• Jason Womack • Stephen Smith • Jasmine Grimm • Laura Stack • Michael Hyatt • Graham Allcott • Leo Babauta • Michael Sliwinski •
#12 (February, March, April 2012)
on making your best better!
Articles on: 4 Ways of finding Focus 4 Managing Distractions 4 Collaborating with Others
From the Editor
Our Focus Just Got Better By Michael Sliwinski, Editor
elcome to the newest, 12th issue of your favorite productivity magazine. This time I had the pleasure of interviewing Jason Womack, the author of his just–released book “Your Best Just Got Better”, a former Getting Things Done (GTD) coach and a fantastic positive guy. We talked about productivity, fitness, improving our skills and getting better at what we do, plain and simple. To achieve that, we need to focus in 2012 on what we do best, I need to focus on enabling my recently–grown team of Nozbe–ninjas to develop an even better productivity tool for you guys (on all mobile and desktop devices possible) and you need to focus on your stuff, too! That’s why this issue’s theme has become: Focus. Jasmine Grimm talks about how she can focus better without a smartphone (I can’t live without my iPhone, but I still like her tips), Stephen
! Links: Michael on Twitter | Michael’s Blog
Smith explains his “focused” email system (I’m also a big fan of the inbox–zero approach), Laura Stack explains how to remain focused and still “babysit” others, I also talk about how splitting a day into two parts helps me focus and Graham Allcott takes it even further with his advice. As always Michael Hyatt shows how he deals with stressful moments and Leo Babauta just says that to remain focused, you can always walk away from stuff that is not for you. All in all, we had great fun compiling this issue and I encourage you to get Jason Womack’s new book: “Your Best Just Got Better” to learn how to build on your strengths and focus on what you’re really good at. Yours productively,
Table of contents 04
Michael Sliwinski How Our Best Can Get Better! Interview with Jason Womack
10 12 13
Productive! Magazine www.ProductiveMagazine.com Sponsor: www.Nozbe.com
Stephen Smith Inbox–Zero Made Easy Jasmine Grimm How to Manage Without a Smart Phone
Laura Stack Tracking Down People for Follow–Ups, Answers and Reminders
16 18 19
Michael Hyatt When You Feel Overwhelmed by Your Workload Michael Sliwinski Benefits of Splitting a Day
Graham Allcott Making space: My New Productivity Rules of the Road
Michael Sliwinski Productive! Show Videos Leo Babauta Be able to walk away
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.
How Our Best Can Get Better!
Interview with Jason Womack by Michael Sliwinski
On Getting Better, Getting Your Support System Better and Achieving Better Results 4
Michael Sliwinski: Welcome Jason! Glad I get to talk about productivity with such an experienced person as yourself. Thanks for doing that!
Better” one of the things that I explore is just people’s mindset that they bring into a productive day.
Jason Womack: You know, Michael, I have been in this game for almost 15 years. I was a high school teacher in the 1990’s and I was always trying to get more from time. Time management and time blocking. I remember that it really started going downhill when I started training to sleep 4 hours a night. This is when I knew something had to change. It just wasn’t sustainable.
Michael: The title of your book is quite challenging, because how can your best be better?
Michael: I had a friend who tried to do that as well. In the long run the body is just tired. Jason: We are not built for it. Now what I do is partner with organizations, specifically with their talent development and learning management divisions and we create seminars and workshops on productivity, time management and more and more we are talking about internal mobility. That is how we take the best that they are hiring and instead of training them to leave, we want to train their staff to grow.
Michael: I have recently read your article about the fact that when people hire other people, sometimes overqualified, you just have to communicate well with them, what their expectations are, right? Jason: I believe so. And there are so many hidden factors. Right now we have four generations working together in a workplace. I have a good friend who works at a Macy’s department store, and she shared with me that in holiday season they do temporary hiring, they are going to have 18, 19, 20–year olds and on the other side they’ve got people who are past their retirement age, but they still like working. So you have this range of 20 to let’s call it 65 and just the mind set of all of those people. So in my newest book: “Your Best Just Got
Jason: It’s a question I hope more people will ask me. What I do in the book is go through three areas. First we are talking about working smart, then we talk about thinking big and then we talk about making more. What we found in my research is that those three things happen in that order. Someone who is setting a big goal, who wants to think big... but has their inbox out of control, has their things all over the place, has their mind full with everything… that is if they are not working smart, they just can’t think big. It’s not mentally or physically possible.
Jason: Almost every time. One of my clients is an international bank and their spokesperson is Roger Federer, the tennis player. On one of the presentations I saw Roger talking about tennis players: do they find a coach to help them find what their weaknesses are and make those stronger or find a coach to find what their strengths are and make that better? He said, and I will always remember this, Michael: “if you work on your weaknesses you might be an all around good tennis player but you won’t be dangerous, unless you work on your strengths’”. And maybe “dangerous” is not the right word, it’s “extremely powerful”. I know when I’m on stage and I’m speaking to a room of recently promoted managers and they are about to take on a much bigger team and we are discussing the culture, values and train-
People who are the best continually go back for re–education, they go back for training, they go back for coaching... „Your Best Just Got Better” was the title of my blog going back 7 years, I never had an idea it would become a book one day, just the people who I was spending my time with quite frankly were the best. And again, you know this, people who are the best continually go back for re–education, they go back for training, they go back for coaching.
Michael: Sometimes you do find people who are the best, but when you look at them from the side, you can see how much they can improve. And then with the small things, like you’ve said, when you have them clean their inbox, or some other small improvements like that they are surprised by how much more they can do, right?
ing... and where I’m dangerous is where I can pull out my experiences and present that in my style. “Your Best Just Got Better” might not be doing things extremely differently, but it maybe is doing what comes naturally to you but a little bit more.
