Get unstuck and get more done

Just wanted to share two great tips that I came across very recently.

Randy Murray writes about getting better grip on your projects, getting to understand what is that a project should deliver. Quite often people procrastinate on things, put them off as much as they can simply because they don’t understand what’s required from them. They weren’t told what’s the purpose of the project. A list of actions to complete is not enough, it doesn’t provide any context to a project. It simply says get it moving, get it done.

A solution that Randy proposes is to write a project abstract. Write couple sentences outlining what’s the project about, why it’s important and who benefits from it. This might help you get a fresh energy to work on that project.

I think this is a great advise especially if all your focus is on cranking out next action steps. After a while it can become dull and boring. Making a project abstract or writing down the successful outcome (vide GTD) is a good way to remind yourself where are you going. Envisioning success can be uplifting and revitalizing. Previously dull and boring project  will now look like something real and alive, it’s much easier to put your energy in it.

Second tip is from Jason Womack. In below video he talks about meetings and in the wider context making the most of your time when plans are changing. You were due to attend a meeting but it’s been cancelled. What do you do with that extra time? How do you react to a cancellation? Jason points that rather than getting busy with your email or organizing your stuff, find 2-3 things you would do if you had an extra time. You’ve just been given an extra 1h of time.

What is a way to get more done each day? Jason Womack

This is so simple and powerful idea that it can be easily overlooked. In majority of workplaces we are pressed for time so those unexpected “time windows” where you’re scheduled to do something else are great opportunities. I think it takes some practice to shift from busy work to working something more productive. It’s super easy to burn hour checking email.

Start thinking that you’ve been given an extra hour and make a habit of spending that time on tasks that are important to you. Keep your task list updated and current so next time someone cancels a meeting you know what to do.

Weekly links for 28th March

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

  1. Finding Your Work Sweet Spot: Genuine Interest, Skills & Opportunity
  2. Why Working From Your Email Inbox Doesn’t Work
  3. Can a 5-minute exercise double your productivity?
  4. Better Time Management Is Not the Answer
  5. Why Hard Work Isn’t Such a Good Idea

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

Top down or bottom up approach?

IMG_2739Top down and bottom up are two basic ways of approaching personal productivity and getting more organized.

In first approach, you start from thinking out your life’s purpose, major and smaller goals then you move to projects and lastly to actions. Once you’ve clarified your purpose and goal you have a picture of where you want to go, so now is the time to plan out the steps. Also every decision you’re faced with can be screened against the purpose. If the request matches to your purpose than it’s potentially worth doing but if it’s not aligned than there is no point in doing it.

In the second approach, you look at the stuff you have around you, right here and now. As you progress through your current commitments, you can start to look where they lead in terms of the bigger picture. Once the projects are under control you can review the wider context of where they lead and whether the result is one you want. As you gradually build that picture, it’s becoming easier and easier to make the decision about which things should be moved forward and which should be retired.

The main critique of the top down approach is that it’s doesn’t deal well with day to day stuff. The kind of things that need to be done but really don’t fit into your goals. Other element is that it’s fairly difficult to come up with the master plan for life in one sitting. For majority of people this most likely will be a lengthy process.

On the opposite, the bottom up approach is criticized for not providing clear direction of where things should be going. It’s like stacking a ladder against the wrong wall, you’ll get to the top bit is the top you wanted?

Regardless of your view on which is better you can use them both whenever the situation requires. Let me analyse two scenarios to show you how this works.

Scenario 1
You’ve been working on different projects but overtime, enthusiasm faltered and things are not moving as well as before. There is a growing disconnect with current situation and whatever option you consider none looks enticing.

This is a prime example where top down thinking can help. Spending some time thinking and analysing the situation in the bigger context can bring more clarity and direction. Consider your position and see what are the goals you’re aiming at, check whether what you’ve been doing is in line with them. If it isn’t, you know where to start. Delete, eliminate, cut out.

Scenario 2
You’re swapped with countless tasks and there seem to be not end on that tunnel. As soon as you complete one there are three or four more new coming in. With the flood of new stuff and piles of old there isn’t any place to go.

If you want to solve above than bottom up approach would suit best. Before thinking of goals and life’s purpose start with the ground work. Review all off those items. Decide which require action and which are simple FIY. Go through all of them and don’t skip. Once done pick the first item and start working.

Different situations require different tools and approaches. Our life’s situation changes on very regular basis so sticking with ideas that were relevant six months ago may not be the best choice especially if your situation has moved dramatically.

Use these approaches to your advantage and make progress.

Weekly Links 21st March

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

  1. Better Time Management Is Not the Answer
  2. Nancy’s Talk from TEDxEast: You Can Change the World
  3. Authors@Google: Garr Reynolds
  4. 7 Habits, Getting Things Done and now, Personal Kanban
  5. 10 Productivity-Enhancing Apps from the Chrome Web Store

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

Weekly Links post 14th March

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

Expertise triumphs Experience – Over at Productive flourishing Ali Luke explores the notion that experience may not be the best indication of the performance and ability to do the job. As she point out you may be cooking for twenty year using the same recipes but that does not make you a chef. What really matters is the expertise in the particular field gained through learning, testing and asking questions.

