Chasing tails (Capturing your thoughts)

An odd problem

Having too many thoughts floating around your head can be strange problem. Some may see it as a god sent and say you’re so creative, how can you have so many ideas.
But those that actually have so many ideas life isn’t that easy. Having a lot of them means that your brain is constantly churning something. There is relentless ticking, analyzing,  assessing  re-evaluating. In short period of time it can be great you can easily spit out dozens of ideas and dazzle people around you with your potential. Unfortunately in the long term things are much less exiting. Having a ton of ideas means that you’re constantly engaged with little to no rest for your brain. Plus there is little chance that you actually do something.

Help your brain

With hundreds ideas floating around it can be difficult to focus on something. Quite often the very moment you want to start working on that one project, a bunch of new thoughts appears in your head. The wave of thoughts sweeps you away and 2 hours later you realize you haven’t even started working on that project.

We can’t stop our brain from producing new thoughts but we can relive it from them. The easiest way to do that is to capture those ideas, images and park them until you’re ready to look at them in detail.

We can only focus on a selected number of things so if you want to focus on a project but struggle with countless thoughts stuck in your brain start off by dumping everything out.

The workflow

  1. Helping your brain to reduce the pressure of new ideas is relatively easy.
  2. First make sure you have your capture tool handy.
  3. Second get to work on something.
  4. If you are interrupted stop the work pull your capture device and jot things down.
  5. Put it or send it into your inbox.
  6. Go back to work.
  7. Repeat 1-6 as necessary

Tools

Almost any workflow will require at least one tool to support it. In this case you will need one that will help you capture the thoughts and ideas in a way and format you want whether it’s text, graphics, audio or other. Find something that works for you.

The tools you select will need to serve you in the places you are most prone to get ideas or need to capture them. I would see three such places Work, Home, On the go. When choosing your tool(s) make sure you select one that can serve you in all or most of these places. I tend to rely on combination of three tools:

*notebooks – there are countless sizes and brand of notebooks, cheap ones and expensive ones. I like to use a single notebook for everything as it lets me keep things in one place. If I need to refer to something I always know where to go. The drawback is that thing can get pushed down very quickly if you capture a lot of stuff.

*index cards – there are quite a few variations of these. They are great for quick capture of few thoughts so that you can drop them into your inbox. They are nice tangible expression of your thoughts  this works great when it comes to reviewing them later as one card equals one thought. For some interesting ideas on index sized capture note look here and here

*computer/smartphone app – a third option is using digital tools like Evernote, Onenote, Springpad, Notes, text files or any other of the hundreds of programs available  They are great for capturing not only text but also audio, images, drawings etc making them very versatile options. When considering one for your own use make sure it allows for quick capture of ideas i.e. learn a keyboard shortcut which will bring up the app and open a new note window so that you can type things with very little friction.

One inbox

Regardless of what you use to capture make sure all those items end up in one or two places that you know you will check. The point isn’t simply to write things down and forget about them. The idea is that once you’ve captured something you will come back to it and decide what to do next with it if anything.

Spreading things around in different places will mean that all those things will quickly come back to you as your brain will not trust that you can effectively deal with them.

Keep it easy and keep it simple one inbox to cover everything.

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Tim Ferriss on Learning

Leo Babauta and Tim Ferriss talk about learning. The conversation is on the back of the Ferriss’es latest book “The 4-Hour Chef” which you most likely incorrectly guessed is about cooking.

I had the same thought however the book is about learning and gaining world class knowledge and skills. 

Below conversation touches on different aspects of learning that are discussed in depth in Tim’s book. The interesting part approx 5min is the debate about the 10,000 hours concept popularized by Malcolm Gladwell.

Tim Ferriss on Learning from Leo Babauta on Vimeo.

Elephant Task app

Browsing through Google+ GTD Community my attention was caught by this very interesting task manager which looks to help you with managing your GTD flow. The application is call Elephant Task.

At the moment the application is in development but so far a really like what I’ve seen. The interface is very clean and nicely laid out. Everything is based on text input making it super efficient and to add new items and navigating between the lists. The app looks to leverage from things like contexts, projects, topics and contacts the further categorize next actions. 

Once it’s fully developed it will be very interesting to see how it performs, for now you can see a short demo which was posted by the app developer on you tube.

