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February 27, 2006

GTD 2006.40: GTD when you have a cold

I'm out with the flu, the common cold or whatever the hell it is, but nonetheless, Getting Things Done works when you're well or not.

Since GTDers tend to not stop for anything, let alone a head cold, here are a few points to keep in mind.

  • Time to do a little ROI analysis, Return on Invalidness, that is. Which will get you back to full productivity faster: marching on blind, dragging your miserable butt for pillar to meeting, no matter what, or going remote, telecommuting or just crawling into bed until you feel better?
  • What's your Get Well Plan? For me, it's aspirin, spicy food I can taste and a good slug of whisky at bedtime in homage to my Irish ancestors. What works for you?
  • Renegotiate your commitments - and pay particular attention to anything you are so loath to do you'd do almost anything, including say getting a nasty cold, than do.

And get well soon!

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February 24, 2006

GTD 2006.39: Controlling your Next Action Focus

Getting Things Done is all about Next Actions - but how do you control which Next Actions should you focus on at any given time? Finding the right answer and practice for you to this question will really improve how your GTD practice.

First off, here's how David Allen defines what a Next Action is:

"The "next action" is the next physical, visible activity that needs to be engaged in, in order to move the current reality towards completion."

For each project you have, and for each task not part of a project, there is exactly one Next Action to take at any given time. Not 10 or 5 or 3: one. It is whatever specific one action will move the project or task forward. Everything else in that project or task comes after you complete that one, specific, Next Action.

So, instead of fretting over all the things in all the projects you have, focus only on the handful of Next Actions you need to take:

  • Focus only on the specific Next Actions which you can take.
  • Make sure each Next Action description includes the Desired Outcome. Vague does not work.
  • Tag Next Actions by context, difficulty and deadline for easy grouping to facilitate execution.
  • Enlarge or reduce your Next Action focus as your level of effectiveness waxes and wanes during the course of a day, week or month.

For me, I use my product MasterList Professional (MLP) to tightly control my focus on Next Actions. I have my Current List of Next Actions drawn from all Projects and that’s my focus until and unless everything on that list is acted on, or circumstances change. Each Task has a estimated Time Needed, and I tag tasks contextually as necessary. Tasks are described in terms of Desired Outcome, not work to be performed.

Using MLP, I can see exactly how much time is needed for every task, project or my Current List at any given time, and I can feed myself Next Actions during the course of the day from the “What’s Next?” System Tray Menu as I need them.

For you, if you’re not using MLP or a comparable product or web site, do you have a single marshalling point for Next Actions? It can be as simple as a paper list. Whatever works for you works.

Mastering the trick to controlling your focus while executing to just the ring of Next Actions is a trick well worth learning.
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February 23, 2006

GTD 2006.38: Getting out of Work Crisis Mode

Whether you call it “putting out fires all day” or “perpetual reorg” or just plain insanity, are you permanently stuck in Work Crisis Mode? You know what this looks like: lurching from mini work crisis to crisis meeting to crisis conference call about the meeting on the crisis to 100 emails in your inbox to meeting to the end of the day collapse.

The most evil thing about Work Crisis Mode is it’s become the new normal. A lot of organizations have institutionalized Work Crisis Mode kind of on the theory that the rats run faster if electric shocks are sent through the maze a few times an hour. Maybe they do – they also start biting their own tails and dropping dead of heart attacks.

So how do you get out of Crisis Mode?

First recognize what a real crisis is. Here are a couple of definitions from wordreference.com:

  • A crucial stage or turning point in the course of something.
  • An unstable situation of extreme danger or difficulty.

Second, start investing some time in determining what the root of today’s crisis is. What can you learn from it? What can you do to change why it happened in the first place?

Crises do not, and should not happen every day, or every week or every month. Nearly all work crises are incompetent planning, shoddy execution and/or miscommunication masquerading as a “crisis” so those responsible (possibly including you) can escape blame.

Third, just say no. Refuse to play the crisis game. Do what you have to do, but don’t imbue it with the more importance or urgency that the situation really warrants. Don’t get caught up in Crisis Mode as an excuse, either for letting other things slide or not applying Getting Things Done.

