Not sure where to start



Photo by di_the_huntress

With the advent of Christmas holiday season and up coming New Year the is a growing pressure to have as much things done as possible and to avoid carrying things over to the next year. As result of this you might feel overwhelmed with too many projects and actions that need your attention at the same time. There are too many pressing deadlines and none isn’t clearly more important than the other. Being in this state can become overpowering and most likely can cause further stress.

With mountain of things coming in there is no easy way to start and all choices appear to be bad. To sort this all out you need clarity. Clarity to see all your commitments, clarity to see the priorities.

For some , simple tactics below, maybe counterintuitive. As the faster you start the further you can get comes to mind soonest. This is misleading for two reasons. First you may not be doing the right things and secondly you will not be able to properly pace yourself not knowing what the actual tasks are and how much time will they take.

There are couple of tips that are worth trying when your are overwhelmed:

Take a deep breath

Intense work uses a lot of energy. To generate more energy human body needs oxygen, a lot of it. Take three deep breaths. This will calm you down. Also it provides more oxygen and helps you think clearly. Once your head is fresh you can start looking at things, assessing priorities and building action plans.

Take a step back

As you work on projects you may become too involved in them. this potentially can block your ability to judge and make optimal decisions about what needs to get done. Take a qucik  walk outside, maybe go to water cooler or fountain and drink some water. Don’t rush. Come back to your desk and look at your commitments with fresh eyes. See what stands out and make it your priority. Once it’s done find another thing and work on it.


Some of our tasks are delegated from the top. Your boss asked you to do a number of thing and as a result your have a myriad of conflicting priorities and deadlines. Although this maybe easier said than done ask your boss what’s bigger priority. Remember that his performance depends on your performance so it’s in his best interest to makes sure that your are spending your time on the right things. Also it’s better to ask, than feel sorry and put a lot of effort and energy in the wrong thing.

Try any of these techniques whenever you find yourself pushed to the limit without any break on the horizon. What usually happens is the situation looks terrible only from the distance. Up close once you get going it isn’t that bad at all.

If you have any favourite tips for dealing with overwhelm please share them in the comments section below.

Weekly links for 25th December

Wishing you all a very Happy Christmas here is the usual collection of posts and articles about productivity, time management, tools and technology.

  1. How to get exactly what you want

  2. Springpad Helps You Get Things Done

  3. Productivity Tools: Personal Dashboards

  4. 15 Cool Ways To Boost Your Creativity

  5. Out With The Old, In With The New: Do a Mind Sweep

If you have any interesting articles please share them in the comments section.

GTD Series: Part 3 Do

This is a last part of GTD series describing basic elements of Getting Things Done workflow. Part 1 and Part 2 are available.

Getting things done diagram(DIY Planner)

Last element of GTD workflow is the Do. The whole purpose of previous stages, collecting, processing, organising is to allow a worker to make better choices about the stuff he or she is going to do. Planning things out intends to give more confidence that you know what’s going on around you and that you can make a confident choice about next thing to do.
Many people would expect that systems like GTD will spit out exactly what do to next, however they can only provide a list of choices. The ultimate decision is intuitive call that the next action is a good choice.

4 Criteria Model

To assist with making better choices David Allen outlined a four criteria model for deciding next actions.

  • Context – There is limited amount of actions you could do anywhere. Being in the right place, having access to right tools will determine what you can do. If you’re out and about there is no point to look at your @home list for things to action. Your focus should be on Errands or to buy lists. 
  • Time – The amount of time available to you will determine your choices. If you have 15min in between meetings, than this limits what you can do and means that you won’t be looking at complex actions. You will rather look for some quick kills, maybe refer to your read & review stack of papers and tackle couple items there.
  • Energy – Human body has peak and low energy periods during any day and throughout a year. Being in high energy period means that you can do complex and intensive work. You can get sufficient amount of focus to complete high value tasks. On the other hand you might feel exhausted and tired so you would look for something simple and easy.  
  • Priority -  having considered all the above criteria you need to look at what’s most important. Which of you actions that you could possibly complete give you biggest return. The decision is very intuitive and based solely on your own judgment.