Michael: That’s true. I think in this whole world right now we focus too much on the negativity instead of focusing on positivity. Just focus on the good things… and you can build up on that and not just focus on the bad things and just start whining. Jason: Benjamin Zander wrote a book called “The Art of Possibility”. Actually he tells the story that his wife wrote it and she has let him put his name on the cover :-)
“if you work on your weaknesses you might be an all around good tennis player but you won’t be dangerous, unless you work on your strengths’”. In that book he talks about the negative spiral that we can sometimes find ourselves in. And I remember, Michael, when I was reading on your blog way back when you took on Nozbe as your thing and you talked about tens of things that were on your mind all the time. You know, one of those tens of things can start that negative spiral and can actually overwhelm everything! What Benjamin says, and what I echo is: “I don’t need to change and be a positive thinker but I do need to practice positive focus”. And those two things are different.
Michael: Jason, before this new book of yours you had the other one “The Positive Promise Doctrine” that you wrote with your father, right? Jason: That was a fun project. You know, my father and I, we see each other physically half a dozen times a year, we talk quite often and he is a very successful CEO. He was the CEO of the Sharper Image, an American based company that was global, then he ran a garden supply company called Smith & Hawkin, and then he ran a manufacturing company producing those big massage chairs you see in the airports.
So he has experience over the past 20 years, has been running 150 to 400 million dollar companies... while my experience over the past 20 years has been in the classroom, either in a public classroom or in a corporate classroom, looking at how people receive those mandates from above. And so we have those two experiences almost at the opposite sides. Making the decisions and helping people implement the decisions. So we wrote a short guide book on what happens when people say and do what they say they were going to do.
Michael: Jason, tell us a bit more about yourself, please. Like for example you were with the David Allen Company and then you’ve decided to go on your own. What happened there? Jason: It goes back to couple of things that we’ve talked about so far. I started off as a junior high school teacher and then I went to high school. And while
I was going through that process, I started studying time management. Franklin Covey... I got a PalmPilot in 1997 and then I met David Allen who was doing his seminar called “Managing Actions and Projects” and I went to that seminar in late 1997, 1998, 1999. In 1999 David and I had a conversation and I created a class for my high school students on productivity. We’ve called it “Pathfinders: Actions and Ambitions Management for Teens”. And my thinking was, you know there are those 16 and 17 years olds I was teaching, and they had a lot of energy, they had a lot of enthusiasm, they were getting a lot of information and so I wanted to create something that would put all that together. It went really well, I can tell you stories about that, but the next thing that happened was that David’s book was coming out. The Getting Things Done. So I’ve joined up as a facilitator of the seminars and a coach and over the next 5 years I’ve presented 400 GTD seminars around the world. I was a senior trainer with that firm and then what wound up happening is I became much more interested in the process of performance independent of a tool. On one side it was very liberating, because I could walk into a client’s office
Doing one thing is like “doing nothing” to me. and we could be very open and free about how do we solve this performance and productivity problem, on the other side there needs to be, and I found this, some foundations, some system that they use. So over the past 5 years I’ve partnered with about half a dozen large companies around the world. Recently I was in Zurich and the month before that I was
in United Kingdom and I’ve worked in Amsterdam, I’ve worked in Belgium and it’s been a wild experience of showing up, meeting clients, where they are to find out what they need and staying in touch. Someone asked me: “Jason what is your business plan?”. Well, my 3 step business plan: show up, do good work, stay in touch.
Michael: I’ve read somewhere, that 80% of success is showing up. Jason: And what we can do, and one of the things I teach is underneath each of those three ideas are several indicators. Showing up: showing up on time, showing up prepared, showing up culturally aware, showing up demographically aware... you know I’ve done seminars in
different communities where I was the only one like me in the room.
Michael: When you start something new it takes lots of energy from you because you love it so much and there is so much passion behind it. So how do you balance your family life... Jason: Absolutely. Thanks goodness for what I call “team Jason”. Team Jason is this small cadre of people who, they get me, they understand me, they support me, but I think most importantly they push me. What I have done, I have surrounded myself by people who understand that I’m here for a big purpose and they don’t give me a hard time. What I mean by that is when I tell some people about how much I do and what I do, one of the 1st things some people say is: “oh my goodness when do you relax, or don’t you ever do nothing?”, because of that question I’m writing a manifesto, about the difference between doing nothing and doing one thing. And it is very subtle when you change those letters around, but doing one thing is like doing nothing to me. Other things that I do to keep myself engaged, I was doing triathlon during the summer, I train 10 months a year with a plan and then October and November each year are my off months. But that always gives me something to perform towards and I would encourage anybody: because I race every month from April until September, every 30 days I have a race, I always have a next thing to train towards. And I think that is significant, especially, with those of us who
My 3 step business plan: show up, do good work, stay in touch.
“I don’t need to change and be a positive thinker but I do need to practice positive focus”. have jobs or careers or lives that are always on. I work with parents and spouses and they are going to be a parent for the rest of their life. So being able to chunk that down and say here is the next milestone, an achievement, call it a goal, but by having that next thing in sight… not long time away... but in sight, I think it is critical to high performance and productivity.
Michael: I have been having some issues last year when I couldn’t find time to do physical training, and I got chubby and I got disillusioned and it was really bad. And then when a friend of mine who is a professional athlete helped me out, gave me these small goals then suddenly, after one year I lost almost 20 pounds, I feel just a lot better and then I get this energy and I have this thing to also look forward to. I want to do a triathlon one day as well. Jason: Way to go Michael! You know, I believe we all should make sure we’ve got three things: one – surround yourself by people who understand you, support you, that will push on you, that will encourage you. The second one is: look at the physical sustainability, environment… companies are talking about CSR, “corporate social responsibility”… I’m looking at ISR, “individual social responsibility”. If I don’t rest, if I don’t take care of my body I’m just not fun to be around and I know that. And then I think the third one would be to clarify your “so that”. Call it “purpose”, call it “reason”, call it your “why”. In my book, in one of the chapters, I explore this concept of “so that” and when I clarify that, when I un-
derstand that, things just seem to show up to support me in that direction.
