• Stever Robbins • Pat Brans • Chris Edgar • Laura Stack • Leo Babauta • • Michael Hyatt • James Mallinson • Mike Vardy • Michael Sliwinski •
on Working Less and Doing More...
4 4 4 4
Why Single-Tasking Really Works How to Work Less... and Do More Why Your To Do List is Not Set in Stone Engagement, Next Actions... and more
#6 (November 2010)
From the Editor
Single-tasking when reading Productive! Magazine on my iPad By Michael Sliwinski, Editor
elcome to the issue #6 of your favorite productivity magazine. We’re gaining momentum with our publication and we’re hoping to make it a regular one that lands on your computer or iPad at least every two months for the coming year or so. If everything works well, maybe we’ll turn it to a monthly publication. It all depends on you, my great readers and your response to what we have prepared for you.
Meet Stever Robbins Our featured “star” of this issue is Stever Robbins – the “Get-It-Done Guy” who runs a fantastic weekly podcast on
“Working Less and Doing More” – which is one of the top podcasts on productivity on iTunes. It’s funny, short-and-tothe-point and it’s jam-packed with productivity advice and handy tips and tricks. I have been listening to it every week for more than 6 months now so I’m very humbled to be able to interview Stever for this issue of the Productive! Magazine. Stever has just published a book called “Get-It-Done Guy’s 9 Steps to Work Less and Do More” which I immediately purchased as an audiobook (and luckily Stever himself is reading the book).
! Links: Stever’s Podcast: “Get-It-Done Guy’s Quick and Dirty Tips to Work Less and Do More”
Stever’s Book: “Get-It-Done Guy’s 9 Steps to Work Less and Do More”
I “read” it through and can’t recommend enough. It’s a great addition to Getting Things Done with a lot more humor (although David Allen can be funny, too :-) ) packed with even more practical tips and tricks that will boost your personal productivity.
Single-tasking is the theme of the issue Somehow each issue of our magazine has a theme and although we never actively seek a theme beforehand, it amazingly enough emerges from the submissions we receive and this time around it’s all about single-tasking and focus.
As Stever says, it’s all about working less and doing more and single-tasking helps you achieve just that. We’ve got two new takes on single-tasking by two new contributors – Pat Brans and Chris Edgar... and an additional geeky approach by yours truly. To accompany our theme we’ve added articles that also touch on focus and single-tasking by our regular contributors: Leo Babauta, Michael Hyatt, James Mallinson, Laura Stack and Mike Vardy.
Productive! Magazine on the single-tasking iPad As you know, starting from issue #5 and together with good folks from Macoscope Company, we started publishing your favorite productivity magazine as a native iPad app. The first reception of the app was really great and we want to make this issue even better on the iPad. The PDF version of the magazine is and will always remain free and each issue on the iPad is just $0.99 to cover the costs of preparation (it’s more than double the work to make the iPad issue, but we believe the reading experience is worth the extra work).
readers a perfect reading experience on this great device. Times are changing and we want to be on the bleeding edge of not only technological shift, but an industrial shift as well.
Have a great and productive time On behalf of the entire team and all the contributors, let me wish you a very productive and inspirational read (on your iPad, computer screen or paper). Hope you’ll enjoy this new issue of your favorite magazine and implement some of the tips and tricks to, as Stever would put it, work less and do more. Yours productively,
Michael Sliwinski Editor in Chief Productive! Magazine
With the iPad app we are aiming to make radical shift in the publishing industry where the traditional big magazines like Wired or Newsweek experiment with their iPad versions and even small and niche magazines like ours can join the same league by offering their
! Links: Michael on Twitter | Productive! Magazine iPad App
Michael Sliwinski’s Blog: “Internet Business Productivity”
Table of contents
• Stever Robbins • Pat Brans • Chris Edgar • Laura Stack • Leo Babauta • • Michael Hyatt • James Mallinson • Mike Vardy • Michael Sliwinski •
#6 (November 2010)
Michael Sliwinski How to Work Less and Do more Interview with Stever Robbins
on Working Less and Doing More...
4 Why Single-Tasking Really Works 4 How to Work Less... and Do More 4 Why Your To Do List is Not Set in Stone 4 Engagement, Next Actions... and more
10 12 14 16 19 21 23 24
Pat Brans Myths on Multitasking
Productive!Magazine www.ProductiveFirm.com/Magazine Sponsor: www.Nozbe.com
Chris Edgar Mindfully Moving Beyond Multitasking Michael Sliwinski Single-tasking is good for you Laura Stack Engaged Employees are More Productive Leo Babauta How to NOT do everything on your to-do list Michael Hyatt 10 Reasons Why You Aren’t Done Yet James Mallinson The Art And Science Of The Next Action Michael Sliwinski Productive! Show Videos Road Warrior Bag, Big Inbox and a Productive Body Mike Vardy What’s the DEAL?
Your Online tool for Getting Things Done – available in your computer browser, mobile phone and on your iPhone. Chief Editor: Michael Sliwinski
Technical Editor: Piotr Wozniak
Technical Advisor: Maciej Budzich
Editorial Team: Lori Anderson
Tribute: Marc Orchant (1957-2007) The Productive!Magazine is dedicated to the memory of a productivity guru, great blogger and a very close friend, Marc Orchant who passed away on 9th December 2007. All articles are copyright © by their respective authors. Productive!Magazine is copyright © by Michael Sliwinski. Getting Things Done® and GTD® are the registered trademarks of the David Allen Company.
Interview with Stever Robbins, the “Get-It-Done Guy”
How to Work Less and Do more Stever is obsessed with finding ways to do things better, stronger and faster. He is here to help you work less and do more.
