost steam in you GTD practice, you need to do what David Allen calls “the mind-sweep.” The idea behind the mind-sweep is to identify and gather a complete inventory of everything that is making claims on your attention or is likely to affect the larger areas of responsibility in your life.

Capturing “stuff” with a Mind-Sweep

The mind-sweep is really simple. I break it down into two parts.

First, I take my phone and literally walk around my house and office and take pictures of things that I want/need/may want to do something about. It is important not to judge the items or think about them in any way, just get them captured. Many items will be in the someday/maybe category that I may not actually get to doing for a long time. That’s okay. The critical part is to capture everything.

Literally, start in your front yard and take pictures of everything that you might want to do something about. Maybe it’s trimming the trees or weeding the planter or painting the house. Just start capturing everything. Then go to the side of the house, the backyard, the garage, and every room in your house. Don’t skip closets or junk drawers as they can easily be a source of subconscious stress.

Once you have completed this physical inventory of all your stuff, move on the second phase of the mind-sweep. Start with a single sheet of printer paper and a pencil, set a timer for 10 minutes, and just begin to inventory every conceivable “open loop” from the corners of your brain.

Begin with the hopelessly-behind project that’s making you crazy right now, then proceed methodically through every flash of thought that makes you pause because these are the little 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 eliminate subconscious stress by capturing items that can later be made actionable (or deferred or delegated or killed). But you can’t do anything about it until it’s been captured and then evaluated later in your trusted system.

Once you complete your mind-sweep you need to be able to capture stuff as it happens in your life on an ongoing basis.

Capturing “stuff” on an ongoing basis

It is critical that you equip yourself with tools that allow you to capture stuff whether you are; at home, the office, the gym, the car, on a walk or just on-the-go somewhere. This is a critical point. You need to be able to capture stuff wherever you are so it is important to make it easy to capture your stuff at the moment it comes to you. This can be your smartphone or a pad of paper, index cards or just about anything as long as you have it with you at all times and it is super easy to use.

Some people choose analog capture because they like the feel of paper or are just more comfortable with analog solutions. That’s fine, but I choose a digital solution. Either way can work. Paper aficionados swear by the simplicity of pen and paper. It is hard to argue with that logic and it has worked for centuries. There are many note-taker solutions designed to be kept with you at all times on the market that work well.

I use Evernote to for this purpose because it is the perfect place to both capture and process my stuff because it is available on all the devices I use (Nexus, Apple Watch, iPhone, iPad, Mac and PC) and it automatically syncs to all my devices. Another reason I prefer this method is notes captured on my phone are “born digital” and therefore I do not have to type them into my system from paper which eliminates double entry.

Since we all carry our mobile phones with us at all times, if your going to go the digital route then your phone is the logical capture device when you pair it with Evernote. Whenever you have an idea, think of something or make a commitment, it’s easy to capture it in Evernote on your phone. If you reduce the friction you experience when capturing ideas, actions items and commitments, you’ll naturally capture more of them.

Regardless of whether you use an analog or digital system, there are two critical components to an effective capture system. First, you must always have it with you so you can immediately capture your stuff whenever and wherever you are. Second, you have to have a friction-free system for capturing your stuff. If there is any friction in your capture system you will tend to not capture that idea/task/deliverable/commitment right there in the moment.

So, that is the first phase of GTD – Capture. Next time I will discuss phase 2 – Clarify where you go through the stuff that you collected in step one and give it meaning.

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Taming email communications – part 3

email_iconA few years ago, Merlin Mann conceived the notion of Inbox Zero. In a speech at Google he eloquently described what it is we all want: to finally gain control of our overflowing inboxes, and ultimately, our lives. The concept was simple; we need to aim for zero mail in our inbox.

Easier said than done, right? How many people’s email inboxes are really empty at anytime during the day? Not many.

But the fact of the matter is that there are people who are in control of their email. They do achieve Inbox Zero on a consistent basis and receive all the benefits Merlin promised. They view email as a part of their productivity habit – not as the bane of their existence.

Surely there must be common behaviors that everyone can utilize to get control of their inboxes, right? Below are some “email behavior patterns and practices” that will help you successfully manage your inbox.