Michael: Also people tend to make those imaginary goals like: “I’m gonna lose 20 lbs in one year”. What they should be doing is having those smaller, actionable things to look forward every month just like you said. People are afraid to take these baby steps, because they are afraid they might succeed. This is something I have been talking to people about because once you get more organized you feel a little bit lost, because then you suddenly know how much time you actually have. When you are not organized you are like: “I’m going to be fine, I’m gonna go with the flow”... but when you are more organized, you get your inbox to zero and then you know how much time everything takes and then you start realizing that “maybe doing this is not really realistic for tomorrow", you start to understand your physical boundaries. Jason: Exactly! Many of the things you have just said I’m exploring in detail in several chapters of my book. You and I are on the same page. a
!!Jason Womack Founder of The Jason Womack Company, an advisor to leaders worldwide and author dedicated to helping individual contributors, entrepreneurs and executives work effectively and efficiently so they have the time, energy and focus to achieve more in work and in life.
! Links: Jason on Twitter | Jason’s Book
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Inbox–Zero Made Easy I was on the phone recently with a friend and he was complaining about all of the crazy emails that he gets. The other day I was talking to a client that I ran into at the grocery store and I asked her if she had seen the email I sent her the day before, as she hadn’t responded. She said no, because her email in–box was so full she couldn’t find anything.
By Stephen Smith
esterday I received a reply to an email I had sent to a colleague three weeks ago, she was apologizing for being so late but the message I sent had “gotten lost” in her email program. Are you seeing a trend here? It used to take me upwards of two hours to go through all of my emails and get to “in– box zero”, mainly because I manage so many email accounts. But I applied the Today, Tomorrow or Later model to my email, added a couple of filters and now I can breeze through my email communications in just a few minutes. Let me show you how.
Today, Tomorrow or Later TTL is a method of prioritizing your tasks, actions and inputs. The essentials are as follows: You create 3 folders in your email Inbox, labeled “Today”, “Tomorrow” and “Later”. Each email that you receive gets prioritized according to its importance: ! Is this something that must be handled Today? ! Is this something that can be handled Tomorrow (or Soon)? ! Is this something that can be dealt with Later?
© Tatiana Popova / Shutterstock
Move it to the appropriate folder.
Today, Tomorrow or Later is a method of prioritizing your tasks, actions and inputs.
If the email is something that someone else should take care of, forward it to them with a brief note and a due date. Tag the original email with “Delegated”, the name of the person it was delegated to, and the Due Date. Then move it to the appropriate folder. If the email is about something that you do not need to act on – then file it, archive it or delete it. If, like me, you receive email notifications from Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or other Social Networks, then create individual folders for each of these types of notifications and set up a filter to automatically move the incoming messages to the appropriate folder. Then you can deal with all of these at whatever time is best for you to do so. If you receive any emails from sites that you have subscribed to set up a filter to move them to a “Subscriptions” folder automatically. This is fantastically important! I can’t stress enough how much easier your life will be if you filter out all of these messages from merchants that you may have given your email address to. You may even wish to create sub–folders for this category of email, to separate the merchant–subscriptions from news and information subscriptions. This way you can process all of these at once when it is convenient for you. Your email folder tree should look something like this: • Inbox • Today • Tomorrow • Later • Delegated • Subscriptions • Social Media – Twitter – Facebook – YouTube • Archives – 2011 – 2012
You may want to reconsider all of the alerts and notifications that you are subscribed to. Once you have set this up you are in business and should be able to process your Inbox in a short time each day.
Step One Each day when you decide to first open your email client, click on the “Tomorrow” folder first. Decide which, if any of these email messages need to get acted upon Today, and move them to the “Today” folder.
Step Two Go to your Inbox and process the new messages according to the TTL formula. Your Social Media notifications should already be in their proper folders. If there are any new subscriptions move those emails and add a filter to catch them the next time.
Step Three Open your “Today” folder and start working on those emails. Delete or Archive them when you are done with each one. Repeat this process each time that you open your email client. Your role will determine how often that is. Some people can check email two or three times a day, some need to keep it open all the time. Some people can get by only checking a couple of times a week, it all depends on you.
that you can act on today? If so, move them to the “Today” folder. Finally, check your “Subscriptions” folder: are there any messages in there that you really aren’t going to read? Delete them.
Dealing with Subscription Overload If you find that your “Subscriptions” folder fills rapidly with hundreds of emails you may want to reconsider all of the alerts and notifications that you are subscribed to. This can be the number one reason that people suffer from “email overload” – all of the alerts and sales and special offers that you receive when you give your email address to a merchant or when you buy something online. You may even consider “purging” this folder once every 3–6 months, by unsubscribing from email alerts and notifications that you don’t find useful or valuable.
Getting to In–box Zero This simple structure can be a Godsend for those of you that find you’re overwhelmed by emails flooding into your mailbox. Soon you will be able to process the important things in your email in just a few minutes a day. a
Stephen P. Smith
At the end of your last email processing session of the day, open the “Later” folder and look at those emails again. Are there any that you should move to “Today” or “Tomorrow”? Do it. Then double–check the “Tomorrow” folder: are there any messages in there
is a marketing and productivity consultant who lives in New Hampshire, USA and enjoys, reading, hiking, fishing and camping.
