GTD

Workologism #7: Get Serious About Ubiquitous Capture

That awesome idea you just had? You aren't going to remember it in 10 minutes. I promise you. Get it out of your head and onto something a little more stable than the jelly-like organ that's working hard to keep you alive and not just remember your seemingly incredible ideas.

  1. Your smartphone has a reminders or notes function. Use it. Bonus points for learning how to voice activate it. I can say "Remind me to do X," to my phone and it will automatically add it to my Things inbox.

  2. Small notebook, back pocket. Small pen, front left pocket. This may only work for the fellas but it's relatively easy to carry a small notebook (Field Notes or Moleskine are good) in your back pocket and a small pen (like a Space pen) clipped to the inside of a front pocket.

  3. Use some kind of software on your computer that makes it easy to quickly record an idea. I use Things which allows me to hit CTRL + OPT + SPACEBAR to bring up a quick entry box that will immediately put whatever I type into it in my Things inbox. This plus muscle memory will allow you to record every good idea without overly distracting you from the task at hand.

Photo by photophilde

The Psychology of GTD, Part 3: Flow

This is a very special article for me because it unites two of my favorite ideas -- flow and GTD. I originally came to graduate school to study positive psychology because of Csikszentmihalyi's book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. At that time I had already been practicing GTD for a couple years but I hadn't yet realized how the two are united. Over the past year I've come to realize just how closely they are intertwined.

Intro to Flow

I've written about flow many times before so if you're a regular reader of this site you probably already have a good sense of what flow is. For the newcomers, though, I'll give a one paragraph summary of the idea.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi noticed that sometimes people become incredibly engrossed in an activity even when there is no external reward. An amateur mountain climber is not being paid to climb a mountain yet she can become so immersed in the task it seems like time flies by and every last bit of her ability is being challenged by the task at hand. Csikszentmihalyi calls this state "flow" and has elucidated numerous characteristics and components of it. In a nutshell, you need to have clear goals, clear feedback, and a balance of high skill and high challenge in the task at hand to find flow in what you're doing. When you do find flow, whether in work or leisure, you will lose track of everything else because what you're doing requires the absolute limit of your attention.

Being in flow is generally a very positive experience and has been linked to all sorts of great outcomes in terms of work such as job satisfaction and productivity.

Implications for GTD

I think adopting a GTD system makes it easier to find flow in your work. By creating a GTD system for yourself you have to create clear goals, you receive clear feedback, and you facilitate concentration -- all of these are preconditions to experiencing more flow.

Goals

As I wrote about last week regarding implementation intentions and goal setting, Project and Next Action Lists are essentially lists of goals. Each project and each next action has a desired end state, that when reached, represent completion of a goal. GTD forces you to get very clear about what "done looks like." With this clear vision of "done" you can immerse yourself in the task at hand instead of constantly asking yourself what you need to do. You know what you need to do and it's just up to you to get it done.

Feedback

A good GTD system, whether digital, analog or some combination of the two, is purely external. You can see the entirety of your commitments and responsibilities at one time. Like standing on top of a skyscraper you can look down and see how your life is arranged. With your clear sense of organization and goals you receive feedback as you cross items off your lists. You create a sense of progress as you move through your lists finishing tasks and projects.

Concentration

Finding flow requires the ability to concentrate on one thing at a time. It's impossible to find flow if you're constantly being distracted by external or internal interruptions. Adopting GTD requires you to think about what you are and aren't doing at all times. By batching your next actions into similar contexts and seeing the entirety of your commitments at one time you can ensure you're working on the "right" thing. Even if you're feeling some discord about whether or not what you're working on is truly the right thing, you at least know that you aren't forgetting anything because everything exists outside your brain and in your external system. This frees you up to use your concentration on the task at hand, not trying to remember what you need to do or worrying about the decision you've made.

Conclusion

At its core flow and GTD are about the same thing; using your attention deliberately and wisely. When you're in flow you're focusing your attention on one activity or task and immersing yourself in it. Using GTD allows you to make good decisions about where you're directing your attention and frees you up to make conscious decisions instead of purely reacting to what happens to you. It only makes sense that these two concepts are intertwined. If you're looking to find flow in your work more often -- and really, who isn't -- you could do much worse than trying out GTD.