The new direction

Last week I mentioned that the site was moved, this was little more premature that I was planning for. I initially wanted first to move to Squarespace and continue with ThinkinProject.com domain for a while. Unfortunately during the redirection process I messed things up and practically nuked my WordPress installation  As it was 1:30 am there was no point in trying to recover and I decided to push forward and I quickly moved to new domain too. By 4 am I was up and running with domain redirection set up.

The Creating Personal Flow is my new home on internet and it’s a continuation of the work that I did running Think in Projects.

My previous site was very much technical and focused on tools this side of productivity. My current focus is shifting into a new direction where I want to look at productivity and all the related topics as means for creating flow and removing friction. I want to look at broader set of things and I got to conclusions that previous site was a bit limiting. To overarching theme of this site will be creating flow in life that leads to more success, development, creativity and happy life in general.

When I think of flow the following springs to mind fluidity, ease, clarity, movement, focus, friction-less, patience, persistence.

Soon you will see a new page added to this site which explains in detail why, what and how of this website.

Hope you will find new iteration of my site compelling and continue to read it. If you have any feedback or suggestions for things you would like me to cover please get in touch via contact page

P.S. The current design is also an intermediate step and will change over the coming weeks. I’m leveraging the ease of use of Squarespace platform and I will be adding new visual elements that will match the theme and the direction of this site. 

One thing at a time

25% to 50% of people say they are overwhelmed and burned out at work.

Multitasking was (is?) this super desired skill that supposed to set you apart form competition and while to a degree multitasking is possible doing it on consistent and regular basis is a bad strategy.

Our brain will fry and rather be happy from the  accomplished work we stress out about the other things that have piled up. Multitasking is a race to a bottom and a game that you can’t win.

By relentlessly focusing on something and switching from task to task and not giving yourself a time to recharge leaves you with less and less energy available so you regularly get to the point of passing out on a couch or going straight to bed.

Tony Schwartz in the HBR blog shares some simple and practical tips for both managers and employees to be better at managing energy and focusing on single item. In his experience definite focus periods mixed with short rejuvenation periods (.i.e stepping away from a desk, short walk) provide best results for maintaining consistent productivity. 

Let me share 2 tips from this post one for a manager

Stop demanding or expecting instant responsiveness at every moment of the day

and second for an employee

Establish regular, scheduled times to think more long term, creatively, or strategically

You can read the full blog post The Magic of Doing One Thing at a Time on Harvard Business Review site.

We have moved

After few hours of trial and error I’ve moved my ThinkinProject.com blog to a new domanin Creatingpersonalflow.com

This change is a reflection of a growth process and my intention to focus on broader set of topics. 

Thinkinprojects.com was a more technical site and while I want to retain certain amount of focus in that area I want the new site Creatingpersonalflow.com to focus on other aspect of productivity, performance, efficiency and even venture beyond that.

I’ve also migrated from WordPress to Squarespace – the wonderful hosts of 70Decibels podcast network convinced my to jump the ship.

As this is a transition period you may notice some odd behavior and glitches which I apologize for. Please be patient and I will try to sort them all out.

GTD workflow with Remember the Milk

The beauty of Getting Things Done methodology is that it can be used with any tool whether it’s a paper notebook or digital application sitting on your laptop or mobile phone.

In the center of GTD sits a workflow model which helps you deal with incoming information, requests, ideas and task. This model is based on the following five stages:

  1. capture
  2. process
  3. organise
  4. review
  5. do

It’s a very simple process, yet very powerful as it allows you to make decisions about the things that enter your space and whether you are willing to do them and if so when. As I rely on this model on daily basis I thought I would share how my current task manager of choice Remember the Milk helps me apply it on daily basis.

Capture

Capturing ideas, thoughts, tasks, requests etc is the basic element of well functioning GTD implementation. All the things that have your attention should be routed into an Inbox for later review and assessment. David Allen says:”Your mind is for having ideas not for holding them”. Remember the Milk offers a multiple ways of capturing your information

  • use the input panel on the web
  • use bookmarklet to quickly capture ideas in your browser
  • on the go use smartphone app and the new task widget (Android only)
  • send emails to RTM using subject line to define the task
  • send tasks via Twitter using @rtm account.

These options allow me to capture information very quickly and efficiently regardless of where I’m or do and have it in a single place waiting for me to process it.

