Embracing Constraints

It feels to be that I have a very delicately balanced existence.  It doesn’t take much to throw everything out of whack.  A demand for extra time in one area of my life has repercussions everywhere else, leaving me scrambling to pick up the pieces.  Of course if the kids are sick, my wife is sick or I’m sick, all of which has happened essentially continuously for the last month, chaos ensues.  All very much part of life’s rich tapestry and something to be embraced rather than to get frustrated about.  He tells himself through gritted teeth.

The ability to know what to do and when in order to be maximally effective is one of the ultimate aims of David Allen’s GTD methodology.  An updated version of the GTD book came out this week and I’m very much looking forward finishing working my way through it.  While it looks very familiar but also with enough new stuff to make it worth taking a look at.  The last full chapter deals with GTD mastery, what does it look like when you’ve got this GTD thing down?  It looks like mastery in most other fields, a freedom to add value without getting bogged down in the mundane.

While I get back to good health and back on track bear with me.  If you’ve commented here and not seen a response I apologize.  I can assure you that I read the comment and will respond soon.

 

 

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Preparing for the Year Ahead

David Allen has said that the people who take to the GTD system the most avidly are those that need it the least but he notes these are the people, the high performers, that notice even the slightest amount of drag in their world that prevents them from doing as much as they feel they’re able.

Not that I would put myself in the elite high performer category but I do keep fiddling with my personal systems for deciding what I want to work on and tracking the associated tasks. I wrote about my current system here a few months ago. Since then I came across the bullet journal method outlined in the video above, and described in more detail at the bullet journal website here, which marries the GTD methodology with the agile approach perfectly for me. The whole thing may seem a little messy from the outside looking in – it’s a blend of digital and analog – but it seems to be working for me.

I think that the hallmark of any successful system is one that people adopt and modify to suit their own needs and in doing so extend it’s functionality. This is certainly true of the Bullet Journal that has it’s own community on Google+ – read what the creator, Ryder Carroll has to say about this here.

For any system to work for me I have to like the toys that it brings me in contact with. The bullet journal is no exception – lots of cool notebooks to play around with. I’ve been using the Field Notes books mostly for my bullet journal but I also have one of the awesome Japanese Midori Traveler’s Notebooks that I will be working with more in 2015. The original size is a little awkward for me – it’s too big to fit comfortably in any of my coat pockets – but the passport size is perfect. The passport sized midori notebooks are of course an odd size and the Field Notes books don’t fit perfectly inside the leather cover but the ones frin Scout notebooks do.

Check out the short video showing the flexibility of the Midori notebooks below.

Resources for Time Management

I’ve been experimenting with some new tools for time management that I think are interesting and well worth sharing. I think that I’ve mentioned before that I use a hybrid of David Allen’sGetting Things Done‘ system, J.D. Meier’s ‘Getting Results the Agile Way‘ and the tools Peter Bregman describes in ‘18 Minutes‘.

What do I use from what? I use GTD as the overall scaffolding for my approach this includes both the action lists, next step thinking as well as the horizons of focus. Peter Bregman’s book and J.D. Meier’s overlap somewhat. Both ask that you consider – what is this year about? and what is this day about? – in an effort to make sure that you have your attention on the things that matter the most. Working between these three books you should have a good sense of the big picture – Work, Relationships, Family and Self Development – and how what you’re going to do in the coming year supports each of these.

There are some useful templates from Peter Bregman here and from JD Meier here. Check out this link for a guided 30 day introduction to JD Meier’s methodology.

I live and die by my calendar and have been experimenting with a new calendar app on the iPhone and iPad called ‘Tempo’. Definitely a step up from the calendar app that comes preinstalled.

List managers are a bit trickier. I’ve tried lots including lists in evernote which works quite well – I do like the fact that evernote syncs everywhere but I seem to be settling on ‘Things’ which is about as complicated as I want my list manager to be. Another one worth exploring is ‘2Do’.

I’d be interested in hearing what approach you follow for increasing your productivity and what are your favorite apps productivity/time management apps. Add your voice to the comments below.

Be Present and Do Your Best Work

If you’ve been following along with the Wednesday series of posts you will have worked on identifying the big why in your life, the purpose that pulls you forward and with that as a guide you can easily decide between the options that life puts in your path. Is this aligned with my values and support my purpose. Yes or no.

If you’ve done that you’re already ahead of the game.

If you’re like me, even with clarity around purpose you will still have an enormous amount of stuff to deal with and it’s easy to become bogged down to the extent that you’re not fully present and in the moment and as a result not doing your best work. it’s a sort of grey state that lacks the pop and punch of what you could achieve if you weren’t thinking about what you needed to prepare for your next meeting or what you needed to get from the grocery store and the multitude of other things that have our attention for much of the day.

How to handle this? A trusted system where you can park all of the things that you don’t need to be thinking of so that you can free yourself up to focus on what is important. Many of us have such a system for part of our lives – our calendar – and yet have failed to integrate other tools to manage the rest of the balls that we need to keep in the air. For many years now I’ve used David Allen’s ‘Getting Things Done’ (GTD) system which is truly an effective method for not only capturing what is going on in your universe but clarifying meaning and deciding on next actions. Click here for more about GTD and if you have a lynda.com subscription check out David Allen’s course here.