Much of my coaching and consulting deals with helping individuals with productivity and finding more flow in their daily activities. Have you ever thought about working with a coach? You can learn more about what I do here and you're more than welcome to set up a free consultation call with me.

Photo by David Stanley

The Psychology of GTD, Part 2: Implementation Intentions

Last week I released the first part of my series on the Psychology of GTD. This week, we move on to the idea of "implementation intentions" and the science of goal setting.


At a very basic level, success with using a GTD system is all about setting and achieving goals. Both Projects and Next Actions could be considered goals. Projects are obviously larger and more long term (usually, but not always) than Next Actions but they are united by the fact that they are goals in the sense of describing an end state that you're trying to achieve. Given the reliance on goals and goal setting it makes sense that some of the research done in the field of psychology on this topic is relevant to GTD.

Implementation Intentions

The research on implementation intentions is all about how to best set and then take action toward meaningful goals. It's one thing to set a goal and a completely different thing to take regular action toward that goal. I only have to look as far as all the failed goals and habit changes I've ever experienced to see the difference between the two. Implementation intentions are all about how to get yourself to take "goal directed behavior" even when you may not feel like it or even realize you should.

How Implementation Intentions Work

You have some sort of goal that you wish to achieve, say, losing 15 pounds. You decide that an action you can take toward that stated goal is no longer eating a bowl of ice cream as a bedtime snack. You've basically set the intention to stop eating ice cream after dinner in the hope that it will support your ultimate goal of losing weight. The missing piece, according to the implementation intention researchers, is the details around how you're going to take that goal-directed action.

Instead of just setting an intention you have to also set the details around that implementation. This takes the form of an "if-then" statement that includes the positive behavior change. For example, the person in our ice cream example could set the implementation intention of, "IF I feel hungry after dinner THEN I will eat a piece of my favorite fruit." This statement helps create a cause-effect link in our ice cream eater's mind about when he is going to take certain goal relevant action. Now, instead of using his willpower to fight the urge to eat ice cream every night he simply has to enact his implementation intention ("eat a piece of my favorite fruit") when the proper environmental conditions are met ("it's after dinner and I'm hungry"). Over time this cause-effect relationship becomes even stronger and is enacted almost automatically.

Implications for GTD

When you're first starting GTD you have to use a lot of willpower to keep it going. There's all these lists and checklists and frameworks and it all seems so tedious and overwhelming! I think that's why a lot of people never really see enough success with GTD to keep it going. GTD doesn't really start "clicking" until you get the behaviors that promote it to happen automatically. Using your inbox to capture all information in your life, using some sort of ubiquitous capture tool, doing mental RAM dumps, doing Weekly Reviews, reviewing checklists... there are a lot of behaviors that need to be taken to make GTD successful for you.

Using the implementation intention idea can help these behaviors become automatic. For example, you could set an implementation intention like, "IF I have an idea when I'm not in front of my computer THEN I will pull out my smart phone and write myself a note," or "IF it's Sunday afternoon THEN I'm going to sit down and do my Weekly Review." Using the physical artifacts of a GTD system can also serve as the IF statement, "IF I'm looking at my Project list and I see a lack of Next Actions THEN I will take a moment to figure out what the Next Action is," for example. Forming implementation intentions is similar to creating a productivity system like GTD in that it's an external system. In the same way that GTD is an external system to hold tasks/projects/goals, implementation intentions are an external system for taking the actions to make those tasks/projects/goals actually happen.


Next week we will discuss the idea of how Csikszentmihalyi's idea of flow is connected to GTD.


If you're enjoying this series, I recommend signing up for the monthly Workologist newsletter.

Photo by Angie Torres

You're Probably Thinking About Your Work Too Much

If you're not doing some kind of weekly review you're probably thinking too hard about all the work you have to do. A bold statement, perhaps. Maybe even counterintuitive. How could setting aside an hour or two every Sunday to explicitly think about my work result in me thinking about my work less?

I think less about my work and spend more time actually doing it because of the time I set aside every Sunday. Instead of figuring out what my work is every day or every time I look at my to-do list, I think about it all ahead of time. Every Sunday I look at everything I have going on -- all the projects, areas of responsibility, and ongoing commitments I have -- and decide what "done" looks like. I make sure to think about the concrete steps it takes to get to that vision of done and I write them down in a place I trust. Monday through Friday I can focus on doing the work I gave myself on Sunday instead of constantly renegotiating with myself.

