How to Make Doing a Weekly Review a Habit

Time for ReviewAt this time of the year many people want to get back on the GTD bandwagon because they are in a reflective mode of self improvement. If you read my last post Don’t make New Year’s Resolutions (do a Year-End Review instead) then you are in a great place to start 2016. Now, all you need to do is figure out how you are going to do your weekly reviews consistently on an ongoing basis.

Inherently, you know doing weekly reviews is the critical component of a successful GTD practice and the stress reduction it can provide.  When practiced diligently they can provide what David Allen calls “Mind Like Water” and when you are in this state you can feel great about where you are, what you are doing and what you are not doing. For anyone who has experienced this feeling it is amazing and they want to get back there.

Unfortunately, somewhere along the way many people lose steam and stop doing their weekly reviews. Once this happens they no longer trust their systems are accurate and complete inventories of all of their commitments and the system fails.

Fortunately, there is one way to succeed with GTD over the long term and that is to do a weekly review every week.  This is the single most important thing to success or failure over the long term.  If you really want to succeed you need to commit to spending an hour to and hour and a half a week doing a weekly review – without fail, no exceptions.

So, how do you do that? Make it a habit. In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg explains that habits are a result of three things – a cue, a routine and a reward. Once you set up these three things you will create a new habit and once you make your weekly review a habit, you are on the way to ongoing stress-free productivity.

I was able to make doing a weekly review a habit by scheduling time with my wife to do our weekly review together on Saturday afternoons over a nice bottle of wine. We alternate weeks choosing a nice bottle of wine to share when we are doing our review. This provides the critical “reward” – delicious wine – that is part of Charles’ three parts of successful habit formation. So, the “Cue” is Saturday afternoon, the “Routine” is the Weekly Review, and the “Reward” is wine and mind like water.

I suggest you get your partner and figure out what a desirable common reward would be and then schedule time to enjoy that reward while doing your weekly review. Not only will you enjoy the reward but you will have synced with your partner on all the upcoming stuff that affects both of you. Once performing weekly reviews with your partner becomes a habit you will be on GTD auto-pilot.

Advertisements

Don’t make New Year’s Resolutions!

2016

A new year is upon us, which means it’s time to break out the champagne and decide what we want to change about ourselves in the new year. It’s only natural to think in terms of fresh starts and new opportunities when the calendar changes, but as many of us know, resolving to change is one thing. Making those changes stick is another.

Don’t make New Year’s Resolutions. Do a Year-End Review instead.

This is the time of year we all do self-reflection and resolve to improve ourselves in the new year.  As most everyone knows making resolutions like “I’m going to lose weight” rarely are successful.  The main reason for this is these goals are not put in a context that will allow for long-term success.  Once the initial “eat better and get to the gym” wears off and we are stuck in the daily grind of our lives we revert to our old habits.

Research suggests that one-third of all new year’s resolutions are abandoned within the first month, and fewer than half survive to the six-month mark. How can we keep our resolutions going all year long? If you really want to resolve to accomplish something and truly make a commitment with yourself, then you need to create an environment for long-term success. This means adopting GTD and incorporating your desired outcomes into your trusted system.

The first thing I recommend is to do a “Yearly Review” to reflect on last year and project into next year.  Then if something comes out of that self-reflection that you really are willing to commit to, you need to incorporate it into your system and work your system every week via the Weekly Review. This has to be come a habit for long-term success. By using this approach (as opposed to a new year’s resolution) you will have a much better chance of long-term success.

The year-end review is similar to a weekly review but at a much higher level.  Here are the questions I ask myself:

Looking back on 2015:

  • What were your wins for the year?
  • What were the risks you took?
  • What is your unfinished business from this year that will carry forward to 2016?
  • What are you most happy about completing?
  • Who were the people who had the greatest impact on your life this year?
  • What was your biggest surprise?
  • What did you do to give back to your community?