At the simplest ‘stuff’ is processed by asking the question ‘what is it?’ and then the follow up ‘is it actionable?’ If it’s not actionable then the path is to dump it in the trash, file as reference material or hang on to it (incubate) for possible action in the future. If it is ‘actionable’ the next question is ‘what’s the next action’ with an eye towards ‘what’s the desired outcome?’ Choices here are to:

* do it – if you are the right person to do the work and if it takes less than 2 minutes to handle
* delegate it – if you’re not the right person for the job
* defer it – if it will take longer than 2 minutes and this is not the appropriate time or if you don’t have the energy for that task

For the things that are deferred they get parked in one of a couple of buckets or action reminder lists. How these lists are set up should align with how you think about the world and how you work. Good starting points are:

* Agendas – topics for meetings with staff, etc.
* Anywhere – actions that can be done anywhere
* Computer – that require a computer
* Office – that require you to be in the office
* Waiting for – actions that have been delegated and you’re waiting for a response
* Projects – an active project list with embedded multistep actions
* Someday/maybe – a list of things to explore when you have the time and energy

I find that one place where it’s easy to get lost when starting this process is not drilling down to the level of the next action, the absolute next thing that needs to happen to move the project forward. We often think of things that need to be done at a macro scale for instance ‘Fix broken light’ is actually a project in the GTD methodology which in our house starts with working out whether we need to have an electrician to do the work, in which case the next action would be ‘call electrician RE attic light’ but could easily be ‘buy light bulb’ for more capable people.

While I’m not perfect in my implementation of GTD and often fall off the wagon, I know that getting back on is as simple as taking 30 minutes to list all the things that have my attention and dropping them into the appropriate lists.

You can engage with GTD at a number of levels, the more you use it the more you get more out of it.  Using it at all will most certainly help you be present and do your best work.

Who’s Blocking and Tackling for You?

The last few weeks have been more hectic than usual for a number of reasons, not least of which being getting reading for the exhibition at the RMSP gallery. I basically had a list of things that needed to get done and worked my way down the list until I was done. If I’d wanted to do anything evenly vaguely creative in that time I couldn’t have because I didn’t have the space I need to think. I find that I need some breathing room to have and to develop new ideas, that if I’m flat out busy I just don’t have. How to get that space can require a shift in thinking and attitude. For me whenever I’m feeling that I’ve lost balance and perspective I rely on David Allen’s Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity
to get back in control. Typically this involves taking an inventory of all that I have going on, all the projects that I have underway and the associated ‘next actions’. More often than not once I’ve done that I realize that I have more going on than any sane person would commit to and begin saying ‘No’ to any new things that show up until I’m back in a place where I have some time to catch my breath. That’s where I am now, enjoying a break until my next adventure. I’d be interested in how you get back under control and in a place where you can create.

Write a Page a Day and You’ll Have a Book in a Year

I recently came across the following quote from Thea Astley:

‘If you write a page a day it adds up to a book in a year’

I like the idea here – steady and consistent progress will get you over the finish line. For photographers what does this mean? I think as it is for writers, doing something every day on your project will mean that eventually you’ll have a real and tangible product.

One of the harder tasks for us as photographers is being able to work on our project everyday, especially when we have the weather to contend with or difficult schedules to work around. I use the ‘Natural Planning Model’ that David Allen describes in his ‘Getting Things Done‘ book to go through and break out all of the tasks that a project involves. The natural planning model involves 5 basic steps:

1. Defining purpose and principles
2. Outcome visioning
3. Brainstorming
4. Organizing
5. Identifying next actions

Hear David Allen talk more about this by clicking below:

This allows me to generate an an inventory of everything that I could be doing to move my project along.

Using the book project that I’m working on at the moment as an example – assuming that the shooting will take care of itself, there are still lots of decisions around everything else to be made:

Self-publish?
What company?
Physical size of the book?
Hardback or Paperback?
eBook?
How many images?
Sequencing?
Introduction?
Other essays?
Thubnails at the end?
Shot information?

Once each of these questions has been answered there is then the obligatory question of ‘What’s the next step?’ Using this approach I have a laundry list of things that I can be doing when I’m not shooting to help help keep the project moving forward and I’m sure that you would too.

Getting Things Done

How do you keep track of and manage your commitments?  Most people are wearing multiple hats – this could be husband, father, dutiful employee, or at a more granular level – little league coach, counselor, accountant, marketer, content creator, etc. all of which have a pull on your time.  There is a real skill to keep track of your commitments, to maintain balance and to allow for enough space to be creative and productive.  How ready you are to engage productively with your life is proportional to how much psychic clutter you are toting around.

One of the tools that I’ve been using for almost a decade now is David Allen’s Getting Things Done or GTD system.  GTD helps cut the psychic clutter and provides control and perspective.  It’s well described in David Allen’s Book of the same name, and with the follow-ups ‘Ready For Anything’ and ‘Making it all Work’.

The central tenant to the GTD system is to get everything out of your head and into an efficient capture system.  Once there you can review and define what the next steps are.  This can be tremendously freeing and can result in remarkable increases in productivity.

The capture system can be as simple as a stack of 3×5 notecards clipped together or something significantly more sophisticated such as the tasks function built into Microsoft Outlook. Your capture system should be portable, or at least you should have a way to make sure ideas can be captured off-line and then entered into your system promptly.  This and not regularly reviewing my lists of projects and associated next actions are the main reasons that I have fallen off the wagon in the past, while my calendar system where appointments get entered automatically is rock solid.

In addition to resulting in bursts of creativity and productivity the other thing a system where you can see all of your commitments in one place does, is to make you realize how much stuff you have going on.  Consequently it’s much easier to say no to taking on additional tasks, or at least have the conversation about reprioritizing activities to allow a focus on the one you’re going to pick up.

And so it is with me.  Since photography is something I do in addition to many other things, I need to fit it into an already busy schedule.  I’ve been using my ‘photography time’ in the last couple of weeks to print and mat photographs. The people who’ve received the prints have been genuinely pleased with them and that in turn spurs me on.