Everyone's weekly review looks different and there are lots of guides available online. I work through a checklist I'm constantly tweaking to reflect the way I work. You can see it here (but remember, it's highly specific to the way I work and the tools I use so it may not make the most sense to you).

It's a great feeling to know I've thought carefully about the work I've committed to doing and have already fleshed out what I need to do to reach a state of completion. On the flipside, it's also great to know that I'm 7 or less days away from stepping back from the grind of the work, reassessing what I have going on, and making smart decisions about moving forward. Separating these two tasks, the DECIDING and the DOING means I do both much, much better than I could otherwise.

 

The Role of Curation in a True GTD System

Today's post is all about David Allen's personal management system called Getting Things Done. If you aren't familiar with it, you may want to read the book, or at least the Wikipedia article first.

I've seen a lot of chatter recently in the blogs I follow about whether GTD is "good" for creatives. As an ardent follower of David Allen's seminal personal management system, I must say I feel compelled to share my thoughts. If this little flare up had happened a couple of months ago, I probably would've been right in the thick of defending canonical GTD. I've had a lot of success using the system to help me manage my student teaching experience, my long-term substitute teaching experience, coaching a college hockey team, starting graduate school, starting a business and a multitude of small and medium-sized projects in between. GTD has been my stalwart companion during this entire time. However, I realized even though it may seem like a lot when it's all listed out like that, each of these times of my life usually featured one or two major projects that spawned smaller projects. I've always had a lot to do, but up until recently I've never felt that my ability to manage the sheer number of possibilities has been tested. Now? Things are different. 

Graduate school seems to have the unique property of providing exponentially more (quantitatively) and more interesting projects the better work you do. The more I buckled down on my rock solid implementation of GTD, the more opportunities I had for really interesting projects. It's cool to have things to choose from, but this pattern is not sustainable. Eventually something had to break; either me or my system (or both).

I became bogged down in the details of following up on my huge list of available projects. I spent more time making sure I had next actions defined than I did actually doing the work. Let me stop you right now if you're a GTD fan because I know what your counterargument is going to be. This isn't a failure of the system, it's a failure in my ability to be crystal clear about what's true for me right now in terms of how much I can really accept on my proverbial work plate. It's a failure of priority, not the system. However, being a staunch follower of GTD led me to feel I could accept anything and everything because I had become so good at handling the never-ending stream of information. I felt like I could take something else on because I had a very clear sense of what I've currently committed to. I just had a bad case of eyes-bigger-than-my-stomach syndrome. Because I always knew what the next action was for any of the projects in my system, every time I sat down to work on one project all I could think about was how I should be doing any number of other projects (and not on an amorphous level -- I knew what the next actions were for each of them). It resulted in me flitting from project to project on a typical day, knocking out next actions and slowly, achingly slowly, moving my entire retinue of projects toward completion.

Something needed to change and last week I made those changes. First, it was simply a matter of ending commitments to those activities and responsibilities that weren't fulfilling me in the way they should (beating them with my GTD club in MacSparky parlance). Then, it was committing to one area of responsibility, or even better, one project, for an entire day and scheduling out my week in advance. Immediately I stopped feeling like I needed to be working on projects X, Y, and Z every time I sat down to do A. I think my brain realized I had already slotted myself time to work on those projects later in the week so I was finally free to bring my mental power to bear on one project. I'm currently tweaking this approach as it turns out some areas of responsibility, while important, can't fill an entire day. For the upcoming week I'm trying breaking my day into two chunks, Morning and Afternoon. Each chunk gets an area of responsibility or a specific project. Friday is mostly for taking care of whatever is on my mind at the most at that time.

This may not work if you don't have the benefit of having some serious control over how you spend your time. Luckily, since I'm not currently in classes and I'm largely self-employed so I can decide what my days look like to a very large extent. Another test to this early modification of my GTD implementation will be when mission critical information for non-active projects enter my awareness (like an important email to move forward my TEDx planning that arrives on a non-TEDx work day). Will I be able to resist the urge to throw my plan to the wayside and dive back into a certain project? If that's on my mind should i even be trying to ignore it or save it for another day? I haven't figured it all out yet, but I feel better about where I am now as compared to a couple weeks ago.