Looking forward to 2016:

  • What would you like to be your biggest win to be this year?
  • What are you planning to do to improve yourself?
  • What would you be most happy about completing in the coming year?
  • What would you most like to change about yourself?
  • What are you looking forward to learning?
  • What do you think your biggest risk will be?
  • What about your work, are you most committed to changing and improving?

Then, I do a thorough review of my Someday/Maybes to see if there is anything on there that I want to commit to accomplishing in the new year. Perform a review of your higher-level horizons like your Areas of Focus to see if they still reflect your commitments and responsibilities accurately.

Next, it is critical to assess how you have allocated your time over the course of the last year. This is critical because time is your most valuable asset. There are only 24 hours in a day and therefore you need to make the most of each one of those hours.  To complete my Year-End Review, I schedule my calendar for the new year. I schedule all of my recurring meetings to stop recurring at the end of the year so I will have a blank calendar in the new year. This way I get to reassess the value of those meetings and decide if they are still necessary.

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 or monthly.

The next thing you need to do is to schedule your priorities. This is absolutely critical! 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.

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 for physical papers, 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.

Do a Year-end Review and I guarantee you will feel better and you will start 2016 off on the track to success!

 

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.

Use GTD to facilitate Work-Life Integration

Mind Like WaterMost people today have so many demands on their time that there is literally not enough time in a day to get it all done. We all strive for some kind of work-life balance but the reality of todays always-on world is there is no true separation between work and the rest of your life. Everything is integrated together such that what we really strive for is successful work-life integration.

I have found an extremely effective way to balance all of the commitments in my life and it is called Getting Things Done or GTD for short. What’s the essence of Getting Things Done? 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.

David Allen’s first book “Getting Things Done – The Art of Stress Free Productivity” is the basis for my work-life management system that has evolved over the years. I do not literally practice David Allan’s version of GTD but rather use the basic concepts and modify or adapt them to the reality of my life.

What is GTD Exactly?

There are 5 steps to GTD that I’ll go into more detail with upcoming posts, but here’s a quick overview:

1) Capture – When a thought or action comes to mind that you need or want to do something with – “stuff” – then you need to capture it in a place that your mind will trust that it won’t get lost.
2) Clarify – Go through the “stuff” that you collected in step one and give it meaning.
3) Organize – Defined your “stuff” and get it into lists optimized for later use.
4) Reflect – Look over your lists to do any clean up and decide what comes next.
5) Engage – Now that you have everything in place, do something about it.

Reducing Stress – “Mind Like Water”

The main goal behind GTD is to free up your mind. As David Allen likes to say, “Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.” If you get things out of your head and into your trusted system, you can focus your mind on the task at hand or the person in front of you as opposed to remembering what you need to do next. It’s a way of bringing yourself back to the present because you’re not worrying about all the things you have to do and this relieves subconscious stress.

If you throw a rock into a calm pond, you see a splash and then some ripples start to form. The water reacts to forces around it in that moment and then slowly returns to its original state. GTD is a way to give your mind that ability. Getting things out of your mind and into a trusted system allows you to react to the new things coming at you and then return to your original state.

In coming posts I will detail what the 5 phases of GTD are and how you can get started on your journey to achieve “mind like water” to reduce stress and be more productive in everything that you do.

Leverage digital tools to become a digital leader

Lifelong LearningAs a CIO in today’s fast-paced world it has become increasingly difficult to stay on top of all the relevant information, knowledge and ideas that I need to provide the level of digital leadership I aspire to. And, because there are only 24 hours in a day, I need to become more efficient in consuming information. Digital tools can make learning more efficient.

Digital leaders are life-long learners with a thirst for knowledge, insight, and wisdom.

With the accelerating pace of change and the abundance of information in today’s workplace, it is critical to leverage digital tools to keep up. It also requires curiosity and a willingness to venture outside of your own echo chamber of ideas and beliefs to include a wider range of inputs to your information diet. You need to be open to opposing points of view and have a willingness to challenge your beliefs.