Michael Sliwinski: You’re the host of weekly podcast “Get it Done Guy’s Quick and Dirty Tips to Work Less and Do More” – how did you come up with the idea of the podcast and what kept you going to make it one of the best productivity podcasts in iTunes? Stever Robbins: The podcast idea was born of two impulses. The humor and style came because I wanted an outlet where I could be fun and creative – two things generally frowned upon in business. The topic came because I’ve spent my life obsessed with finding ways to do things better, stronger, and faster. When I realized that other people valued the ideas I’d developed and collected, it seemed like a great way to turn my lifelong quest into a podcast that could help people.
MS: Prior to your podcast you’ve had a great career and you were involved in many companies (also during the Internet bubble) – what were the key points in your career that led you to the point where you are now? SR: What I’m doing now draws from all my careers: my early career as a programmer taught me systems design. My management training in Total Quality Management helped me figure out which systems to streamline. And professional speaking developed my vocal technique. My hobbies also play a big role: comedy improvisation gave me the humor, and NLP/cognitive psychology helps me understand the mental side of how people achieve things, so I can create techniques that fit smoothly into how people think. In terms of events, my path has been unpredictable. After time as an executive coach, I was ready for a change. I decided to do a 3-year experiment of following my passion regardless of whether it would pay off. The podcast started three months later, after I wrote a fan letter to Grammar Girl and proposed myself as
a podcaster on her channel. The podcast was so successful that it led to a book contract for my new book Get-it-Done Guy’s 9 Steps to Work Less and Do More. Gradually, most of my efforts have shifted to support the book and I’m now hoping to build a business around working less and doing more.
MS: It’s really great that you’re doing the podcast every week. It’s short, to-the point and fresh every week. I love it. What tips and tricks help you be so consistent with recording a great new podcast episode each week? SR: In the chapter: “Step 7: Optimize” of the book, I discuss using learning logs to capture learning. I use a get-it-done log to capture ideas that might make good episodes. Sometimes someone shows me a cool tip, or they’ll say they wish they knew how to deal with a difficult situation. The topic goes into my log, which I mine for ideas on weeks when I don’t have a listener question to answer. Production-wise, I script the podcast and keep the script to roughly 1,100 words max. That keeps episodes a consistent length. Episodes have developed a rhythm. Each starts with humor that introduces the problem, then gives a solution with examples (some funny, some not), and I try to wrap up by concluding the humorous story that started the episode. I’ve wanted to start introducing some longer story arcs with my characters Bernice and Melvin, but haven’t yet had a chance to figure out how to do that and still keep the podcast mainly about productivity. Once I have some free time, I’ll work on this some more.
MS: What’s your typical day like? What are key parts of this day that help you stay productive, focused and motivated? SR: Typical day? There’s no such thing. I usually get up and start working around
It seemed like a great way to turn my lifelong quest into a podcast that could help people. 9 a.m. I do my best writing in the morning, so that’s when I’ll work on articles or other writing-based projects. I work out around lunchtime, grab lunch, and my afternoons often have more people activities. I keep focused using the Autofocus 4 system developed by Mark Forster. It keeps my to-do list in front of me on paper, and I often return to it to make sure what I’m doing is actually useful, and not just a random diversion. In my book, I pose a thought experiment. Imagine you’re talking to the Deity of your choice. He or she asks, “Are you living the life I gave you to its fullest, whatever that means to you?” I keep motivated by doing what feels like living my life to its fullest, and I drop whatever doesn’t meet that hurdle. The motivation comes naturally.
Typical day? There’s no such thing. (To those of you who have read the book, you’ll realize that this is actually a fancy way of pre-deciding. I’ve created an “Absolute YES” list with one criterion: living life to the fullest.) The hardest part for me is dealing with money. I’ve often chosen passion or social good over money, and it can lead to second-guessing, especially when the money isn’t following.
MS: Apart from a successful career, do you have a family or significant other? How do you manage to keep a healthy family life with your highly successful career?
SR: I do! We’ve been together for several years and have been fortunate to have very prolific brothers and sisters, so we get our kid-time through our six nieces and nephews. We try to spend at least an hour together before bed, have one date night each week, and take a weeklong trip or two during the year. And hug. Lots of hugs. We both work from home, so we see each other a lot. I’m also a big opponent of business travel. I’m very, very clear on why I do what I do (I read chapter 1 and built my Life Map, which I use regularly to keep my life aligned around my priorities) and where it fits in my life. Business travel must bring a lot of money, connections, or passion into my life in order for me to be willing to take it on. I also try to take 100% responsibility for my own actions and for making the relationship work. (If you each take 100% responsibility, then pretty much everything will get handled, with a big percent left over to spare!) Along with my productivity tools, I’ve experimented with many self-help tools. The one that produces the fastest, best results for me is The Work of Byron Katie, which helps me calm down around conflict and be willing to consider both sides of every issue.
MS: I’m a big follower of GTD methodology – are there any parts of GTD which you’d say are more important than others in helping us, busy professionals, work less and do more? Which concepts of the GTD method work for you? SR: I used GTD for years and love many parts of the system. My favorite concepts are achieving a Zen mind by having a trusted system you can put every-
thing into, and having a someday/ maybe list for things that aren’t actionable right now. I’ve adopted a different task-list management system, however. I use Autofocus 4 by Mark Forster. It’s much, much simpler than the GTD system, it includes right/left brain components for motivation, and it has a built-in mechanism to make sure everything gets done or dropped. There’s no weekly review necessary.
MS: Now you’re a published author with a fantastic book (I know, I’ve read it), “Get It Done Guy’s Nine Steps to Work Less and Do More” – what made you write the book and how easy/difficult was it? When did you start working on it? SR: I started the book in Fall 2008. Then I took a full-time job, worked on the book a bit during the job, and then worked on it full time after returning to self-employment in mid-2009. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done – even harder than MIT, though for different reasons. I’m good at writing, but it doesn’t come easily. My brain needs focus to write, so I basically dropped out of my life for eight months to finish the book. In Chapter 2: Stop Procrastinating, I introduce Action Days as ways to motivate yourself by involving other people in your goals. An action day is a simple hourly check-in with other live humans to keep each other on track. I scheduled action days every day for the last six weeks of writing. Without those action days, I would never have finished.