Turn off all alerts and notifications

AlertsAs I said in my first post Taming email communications – part 1, there is a huge negative productivity cost of continuously checking email and anything that interrupts what you are doing sap your productivity.

You must embrace the mindset that you are the master of email, not the other way around. To get started on that path of taking back your time and attention, turn off all alerts, pings, buzzes, badge icons, toast and sounds when you get or send email. This also applies to all your social media and other incoming potential distractions.

All those notifications have done is to train us, to constantly be ready to break from our real work and rush over to see the latest piece of spam. Don’t stop at your Outlook desktop email client; make sure to turn off all the alerts on your mobile devices as well.

Schedule time to do email

CalendarSo, now that you have turned off all those notifications and are no longer responding to email as it comes in you are ready to deal with email proactively. The first thing you need to do is to schedule time to do email on your calendar and have the discipline to resist checking email until you have a designated time to do it.

Far too many of us “do email all the time” constantly checking email on all of our devices. We’re constantly in a state of fear regarding the obligations we have sitting in our inboxes, and regularly worry about how many unread mails we have. This is classic fear of missing out (FOMO) and it drives this need to check email. So, we squeeze mail management into every moment we have of the day.

Because we do mail “all the time,” we’re never really completely focused on it.  We’re trying to get through the small stuff, the administrative and unimportant ones… but when we get one that requires a thoughtful reply, seems long or important, or has a deliverable, we leave it in the inbox because we don’t have the time right now to deal with it.

If that sounds like you, please consider scheduling time for email.  When you focus on email, you don’t miss emails and you communicate better.  You actually get both faster and better at email, in part because of the deadline and in part because of the focus your putting on it.

Choose several windows of time each day to tackle your inbox. Depending on your job, you will have different needs for time and frequency for this activity. Some professionals take five minutes at the top of each hour and others set aside time each morning and afternoon.  Personally, I allocate three half hour blocks of time to process my email – once early in the morning, once late in the morning, and then once late in the day.

Stop Using Your Inbox as a To-Do List

TodoDo you leave emails in your inbox so that you will remember to read or tackle them later? If so, you’re using your email to manage your tasks – and those are actually two very different things. Instead, use a separate task manager – I recommend Evernote – so you can spend less time sifting through your inbox, and more time getting your most important work done.

Why do you need to separate these activities out? If you’re conflating email and task management, then the job of simply communicating – reading and replying to your messages – gets bogged down by all the emails you leave sitting in your inbox simply so you won’t forget to address them.

Also, when you check your inbox for an update on a key project or task its easy to get derailed by a stream of unrelated work or personal messages and forget what you were trying to do in the first place. It’s like surfing the web used to be a few years ago.

The reason so many of us fall into the trap of conflating email and task management is that email is inextricable from much of what we do in work and in life. Many of our tasks arrive in the form of email messages, and many other tasks require reading or sending emails as part of getting that work done.

Read once and make a decision so you never touch an email twice

decisionYour goal when reading emails is not to complete everything, but rather read it once and make a decision.  People who have perfected achieving Inbox Zero rely on a pre-defined list of options when reading email.

By simply knowing the possible outcome of each email, it’s much easier to clear your email.  Most people process email thinking: delete, archive or reply.  But that’s the problem! The emails that get stuck in our inboxes do not fall under those categories.

These emails need to be turned into tasks or relate to tasks that we are already working on. In addition to containing tasks, many times these emails could be the starting point of a project or actually be related to projects we are already working on.

You need to have a system & method in place to quickly turn those emails into their associated tasks and projects.  There should be no thinking (procrastinating) as to how to process those emails.  Focus on reading the email content, and deciding what it is. By reading once and making a decision about the email, you save yourself from looking at that same email over and over until you finally deal with it.

Don’t organize in email folders because it makes you less productive

foldersI know this is going to be counterintuitive to many people. For years I arranged my inbox with a series of elaborate nested folders. Now I only have 5 folders.

Search has become so good in recent years that it is no longer worth the productivity hit to organize email in folders.

If you are spending time reading emails, creating email folders, and moving emails around to various folders, searching for emails in folders, please reconsider.  Rather than cleaning your inbox, you are creating several more inboxes, just with different names.  All those emails most likely will have to re-read for reasons mentioned above.