! Links: Stephen on Twitter | Stephen’s Website
How to Manage Without a Smart Phone I suppose I’m busy like you, yet I get through life without the crutch of a smart phone. By Jasmine Grimm
any of you might think that statement is blasphemous. But for me, it’s been critical to my productivity. I’m not lazy. I’m not out of touch with blogs, social media and all things savvy on the Interwebs. In fact, I’m certified in it. I’m a 20–something woman who’s busy working on a start–up and working full time at a digital magazine that I started from the ground up. I make time to turn pit bulls into therapy dogs, volunteer at hospice and with youth. I make time for Crossfit, Krav Maga, Marine Corp martial arts and Jiu–jitsu. But for me, I found when I ditched my cell phone I was able to get a hell of a lot more done in the day than when I had that pesky little bugger dinging at me all hours of the day and night. You see I kicked that sucker to the curb because my friends were abusing it. I’d get drunken texts in the middle of the night. Someone would send me a message and if I didn’t respond instanta-
neously – because of their assumption of reciprocity – it began to damage my relationships. I found that my texting life was like a chimpanzee grooming session – sending little grunt–like messages back and forth with people, only ever establishing the fact that we like liked one another. My relationships weren’t deep. In fact, there were just more of them bound by tiny weak bonds formed in a tiny keyboard. But when I tossed that beast to the curb, I created uproar. People were incredulous. They thought I had lost my mind. How could I get rid of such a thing? How will I ever get anything done? Perhaps, and I’m only exaggerating to clarify, this is what Greek philosopher Eratosthenes felt like when he was like, “You know guys, I don’t think the world is flat”. It’s not like getting rid of the smart phone magically eliminated my email, my phone and my sense of responsibility. Quite the contrary, it caused me to respect it more. It made it so I’d have to sit down and work, and focus on one project at a time, for a period of time and then move on to
the next project. It made me more organized because I wasn’t constantly being interrupted, moving haphazardly through tasks because of constant interruption. I focus more. I’m present when I’m with someone instead of texting someone who isn’t around. I call someone and they have my undivided attention. I show respect. I do one thing at a time. So how do I get it all done without the smart phone? It’s pretty simple. There’s a time for everything. ! A time to tweet. ! A time to Facebook. ! A time to email. ! A time to respond to emails. ! A time to call. ! A time to work. ! A time to break from work. ! A time to be with family. ! A time to volunteer. ! And a time to rest. What do workers like me gain from all of this toil? I’ll get everything done in due time and on time. I don’t have to set myself up for failure. I don’t have to be constantly interrupted and I have all the time in the world to eat, drink and find satisfaction in my toil. And that’s how I stay productive. a
!!Jasmine Grimm Jasmine Grimm’s content has appeared in numerous media outlets including reprints at Harvard University and National Geographic Television and Film. She founded Ruby, Inc. a personalize styling business that helps women realize their worth is far above rubies
It made me more organized because I wasn’t constantly being interrupted.
by boosting their confidence, saving them time and money and teaching them how to dress for their body types.
! Links: Jasmine on Twitter | Ruby, Inc. Website
© Timea / Shutterstock
Tracking Down People for Follow–Ups, Answers and Reminders
Modern business protocols often require high levels of teamwork in order to achieve the company’s goals. More than ever, workers interact like cogs in a machine, and most of us have to mesh with lots of other cogs in order to get our work done. Fair enough, assuming everything runs smoothly. By Laura Stack
ut as we all know, human beings don’t always work together with mechanical efficiency. Occasionally, things get caught up in the metaphorical gears, causing work to slow – or even stop. This might happen, for instance, if someone doesn’t get a piece of information to you when you need it. Simi-
larly, if a supplier can’t provide a certain part or computer program, you may be stuck waiting. And if a project needs approval to proceed, and you don’t have it, then find yourself at someone else’s mercy. If these people don’t follow up in a timely fashion, you can forget to keep in touch with them, putting you further behind. Whatever the cause, these bottlenecks make your workflow uneven at best, and may even cause it to grind to a halt.
Clearly, you want to minimize such occurrences, but you can’t count on anyone else to keep your workflow machine in good repair, either. So how do you grease the gears? By setting up a reminder system – basically a babysitting mechanism – a schema that helps you get the answers, approvals, and resources you need when you need them. That way, you can always track down all the people you depend on to keep you active, and urge them along as necessary.
Breaking Through Bottlenecks Have you ever been driving along on the highway and hit a traffic bottleneck where an accident or construction narrowed several lanes down to one? You can go from zooming along at a steady 60 miles per hour to a near–standstill in seconds. No matter how efficiently everyone drives, your progress inevitably slows down.
If a project needs approval to proceed, and you don’t have it, then find yourself at someone else’s mercy. This can happen in the workplace as well, but you can’t allow such bottlenecks to hamper you for long if you expect to maximize your personal productivity. Immediately analyze the cause of any workflow “traffic jam” that occurs. If you find you create the bottleneck yourself through your own behavior or from a breakdown in a process or system, then jump right in and take steps to clear it. Sure, it may require some hard work; but if you can take care of the matter, then do so without hesitation. However, not all bottlenecks lie within your purview. Dependencies – blockages you have little or no direct control over– may also hinder your progress. Dependencies occur when you have to wait for others to do their jobs before you can move on to the next step in your own workflow. Sometimes they emerge from below, from end users or subordinates. More often, however, dependencies arise from lateral sources (co– workers at roughly your own level in the
corporate hierarchy) or trickle down the chain of command from above. Like it or not, you often have to depend on others for answers to questions, for approval or sign–off on work already done, for buy–in on projects or strategies, or simply to put work on your plate. Even though you have little control over these bottlenecks, you can’t just sit there and wait. So let’s look at a few ways you can smooth your workflow and maximize productivity even in the face of such frustrations.