And the ultimate conclusion from all of this, obviously, is that GTD really wasn't the problem. Losing the critical eye that helped me differentiate between "hell yeah!" and "eh, I guess," is what resulted in me resenting my GTD system. I don't use a canonical GTD system anymore. I can't remember the last time I used a context list and I can't tell you the natural planning model off the top of my head, but that's okay. GTD is much more a system of behaviors than it is an external "thing" that has to be maintained.

What it comes down to is that I became so good at keeping track of everything happening to me I stopped asking myself what was actually necessary to do my most important, and best, work. At some point I lost the curation process and turned my GTD system into a database of everything in my life, not a reflection of my true priorities and values.

This isn't a matter of a system that's good or bad for one type of person or another -- it's a matter of figuring out what matters for you and creating something that allows you to do more of it.

Beyond Task Management

I try to be a keen observer of the world around me. Not only is it a good exercise in mindfulness, but learning how to observe myself and the way I interact with my environment has led to a wide array of improvements in my life. For example, realizing that my energy waxed and waned throughout the day allowed me to restructure the way I work to utilize my time more efficiently. Another result of learning how to observe has been developing a new way to think about the way values impact my life. Recently, a new observation has fought its way to the forefront of my attention: installing a task management system and adopting a lifelong learning approach appear to be inextricably linked.

For me, that has manifested itself as the Getting Things Done (GTD) system popularized by David Allen in the book of the same name. While that is my specific example, I don't think my overall point is reliant on this specific system. Instead, the overall principles that installing a task management system require seem to be the same principles that predict a life full of learning.

A task management system, at it's simplest, is a way for us to keep track of the commitments, requirements, responsibilities, and various tasks that make up our lives. Our jobs, lives, hobbies, families, friends, and interests constantly serve as impetuses for things we have to do and remember. Usually, sometime during high school a teacher hands you some sort of agenda or day planner and for many people that's as close as they ever get to adopting a true task management system. I distinctly remember feverishly filling out my agenda with the previous day's to-dos before the teacher came around to check my diligence in tracking my tasks.  

In high school we can usually get by with just keeping track of everything in our heads with perhaps an occasional note written on our hands. It's not too difficult to keep everything straight when you visit the same set of classes everyday, have the same type of homework, and have people (e.g. teachers) constantly reminding you of everything you have to do. If the real world was like that, there'd be no need for anything more elaborate to keep track of everything. 

However, usually sometime in college, perhaps after the first nervous breakdown, we start to realize that our heads may not be the greatest place to keep everything. We sit down with a fresh piece of paper and crank out a massive list of everything on our mind. For a brief moment we feel better, relieved even, by seeing a clear list of all of our commitments and responsibilities. However, over time that list loses it's relevance and once again we have lapsed into a state of fogginess over what precisely we need to do.

This fogginess is where the connection to lifelong learning comes in. Operating in a fog means that we're always a little bit wary of taking on anything else. We realize that we've committed to a lot of tasks and many people are relying on us for various projects, but we're never quite sure what's on our plate. Instead of scanning the horizon for chances to take on new activities that align with our values, we scan the horizon in an effort to avoid additional requirements on our utterly taxed minds. This results in us staying in a narrow rut with our eyes down doing our best to get by. We're somewhat aware of the fact that we're missing out on excellent opportunities, but we're so caught in the fog that it doesn't seem important as merely staying the course and trying to stay afloat.

This is a problem of our own design and merely requires us snapping out of our teenage sensibilities and approach our work and our world with more than a seat-of-the-pants mindset. My experience is with GTD, so that's what I'll use to illustrate my points. In GTD, we create a system external of our own minds where we can place information about everything we've committed to on some level. Over time, we come to trust this system to hold everything so our minds are now free to do what they do best, think creatively and solve problems -- not remember things. 

The details of the system aren't important. If it allows us to place our commitments outside our own heads and to regularly see them in their entirety, then it will prove beneficial. It's only when we can see the boundaries around our work that we can make wise decisions about what else we undertake. Lifelong learning requires that we scan the horizon for opportunities to improve and grow. Knowing that we regularly analyze and assess our commitments allows us to know how much mental power and availability we have for new adventures, new ideas, and new projects.