All you need are 5 folders: inbox, trash, draft, sent and archive (All Mail for Gmail users).  As noted above, if emails are tasks or projects or related to any of them, you’ll make the decision when reading the email. Once you’ve done that, the email should be moved to your archive folder. If you need the email in the future you can easily search for it.

Choose your words carefully and remember “less is more”

BrevityBe concise and specific when writing an email, every word matters. Be crisp in your delivery. If you are describing a problem, define it clearly. Doing this well requires more time, not less.

Practice Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF) communications where you summarize the exact purpose of the email and any actions required first. This allows the reader to know exactly what the email is and what actions they need to take in the least amount of time. Then they can decide if they want or need to continue reading.

learn the “gift of brevity”

Most email is now read on smartphones instead of large screens so an email that doesn’t require the reader to scroll down the screen on a smartphone is more easily read. So, keep it short and specify exactly what you need in return (actions steps like, “Please RSVP by COB today”).

Too many of today’s professionals feel like they need to include a lot of background and supporting information in their emails. Not so. Less is more! Practice BLUF and put critical information in the first sentence (or two) instead of burying it in the bottom of the email. You’re not writing a mystery novel where the whodunit is discovered at the end of the message.

This is even more important if your email is addressed to senior people in the company. Remember “less is more.”

Use clear, easy-to-understand subject lines

SubjectThink of the subject line as the ultimate BLUF. An easy to understand subject line will help the reader to quickly figure out the purpose of your message, what they need to do, and whether or not they can quickly respond. Craft your subject line to be specific about what actions you expect once it has been read.

Also, if the conversation in an email changes, give it a new subject line. It is extremely easy for information to get overlooked in an email when the content of the message no longer matches the subject line.

Use a phone call or video chat instead of email

callIf an issue truly is urgent, then employees should not be sending emails to one another. Opt instead for the phone. Some people are too “busy” to be bothered with quick phone conversations. They would rather send 10 messages than talk to you for two minutes in person.

There are times when it’s quicker and more efficient to contact someone by calling instead of emailing (such as when you need an immediate answer to a question). A brief phone call can eliminate the back and forth that sometimes occurs with email. And, at the end of the call, you can send a follow-up email summarizing next steps and who will do what.

Another benefit of a call is that you can’t always grasp the true tone of an online conversation. A phone call, video chat, or short in-person meeting can allow you to avoid inadvertently giving the wrong impression and can help you avoid misunderstandings.

Sure, you can use emoticons, but that comes across as unprofessional (or doesn’t convey true emotion), so it’s probably best to pick up the phone instead.

Respond in a timely manner

timelyThere are people who can be relied upon to respond promptly to emails, and those who can’t. Strive to be one of the former. Make it a goal to respond within one business day to all messages that come in.

Most of the best and busiest people act quickly on their emails, not just to us or to a select few senders, but to everyone. Being responsive sets up a positive communications feedback loop whereby your team and colleagues will be more likely to include you in important discussions and decisions.

Don’t respond to every email

replyYou don’t need to respond to most email. Yes, you read that correctly. Not every email needs a response. If the email is just informational and doesn’t require a response, don’t send one.

Unsubscribe – Remove yourself from unnecessary subscriptions and advertising

unsubscribeUnsubscribe from all those subscriptions, daily newsletters, blog updates, stock feeds and alerts on social media accounts. Instead, utilize a RSS feed reader like Feedly to keep track of your information sources. Get them out of email!

While you need to be diligent to malicious phishing attempts, most subscriptions and advertising make it relatively easy to unsubscribe. This is an unfortunate but necessary part of today’s email reality.

Limit the number of people when addressing email

addressEmails that are sent to many recipients tend to get out of control pretty fast.  These emails, especially if not written properly, can get everyone commenting back and forth and pulling the tone email in their own direction. One outgoing email can easily jam your Inbox with twenty follow-up email replies. So if you must send email to many recipients be crystal clear about the message and expected outcome for the recipients, if any.

Only use BCC to remove someone from an email thread

BCCCopy people openly or don’t copy them at all. The only time I recommend using the BCC feature is when you are removing someone from an email thread. Otherwise don’t use it.