MS: Apart from the podcast, what takes most of your focus now: book promotion, speaking engagements or client work? What excites you the most? SR: For the last six weeks, most of my focus has been on book promotion. That’s beginning to ramp down a bit and become more of an ongoing initiative.
My biggest aspiration is to live a happy life and help everyone around me do the same. The specifics change daily... I am very, very selective about speaking and consulting/coaching work as I mentioned above, so that’s being kept to a minimum. What excites me the most is the possibility of turning the podcast and book into a media career.
MS: The book is published, podcast is one of the most successful on iTunes, what’s the “next action” for Stever Robbins? Can you share your next goals and aspirations? SR: What’s my biggest aspiration? It’s one I borrowed from a Zen friend of mine: to live a happy life and help everyone around me do the same. The specifics change daily, and they run the gamut from fun-and-meaningful to funand-hopefully-profitable. I’m talking to multiple television producers about a TV show. These things move at a glacial pace, so I won’t even know if there’s anything real about the talks for several months. Meanwhile, I’m co-writing a one-man musical based on my book. My collaborator is Joel Derfner, who recently scored the Off-Broadway Signs of Life. It’s incredibly fun and exciting. The show will be about 40 minutes long, will contain several tips from
my book, and can be delivered anywhere a business keynote would work. It has humor, drama, tension, productivity tips, and of course, zombies. On the business front, I am creating a suite of products and projects based around helping people work less and do more in different areas of their life. My newsletter will announce these products as they become available. The one that’s furthest along at the moment is JobTacToe.com, where we take several “get-it-done” principles and apply them to job hunting. We educate people about how to find a job, and we help them turn the education into specific action and then help them motivate
themselves and stay motivated on their job hunt. Ask me again in a year and hopefully these projects will be up, running, and successful beyond my wildest dreams. Or there may be new things on the horizons. Whatever the details, I plan to be living life to the fullest! a
! Stever Robbins Host of the #1 iTunes business Get-It-DoneGuy podcast (more than 7 million downloads), Stever Robbins is uniquely positioned
My favorite concepts of GTD are achieving a Zen mind by having a trusted system you can put everything into and having a someday/maybe list for things that aren’t actionable right now.
to talk about how to turn productivity into a better life. Stever holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program, a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP, and a Certified Executive Coach.
! Links: Stever on Twitter | Stever’s Newsletter | Stever’s Web Site
Stever’s Podcast: “Get-It-Done Guy’s Quick and Dirty Tips to Work Less and Do More”
Stever’s Book: “Get-It-Done Guy’s 9 Steps to Work Less and Do More”
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Myths on Multitasking People who multitask in an attempt to get more done are misguided. You’re much more effective if you do one thing at a time.
By Pat Brans
im Whitehurst started his career as a software engineer. Barely over forty years old, he has made a name for himself as somebody who gets things done: he did this as COO of Delta Airlines, and now as CEO of RedHat. Jim thinks people who multitask in an attempt to get more done are misguided. He says you’re much more effective if you do one thing at a time.
When I spoke with Jim Whitehurst about time management he told me, “this idea of doing your email while you’re on the phone, or using your Blackberry during a meeting is extraordinarily inefficient. I’m all for making use of dead time, such as when you’re waiting in line at the airport or exercising in a gym. But there I’m talking about time where your mind is not required to be in two places at once”. “I insist that people close laptops and not use Blackberries during meetings”, Jim says. “Because when you get right down to it, you aren’t really being that thoughtful on your laptop or your Blackberry and you aren’t paying attention to the meeting either. In the end you’re doing both badly”. And according to Jim, even when you’re on the phone, the other person can get irritated if you’re doing something other than participating in the conversation. “You can tell when you are on a call with somebody and they are simultaneously
Your mind is not required to be in two places at once. doing something on their computer. They might say something, but it’s almost like they’re saying something to prove they’re listening. They wind up not being very useful on the call. On top of that, I’m sure they aren’t doing a very good job with whatever it is they’re doing on the computer. It’s a waste of time”. The CEO of RedHat summarized his feelings about multitasking. “I think this idea that multitasking saves time is ridiculous”. Let’s look at it from another perspective. The term “multitasking” comes from the computer world, and it refers to the
situation where several programs are vying for the services of a single CPU. The CPU can only really work on one thing at a time, but it has to fairly distribute its time among the different tasks. There are different strategies for allotting time to each activity, but in all cases overhead is incurred each time a processor switches tasks. When it’s time to have the processor begin work on a new task, the operating system must first store the state of the current task for recall at a future point. Then it must load the state of the new task. Before the CPU can start working on the new task, the operating system must perform this procedure, which is called “context switching”. As you may have guessed, context switching is pure overhead, because the processor does no useful work during the switch. The amount of time allocated for each task to run is called a quantum. If an operating system is configured with a quantum of four milliseconds, and a context switch takes one millisecond, the computer will spend twenty percent of its time context switching. In the extreme case where a computer is spending almost all its time switching and very little time performing any one task, it is said to be “thrashing”. Now consider a case where the quantum is set to one ninety-nine milliseconds, and the context switch takes one millisecond. Here the overhead of context switching will be minimal – only one percent. However, when the quantum is set too high, and the computer is servicing multiple users, all of whom request attention at the same time, some users will perceive a delay. People who design and configure operating systems have to make a trade off between optimizing overall CPU usage and minimizing the delay experienced by users. A person managing her time has to make a similar trade off. She may be in
This idea that multitasking saves time is ridiculous. a situation in which she has to respond quickly to a lot of different people, but then the overhead of context switching gets out of hand. One key difference between a person and a computer, is the computer can switch context with one hundred percent accuracy, whereas a human being loses information each time she stops one task to start work on another. So on each switch, a computer loses time, but not information; whereas, a person loses both time and information. Not surprisingly, this shows up in experiments. For example, a study conducted at the Institute of Psychiatry, University of London by Dr. Glenn Wilson in 2005, found that “Those distracted by incoming email and phone calls saw a 10point fall in their IQ – more than twice that found in studies of the impact of smoking marijuana”. a
! Pat Brans Pat Brans is founder of Master The Moment, a new approach to time management and personal effectiveness. Most of Brans’ corporate experience focused on applying technology to enhance workforce effectiveness. Now he takes productivity to another level by unveiling the secrets of high achievers. Brans is author of two books, visiting professor at the Grenoble Graduate School of Business and he consults and provides enterprise training on time management and productivity.