Therein lies the greatest benefit I've received from seriously committing to a task management system. It has nothing to do with being able to get more done or being more efficient. While those are nice side effects of using GTD, what I'm most thankful for is the ability to always know, at a glance, what I need to do and whether I can commit to anything new. In the past I'd feel like I was drowning under the weight of everything I had to do. I eventually realized, however, that it wasn't because I really had that much to do -- it was because I hadn't clarified what I actually had to do. Once everything I'd committed to had been clarified and articulated, I actually had a lot more space in my life for new projects. Without GTD, or any other task management system, I'd still be slogging away on poorly defined projects, unclear tasks, and meaningless busywork.

I'm intrigued by the idea that task management systems or more than just a list of what you need to do. They seem to be the mature response to figuring out how to make the biggest impact in the world as possible. Gone are the days for most of us where tasks are laid out in front of us and someone else kept track of what you had to do. Knowledge work, creative work, whatever you want to call it, requires us to constantly determine what our jobs actually are. Our brains are pretty amazing organs, but asking them to simultaneously remember everything we need to do, decide if it's important, clarify what the actual task is, and search for new opportunities is a little ridiculous. Mindfully creating a system to alleviate some of that burden is the sign of someone who is serious about utilizing their abilities and opportunity.

My familiarity is with GTD, but it doesn't have to be the only way to keep track of your life. What is your task management system like? Have you noticed any changes in the way you interact with your environment since having implemented it? I'd love to hear your input in the comment section below.

 

The Power of the Weekly Review (Part Two)

Two weeks ago I wrote the first article of a two-part series about how I conduct my weekly review. If you haven't read part one yet, check it out before moving on to today's article.

As a quick reminder, a weekly review is something I learned from Getting Things Done by David Allen. It is hands-down the most important thing I do to keep myself sane in the face of multiple projects, responsibilities and competing demands. Without the weekly review I'd be a blithering, stress-ridden, and scatter-brained idiot. I need my weekly review like the desert needs the rain. Or a fat kid needs cupcakes.

Moving on to the final three steps of the weekly review, I'll focus on wrapping everything up and getting crystal clear about what I'm facing in the upcoming week.

4. CREATE AND CLARIFY PROJECTS

A lot of the "stuff" that I generated in step 2 are actually projects that will require more than one action on my part to bring to completion. A key component of my productivity is making everything on my to-do list be as "doable" as possible. That means reducing everything down to the simplest next step possible. Therefore, I need to turn a lot of the amorphous items into projects where I can break it down into smaller steps. At this point I'll often look at my Areas of Responsibility (just the various roles and responsibilities I have such as Student, TEDxOrganizer, Friend, etc.). Looking at each Area of Responsibility and asking myself if there's anything I need to do to do a good/better job fulfilling that responsibility helps me ensure that I get all my projects out of my head and into my list.

5. DOUBLE CHECK FOR STUPIDLY EASY NEXT ACTIONS

I kind of already mentioned this, but it's important enough to give it its own step. My next actions have a couple of characteristics that are very important. First, they must start with a very clear verb. "Homework" is not a next action. "Download homework set #3" is a next action. See the difference? It may seem silly to get this nuanced, but this is actually one of the most important habits to get into if you want your to-do list to actually get done. Figuring out ahead of time (what I call front-end decision making) what it actually means to do all of the items on your list, and clearly articulating it, means you can use all of your energy on actually completing the items. When you're in the trenches trying to get things done the last thing you want to do is figure out what it actually means to complete the items on your list (what does "Homework" ACTUALLY mean?) and doing the work to finish them.

6. WRITE OUT “HARD LANDSCAPE”

Once I've gotten to this point I know that all of the various commitments, worries, and tasks that I've been carrying around in my head or in my notes all week are safely within my system. All of my projects are listed and each of them has at least one next action step that is super clear and ready to go. I'm feeling pretty good at this point. The final step is to make sure I know exactly what my upcoming week looks like (David Allen calls appointments and other calendar items your "hard landscape"). I keep all my appointments and important due dates in iCal (synced to Google Calendar) but I like the upcoming week to be visible all the time. Therefore, I take a piece of paper and write down every single appointment and due date in the upcoming week. I also make a short list of due dates that are coming up within the next two weeks and another short list of the current projects that are active and need to have my attention the most. At any time I can take a look at this sheet (which I tape to my desk) and know where I'm supposed to be at any time during the week, what is due soon, and what I should be working on if I have some free time.

Bam. Done.

Thinking you don't have time for all of this hullabaloo?