When you reply all to a lengthy series of emails, move the people who are no longer relevant to the thread to the bcc field, and state in the text of the note that you are doing this. They will be relieved to have one less irrelevant note cluttering up their inbox and hopefully they will do the same for you.

Leverage modern software to decrease email volumes and ease email processing

slack-200x200Tools like Slack can have a positive impact on email volumes. The persistent nature of the conversations in Slack makes it ideal for some collaboration that would have otherwise occurred via email. The amount of reduction depends on how much your team culture supports this way of working and how strong adoption is among your fellow collaborators.

Because the center of gravity has shifted from the PC to mobile, most of the innovation in email clients is happening on iOS and Android. This is where Silicon Valley is investing the most resources and therefore there is a lot of competition and innovation in this space.

I like Microsoft’s Outlook for Android and iOS and it has become my favorite way to process email. I can quickly and easily triage my email using Outlook on a smartphone. It divides the inbox into “Focused” and “Other” views and it does an excellent job of putting the most important and relevant email in the “Focused” queue. Then you can efficiently swipe to delete or archive the email with a flick of the thumb.

Even better it has the same interface on both iOS and Android. Goodbye Mail.app and Gmail clients!

Conclusion

That’s my guidance on how to master email in today’s environment. I realize full Inbox Zero may be too big of a change for many people but if you use these patterns and practices, I guarantee your email experience will be much better. I hope it helps!

Taming email communications – part 2

slack-200x200In my last post I described the three challenges that email presents in today’s modern life. Now, I want to tell you about what is driving the desire to “kill email” and what some companies are doing about it.

The desire to “kill email”

More and more we hear of people declaring “email bankruptcy” by marking them all as read, and starting from scratch. Clearly there is a growing frustration with email. Recently, I’ve noticed the chorus of articles like this one from Fortune Magazine asking “Why can’t we kill email?” or this one from the Verge claiming “Slack is killing email.” Slack is the current darling and articles like this from the New York Times: “Slack the office messaging app that may finally sink email” are driving the “kill email” sentiment.

All this hype is generally way overblown. They claim that many new startup companies like Slack, Convo, HipChat have sprung up in recent years to openly wage war on email. With interfaces inspired by today’s social networks, their software aims to replace email, which was designed to be asynchronous, with persistent chat and real-time communication tools that can be as broad or focused as needed.

Don’t get me wrong. I do think Slack is a fantastic tool and it does reduce email in many situations. I use Slack and it has replaced email in certain scenarios but when I see headlines like this on Business Insider, “Amazing messaging tool Slack can kill 80 to 100% of work emails” I just shake my head wondering if the authors actually believe what they write. I think they are actually doing Slack a disservice by over promising in a way that the startup can only under deliver on those expectations in the real world. Sure, a 20-person greenfield startup with no legacy can probably live without substantial email but that is just not the real world.

Silicon Valley is in love with Slack

In order to try to monetize the growing dislike of email, Silicon Valley is funding companies who are all trying to “kill email” as this article in CiteWorld “Why Silicon Valley is suddenly in love with Slack” documents. CNBC claims Slack wins the “Race to $2 billion: The fastest-growing start-up” and the Verge says, “Slack is now the fastest-growing workplace software ever.”

No wonder Silicon Valley is in love with Slack!

What makes Slack different?

Slack is really a chat room for offices that allows coworkers to communicate by sending individual and group messages. The rooms are persistent so the content is always available for all to see and not locked in individuals email inboxes. This allows people to consume the content on their timeframe – not when the sender clicks send like in email. This is a huge difference!

There is an additional advantage that new colleagues can see all of the historical content that has been posted over time. This is a huge advantage over email where all that information and collaboration is locked inside people’s inboxes. So, while companies like Slack can reduce email in todays workplace they are not the total solution to people’s frustrations with email.

Why nothing will completely replace email

Reading about all these companies promising to “kill email” I just shake my head in disbelief because let’s be honest — email will never die. There are several reasons for this. Some are outlined in this article “How to kill email: Why startups will fail to displace email” but I think the biggest reason is because email is an open standard.