3 Types of work

To assist you with determining what’s more important David Allen refers to additional two models.
First looks at the different types of work we do and second focuses on establishing how your actions fit into your life, goals, plans etc.
When doing any sort of work you could be looking at one of the three elements:

  • predefined work – this is where you check you list and do whatever you’ve planned to do. During your weekly or daily review you can determine what’s important and needs to be done and this will be a basis of your day.
  • as it show up work – this is where you’re focusing on the incoming items and do them as they arrive. As almost every day brings unexpected it’s necessary to leave some time for such items. However if you allow to work only on those items and ignore your list that means they were more important that the next actions and projects you’ve plans.
  • defining your work – this is last element where you are engaged making sure your system is up to date and complete. In this stage of work you look at processing your inboxes, defining your schedule and next action list.

6 Levels

All your actions and activities for part of a bigger thing. They should allow us to move into the ultimate direction of purposeful life, a life which gives you a feeling of accomplishment. This is where a 6 level model for reviewing your work comes in play. It’s takes a form of altitudes which represent different forms of goals, plans, dreams, visions and allows your to check how well your actions are aligned with above element.

  • Runway – all your current next actions.
  • 10,000 feet – your projects
  • 20,000 feet – areas of responsibility
  • 30,000 feet – short term goals (1-3 years
  • 40,000 feet – long term goals (4-6 years)
  • 50,000 feet – life purpose.

Although all this may look overly complicated the process happens in your head in a fraction of a second. If you know your schedule you know that you have 15min to next meeting so you can try to find something quick to do. Assessment of your situation will happen instantly you won’t be rethinking every criteria individually.

These models should serve you in selecting the right actions and making better more aligned plans. Not all will be used on daily basis. The 4 criteria model is the most likely to be used and the 6 level model works best during planning and review sessions where things need to be thought through.
There is a myriad of factors which contribute to making a right decision. Ultimately if the actions you’ve completed make you feel good than you’ve made right choices.

Weekly links for 11th of December

A collection of posts and articles about productivity, time management, tools and technology.

  1. David Allen talks about avoiding burnout

  2. One Big Reason Why You Don’t Have Work-life Balance

  3. How Will You Use The Limited Time You Have?

  4. Making It All Work – From Getting Things Done to Making It All Work

  5. Update: Evernote 4.1 for Windows

If you have any interesting articles please share them in the comments section.

Weekly Links for 4th December

A collection of posts and articles about productivity, time management, tools and technology.

  1. Jason Fried: Why Work Doesn’t Happen at Work

  2. Working On What Counts

  3. New Productivity tool – Wunderlist

  4. Reach Out and Touch Someone: How the Power of Personal Connection Creates Blogging Success

  5. Springpad Helps You Get Things Done

  6. The Autofocus Productivity Method: Stop Maintaining To-Do Lists and Start Getting Stuff Done

If you have any interesting articles please share them in the comments section.

GTD series: Part 2 Organise & Review

This is a second part of GTD series describing basic elements of Getting Things Done workflow. Part 1 available, Part 3 coming soon.

Getting things done diagram(DIY Planner)


Third element in the GTD workflow is Organise.

At this stage you’ve made a decision about the stuff that’s taking your physical and mental space.Now you need to put it in to right categories so those things can be retrieved when needed.

The easiest way to organise all of the collected items it to make a record for each of on a list. List is the most versatile, easy to use and accessible form of record keeping.

As you may remember from the processing stage there were to types of items actionable and non actionable.

It is important to keep in mind that categories should have had edges so projects go to on project list, next action on next action list etc. At times it may be difficult to maintain this division but sticking with it improve the reliability of the system.

All of your actionable items can be put on one of below lists:

Project list – project is any outcome that takes more than one step to complete. If one action won’t mean an end to something project list will act as a reminder of things to complete. Key thing to remember about project your really don’t do them you do the actions that form this project.