WorkAwesome Podcast: Episode 12 – Patrick Rhone – WorkAwesome site has a very interesting interview with Patrick Rhone. The interview focuses on topics like productivity, macs, software tools and minimalism.  I came across Patrick when he did a lot of writing about staying productive using pen and paper. His new area of focus is minimalism where runs two sites Minimal Mac and Enough – The Minimal Mac Podcast. Both places are worth visiting for some food for thought and inspiration even if your platform is Windows.

10 Awesome Videos On Idea Execution & The Creative Process – I think the title speaks for itself. This is a really great collection starting from Steve Jobs Stanford speech to JJ Rowling speaking at Harvard. Be sure to set a side at least 2h as these talks cover a lot of ground.

Developing Systems That Work – Over at Get Rich Slowly JD Roth writes that he found three ways of a successful system: routine, automation, and simplicity. Although the context of this post is very much focused on personal finance it’s very easy to draw parallels with personal productivity. In fact if you apply above three elements it’s almost certain that you will become more effective and organised.


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

GTD Projects – summary

This is a last post it the series describing basics of GTD projects. While I don’t think I’ve covered everything that’s there it should be just enough information to get you started.IMAG0063

Below is the list of topics that I’ve covered.

  1. GTD Project Series: Natural planning model
  2. GTD Project series – project tools
  3. GTD Projects series – software list
  4. GTD Project Series – executing a project

Just to summarize in couple sentences the main concepts.

Firstly everything should be a project,  at least every outcome that takes more that two steps. Why is that? Mainly because it forces you to keep track of all your open projects and secondly in your busy life it’s easy to drop a ball when you juggle a lot of them.

When ever you finish something you can check your project list and see what’s out there. If you’ve been tracking your projects even on a simple list, it’s almost guaranteed that you will be better at completing things and following through.

We all want clarity and whether we realize that or not, we like the routines and to follow a path. By referring to the planning model and establishing the purpose, vision and actions we are getting a clear vision of what we want to achieve and how to go about it. No need to re-think what’s next, just use the plans.

You will hear that tools are not they factor to increasing productivity and that’s true. No tool will enforce the right behaviours as you rather abandon the tool then change your habit. Yet finding a good set off applications can reduce the friction of tracking projects and actions. So as long as you don’t obsess with finding the perfect tool and master what you have spending some time searching good software will payoff.

I hope you’ve found this series useful. Please share your best practices or problems you’re facing when working on projects.

Weekly links post for 5th March

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

The Theory Underlying Concept Maps and How to Construct and Use Them

Start Your Journey by Clearly Defining What Your Sh*t Is

Two Ways to Make Better Decisions

In Meetings, Pen & Paper, Not Glass and Fingers

Authors@Google: Garr Reynolds – Presentation Zen

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

GTD Project Series – executing a project

IMAG0063The main premise in GTD’s understanding of a project is that you can’t do a project. Project is just an outcome you want to achieve. What you can do are the actions that form your project. Once they are done the outcome is achieved the project is done.
Three weeks ago I’ve covered the natural planning model which describes how a project comes to life from defining the purpose to listing out all next actions. The end result of this is a project plan which outlines necessary details and action sequences etc.

The remaining element is the execution of the plan. Often times all planning and brainstorming makes us very excited about the project but when it comes to doing our energy goes down and we things falter.

How do you tie project plan with actions and make progress? There are two ways you can approach that.

Big chunks (all you can eat approach)

Since you’ve already spend some time planning your project plan contains majority if not all of necessary tasks. Make an appointment with yourself for 3-4 hours and get to work.
Use project plans as your task list to complete different elements of the project. In order for this approach to work is a very little number of dependencies and people involved to there is no unnecessary holdup and waiting for other to complete their part.

I find this approach useful when you have a relatively small project which needs to be finished quickly. The main reason it works well is that I have planned my steps and rather that think of what I need to do is just execute one after another.

Chipping away (small bites)

Majority of us have a number of open projects at one time. In most cases these can’t be completed on one sitting as we have to wait for other people to do something for us. Once that is done we can mover another part of the project. As different demands press on us it’s difficult to move things forward and often thing stale for weeks. One of the ways to overcome that is to work in small increments and finding couple minutes to 1 hour to complete a single action should be within your reach.

Rather than use project plan as your immediate task list start by reviewing your project list and establish what are the projects you want to focus on this week. I suggest that your pick between 3-5 items. This small number will be easier to fit into your schedule especially if you have a large number of meetings.

Once you decided on your key projects review the plans for these and extract 1-3 next actions per project and put them on your relevant action list.

Make sure that they are on top of your list and tackle them early in your day.

By sticking to this routine you can make a solid progress on 3 to 5 projects in a given week. It may not look like a lot but it’s definitely better that agonising over the number of open project and not making any progress at all.