Email is an open standard that works on every device and is universally accessible to anyone in the world. It’s the only system in the world where a user can send a message regardless of infrastructure. Additionally, the web is addicted to email as a unique identifier for usernames. Every service on the web has some dependency on email whether it involves an account sign-up form, customer service, or some form of customer engagement.

These new tools are definitely part of the overall solution to reduce the amount of email we receive but they will never eliminate email entirely. The whole notion is just silly. The reality is that the collaboration tools of the future will need to seamlessly integrate IM, workflow, discussion, collaboration, content, phone, video, presence awareness and email too.

So, if email isn’t going away how do we tame the email beast? In my next post I’ll tell you exactly how to do it.

Taming email communications – part 1

For years, email has been scourge of business communications and many of us blame email for our woes. We love blaming “technology” because but it’s harder for us to look in the mirror and be honest with ourselves. If we do, then we’ll realize that the problem isn’t email; it’s how we use it.

The days of blaming email are over. To say that you are buried in email is really saying that you are unorganized. To tell someone that you “missed it” or “didn’t get your email” is to say you were not paying attention. Spam folders and lost attachments are the receivers’ responsibility to manage and maintain – not a viable excuse.

Email is such a huge part of communication; it is time to pay attention to it, to study up on it and to actually get trained on best practices.

Left unmanaged, email presents three main problems:

  1. The time we spend doing email
  2. The negative productivity cost of continuously checking email
  3. Email lets other people prioritize your day for you

The time we spend doing email

If you feel like you’re playing whack-a-mole with your inbox, you’re not alone. The Radicati Group estimates that the average knowledge worker receives around 100 emails every day, a number that is rising at around 15% per year.

In July 2012, the McKinsey Global Institute released a report titled “The Social Economy: Unlocking Value and Productivity Through Social Technologies,” which found that typical employees now spend fully 28% of their work time managing email. And it is only getting worse! Think about it. If you work 50 hours per week, then 14 of them are spent reading and writing emails.

The negative productivity cost of continuously checking email

What is less obvious to us, however, is the cognitive price we pay each time we drop everything and check our email. Shifting our attention from one task to another, as we do when we’re monitoring email while trying to read a report or craft a presentation, disrupts our concentration and saps our focus. Each time we return to our initial task, we use up valuable cognitive resources reorienting ourselves. And all those transitional costs add up.

Research shows that when we are deeply engrossed in an activity, even minor distractions can have a profound effect. According to a University of California-Irvine study, regaining our initial momentum following an interruption can take, on average, upwards of 20 minutes.

Studies show that being cut off from email significantly reduces stress and allows employees to focus far better, according to the study by UC Irvine and U.S. Army researchers. Heart rate monitors were attached to computer users in a suburban office setting, while software sensors detected how often they switched windows. People who read email changed screens twice as often and were in a steady “high alert” state, with more constant heart rates. Those removed from email for five days experienced more natural, variable heart rates.

“We found that when you remove email from workers’ lives, they multitask less and experience less stress,” said UCI informatics professor Gloria Mark.

Multitasking, as many studies have shown, is a myth. A more accurate account of what happens when we tell ourselves we’re multitasking is that we’re rapidly switching between activities, degrading our clarity and depleting our mental energy. And the consequences can be surprisingly serious.

An experiment shows that email makes you dumber than pot was conducted at the University of London found that we lose as many as 10 IQ points when we allow our work to be interrupted by seemingly benign distractions like emails and text messages.

Remember: it’s up to you to protect your cognitive resources. The more you do to minimize task-switching over the course of the day, the more mental bandwidth you’ll have for activities that actually matter.

Email lets other people prioritize your day for you

Speaking of activities that actually matter, email is the ultimate tool for letting other people prioritize your day for you. Reacting to emails as they come in effectively surrenders your ability to focus on your priorities. Instead, you spend your time dealing with all the incoming “stuff.” David Allen calls this “reacting to the latest and loudest” and it is a surefire way to let other people set your priorities.

The net effect of this is you feel like you’re getting a lot of work done but the problem is that you are not getting the important stuff done. Cumulatively, this saps away your ability to complete the things that really make a difference to your boss and your company.