! Links: Pat Brans Web site | Pat’s Books: “Master the Moment: Fifty CEO’s Teach You the Secrets of Time Management”
“Mobilize Your Enterprise: Achieving Competitive Advantage Through Wireless Technology”
Mindfully Moving Beyond Multitasking
It’s become a truism in productivity literature that we shouldn’t multitask. Constantly switching between projects, we’re told, wastes time, because our brains need time to get reoriented whenever we change tasks.
By Chris Edgar
n working with clients on productivity issues, I’ve noticed that, although some people understand intellectually that multitasking is bad, they have trouble kicking the habit. As hard as they try to zero in on a single project, they find their attention constantly jumping around – from writing that e-mail, to coding that program, to folding their socks, and so on. In other words, for these people, multitasking isn’t really a choice – it’s more like something that happens to them. But why is this?
Notice The Pre-Multitasking Experience These clients found an answer when I asked them to take a close look at what they were thinking and feeling right before they changed tasks. Each one noticed that, in that “clutch” moment before they switched projects, some sensation came up inside them that they found uncomfortable. As everyone’s mind and body is unique, this sensation was different for each person. One client, for instance, felt tension in his shoulders right before he was about to switch tasks. For another, it was a mild nausea that came up in her stomach.
again, and my clients again found themselves changing tasks. This cycle repeated throughout the day, and thus my clients weren’t accomplishing what they wanted in their work. Until these people deliberately focused on it, this whole process was happening unconsciously – leaving them at the end of the work day feeling frustrated and confused.
Get a clear idea of the thought, sensation, or emotion that comes up right before you’re about to change projects.
Let The Experience Be
The Exercise In a Nutshell
Once they were aware of the unwanted experience that was having them multitask, I invited them to try a different way of responding to the experience. Instead of trying to avoid the sensation by jumping between projects, I asked them to try dropping their resistance to the experience and just letting it be.
If you find yourself constantly switching between tasks, I invite you to try this exercise. First, get a clear idea of the thought, sensation, or emotion that comes up right before you’re about to change projects.
In other words, I asked them – whenever that experience came up – to just sit there, keep breathing, relax their bodies, and let that sensation pass away on its own – in the same way people often do during meditation. When they tried this exercise, they discovered something remarkable. When they just let that tension, nausea, itching, or whatever it was pass away, without running from it, the sensation started to seem more comfortable and familiar. It no longer felt so threatening and dangerous.
Then, practice dropping your resistance to that sensation, and letting it fade away on its own. Notice that simply allowing the sensation to be doesn’t hurt or destroy you – it’s actually safe to sit there and let it pass. As you practice this, I think you’ll find that sensation getting easier to deal with, and your multitasking habit falling away as a result. a
! Christopher Edgar Chris Edgar helps people find focus, motivation and peace in their work through his writing, speaking and
Naturally, because they found this experience disturbing, they wanted to get away from it. Thus, to distract themselves from what they were feeling, they turned their attention to a new project. The trouble was that, a few minutes later, that discomfort reared its ugly head
More importantly, the more comfortable they got with the experience they’d been avoiding, the less they found themselves multitasking. They became able to move forward in their work, even when that sensation was coming up – and found more efficiency and ease in their work as a result.
workshops. He is the author of “Inner Productivity: a Mindful Path to Efficiency and Enjoyment in Your Work”, which “Getting Things Done” author David Allen calls “a great read and a useful guidebook for turning the daily grind into something much more interesting and engaging”.
! Links: Christopher on Twitter | Christopher’s Web Site
“Inner Productivity: a Mindful Path to Efficiency and Enjoyment in Your Work”
Single-tasking is good for you How my Macbook Air helped me develop a good habit of launching less applications at a time and do a lot more single-tasking than multi-tasking.
me a longer period of time to focus on what I had to do next. At the same time, my laptop (with more and more apps open) needed more time to switch between these as well. And when you have 2 GB of RAM, at some point you hit the limit and the slow disk-cache needs to be used. Apparently we’re not that different from computers after all. We both are getting tired with too many apps open at a time.
By Michael Sliwinski
Clutter leads to distractions while beauty and zen lead to productivity
y Macbook Air has a limit of 2 GB of RAM and although it’s a limit I’m not happy about (and I’m getting the new Air with 4 GB of RAM and more room to breathe), it actually helped me develop a good
habit of launching less applications at a time and do a lot more single-tasking than multi-tasking.
Computers and humans get tired when switching too much between apps and tasks I noticed that switching between many applications I had open quickly became tiring for me and after each switch it took
With more clutter and smaller icons in the Application Switcher it’s hard to find what you’re searching for and it’s easier to get distracted. In Mac OSX the icons in the Application Switcher (Cmd+TAB on a Mac and ALT+TAB on Windows) are bigger the less apps you have open and are smaller the more you have them running. I must say it’s visu-
The less apps I have open, the more beautiful (and bigger) their icons become.