Streamline Your Dependencies While you can’t eliminate all the dependencies constraining your productivity, you can certainly eliminate some of them and make the rest easier to deal with. First of all, always make sure that the lines of communication remain wide open between you and the other person, and do your best to communicate with crystal clarity. Don’t beat around the bush, hem and haw, or couch your requirements in vague terms. Provide specific details up front, to limit the possibility of misunderstanding. Once you’ve told your dependency exactly what you require and when you need it, work on getting buy–in on both points. This commits the person to action and helps solidify the deadline in their mind, so it has more urgency. In addition, express your willingness to work with them if something comes up that might threaten the integrity of your deadline. In all your dealings, be polite but firm and try not to badger. Get an estimated completion date to commit to action and move on to the next bottleneck.
If an individual blocks your progress repeatedly, for whatever reason, you have two choices for dealing with the person. If necessary, you can attempt to find a work – around that bypasses them altogether. If you go that route, try to avoid conflict and leave going over their head as a last resort. Otherwise, try the direct approach: simply ask, politely, “What can I do to help get this done?” When confronted this way, most people respond in one of two ways: either with anger (a reflection of the attitude that caused the bottleneck in the first place) or with complaints about the factors actually causing the bottleneck. In the latter case, immediately offer to pitch in and help them clear the blockage. You may find that you only have to implement a minor procedural change or requisition a new piece of equipment to set things right. So don’t hesitate to take a helping hand, if doing so can eliminate further problems for you. Realize that you can’t clear every dependency in your workflow process, especially if you lack direct control over the people involved. Just deal with those you can, accept the ones you can’t, and move on. While you don’t want to forget about them, you don’t want to worry, either.
A Tickle for Your Thoughts In addition to streamlining your dependencies, you’ll need to set up a system to remind you when to follow up with them. You can approach this task in many different ways: for example, you might use a chalkboard or whiteboard to track your follow–ups and reminders, or create a simple Excel spreadsheet that you check periodically. It doesn’t matter what method you choose, as long as it keeps
Always make sure that the lines of communication remain wide open between you and the other person.
you on your toes and “tickles” your brain, providing timely, reliable reminders about specific tasks, goals, and other information you need to see to at specific times. Many people favor the classic tickler file: a series of individual cards, files, or folders that rotate through a chronological paper filing system. Most paper ticklers use the simple “43 folders” approach. You can easily translate the tickler file concept into electronic formats. Spend a little time exploring your email client to discover how it handles reminders and notifications; this should take no more than a few minutes. There are also free services around the web that offer “deferred” email sending (on specific dates and times).
betical is best), update regularly, and can condense it into a portable form. You can always invest in the latest contact management software and schedule calls from there. Or maybe a paper contact list works better for you. You can always upload everyone’s business cards into a capture service like Evernote, which includes OCR (optical character recognition) capabilities that make it easy to search for the info you need.
Cautionary Tips If poorly handled, your babysitting system can morph into a nagging system: an annoyance to your co–workers that generates resentment and actually slows down your workflow. If misused
Realize that you can’t clear every dependency in your workflow process, especially if you lack direct control over the people involved. Contact Management Even the best reminder system is useless if you can’t track down the people you need to buttonhole. Therefore, your babysitting system also requires a second component: a detailed contact list. Collect every last bit of contact data you can for each of your co–workers and colleagues: office phone number, cell phone number(s), email address(es), office or cubical number, physical address, their assistant’s contact info (if they have an assistant), even their IM address. Link that to their office manager’s contact information, just in case you can’t find them in any other way. Once you have all that contact info in hand, track it in some form of contact management list, whether paper or electronic. You don’t need anything fancy, as long you make it easy to search (alpha-
Schedule reminders for basic mileposts and important requirements, not minor details.
with subordinates, it can easily turn into a micromanagement system that quashes individuality and kills productivity. So don’t overdo it. Schedule reminders for basic mileposts and important requirements, not minor details. Never set a reminder just to bug someone in the middle of the task. When you do track down someone for a reminder or to ask a question, and they respond less positively than you hoped or expected, don’t bother them incessantly without giving them time to get the work done or find out what you need to know. Just check back occasionally, trying to be politely persistent (within reason). If they refuse to respond, you may have to go around them or over their head to get what you need. While you can’t avoid occasionally bumping heads with other people, treating them with politeness and dig-
nity while implementing your babysitting system does make the inevitable clashes less common.
Adventures in Babysitting However you arrange things, your babysitting system should not only remind you to track people down when you need to, but also ensure you can track them down, no matter what. Like it or not, you have no choice but to take responsibility not just for your own actions, but for the actions of the people you interact with professionally as well – at least to the extent that their actions affect your workflow process. No matter how well–intentioned, most people soon lose track of you and your issues in the daily struggle to handle their own...unless you make a sincere effort to remind them otherwise. So if you value your productivity, keep an eye on your dependencies, and don’t let them forget about what they owe you. a
!!Laura Stack Laura Stack is a personal productivity expert, author, and professional speaker (now president of the National Speakers Association). She’s the president of The Productivity Pro®, Inc.
! Links: Laura on Twitter | The Productivity Pro®, Inc.
When You Feel Overwhelmed by Your Workload
I often write and speak on workload management. But even I occasionally get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of requests and assignments. I’m in such a state right now. By Michael Hyatt
recently had an overwhelming week: I attended board meetings for three different companies (two were out of town); spoke publicly five times; and reviewed the copy–edited manuscript for my new book. That doesn’t even count the 669 emails I received. No wonder I felt overwhelmed! But I’ll bet your life is no different. The reality is all of us have more work than we can possibly do. When you add to this the demands of regular exercise, family, church, civic duties, and some semblance of a social life, it becomes impossible. Here are six things you can do to cope. Trust me, I am preaching to myself!
© Alexey Stiop / Shutterstock
Acknowledge you can’t do it all. The idea that you will eventually get caught up is a myth. It’s impossible. You have more work than you can reasonably expect to get done. And unfortunately, your workload is not static. Even now, while you are reading this post, your inbox is filling up with fresh new tasks.