I have a feeling a lot of you are thinking, "How in the world does he have enough time to do all of this every week? I'm way too busy to do something like this." To put it bluntly, you don't have enough time to NOT do this. Spending an hour or two doing this every week saves me countless hours throughout the week by clarifying my focus and not having to worry about what I should specifically be working on. By doing a weekly review I know that I can go full bore on my work during the week and not have to worry about getting off course. If I know I'll be stepping back and getting a bigger perspective on my work and life every week I don't have to worry about trying to do both the work and figuring out what my work should be. The weekly review is for figuring out what my work looks like. My week is for actually doing it.

As I've mentioned a couple times before, this is a grossly simplified version of David Allen's weekly review fromGetting Things Done. However, I've been doing this long enough I know what I need to do each week to clear my head and prepare for what's coming up. Your weekly review doesn't have to look my weekly review. The value isn't in the style -- just the substance.

 

The Power of the Weekly Review ( Part One )

WHAT IS A WEEKLY REVIEW?

There’s one thing I do every week that sets the stage for everything I’m able to accomplish. It is incredibly simple and yet it seems to be one of the most overlooked components of personal organization and development. I look forward to doing it every week and everyone I’ve taught how to do it agrees that it has truly changed how they approach their work. Those of you familiar with Getting Things Done will be familiar with it — The Weekly Review.

A weekly review is simply an appointment I set with myself to review the previous week and look ahead to what’s upcoming. It allows me to step back from the brouhaha of daily action and get a better perspective about where my work and my life are headed. While David Allen lays a great foundation for what a weekly review should look like in his book, I think it’s vitally important that you figure out what the weekly review needs to be for you to actually keep doing it. Over time my method has evolved, expanded, and then streamlined into the version I use today. By allowing it to change and modify I created something that is intimately tied to the way I work. Now, if I don’t get my weekly review every Sunday I feel like I spend the next week perpetually stuck in a meeting I wasn’t prepared for.

Before we get into the details of what you should include in your weekly review, I’d like to expound on its virtues a little bit more. One of the key benefits of doing a weekly review is that it primes my brain to do what its best at in the coming week — solve problems. It’s amazing how much we try to hold in our heads. If you’ve ever forgotten a great idea, or an important ingredient for dinner, or forgotten an appointment, you know just how bad your brain can be at remembering things. Getting this type of information out of my head and into a trusted system every week gives me the mental capacity to turn energy toward solving problems, not remembering what the problems are.

Lastly, spending time in a weekly review looking at my to-do list (or “next actions” if you’re a GTD aficionado) is like making sure my fishing tackle is ready to go before I get in the boat. Every week I make sure that all my projects have actionable next steps that I can easily take without too much effort. I’ve learned that having the energy to work on a project is not the same thing as having the energy to figure out what to do on a project. It’s a subtle, but important, difference. If I haven’t figured out what it means to “work on my psychology paper” or what “home” means on my to-do list I’m very unlikely to spend the energy to both figure it out and work on it. By figuring out what everything on my list means beforehand (“work on psychology paper” means “find 5 research papers to read” and “home” means “research plane tickets home for Christmas”) I’ve given myself a better shot at actually moving the project forward when I sit down to work on it during the week.

HOW DO YOU DO A WEEKLY REVIEW?

There are as many ways to do a weekly review as there are people that will read this article (yes, more than 9 you smart aleck). As a good starting point, I always recommend that people try reading Getting Things Done by David Allen first. He gives a great explanation of what a good weekly review entails and he orients it in the larger scope of a complete personal productivity system. However, in order to save you the ten bucks and several hours you’d need to invest to read the book, I’ll give you the Sam Spurlin Version. It consists of several steps:

1. CLEAN OUT MY PROJECT AND NEXT ACTION LISTS

During the heat of the moment throughout the week sometimes I let my lists get a little outdated. I’ll finish a task or a project and forget to remove it from the list or sometimes a project is no longer relevant. I like to start this whole process by going through my lists and clearing it of all the flotsam. I like my system to be clean and lean before I start throwing a ton of stuff at it.