But the hard disk opens apps very fast, especially when you have one of the new SSD drives (like the one on the new Macbook Airs from Apple). This makes the habit of quitting apps even more appealing. When you need them, you open them up quickly. When you don’t, just quit them.
ally very rewarding when you see nice, big, gorgeous looking icons in front of you, so the less apps I have open, the more beautiful the icons become. And this pretty sight makes me feel better... and this makes me more productive and motivated to get stuff done.
iPad and iPhone help develop single-tasking habit Thanks to heavy use of both my iPhone and my iPad recently, I learned to appreciate doing one thing at a time (which is a must because of their small screen real estate). This also helped me create a new habit of closing apps and opening them only as needed. Now, on my laptop, I have just a few apps open all of the time – Browsers (Opera and Chrome), Evernote for note-taking, Nozbe (as a fluid stand-alone app) and Finder which has to be launched all of the
Hard drive opens faster than saves files... and you get turbo speed with SSD disk When the RAM is full, the computer starts to save data on the hard disk and it’s a lot slower than the RAM memory.
time. Mail and other apps are opened only when I need to use them.
Learn to single-task and focus on the task at hand. Experts are with me on this one Many studies have shown that singletasking it more effective, efficient and creates a more focused environment than constantly multi-tasking. And as I’ve written above, you don’t get tired, your computer doesn’t slow down and you’re getting a lot done. Good luck! a
Hard disks open apps very fast, especially when you have one of these new SSD drives.
! Michael Sliwinski Michael Sliwinski is your chief editor of the Productive! Magazine and a host of the new Productive! Show. Every day he’s trying to help people get more done with his web application Nozbe – now also available as a native iPhone or iPad app.
! Links: Michael on Twitter | Productive! Magazine | Productive! Show
Nozbe – Simply Get It Done! | Michael Sliwinski’s Blog: “Internet Business Productivity”
Engaged Employees are More Productive Imagine that you’re the coach of a professional football team – and that on a really good day, maybe 10 of your 45 players are 100% committed to the team’s success.
By Laura Stack
bout half are kind of committed (as long as you rev them up with a great pep talk first and keep pushing them, you can count on them to go out there and perform). The rest? Well, those players show up, suit up, and sit on the bench most of the time. They make the minimal amount of effort necessary to squeak by, collect their paychecks, and go home. Can you imagine such a thing? Oh, wait. That’s a typical NFL lineup, isn’t it? All joking aside, my point is this: with a team like that, how many games are you likely to win? I’m betting very few. Oh, you’ll win some – against teams a lot like yours. But a dedicated team like the 2008 Steelers would wipe the floor with you, because too few people on your team actually care enough win. Now, let’s translate that analogy into the business environment. You’re a manager instead of a coach. Your team is still a team, but they’re a bunch of whitecollar business professionals rather than athletes. So, given the breakdown I’ve outlined above in terms of commitment, how well do you expect your team to compete, either within the company or in the global business environment? The answer, of course, is “not very”. If you’re a manager worth your salt, this won’t be acceptable to you. But you can’t just fire all the under-performers, or sadly, you might not have much of a team left. A more effective solution is employee engagement. You’ve probably heard this term before, and maybe you’ve dismissed it as just another corporate buzz phrase. In some cases it is, but when taken seriously, it becomes far more than that; studies have repeatedly demonstrated that employee engagement is a significant
factor in the success of any company, large or small. Simply put, the higher the percentage of employee engagement, the higher the employee productivity and the greater the corporate success. So what is employee engagement, exactly? While not everyone agrees on the precise terminology, the consensus is that an engaged employee is one who’s enthusiastic and fully involved with his or her job and organization, and who makes a sincere effort to contribute to both team and company success. The engaged employee is proud of what they do for a living and proud of where they work. As commonly articulated, employee engagement is a relatively new concept, dating only from the early 1990s. The field splits employees into three categories: the actively engaged, the unengaged, and the actively disengaged. Depending upon the study, somewhere between 17-29% of employees are actively engaged. (Returning to our football analogy, those are the players who are 100% committed to winning.) About half – liter-
As the saying goes, workers don’t leave companies. They leave managers. they were. They’re just marking time until they can retire. Fortunately, these numbers aren’t set in stone. It’s possible for you as a leader to change them, and it’s crucial that you try. Indeed, it’s the leader who really makes the difference here; time and again, researchers have found that the relationship between employee and manager is an excellent gauge of the employee’s engagement level. As the saying goes, workers don’t leave companies, they leave managers. If that sounds like it’s all on your shoulders, well… to a large extent, it is. You’re the leader of your team, and to most employees, you’re the direct representative of the compa-
Studies have repeatedly demonstrated that employee engagement is a significant factor in the success of any company, large or small. ally the “mediocre middle”, as my colleague, Mark Sanborn, calls them – are unengaged. They may like their jobs, and they may be good at them, but they don’t really care much about the company’s goals (often because they have no idea what they are). At the bottom of the heap are the remaining employees – again, 17-29% – who are actively disengaged. These are the people who go to work just so they can get their paychecks. They’re not committed at all, and they couldn’t give two hoots about the company’s mission and vision, even if they knew what
ny – and possibly the only such representative they encounter regularly. Along with everything else required of you, it’s also your responsibility to ensure that your employees are engaged to the highest possible extent. Why should you bother? Because by all accounts, engaged employees are super competent employees, the type of people you build an organization around, and the ones you count on to help take your organization to the next level. According to a recent study by Gallup, world-class businesses
Doing everything you can to increase employee engagement is simply good business. (e.g., those that make money hand over fist, have great safety records, and exhibit low employee turnover, among other things) have engaged employee/disengaged employee ratios of about 9.57:1, as opposed to a disappointing 1.83:1 for average businesses. It’s clear that, as the researchers put it, “The world’s top-performing organizations understand that employee engagement is a force that drives performance outcomes”. Gallup sets an engaged/disengaged benchmark of 8:1 for successful, world-class companies, giving us all a standard to shoot for. The Gallup researchers go on to note that actively disengaged workers cost American companies an estimated $300 billion annually in lost productivity alone. And here’s another interesting statistic, this time from Serota Consulting’s 2005 study of 28 multinational companies: companies with high employee engagement had share prices that rose an average of 16% over the course of the study, whereas the industry average was just 6%. In 2003, a study by ISR found that companies with high levels of engagement saw their operating profits rise
You want your employees’ job to be something that they’re proud of and enthusiastic about doing.