Accept the fact some things won’t get done at all. This flows from the first item. You have to make peace with the fact that you must leave some things undone–for the sake of your own sanity.
Practice workload triage. On the battlefield, medics have to decide where to apply their limited resources. They can’t help everyone. According to Dictionary.com, triage is: “the process of sorting victims, as of a battle or disaster, to determine medical priority in order to increase the number of survivors”. Some patients will survive without medical care. Some won’t survive even if they have medical care. Triage means ignoring these two groups and focusing on those that will only survive with medical care. You must know which things you can safely ignore and which things demand your intervention.
Categorize your tasks by priority. In my view, this is the one thing missing from David Allen’s system. It assumes all tasks are equal. Or to say it another way, you can only decide a task’s relative priority in the moment. This doesn’t work for me. I end up with scores of tasks I must review every day. My eyes glaze over, and I fall prey to what Charles Ummel calls the Tyranny of the Urgent. Instead, I like the Franklin–Covey method of assigning a priority tag to each task: A – urgent and important B – important but not urgent C – urgent but not important D – not urgent or important
The bottom line is you must learn to say “no” to the unimportant tasks, so you can say “yes” to the important tasks and actually get them done. I personally categorize each task with one of these tags. At the beginning of each day, I focus on my A’s first. If I get those done, I move to the B’s, then the C’s.
Practice intentional neglect. Many people practice the opposite– unintentional neglect. They forget to do something or they are late in meeting their deadlines. They don’t like this behavior and neither do those who are counting on them, but this inevitably happens if you don’t practice intentional neglect. You must decide in advance you will not do category D tasks. They are neither urgent nor important. They are simply not worthy of your time or attention. “But”, you may ask, “what about tasks I don’t think are important but someone else does?”. Great question. Let me give you an example. When I was a CEO, my Board sometimes asked me to do something I thought was a waste of time. I didn’t regard it as important. But, because I served at their pleasure – and wanted to keep my job! – I re–categorized it in my mind as important. Sometimes, it is a simple matter of re–framing the task. On the other hand, I recently received a lunch request from a man who is an acquaintance. He is looking for a job and
wanted to discuss career possibilities in the publishing industry. This is no doubt important to him and possibly urgent. For me it is neither, so I declined. The bottom line is you must learn to say “no” to the unimportant tasks, so you can say “yes” to the important tasks and actually get them done.
Do the next most important thing next. Multi–tasking is a myth. You really can’t do more than one thing at a time – at least more than one thing that requires focused attention. So get your list of priorities, do the most important thing first, then move to the next item and work down your list. For today, I have six things I’d like to accomplish: one of them is an A, four are Bs, and one is a C. I’m starting at the top and working down the list. a
!!Michael Hyatt Michael Hyatt is the Chairman (and ex–CEO) of Thomas Nelson, the largest Christian publishing company in the world. Michael has written four books, one of which landed on the New York Times bestseller list. Since resigning from active execu-
The reality is all of us have more work than we can possibly do
tive role in Thomas Nelson, Michael has been having a great success as professional blogger and speaker.
! Links: Michael on Twitter | Michael’s Blog
Benefits of Splitting a Day I split my day into two different halves. In the morning I focus on creating stuff and only after 12 pm I start replying to emails and responding to everybody. It’s been working very good for me. By Michael Sliwinski
Mornings are just for me Running a company requires lots of my time and I can find myself replying to emails all day long. By dividing my time to morning time and afternoon time I can focus to create and set strategy from my company in the morning. I really need that time for myself. This way I can concentrate and work free of any interruptions – write, sketch, draw, plan, brainstorm... and I’m guaranteed to get things done this way. I try to get my three main rocks (three most important tasks for the day) done by noon.
Afternoons are for people – especially my team First I reply to my team. I make sure everyone gets some feedback from me. I try not to fail at this but at times when I’m very busy folks need to be patient with me. I hate it when I don’t have the time to get back to my team and test things they’re working on. That’s why I focus on this first.
Meetings come in the afternoon, too Following this rule I schedule meetings (ususally Skype calls) between 12 and 4 pm (with exceptions for my American friends as I live in Europe).
By dividing my time to morning time and afternoon time I can focus to create and set strategy from my company in the morning. @mail and @phone contexts The rest of the day I spend replying to email and calling people and taking phone calls. Actually phone is still a pretty powerful tool. I call people up if I want an answer fast. I don’t mind interrupting people at this time with my phone call as I assume everyone’s like me and has already done their most important things for the day :-)
The benefit of splitting the day is FOCUS That’s the most important thing – splitting the day in two gives me focus and time to work. I love it. Running a company of 12 (as of today) requires lots of attention and can come down to constant emailing and responding to others” requests. When I split my day I have the time for me and I’m constrained to responding to folks only for half of the day. This approach reminds me of a story about a CEO I read that when he showed up in the office he’d have his door closed until noon... and would open the door shortly after to signal to his teammates that now they can approach him. I do the same... only as we have no office, I just don’t reply to email, skype or any other form of communication. :-) a
!!Michael Sliwinski Michael Sliwinski is your chief editor of
Working standing vs working sitting
the Productive! Mag-
The noon also usually changes my working style – in the mornings I’m working standing and at noon I take my laptop, get a cup of coffee and go sit on a terrace or in the living room. This way I can benefit from sitting nicely and start replying to people :-)
the magazine’s Pro-
azine and a host of ductive! Show. Every day he’s trying to help people get more done with his web application Nozbe – now also available as a native Android, iPhone and iPad app, as well as for a desktop PC and a Mac.