2. COLLECT MY CRAP INTO ONE PLACE (INCLUDING MY HEAD)

This can be a pretty huge step depending on how much new information I took in during the week. This is when I take all the information that is strewn across my various inboxes and throw it all together in one place. My “inboxes” include: email inbox, text messages, saved bookmarks, favorited Tweets, iPhone notes, loose papers in my bags, loose papers on my desk, downloads folder, Evernote inbox, and undoubtedly something I’m forgetting. I go through each of these areas and add any of the relevant information to my task management software’s (Things in my case) inbox. If a piece of information is useful but doesn’t generate a task or a project, it is therefore reference material and I put it into the appropriate notebook inEvernote. At the end of this step I should have completely empty inboxes except for one incredibly full Things inbox.

3. GO THROUGH INBOX AND PLACE EACH ITEM ON A LIST (OR FILE AWAY AS REFERENCE)

The next step is to go through the one location that currently has about 12592 pieces of information in it and put them on the logical lists. Lots of the items I generated will be standalone tasks that don’t require being put on a project list. However, some of the items I put in my inbox aren’t actually next actions — they’re projects. Anything I can’t resolve with one action I consider a project. I’ll talk more about this at the end, but it can be helpful to have various Areas of Responsibility to help figure out a.) where I should put this information, and b.) whether I've truly captured everything that’s residing in my head.

Keep reading for Part 2!

 

 

Harnessing the Power of Questions

The main weapon in any coach’s arsenal is the simple question. If you’ve ever worked with me or any other coach, you’ll know that we love to ask questions. The beautiful thing about a good question is that it gets you thinking about a situation differently. Even better, the answers that you come up with are completely your own. Think about the difference between somebody preaching to you about how awesome something is versus coming to the realization on your own. An ineffective coach will talk on and on about his theories and ideas. He’ll preach to you about all of these amazing things you should be doing, you’ll probably sit there and nod, and then wonder why you just paid this yahoo to talk at you for an hour. On the other hand, a good coach will hit you with a question you didn’t see coming and as you struggle through an answer your thoughts will coalesce and become clearer. Suddenly, you’re at a new level of understanding or are hit by an insight you haven’t had before. And the best part is that you came to it on your own.

 

Luckily, questions are not the intellectual property of coaches alone. You can, and should, ask yourself questions all the time. In fact, I have a list of questions that I like to ask myself every 6-12 months, every month, every week, and one super special one that I ask myself as much as possible.

6-12 MONTHS

The questions that you ask yourself once, or at most twice, a year are obviously fairly grand in design. They try to get at the underlying issues that drive your actions and thought. These answers probably don’t change very often either because at this level, you’re going to be questioning your values and assumptions. Ask yourself these questions every 6 months to a year, write down your answers, save those answers, and revisit them again in another 6-12 months.

  • What are my 3-4 core values?

  • How do I know these are my core values?

  • What have I done in the past 6-12 months that proves these are my values?

  • What can I do in the next 6-12 months that will make these values a larger part of my life?

MONTHLY

At the monthly level you’re trying to make sure you're staying on target with how you're spending your time. Every month I like to make sure my major projects are moving forward and that I have ongoing projects within each of my major 3-4 values. Stepping back every month and making sure you aren’t slacking off in one value or area of responsibility is a great way to let yourself focus on the day-to-day actions of living.

  • How have I used my time this month?

  • Am I addressing all my areas of responsibility (family, work, personal development, leisure, etc.)?

  • Do I have an ongoing project in each of my 3-4 major values?

WEEKLY

Every week during my Weekly Review (GTD secret handshake) I ask myself a series of questions to make sure I’m staying on task. At this lower altitude of engagement the questions are more closely related to the actual work I’m doing on a daily basis. I’m free to dig into these details because I know I’ll be revisiting some larger questions that will keep me pointed in the right direction every month and even larger questions at the 6-12 month mark.

  • What did I accomplish this week?

  • What do I need to accomplish next week?

  • Do I have a very clear and actionable next step on all my projects?

  • What is on my mind and how can I get it out of there?

THE ALL-THE-TIME QUESTION

Lastly, there’s one question that I try to ask myself whenever I remember to. It’s really the core of my life philosophy and what keeps me grounded in the beauty of life.

  • What am I doing right now?

That’s mindfulness at it’s core. When I ask myself that question and I either a.) don’t have a good answer or b.) realize I’m doing multiple things at once, I try to step back, regather my mind, and focus on the present.

The last thing I want you to do before you stop reading is open your calendar and put a little reminder in there for the end of this week, the end of this month, and 6-12 months from now to revisit these questions. I guarantee if you make this a regular part of your life and reflective process you’ll gain more than you think.

Questions are power.