Processing

Processing is the stage where you need to decide whether the things you’ve captured are still worth pursuing, should you delete them or put it of for later. This is important stage as not everything you captured will be completed. Having ideas does not mean we need to pursue them all. This state allows to weed out things that we don’t want to spend our time on. Processing focuses on determining whether I want to accomplish the task or idea that I’ve captured. If the answer is “NO” I delete the task or move it to someday maybe list for later consideration. If the answer is “YES” it means the task enters my system permanently and at this moment I apply things like tags, due dates, time estimate, list name etc. These elements will define the context of the task like @home, @computer or the location in the static lists that I use. Adding all these elements means that the organising stage is very easy and almost automated.

Organise

There is so much flexibility there that I could spend months discussing different ways you can organise the tasks using Remember the Milk. Best approach is to keep this simple and relevant and build up from there. For me organising tasks very easy and I heavily rely on smart list which effectively act as a self organising mechanism. Let me explain. I use a static list to manage my areas of focus and at this moment use two list. This is the only time I have to manually assign tasks to a specific list.

For my context, project and waiting for lists I rely on smart list. These list are dynamically generated list that display tasks based on the selected criteria. So if at the processing stage I add tag @computer then my context list “@Computer” will display that task too. Simple no dragging and dropping no moving around etc. Relying on smart list reduces a lot of friction and steps necessary to make sure that my list are up to date and include all items. I also have a “no tag” list which shows me items which don’t have a tag, this is little security net so I can pick up on lost items.

Review

Once you’re tasks are nicely organised it is time to review the relevant list and pick few things that you really want to put your attention on. I have a special list called MIT (thanks Jason Womack) which I update on almost daily basis. The list will include my critical tasks for a given day or a week. The process of adding items is simple, I scan my list and assign selected task a priority level 1 which mean any item of this type will be added to the MIT list. If all planned items are done I look through my context and pick something from the relevant one.

Do

For the doing phase make sure you have easy access to your Remember the Milk account and pick the first task you planned for today. To make sure I get to seem them I have RTM pinned in my browser and a widget set on my phone to display these. Then all it’s left is to do the work.

RTM is so powerful that you can create a very complex list structures and workflows which will involve a lot of steps. My preference it to keep things simple and as close to GTD model as possible while still retaining some of my personal preferences. From experience I can tell that the more elaborate structure/system the less likely you will be able to sustain it. Keep it as simple as you can it will pay off.

Omnifocus 2 announced

Although I focus primarily on the Windows  productivity tools, I must mention recent developments on the Mac side. Last week a new version of Omnifocus has been announced.
Omnifocus seems like a reference application for anyone trying to implement GTD in their life and I’m pretty sure there any many Windows users which envy Mac users for this applications. Although a lot can be said that it’s not  the tool but a robust process and execution makes person productive nonetheless a good tool can help. Omnifocus seems to be this app, plus it have very prominent supporters like Merlin Mann, David Sparks, Mike Vardy etc.

If you’re interested in this application and would like to know about the direction of changes below are couple of likes that you may check out.

Preview of Omnifocus 2 for Mac

Debut of Omnifocus 2

Interview with Ken CAse on Omnifocus 2

I’m pretty sure there will few more reviews coming over the next couple of week so I recommend that you keep an eye on these sites.

Asian Efficiency

Productivityst.com

BetterMess.com

Managing areas of focus with Remember the Milk

Lets kick off with explaining what areas of responsibility are? In the GTD methodology your primary focus is on next actions and projects. These two elements reflect the tactical level of the productivity system i.e. the things you do now or as soon as possible.
A one level above that sits areas of responsibility which define different aspects of life. Rather than show a specific outcome, they point to an ongoing activity or quality that you want to achieve like job responsibilities, family, health, finances etc. Their main purpose is to act a reminders for all the different strands of life that you’re engaged in. Because they rarely reflect finished state they help with spurring ideas about things so each may spur new project or action ideas. Regular review of areas of responsibility can assist in bringing some balance or surface a need to look at an area that was neglected for a while.

Depending on your choice you can either track your areas of focus more intuitively and keep them on a list in your notetaking application or you can embed them right into your system. I happen to go for a mixed solution where I have list of areas of responsibility created in Evernote but I also like keep an eye on where my attention goes and for that purpose I’ve leveraged Remember the Milk. This approach allows me to analyze my tasks and really see what has my attention and where my time goes.