Finally, we all feel constantly busy in our work lives today. Email is a huge part of this. The speed of business is certainly increasing and technologies like email are certainly part of this. Competition is moving faster and therefore, there is increasing pressure to do more in less time. With all this pressure to do more in less time, it is even more critical that you do the important stuff first and not allow other people to prioritize your activities for you.

So, those are the three main problems with modern email. In my next post I’ll tell you why everyone wants to kill email and what to do about it.

Use Feedly to keep up with information overload

Feedly LogoAs a CIO in today’s fast-paced world it has become increasingly difficult to stay on top of all the relevant news and information I need to be successful in my job.

The days of reading a local newspaper, subscribing to a few trade journals, magazines  and watching the news to keep up are long gone. Similarly, surfing the web to try to keep up with everything is not a viable option as it just takes too much time and it is too easy to get trapped in a rabbit hole of non-productivity.

So, what is the modern way to keep up?

I have found using Feedly is the best way to keep on top of all the news and developments I need to be successful in today’s business and technical world. With Feedly I can scan hundreds or thousands of articles from dozens of different sources quickly and efficiently.

Feedly dramatically reduces the friction in information consumption.

With Feedly I can quickly scan RSS (Really Simple Syndication) headlines to determine which ones I want to click on to get more information. Once I click on a particular item of interest, I get a short synopsis of the article and any accompanying pictures. 9 out of 10 times, this snippet/picture combination is enough to convey the relevant information so I do not have to click on the link to actually read the original article. This is the key to the massive time savings I get by using Feedly to process incoming information.

Feedly is free and it is very powerful. A paid version, Feedly Pro has the features you really need to fully experience the full productivity boost. A subscription to Pro costs $5/month or $45/year and it is worth every penny. It is available on the web, Android, Blackberry, Chrome, iOS, Kindle, OS-X, Windows 8 and Windows Phone. That pretty much covers it from a devices perspective.

Choosing feeds is easy. Just search Feedly for your profession/career, your favorite people, your interests, your hobbbies, your passions, your favorite brands, magazines and newspapers, etc. and it will list the feeds available on the subject. When choosing be sure to notice the number of subscribers and the number of posts per week. The more subscribers the better. More posts is not always a good thing. Some feeds are “spamy” and post too many articles relative to the overall value.

My feeds or sources are handled in a very Darwinian way. If a particular feed is not providing relevant information I delete it. If a feed produces too many posts per day that are not relevant, I delete it. 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. This results in a very fluid list of sources that is constantly changing.

I currently subscribe to 81 feeds, which result in over 600 posts per day and I am able to process them in less than a half hour.  This allows me to keep up on all the news and events from sources I consider relevant to my career and life.

Here is an example of the list view in Feedly:

Feedly List View
If I want to keep the article for reference or for some kind of follow up, then I just select the “ Evernote” button and it send it directly to Evernote to process later. This is one of the most important aspects of my overall GTD system. feedly-evernote-awardProcessing in Feedly and sending to Evernote is a huge time saver.

As I process, if  the article is something I want to share with others I use the “Buffer” button which will tweet it on Twitter and post it to LinkedIn on a specified schedule. Sometimes, I want to email someone directly and all I have to do is select the email button. Simple. Efficient. Friction-free.

Here is an example of an item that was clicked on to reveal more detail showing the Evernote, Email and Buffer icons:

Feedly Detail

The key to long-term success with Feedly is incorporating it into your daily habits. I usually process my feeds the first thing in the morning when I am at the gym on the elliptical trainer. It works out great because it has a reading stand for the iPad so I can easily use my hands to process my incoming queue of headlines while listening to an up-beat playlist of music. I also use Feedly on my iPhone and Nexus phones regularly.

I consider this a critical part of my overall continual learning experience, so I take it very seriously. So, I treat my incoming RSS Feeds just like my email inbox and try to process all my feeds to zero every day. “Feedly Zero”

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 a colleague 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 I do, then it shows me they have an effective system for processing information and I try to learn how they do it.

With Feedly, I can subscribe to a wide variety of sources and quickly scan what is going on in the world. How do you process information in today’s fast-paced world?

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.

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.