On the side note it’s worth mentioning project support materials. It often happens that you have some notes, plans, drawings, research that relates to a particular projects. It’s best not to mix this with your projects list and to keep it separate. Projects support information should be reviewed as often as it’s necessary. Perhaps initially you will need to look at support documents quite often to pick up any relevant actions and things to do. Then as the project nears to completion the there is less and less need to review them.

Next action lists – lists of actions  that need to be done as soon as possible, meaning they need to be done but they are not time/day specific. If the number of actions you have on your list exceeds one page it might be useful to divide it in to separate lists. Recommended split is based on the context which describes the place where the action takes place. Most basic contexts include home, work, phone, computer etc.

Calendar – this is another form of a list. The main purpose for the calendar is to act as reminder for time/day specific actions  so things like meeting or things that need to be done on a particular day. Calendar might also contain days specific information like booking number for your flight, directions, activities of other people. Usually it acts as first point of contact during a work day.

Waiting for – this is one of the most useful lists. It’s list designed to keep track of other people promises. You can keep track of books you’ve lend, actions you’ve assigned, confirmations you need to receive etc. Maintaining this list makes less likely that you miss something because someone didn’t deliver and you can always remind people about the stuff they haven’t done.

These are key lists used for your actionable items. Now your non actionable items also have their place.

Trash – this is self explanatory. Anything you don’t need or don’t want goes into trash. It’s an important category to remember of and in many cases it’s best solution for overgrowing and overflowing archives, inboxes, stacks of paper and other stuff. When looking at those it’s necessary to ask if you really need any of it.

Reference – This category is includes various types of information that does not have any action attached to them but needs to kept. Reference material can include paper based stuff like receipts, payment confirmations, bills, articles worth saving as well as electronically stored files, folders and pictures, etc. Information stored should be easily accessible so a proper filing system is necessary. For starters you could approach this simply by filing things alphabetically or by topic.

Someday/Maybe – This category of stuff is some what in between actionable and non-actionable items. This bucket is designed to store things that you would like to achieve, do, see at some point of your like. It acts as parkin space for dreams, ideas, plans projects that aren’t priority at the moment but you don’t want to forget about them. As this category can grow quickly in size it’s good to create a number of subcategories. For example you could have a list for music you like, books to read, places to visit, food to try, business opportunities to try out etc.


Reviewing pieces of your system is necessary to keep it functional and up to date.

Certain elements of your system are more important than the others so there is a sequence you should follow when looking at your commitments. Also it makes sense to review list that cover day to day activities more often than those meant to keeping track of your goals and dreams. First is prone to more rapid changes.

There are two main types of reviews that help keep the system running.

Daily reviews – this helps to make sure the key actions and meetings are properly scheduled. It also allows to give any day a structure and purpose. Daily review is focusing on the immediate elements like calendar, next actions and waiting for’s.

Weekly review – Allen suggests to do a complete review of the content of the system once a week. If your week was very heavy in changes and priority shifts it might be needed do a through review even more often. As weekly review should look at the whole system: calendar, project list, action lists, someday maybe etc. In addition to that weekly review includes exercise called “brain dump” which aims at clearing your head from all the items floating in it. The result of brain dump is good indication of what needs your attention in first place.

Daily review is usually quick scan of various lists and it can be done in not time. However weekly review is more complex and for most part it requires good bit of time and focus. This review covers much more in depth look at your system it will take a while to complete it. Finding the right time and place to complete weekly review can be a significant factor contributing to the success of weekly review. Basic suggestion point to Friday as most suitable day to complete such review. This day of the week is relatively slow but it still allows for follow up and contact with people when necessary.

It’s worth mentioning that there are other reviews which focus on looking at your goals, visions, life plans and other so called "higher altitude” elements. These are usually happening once a quarter or once a year to check for progress and adjustments. Higher altitude elements will be covered in future post.