by nearly 4% over three years, while those with low levels of engagement showed drops in net profits and operating margins on the order of 1.38% and 2.01%, respectively. (If you don’t think those percentages sound significant, multiple them by a few million dollars and think again.) And consider the fact that in the long run, engaged companies outperform their less-engaged competitors by up to 28% (one of the key findings of the Conference Board study of 2006). Clearly, engagement is a key driver in achieving and sustaining outstanding productivity in any organization, if only because it dramatically increases employee satisfaction and retention. Engaged employees are far more productive and more valuable than the mediocre middle unengaged employees, or of course the actively disengaged. Naturally, that affects the bottom line, so doing everything you can to increase employee engagement is simply good business. That being the case, you need to understand what factors drive engagement, and how you can put them into play to engage your employees. Now admittedly, some level of engagement is based on an individual’s personality; a bright, bubbly person is generally more easily engaged than a dour one. Otherwise, engagement is driven by a number of interrelated factors, which I boil down to the six that are most critical to maximizing employee engagement: 1. Employee confidence that they can do their job properly and will be allowed to do so with minimal oversight. 2. The nature and quality of the job itself.
3. Career development and opportunities for growth. 4. Ongoing communication and feedback from management. 5. A clear understanding of the company’s goals, and why employee contributions matter. 6. Trust in the company’s integrity, and pride in their place in it. In other words, you have to do all you can to make an employee’s job more than just a job: you want it to be something that they’re proud of and enthusiastic about doing – ideally, something they actually look forward to.
In Conclusion Maximizing employee engagement is crucial if you want to maximize your team’s performance. While the two concepts aren’t synonymous, the most productive people do tend to be highly engaged, and they’re much less likely to want to leave you. So take a look at the above factors and consider how you might implement them among your employees. It may not be easy, and you may not succeed with everyone. However, I guarantee that if you’ll genuinely try, your collective productivity will soar. a
! Laura Stack Laura Stack is a personal productivity expert, author, and professional speaker who helps busy workers Leave the Office Earlier® with Maximum Results in Minimum Time™. She’s the president of The Productivity Pro®, Inc.
! Links: Laura on Twitter | Laura’s Web Site: The Productivity Pro
How to NOT do everything on your to-do list
GTD should be adapted to fit your personal working style – it’s not a cookie-cutter approach. One method doesn’t work for everyone.
By Leo Babauta
eader of my blog, Jeremy Martin, wrote in with this question: This week, I started the switch to the GTD system. I have mostly learned what I know from your site and other articles about GTD, but I also have the book on order. The mental freedom it has afforded me has been such a major relief! I immediately push out all of the little thoughts that come to my head to process later, which works very well for me because I am a person with a very active mind that never seems to rest. I cannot remember when I have had this much peace of mind. My problem is that if I have a list of things to do, no matter if they are high priority or personal projects for myself, I feel guilty if I am not working to shrink that list. This can lead to periods of burnout for me, where I barely get anything done. I never know when it is okay to relax, or when it is okay to take a break and play that video game, read a book, or some other leisure activity. Do you have any tips that might help me out? This problem is one that many of us deal with, and there’s no easy answer. I have a number of suggestions that might help, but let me first say that they are not from the GTD system – they are things you can add to the system to make it work for you. GTD should be adapted to fit your personal working style – it’s not a cookie-cutter approach. One method doesn’t work for everyone.
Here are my suggestions 1. Set 1-3 Most Important Things (MITs) for the day (you might have already read about this on my site)… the top 1, 2, or 3 things that you really want to get done that day. This is an addition to the GTD system, not a part of it, but I find it helps
Get your Most Important Things done early in the day. me to focus on what’s important. GTD assumes that you will know what needs to be done, which is true, but it’s helpful to determine that at the beginning of each day, and make sure you get those things done. 2. Get your MITs done early in the day. Then everything else you do is extra. And if you feel like taking a break and playing, after you do the MITs, you can do this without worrying that you’re not getting important stuff done. 3. You’ll never get to the bottom of your list. This is something I had to learn
the hard way. I would try to clear one of my context lists (like @calls), but as soon as I crossed 2-3 off my list, another 2-3 would pop up. Now, I try to just get my list down to a reasonable number if possible. 4. GTD isn’t about doing everything on your list. It’s about knowing what needs to be done, so that when you’re doing something else, you know that everything else that needs to be done, at some point, is accounted for in your system, and you don’t need to worry about all that other stuff at this point. In other words, get all that stuff out of your head, and into your trusted system, so you don’t have to worry about it while you focus on the task before you. 5. It’s also good to schedule time blocks. I will set a block for email and calls, another for writing, another for interviews (a big part of my job), etc … this way, I just try to get as much done in that block as possible, and then not worry about the rest until tomorrow’s block. This is also not a part of GTD, but a useful addition, as GTD doesn’t really advocate scheduling. But without a little bit of scheduling, as you’ve found, it can get a bit stressful, because you never know what needs to be done.
