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.

 

 

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.

How Building Daily Routines Can Help You Create More

Daily-Rituals-cover-300px

“Inspiration Is for Amateurs—The Rest of Us Just Show Up and Get to Work”

Chuck Close

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how small changes in habits can have a profound impact in what we are able to achieve across all aspects of our lives.

Mason Currey‘s book ‘Daily Rituals‘ is an interesting collection of observations of the daily routines of many of the great creators and provides an interesting insight into the lives of people who need to develop a body of work. What is apparent across almost all of these examples is commitment to showing up and getting to work. Not too much lolling around waiting for the muse to visit, just simply a matter of putting in the time whether they feel like it or not.

This attitude of ‘show up and do the work’ makes me realize that doing something every day, regardless of how small it is will could eventually yield substantial results. The simple act of writing 500 words everyday will mean that you will have written over 25,000 words for the year. Not too shabby.

A photo a day projects were very popular a year or two ago and seem to be unsustainable to me but doable for a month or one photo shoot a week for a year would both result in a body of work that you could do something useful with.

Changes in other parts of your life would also mean potentially useful changes. 30 grams of protein within 30 minutes of waking up had a big impact on my weight loss. Meditating before your day gets going or journaling at the end of the day could lead to more positive changes in your outlook and getting more done.

What small change could you incorporate on a daily basis that would move you in the direction of your goals?

Jump to minute 19:00 of the video below to hear Mason Currey talking about his book ‘Daily Rituals’

On Being Minimalist, Or Not

I’ve been using Chris Brogan’s system of three words this year instead of goals or intentions or what have you. I would argue that I’ve actually been quite successful for the most part using this approach to direct my focus for the year.

My three words are healthy, minimalist & creative.

For healthy, I altered my diet, have daily mobility exercises that I do, I go to the gym a few times a week and as a result I’ve lost 50lbs and feel a whole lot better. As an aside if you want to know exactly what I’m doing send me an email. I’d be more than happy to help you guide you through the first month or so.

While it can be difficult to measure creativity I’ve been tracking the number of images in my lightroom catalog, the number of images finished and imags submitted to exhibitions. By these measures I’m on track to easily surpass the equivalent numbers for last year. All good there.

Minimalist? No so much. I knew this would be a tough one for me but something that I needed to get a handle on. I’ve revamped my financial accounting systems, so that I actually have them now, and would at least say that my spending is intentional and aligned with the things that are important to me but I’m still accumulating stuff.

I was reminded about this when I was thinking about the basics of the GTD system last week. While we dealt largely with how to sort and process collected items there are five steps that provide the foundation for GTD.

Capture – the collection phase, corral everything both physical and electronic that has your attention
Clarify – preliminary processing, what does each collected item mean? Is there an action associated with it?
Organize – parse out the actions onto the appropriate lists
Review – don’t let your lists become stale. Check in with them as often as needed to ensure that they are remaining current.
Engage – work the system to do the work.

What I’ve been finding is that having become healthier I have more energy and that funnels into being more creative and generally curious. What about this and what if that, questions that usually result in reading and the accumulation of more reference material. I’ve taken over the largest room in the house for my reference material and support materials for image making. Not exactly the behavior of a confirmed minimalist.

I’m almost ready to give up on the idea of being minimalist and instead ready to settle for being intentional and aligned with my larger goals. What about you? How are you doing with progress towards annual goals? Any that you’re ready to throw in the towel on? How are you dealing with that?

How to Develop a Bias for Action

Having used the GTD methodology for a number of years now, one of the things that I’ve come to realise is that, for me at least, I need something else in addition to the the well curated lists to keep my projects moving forward.

Starting very simply I asked the question what three things need to happen this week for it to be a good week?

It turns out that this time horizon is a good one for me. Asking a variant of this question daily leads me to struggling to fill the three slots – there’s usually one thing that I really need to do on any given day, other things are nice to get finished. Longer time horizons are easier since many of the projects that I’m involved with I have goals, gannt charts, and discrete milestones. Well crafted project plans make life very easy indeed.

What I’ve found to be crucial to make this system work is that I review my lists on a weekly basis, usually a Friday. This weekly review is an essential component of the GTD methodology and also provides an opportunity to see what of my three things I actually got done. For those things that I didn’t get done this is a good time to answer why not and take those lessons on board for future weeks.

How about you? What three things do you need to complete in the coming week to be able to consider it successful?

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.