For the tactical element of my task management I rely on tags and smart lists to create context based next action lists as well as keep track of project and waiting fors. For monitoring of the areas of focus I’ve decided to use static lists.

If you haven’t defined your areas of focus now might be a good time.

Simply pick up a pen and piece of paper or open new document in your program of choice and start thinking about different areas of your life. Think in broad and generic terms, what are you responsible, how depends on you etc.

Jot these down and refine further, look for emerging common themes. Most likely you will have between 8-12 items but less is ok too. A higher number might be too big and you may need to refine things further or seriously reassess your commitments and obligations.

Static Lists

Static lists are the foundation of RTM application. They allow for creation of all the different lists that you may need. You can create unlimited number of lists, any task can only belong to a single static list i.e. if you add task to your HOME list than it will not show up in the WORK list.

This is significantly different from smart list which can show you any task that meets the search criteria regardless of the static list it belongs to.

Once task is assigned to a static list it’s in a separate silo which makes it excellent tool for analysis of how many task are created/completed in list. If you name list your lists based on your areas of focus you gain immediate access to understanding what has your attention. Simply the more tasks you have in any given list the more important the area it represents.

Managing static lists happens through the Settings panel and the Lists tab where you can create, archive, merge or delete lists. Because of the additional steps required to manage them they are less likely to be useful at the tactical level where a more rapid list creation occurs. Yet this makes them good tools for managing areas of responsibility as these don’t tend to change very often.

A small note on deleting lists, even if you delete a list your tasks will remain intact and they will simply be added to your default list. This is useful if you are still in the process of redefining your areas of focus and things are yet to settle.

How it works for me

My system relies on three primary static lists of which two reflect the focus of my personal system (Note I have a separate system for work tasks).

INBOX – this is my default list which mean any new task added which is not assigned to a static list will be in my inbox. When I’m in the processing mode each task in this section will be looked at assigned to one my other two lists.

ME – this list reflects all the actions and project related to my personal life and will include pretty much anything that is not related to my BLOG list.

BLOG – this is my third list that I heavily rely on and it reflects all of my endeavours related to this very blog, anything that is related to work that I put here will be assigned to this list.

I always make sure that tasks are processed every couple of days. At that stage I apply relevant tags, due date etc which define which smart list will pick it up. I also assign the static list name to indicate where a given task belong to.

This setup allows my to keep an eye the primary areas of my life. Every time I’m completing a more in-depth review of my stuff I look at the number of tasks and projects completed under each list. Since I use A bit better RTM extension I can see this number right next to the list name.

You may ask, so where are the other areas of focus? As I mentioned a more detailed list is included in Evernote which I review on regular basis. However in my personal experience these two are enough.

You circumstance may be different and you may prefer a bit more granularity. It that’s the case simply set up additional lists which reflect your areas of life in greater detail.

On avoiding distractions.Lessons not just for writers.

Producing results requires dedication, a vision of end state and ability to conquer distractions.
By conquering I don’t mean for life because personally I don’t think it’s even possible . We associate distractions with ringing phones, co-workers stopping by, email and social media notification pinging every 5 minutes. We can remove all the external distractions relatively easy by turning of our devices, finding a quiet spot etc. But what do you do with the most notorious one that sits in side your head?

Seth Godin calls it Lizard Brain, Stephen Pressfield calls it Resistance. They all are forms of  the same, our ability to zone in on something that’s flashy and easy an chasing it down the rabbit hole and completely loosing sense of time.  How to curb our self distracting brain? Below interview with Joanna Penn might help you with finding few strategies and techniques to help put your focus into right places.

One idea that caught my attention specifically is to work from a library. I think this environment might be much more productive than sitting in a busy café. For more follow the link below.

How Professional Writers Avoid Distractions: Interview with Author Joanna Penn

Stick with your yearly resolutions

January just finished so it’s a good time to ask: Where are you with your yearly goals or resolutions? Do you still remember what they were?
The statistics are brutal and say that only 10% of us will stick with our goals and resolutions. You may wonder what the 10% does that they succeed. There may be myriad of answers each depended on the person.

My blogging buddy Daniel Gold shares three neat ways of handling your resolutions.
In essence it all comes down to creating a habit that will support the goal and make it easy to achieve it. There are multiple ways of handling the process of accountability and progress and Daniel has you covered.

3 Ways to Keep Your New Year Resolutions and Become Exceptional