In the end, you can try these methods out, but you’ll have to find what works for you. Some of these tips might work, some might not be for you. It’s our systems that have to adapt to us, not the other way around! a
You’ll never get to the bottom of your list. This is something I had to learn the hard way.
! Leo Babauta Leo Babauta lives in San Francisco and is married with six kids. He’s a writer and a runner and a vegetarian and he loves writing Zen Habits – his blog that, in a couple of years, became one of the top blogs on the Internet with 100K+ readers subscribed and counting. He’s a published author of a bestselling book „Power of Less”.
! Links: Leo on Twitter | Leo’s Blog: “Zen Habits” | Leo’s Blog: “Minimalist” “The Power of Less: The 6 Essential Productivity Principles That Will Change Your Life”
For several nights in a row, I did not get to bed until almost midnight. As a result, I slept in longer and stopped running. I became irritable and started losing focus. It was clear that I needed to change something – and now! By Michael Hyatt
couple of weeks ago, I was feeling overwhelmed with my workload. I always leave the office at 6:00 p.m. in order to have dinner with my family. Then I typically get back on my laptop and catch up on my email. I shoot to be in bed no later than 10:00 p.m. However, for several nights in a row, I did not get to bed until almost midnight. As a result, I slept in longer and stopped running. I became irritable and
Reasons Why You Aren’t Done Yet
started losing focus. It was clear that I needed to change something – and now! My experience isn’t unique. Every where I go, people seem to be overwhelmed by the volume of their work. With layoffs in many businesses, employees are pulling double-duty. It’s time to get serious and triage our workloads. Late one night, I caught myself saying to my wife Gail for the third time, “Just a few more minutes, Honey. I’m almost done”. Immediately, I realized I was lying to her and to myself. I closed my laptop and jotted down a list of ten things that had kept me from completing their work. Do these apply to you?
Every where I go, people seem to be overwhelmed by the volume of their work. simply a way for people to procrastinate and avoid taking responsibility for their decisions. It’s much easier to let “the group” make the decision. Some meetings are legitimate, to be sure. But how many issues can I handle without resorting to a meeting? I need ask, “Do we really need a meeting to address that issue”?
2. Mindlessly surfing the web 1. Too many meetings How many of meetings actually advance my agenda and the reason I was hired in the first place. Too often, meetings are
When I was growing up, television was the big time-waster. Now it is the Internet. You look at this Web page, click on that link, visit another page, and then
click on another link. Before you know it, you have wasted hours and hours and have nothing to show for it. It’s time to limit our time online. I think I might even try scheduling my Web time.
3. Being distracted by online pings
is smaller than it really is. This will just take a minute, I think to myself. Two hours later, I am still working on the same project. I like G.K. Chesterton’s quote: “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly”. In other words, not everything has to be perfect. Just get it out the door!
I shoot to have my inbox at zero by the end of the day. But do I really need to respond to every message in real time? Do you? Unless you are in customer service, probably not. You can accomplish the same goal by “batching” your inbox processing into distinct blocks of time. This includes Twitter, Facebook, and other social media services.
When I was growing up, television was the big time-waster. Now it is the Internet.
4. Allowing people to drop in without an agenda
7. Refusing to delegate
I usually work with my door open. I want to be accessible to my people. But some people abuse this. They drop by without an agenda and eat up time I don’t have. I always feel badly about bringing the meeting to a close. But if I don’t say “no” to them, I will have to say “no” to more important projects – and perhaps even my family. I am willing to chat for a bit, but I have to be more courageous about standing up and walking my guests to the door.
5. Being consumed by the urgent Modern culture is addicted to urgency. People demand an instant response. It is part of our increasingly me-centered world. Everything revolves around my agenda and my priorities. But how much of it is truly urgent. My daughter, Megan, often reminds me, “Dad, you’re not saving lives; you’re just making books”. Nothing like a big dose of perspective!
6. Being a perfectionist Honestly, this is my besetting sin. (Or I should say, one of them.) I am constantly tweaking my projects. The problem is that it always feels like the change
This one is also tough for me. I can’t argue that I don’t have anyone to help. I have plenty of resources available. But I kid myself into thinking it will be faster if I just do it myself. I don’t want to take the time to explain to someone else how I want it done. Frankly, my own arrogance is probably at the root of this one. I need to take my own advice.
8. Not starting the day with a to-do list I am so much more productive when I take ten minutes and actually decide what tasks I want to accomplish TODAY. I use a software package called Things, and it is perfect for this. I can take any of my tasks and assign them to the “Today Focus”. (They also have an iPhone app that syncs with the desktop.) When I just launch into the day without a todo list, I pay for it later – in spades.
es you to be efficient. However, this also works with your daily schedule. I have a rule that I observe religiously: I leave the office by 6:00 p.m. My problem is that I sometimes take work home and then allow my evenings to become a buffer for the overflow. This has to stop.
10. Not scheduling time to work If I don’t have a plan for my day, chances are, someone else does. On Sunday evenings, I go through and schedule blocks of time that I call “Office Work”. These are essentially appointments with myself to get specific projects done. When other people check my calendar, these blocks show up as “busy”. If someone asks me if I am free at that time, I can legitimately say, “No, I’m afraid I have another commitment at that time”. This has been one of the most helpful tools in my toolbox. If you are feeling like your work/life balance is out of kilter, maybe it’s time for you to make a list of the reasons you aren’t done yet. If you are reading this after hours, that could be a clue. a
! Michael Hyatt Michael Hyatt is the President and CEO of Thomas Nelson, the largest Christian publishing company in the world and the seventh largest trade book publishing company in the U.S. Michael has written four books, one of which landed on the New York Times bestseller list. Hyatt serves as Chairman of the Evan-
9. Not committing to an end time
gelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA).
