Assessing Priorities with Mike Vardy

As we are getting closer and closed to the end of third quarter of this year it’s always good to review how things are going.  

Mike Vardy went through his own assessment recently and shared his observations and take-away’s.  

I’ve been doing an assessment too and hope this share some of the results over the coming weeks. My focus was on the information and how much and where do I want to keep it. As result I’ve introduced some interesting changes that yielded some surprising results.

Assessing Priorities 


Quarter end – time for a goal review

We are almost done with quarter on of 2013 it’s a good time to look back at the past three months and take a stock of what was accomplished, which goals are really coming to fruition and which were just a wishful thinking.

There is an excellent post over at Copyblogger which touches precisely on that point. To make progress on the projects, ideas, goals which you set for yourself they need to be reviewed and assessed on regular basis and end of quarter makes a perfect time for that.  There are four elements which can help you make this review process: 

  1. Thinking space to look at the plans and reality.
  2. Check the basics – see where you are at the moment
  3. Look back – review your goals, have things changed, are they still valid
  4. Look forward – define where to go, identify new projects, set the action steps 

Beware the Ideas of March

How to return to work after the holidays?

Holiday season is in full swing and many of us take long awaited 2 weeks off. Unfortunately at some point it’s time to come back to work. This means you need to go through a backlog of emails, catch up on latest events, see whether priorities have changed and what do you need to focus on.

What’s first?

So your are back on Monday morning feeling rested and rejuvenated with energy levels sky high. Now the question is what do you do? Where do you start?

For many the default way of spending their first day at work is to go through the emails and see what has happened. Depending on your environment you can have between 500 to 2000 or more emails in your inbox. If you get yourself in to the mode of checking email, you will drown in old communication which will deplete your energy and concentration. Don’t do that.

With your energy at peak level, it’s a great time to take a stock of where you are decide where you want to go which projects to move forward.

What are the steps?

At the very, very high level the best ways to start your work after holidays is to check were you are, see what remains outstanding and define a plan of action for the rest of the week. Lets look at this in bet more detail:

1. Speak to your colleagues and manager to get an idea where things are. – your colleagues and managers will be the best source of information about recent events so don’t waste your time on looking at your email first. Most likely none of the messages from two weeks ago are that time sensitive anyway.

2. Check the follow up list which you left for your co-workers. – before you left, you most likely left a big or small list of things you would like your colleagues to look after. Since these would be important items check where they are with them, have all of them been completed? If any items remain open include them in the next stage of the review.

3. Check for any reminders that may have popped up when you were away. – ideally you’ve dealt with those by taking care of them in advance or asking your colleagues for help. If however there were few things left asses their importance and add them your next action list.

4. Check your waiting for list for to see with whom you need to follow up. – review the items you’ve been waiting for, have people responded to you during your absence. Follow up on the open items or add to your action list.

5. Check your project list and begin deciding what you want to do next. – Once you’ve re-oriented yourself in the workplace it;s time to look at things bit more strategically. Review your projects and see where they are. Decide which should remain on the list and which should be postponed or even scrapped completely. Use this list to set a direction for next few weeks.

6. Check your next action lists – remove items that are no longer relevant or to add new points following your review of projects and waiting for items.

Now, that you’re up to date with your projects, waiting for’s and next actions, you can direct energy and focus toward making progress rather than spending it on dealing with email.

This is how I would see coming back to work. My holidays are due in couple of weeks time and I’m hoping to test these ideas when I’m back.

In the mean time, I wonder what are your strategies? What do you on the first day after holidays?t

Tasks Events and Android home screens

Not that long ago I used to use Filofax planner to keep tabs on calendar and tasks, now my android phone has replaced both. Although I still use paper notebook for capturing notes, ideas and general writing, I find that smartphone is much better for staying on top of my appointments and task list.
For any information to be useful it must be easily accessible and visible. If there are too many steps, clicks it will not be used. There will be too much friction. Some interesting thought about friction can be found on Michael’s blog.

As result this got me thinking on how to setup my phone, so that I can easily see what’s upcoming and what I need to do today.

A great feature of android phones is that they provide ability to create multiple homescreens which in turn can display widgets. In essence rather than refer to actual app on a phone or wait for it to remind you about something, I can quickly scan the latest information on my screen.

I created an addiotional homescreen completely dedicated to my calendar and task information.

For that purpose I decided to use Agenda Widget for Android to show my calendar information. It’s fairly chunky download but it provides very nice graphical representation of my calendars and appointments. It also has a tons of customisation so it should easily fit everyones needs.

As for the tasks, I’m using Remember the Milk which provides a number of wigdets to choose form. RTM has been my task manager of for a number of year so I really enjoy making the most of it. At the moment I’m using a widget to show me all tasks due today but I can swap it for any type of list.

On daily basis I refer to this screen to review what’s coming up next. I also at least try look at it every evening too so I can prepare for next day and see where I’m.

What do you use to stay on top of your daily agenda? Do you have any way of keeping your appointments and tasks visible?

Kick start your day

The way you start a day has a big impact on how you are going to feel at the end of it. There are lots of different ways to do it and below are just two suggestions.

Free form

Some people don’t like plans, they prefer to go with their gut feeling and focus on whatever seems right in the moment. If you’re one of those below should be helpful.

Clear you mind – each morning take a piece of paper  and write down the ideas, thoughts which are floating in your head. 

See what stands out for your and select three items and focus your efforts on those.

Structured approach

If you follow any productivity system and you’re used to keeping various of lists, make reviewing those your priority for each day.
Sounds obvious and simple but it’s not always easy. There were many time when before I managed to open my task list I got sucked into the email and my day was gone. To prevent that and get few things done start your day with REVIEW and PLAN:

  • Review your project list and pick three projects you want to move forward.
  • Review your action list and select three items you want to finish first.
  • Focus on the three actions first, one at a time.
  • Once you’re done with those look at the projects and pick one, make as much progress as you want and them move to the next one.

Perhaps any of this won’t be easy or even possible to achieve each day but once you make a habit it will become more natural.

Do you have any tips for kick starting your day on a good note? Please share them in the comments.

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.