! Links: Michael on Twitter | Michael’s Blog
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Making space: My New Productivity Rules of the Road
I’d like to share with you my new rules for life and work. Like most things that increase productivity, the changes I’ve made are not rocket science: they’re really common sense principles that are just not commonly applied. By Graham Allcott
omeone said to me on twitter recently that they had no problem thinking productively, the problem was in the doing. Doing things differently involves conscious effort and can use up valuable energy. As humans, we often struggle with change. That is, of course, until you embed those changes to become brilliant new habits. Indeed, as Aristotle once said “Excellence is not an act, but a habit”.
Why do I need rules? I have no boss. This, for me, is dangerous. My natural style is that I hate detail, I follow my instincts not always what’s best for me, I hate feeling boxed in and I get distracted easily. It’s what’s new, what’s fun and what’s more exciting than what I really need to be doing. So for me, a set of rules that I can instinctively follow helps me to embed new and productive habits. I sussed this out a few years ago and I’d been tinkering with my own rules ever since. But I think somewhere along the line I got a bit stuck in my ways and let bad habits develop.
I’m only about 2 weeks into this new routine, with its new rules, but already I’ve started to feel profound productivity benefits. Your new rules might not need to be as drastic as this, but hopefully you can take some inspiration.
Rule 1: “Do less” I’m going into ruthless overdrive to reduce what I commit to. This has been really hard. Last year I was sitting on 3 charity trustee boards and was also involved in a couple of other start– ups. I’ve now resigned from 2 of those 3 boards. Both are organisations that
For me, a set of rules that I can instinctively follow helps me to embed new and productive habits. I love deeply. One I helped set up from scratch, I’ve been there 6 years, we’ve had loads of successes, we’ve changed lives and it feels so much a part of me. But sometimes it’s just time to let go. Change is a natural thing, to be celebrated not feared. The other one I always said would be a short–term trustee role, to help them get a board established, get funding coming in and increase the profile. It feels like they’re miles ahead of schedule now and no longer need me but also I’m leaving just as we get to enjoy that success. I’ll miss the parties, but I don’t get involved in these things for parties and awards, I get involved to add value and create impact. So I’m moving on. I’m so used to spreading myself thinly and working on a hundred things at a time that it feels intuitively very strange to just be creating space, not knowing exactly what will fill it. But it feels like the right thing to do and I’m following my hunches.
Rule 2: “Only 2 London days a month” I’m limiting my trips to London that do not involve me running workshops there to two days a month. This saves on tiring travel time and introduces some scarcity into my decision–making about where I spend my time and attention: So if you ask me for a coffee in London and I come back suggesting a phone call instead, it’s not that I don’t love you, it’s just me honing in on keeping my focus.
Rule 3: “Starting well” I’ve never really been a morning person (particularly if I’m already generally feel-
ing tired), but this rule is designed to gently nudge me in that direction. 7am – 9am is now for four specific things: ! Meditation ! Gym/exercise ! Hearty breakfasts ! Consuming limited information of my own choosing: Twitter, Facebook, news and of course the football gossip column on the BBC website. Making sure I give myself time to wake up, fuel–up and warm–up is important to ensuring the success of rule 4!
Rule 4: “9am – 1pm is Big Rock time” This is the big one. At 9am, I no longer go to the office. I’m home alone – and I “go dark”. One of the key traits of a productivity ninja is stealth. So I lie low, keep off everyone else’s radar and really focus. 9am until 1pm is my time to tackle the difficult stuff, the detail stuff that needs full attention and the stuff that is ruined by distractions. For me, this is Excel spreadsheets, writing, thinking, workshop planning, PowerPoint creation, ANYTHING related to finance and a few other bits and pieces. These are my “big rocks”, as described in the story Steven Covey tells in “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. My internet connection is on a time– switch, so at 9am it switches itself off. The world outside the window no longer exists. No emails, no twitter, no potential web–surfing. You’d be surprised how hard this is to keep to – both mentally and practically. It’s always really tempting to get sucked back in and in the early days of trying this, before I really started to see
the pay–offs, I cheated by using my travel dongle to cunningly break my own rule. Practically, it’s hard too because you can get online in so many different ways – yes, my home wifi is my main route onto the internet, but I have the aforementioned travel dongle, I have 3G on my iPad, (crap) 3G on my Blackberry and there are even neighbours with open wifi connections that zone in and out of my range. It’s actually quite hard to choose not to be connected. Sociologically, I can see a future where not only will it be hard to be offline, but it might also be viewed as suspicious (“why would you NOT want to be connected?”). My phone is on silent during this time, too. I have voicemail and I can still see who’s calling, but I leave it un–answered for the most part. I recently used a major price comparison website to change my car insurance and despite unticking every box, the bastards sold my phone number to all and sundry (I’m pretty convinced illegally but I have no proof so won’t name them! Lesson learned). So working like this in the last 2 weeks has probably saved me 20 minutes of actual interruption time and an hour or two of recovery time from these interruptions by me missing those unnecessary, unwanted, unrequested calls. The only exception to my phone call rule is the team’s 9.40 “Daily Huddle”. This is a useful, 15 minute interruption because it allows me to cover off any urgent office issues very quickly and efficiently – and my hope and expectation is that both I and the team will prepare for this even more so now that we know it’s the only opportunity we have to speak until 2pm.
Rule 5: “Lunch is not for wimps” I’m pretty good at making sure I eat throughout the day, but the idea here is to take a full hour for lunch, really to try and switch out of work mode. This
is surprisingly hard. I remember leaving my CEO job and starting consulting at a place where they took a full hour for lunch. On the first day, I called my wife and said “Help! I really don’t know what to do with an hour for lunch”. It’s not something I’m used to, but I’m trying to stick to it. Some days I win, some days I lose. Ninjas are human, not superheroes.
ing decisions, or us as a team not being clear on who “owns” a particular project or has the autonomy to just take action. I think a lot of this bad habit developed because I was tired during the autumn and wasn’t on top form to make more ruthless and decisive decisions. So my new rule is to say no to meetings and ensure we find another way.