As the old adage goes, “Work expands to the time allotted to it”. This explains why the week before your vacation is one of the most productive weeks of the year. You have a fixed end-time, and that forc-
He has been married to his wife, Gail, for twenty eight years. They have five daughters and two grand daughters and live outside of Nashville, Tennessee.
! Links: Michael on Twitter | Michael’s Blog: “Intentional Leadership”
The Art And Science Of The Next Action I believe “Next Actions” are the key part of any productivity system. It’s a concept I first came across in GTD (“Getting Things Done”) and while at it’s core it essentially involves breaking your work down (hardly a new idea) it goes further in that it helps you to be clear on what exactly you are doing and what physical action is involved.
find, meet, research, post…) and you will see all the actions you can do.
The detail The next action needs to be clear and precise so that when you read it you know what is expected. It’s one thing to have a verb expressing what action is involved, but you need to be very clear on how and where that action is being applied. Imagine that you make a note to ring your business partner. That’s great until the time comes to make the call and you look back at that note. What are you ringing him about? Is it a casual call or a serious discussion? Do you have necessary paperwork to hand?
The end result By James Mallinson
avid Allen describes it as, “the next physical, visible activity that needs to be engaged in, in order to move the current reality toward completion”. If there is one tip for being more productive that I could suggest it would be this one. I can now deal with so many more unpleasant projects that I would otherwise procrastinate on because when I break it down all those hurdles seem less significant. I recently decorated my hallway. I’d put it off because I didn’t want to waste my entire weekend doing it. However by breaking it down and doing one wall per day suddenly decorating didn’t become a long, laborious job. Another benefit of a next action is that because the workload involved tends to be smaller it’s much easier to focus on it and get it done before boredom and procrastination kicks in. It also allows you to manage your time better. It’s harder to fit a two hour project into your schedule than it is to fit in a fifteen next action. You can juggle and plan your
workload more and be smarter with it. Below are the three key parts that make up an effective next action.
The verb Verbs usually express action, which as you can imagine, is especially important for something called a next action. For instance, you can read a magazine, write a report or phone a colleague. Imagine what happens when you take that verb
It’s harder to fit a two hour project into your schedule than it is to fit in a fifteen-minute next action.
How do you know when you have finished a task? It might seem obvious most of the time because after all, when you’re done, you’re done. It’s that simple, surely? However, take an example of cleaning a bedroom. How do you determine when you have cleaned the room enough to tick it off as complete? Where is the line drawn? When you aren’t clear on this you will often find yourself doing only half a job or doing too much because you are simply not clear in your head when to stop. It’s worth noting that time limits and deadlines can also sometimes serve to define the end result. For instance, when I am writing, my next action can either be to do a certain amount of pages or it can be to write for a number of hours. a
! James Mallinson out. Suddenly you have a magazine and no idea of what you are doing with it. Are you reading it or recycling it? Then there is that report. Are you writing, printing or planning it? Think of the possible verbs you can use (call, email, collect,
James Mallinson comes from the UK and is an aspiring author. He started Organize IT nearly two years ago after he began dabbling in productivity, and wanted to share his tips and experience.
! Links: James on Twitter | James’ Blog: “Organize IT”
Productive! Show Videos
Body, Inbox and a Bag The Productive! Show videos are now a regular thing on our newly launched Productive! Firm site and this time around I’d like to show you three most recent video productivity tips and tricks (out of more than 25) I have recorded for you lately
By Michael Sliwinski
Productivity as a body: Diet and Exercise – TEDxVolcano (Episode #23) Have you ever tried to personalize your productivity? I see it as a perfect body – here’s my complete 12 min. presentation on TEDxVolcano (TEDxWulkan) – an independent TED event.
Processing BIG Inbox after Travel (Episode #25) Ever felt overwhelmed after a long trip with all that stuff that needs to be taken care of? Well, there you have it – it’s a beauty of Getting Things Done methodology – process the Inbox to zero. Throw it all on the desk and get it done! Here’s how I do it.
Office in a Bag (Episode #26) How to fit an entire mobile office in one bag? In this new episode of Productive! Show I’m sharing with you how I manage to fit my Apple Macbook Air and all of the accessories into one small bag.
! Links: Hope you enjoyed these short productivity videos. Click here to browse all episode archive.
The DEAL is an acronym for a 4 prong holding pattern (as opposed to an attack, which involves action) that increases your ability to better eventualize. By Mike Vardy
A = Asterisk it
D = Delay it
Once you can’t delay or effort it anymore, asterisk it so you don’t forget it again. Do that for everything on your list. Then everything becomes important. The asterisk suddenly means nothing. Mission eventually accomplished… almost.
You’re given a task, hold off doing it. That’s what delay means.
E = Eff it Once you can’t delay an action item any longer, work really hard to forget about it. You know, effort it out of your mind.
sweet talk your way out the situation. If you’re blessed with my charm, you’ll have no problem conveying believable lip service. If not, then the lip service you may have to perform will involve some unpleasant kissing areas. Remember… the best way to keep up with your end of the DEAL is to treat life as a perpetual Vegas card game, like poker or Texas Hold’em. That way you’ll think there’s always something to DEAL with then. And perhaps a lot to win – or lose – when it’s time to cash in. a
! Mike Vardy Eventually self-professed productivity expert, founder of the new productivity ide-
L = Lip Service it
Once you’ve exhausted the first three components, you’re going to have to ! Links: Mike on Twitter | Mike’s Blog: “Eventualism”
recommends the new book by Stever Robbins:
Get a copy from Amazon today!
Published on Nov 18, 2010
Published on Nov 18, 2010
Sixth issue of Productive! Magazine features the iTunes star, Stever Robbins, aka "Get-It-Done" Guy who talks about working less and doing m...