EinsteinDigital leaders build a culture of ongoing learning in the organization. Leaders not only learn themselves but also advocate a culture of learning and provide many different ways for employees to gain knowledge and insight. There is no one-size-fits-all tool that will work for everyone. Each employee is different and learns in different ways so digital leaders will provide a vast array of learning opportunities. Here are some that I recommend:

Online learning sites like lynda.com, Coursera or Kahn Academy allow people to learn at their own pace in their own time. You can learn interactively at your own pace and in the comfort of your own home. It’s hard to imagine how much easier it can possibly be. Often these courses can lead to certifications of accomplishment that demonstrate mastery of the subject matter.

Podcasts are a great way to learn while you are in the car or at the gym. The recent popularity of podcasts has created a plethora of excellent content. I highly recommend anyone in management listen to Manager Tools and individual contributors should listen to Career Tools. I regularly listen to the following podcasts: A16Z, Beyond the To-Do List, Cloud Cast, Getting Things Done, Re:code decode,Tech.pinions, Tailgating Security, Tim Ferris Show, What to Think: Innovation Engines.

RSS Feeds and readers like Feedly allow you to cover more news and information in less time. 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. I highly recommend it to everyone.

Every morning I read the daily newspapers like Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Washington Post on my iPad on the Elliptical machine at the gym. Why? Because the WSJ is the definitive source for business news, the NYT because it is the national paper of record, and the WP because it is the source for political and world events. With the digital versions of these newspapers I can scan the entire newspaper in less than 3 minutes and then drill down on any stories that interest me. Now, I have all of the relevant information that matters in less than 10 minutes.

Once a week, I scan the weekly magazines like The Economist, BusinessWeek,Time, Newsweek, The Week, GolfWeek and Sports Illustrated to glean the deeper perspective of the stories and issues of the week. Once again, the digital versions of these magazines lend themselves to quickly scanning the headlines and only drilling down on the relevant articles in a way that would be impossible with the analog versions.

On a monthly basis, I scan the Harvard Business Review, Hollywood Reporter, Inc., Fortune, Forbes, Fast Company, Wired, PC Magazine, PC World, MacLife, Money, Sound & Vision, Golf Digest, Golf, ESPN, Men’s Fitness, Mens Health. Consumer Reports, Popular Mechanics, Popular Science, Sunset, I3 and Productive magazines to complete my insights on what is going on in the world.

There is nothing like a good book. Books have always been one of the best ways to gain knowledge and digital tools like Kindle and Audible make consuming them more efficient. I use Kindle on my iPad and Kindle Paperwhite. I like the ability to read them on my Kindle Paperwhite reader when I am lying in bed because it is so light and easy to hold or when I am outside in the sunshine when the glare on my iPad makes it difficult to read.

In addition to Kindle, Amazon owns Audible and Goodreads. Audible is another way to keep up with “reading” books by listening to them. I usually listen to audiobooks in the car and really enjoy it. I can fly thru a book relative to reading it because I have more built-in “listening time” than I do free “reading time” built into my week. Just commuting to work gives me 5 hours a week to listen.

GoodReads is a social network for people who love to read. Over time, Amazon has done a good job of integrating Audible, Kindle and GoodReads such that GoodReads knows about your purchases and can automatically sync them. When I hear about a new book to read I add it to my “To Read” shelf and then when I am ready to read/listen to a new book I just go to GoodReads to see what my next purchase should be. Because it is social, you tend to follow other readers and get recommendations and reviews that enhance the experience.