Twitter to a minimum (but definitely NOT setting up automated tweets – please, will people stop doing that!), I don’t think I’ve seen an hour of TV this year. I’m being conscious of what I’m ignoring instead of falling into the trap of endless information consumption and potential low–value distraction. I’m keeping things simple. Ignorance is indeed bliss.
Rule 6: “Office time is for the office, not for me”
Rule 8: “Be kind to myself”
Rule 10: “Make space”
OK, so here’s where I hold my hands up. I just wrote a book about the importance of recovery in managing your attention, the importance of good periods of rest in managing your energy and the importance of sleep in managing your body. In the last few years, I haven’t been particularly good at any of this stuff. I’m not good at taking breaks. I’m literally restless. So now I’m structuring my days to provide variety, sticking to Think Productive’s 4 day working weeks (giving me most Fridays off) and resisting the temptation to do anything resembling work at weekends (except weekly reviews if I’m on the train to Aston Villa games).
Our attention is limited. Everything we do, everything we consume, everything we own, everything we commit to, everything we put our attention on all takes us away from something else. Every decision a compromise. Many of the rules above are really about making space – more time, more attention, more energy, more focus. We need space to think, to breathe and to create. We need space to make things happen. I’m making space and those are my new rules of the road. So if you tried to contact me this morning and haven’t heard back from me yet… well, now you know why. I am indeed deliberately ignoring you. I’ll be getting back to you later and I’m sure the world won’t end in the meantime. Just please don’t take it personally. I’m making the space I need to create things. And I’m not going to start apologising for that. a
I realised that last year, the office was no longer working for me. I mean, obviously the people in the office were, but somehow it was no longer a place that I could personally rely on to give me the focus I needed. And there are still things within Think Productive that only I can do and I can’t delegate to others, so until that changes (and I’m working on it!), I need a new strategy. So whilst I plan to cover off all of my big rocks in the morning, I also proactively plan to “do” very little in the office. I go to the office not to do my work, but to help the team do theirs. My job from 2–5pm is really just to be available. So my office time is meetings (see rule 7!), processing my email, being available and helping out.
Rule 7: “Don’t meet, do” I’m cutting down on meetings. I realised at the end of last year we were developing a tendency towards short but unnecessary meetings in the office. We have 3 or 4 regular recurring meetings that are really useful, but beyond these, most requests for meetings are really just a symptom of me or others delay-
Rule 9: “Consume less” I’ve always been pretty good at avoiding the consumerist cycle of instant gratification, debt, misery, instant gratification, repeat. But there’s still a huge load of things in my flat that I don’t need and I’ve been clearing them out and making my local charity shop VERY happy in recent weeks. But my “consume less” rule is also about information consumption: I haven’t bought a newspaper this year, I’ve turned off my news radio, I’m keeping
!!Graham Allcott Graham specializes in personal organizational systems, strategies to
Everything we do, everything we consume, everything we own, everything we commit to, everything we put our attention on all takes us away from something else.
deal with the information overload and “action management”. A naturally “too strategic to be organized” person who has trained himself to be productive throughout the development of personal work–flow systems and developing the power of good habits.
! Links: Graham on Twitter | Think Productive!
Productive! Show Videos
Standing, Jotting and Getting Better! As always, here are the three new (and very short) Productive! Show videos to help, inspire, and motivate you to get even more done.
By Michael Sliwinski
I’m still standing! Aren’t you sitting too much? In the office, in the car, at home after work? Have you ever considered standing while working? I have been working standing these last two months and I love it.
Paper Pad for quick jotting A simple thing but changes the way I work dramatically – paper pad with a pen always handy next to my computer – to make sure nothing stays on his conscious mind.
Jason Womack full interview Here’s the full video interview I did with Jason for this issue of the magazine. Even if you’ve read the interview I still encourage you to watch us exchange ideas with Jason.
! Links: Browse all the past episodes of the Productive! Magazine Show
© VIPDesignUSA / Shutterstock
Be able to walk away In any kind of negotiation, your ability to walk away is your strongest tool.
By Leo Babauta
hose who can walk away from the negotiation – legitimately walk away, not just make a show of it – are in the strongest position. Those who are convinced they need to make the deal are in the weakest position. This is true of negotiating when you’re buying a car, closing the sale of your new home, haggling in a foreign flea market,
Those who are convinced they need to make the deal are in the weakest position. or trying to get a raise. It’s also true of anything in life. Know that there’s almost nothing you can’t walk away from. If you are convinced you need a nice house with a walk–in closet and hard-
If you know that there’s almost nothing you can’t walk away from, you can save yourself tons of money. wood floors and a huge kitchen, you now have a weakness. You will give away precious life hours and savings to get it. Someone else who knows that those things aren’t absolutely necessary can walk away, and not need to spend so much money (and thus work hours) on that kind of house. If you are convinced that you need Starbucks grande lattes every day, or an iPhone or iPad, or an SUV or Cooper Mini or BMW… you are in the weak position, because you can’t give it up. Someone else might know that those aren’t essential to happiness, and can walk away. If you know that the man who is treating you badly (but who you just know will change someday, because, you know, he loves you) isn’t necessary for you to be happy, you can walk away. If you know that you can be happy alone, and that you need no one to make you happy, you can walk away.
If you know that there’s almost nothing you can’t walk away from, you can save yourself tons of money. Years of time. Mountains of headaches and heartaches. Boatloads of suffering. You don’t need to walk away from everything, but you should know that you can. And when the cost of the deal is too great, too dear… walk away. a
!!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 blogs: “Zen Habits” and “Minimalism”. He’s a published author of a bestselling book “Power of Less”.
! Links: Leo on Twitter | Leo’s Blog: Minimalist
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