If you were going to recommend three books to your colleagues as a “must read or listen to” what would they be? I asked this to my direct reports and here they are in alphabetical order:

  • Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder by Nassim Taleb
  • Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull
  • First Break All The Rules, By Curt Coffman and Marcus Buckingham
  • Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress Free Productivity by David Allen
  • House by Tracy Kidder
  • It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens by Danah Boyd
  • Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek
  • Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg
  • Management by Peter Drucker
  • Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi
  • Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin
  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
  • The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker
  • The Essential Wooden by John Wooden
  • The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt
  • The Magic of Thinking Big by David Schwartz
  • The Personal MBA by Josh Kaufman
  • The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck
  • The Tipping Point by Malcom Gladwell
  • Trust Me, I’m Lying by Ryan Holiday
  • What they don’t teach you at Harvard Business School by Mark McCormack

The one common thread between Online Learning Sites, Feedly, Newsstand, Podcasts, Audible, Kindle and Goodreads is once the content makes the shift from the analog world to the digital world, it becomes much easier to consume content faster and more efficiently. This is critical for keeping up with today’s fast paced world and leveraging digital tools will help make you a better digital leader.

A guaranteed way to leave work and feel a sense of accomplishment every day

Finish LineUsing a 10-minute Daily Review is a sure-fire way to leave work every day and feel a sense of accomplishment. Additionally, you will enjoy the corresponding decrease in stress that comes with knowing you completed everything you wanted to get done for the day.

If you follow GTD and keep your trusted system up to date with specific Next Actions for your Projects, then it is easy to do this by performing a 10-minute Daily Review every morning. A Daily Review consists of two things – 1) review your calendar for available time that day 2) scan your Next Action lists and decide what you want to complete before going home from work. It’s that simple and usually doesn’t even take 10 minutes.

For me, it is as simple as carving out 10 minutes first thing every morning to look at my calendar to get a sense of what my day looks like. Then, once I know how much available time I have and what the blocks of time look like (large contiguous chunks or small fragmented ones) I have the appropriate context to decide what I want to tackle for the day. I simply scan my Next Actions and mark those items with a “Today” tag.

Finally, I filter those items with the Today tag so I only have the items I have decided I want to accomplish that day. Since Evernote works on my Mac, PC, iPhone, iPad and Galaxy Edge, I have my Today list on each of the devices I use. I leave this Today list up on all my devices and during the course of the day as I accomplish items on the list I delete them.

As soon as I have an empty Today list, I know I have completed all the agreements I have with myself for the day.

By doing a Daily Review each morning and deciding exactly what I intend to accomplish that day, I effectively create a “finishing line” at the end of each workday. Once I cross that imaginary line, I can start to put the workday behind me and start shifting my attitude, heart, and mind towards the next part of my day — whether that’s social, exercise, recreation, or family time.

I can’t tell you what a great feeling it is to look at that empty Today list and know that I have accomplished everything I set out to do for the day. This knowledge allows me to drive home and decompress by tuning out by watching TV, reading a book, talking to my wife and kids or whatever. I’m in the mood to relax and refresh knowing I had a productive day.

Performing a Daily Review allows you to clarify your thoughts, collect yourself, refresh and renew, by setting yourself up for having a feeling of accomplishment. Equally important, is the ability to forget all the things I didn’t do because I consciously choose not to do them but are still on my plate is essential to relieving stress.

Successful task management is really agreement management. At the end of the day, how good you feel about what you did and didn’t do correlates to how well you think you kept agreements with yourself. Did you actually do what you told yourself you would do?

I believe in outcomes and results, not time worked or effort exerted. Once I have completed all the items on my Today list I can go home feeling good about myself no matter what time that is – sometimes it’s late at night and sometimes it’s early in the evening. In those situations, I can feel good about going home earlier than normal. It is a wonderful feeling knowing I accomplished all the agreements I made with myself.

Since I have started this practice, I am far less distracted when I arrive home. I feel more in control, and have a feeling of clarity about what I have accomplished towards completing my priorities. Most importantly, it enables me to “switch off” from work when I’m at home and engage fully with the people I love most.

Crossing your finish line each day is something that not only leaves you feeling satisfied and fulfilled, but motivates you to finish well and decreases your stress.

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.