Finally, if the organization you’re in is driven by people with a penchant of treating everything from a lack of office supplies to the numbers of the day as crisis, recognize it’s time to move on.

Remember, you are not a lab rat!
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February 22, 2006

GTD 2006.37: Coping with Open Loop Paralysis

Are you suffering from Open Loop Paralysis? Just about every GTDer comes down with malady at one time or another: the sheer weight of all the things on your plate just drags you down.

Spotting the general symptoms of Open Loop Paralysis is easy:

  • You start the day thinking about all the things you need to do and the next minute, you’re exhausted.
  • You spend increased time reading blogs and feeds you don’t care about.
  • You literally feel dragged down and heavy.

Now, there’s the Open Loop With Others variant, where the sheer number of people waiting on your sorry butt is beginning to look like a roomful of nagging ghosts. And then there’s the Open Loop With Yourself variation, where all the things you know you should be doing are like hundredweight chains looped around your body.

The steps to a cure for either form of Open Loop Paralysis are the same:

  1. Start by getting what’s paralyzing you out of your head and into your GTD system or at least down on paper. Include not just everything you owe everyone else, but especially all the things you know you owe yourself.
  2. Your goal is to renegotiate with yourself or whoever everything on that list you can: You want to create some breathing room so you can get things done. Start by marking each item as either R for renegotiate, S for stuck with or T for Too old/Too far gone.
  3. Starting with the R’s redefine what it will take to complete each Task or Project, what the next action will be and what is a realistic completion date, or even if you really need to do this. After you’ve gotten through estimating everything, go back and reach out and let that person know what you are going to be doing.
  4. With the S’s (aka bills), you’re stuck with these until you’ve got them under control. So, figure out what you’re going to need to, and plan how you are going to do it.
  5. For the T’s, the commitments that have soured and there’s no way to redeem or rehabilitate them, well, that’s the way it goes. Time to let them go. Burn the list (away from the office), flush it down the toilet, crunch it into the smallest little ball ever and throw it away. There’s no point in beating yourself up any further.

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February 21, 2006

GTD 2006.36: 5 Execution tips

It's easy - especially for GTD people - to get all wrapped up in the logic, knowledge and formulation of Getting Things Done and not get one damn thing done all day. I've done it, maybe you have too: reorganizing, reprocessing, planning and replanning and oh look! The day is over.

Planning without execution is worth absolutely nothing.

So, today's GTD Tip is focusing on the moment of actually taking a Next Action down off your GTD shelf and getting it done. Here's 5 pointers:

  • Stop tripping yourself up. As David points out, smart people tend to be the biggest procrastinators. You stare into all the ramifications, follow-on tasks, complexities and the rest and before you know it, you're lost. Focus on the here/now getting to completion stuff until you get to completion.
  • Scale your efforts. All tasks are not created equal - consciously decide if the Next Action at the center of your plate should get your work until its perfect absolute best effort or hack it out and move on.
  • Are you starting in the right place? The right place to start is with a Next Action ("a physical, visible activity that needs to be engaged in, in order to move the current reality toward completion." – David Allen) Beware of projects pretending to be Next Actions and Next Actions that don't move the ball forward.
  • Are you going to end in the right place? Or put another way, do you know specifically what the Desired Outcome is? You should at least have a clear mental picture of it (The trashcan is out at the curb, the server is running and locked down, the chapter is done, etc.)
  • Know where the race ends. Given an actionable Next Action, and a clear mental picture of the Desired Outcome, what's left? Doing the work until you get to completion. Don't underestimate the power of completion: it's huge. And as we live increasingly in a whirling haze of complexity, information and media, both online and off, completion is increasingly rare.

Completions are the bricks that success and the confidence that you can succeed are made out of. Don't shortchange yourself by neglecting the step where you get to a completion, acknowledge it at least to yourself, and give yourself the pat on the back you just earned.
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February 17, 2006

GTD 2006.35: The Significant Other Project

However you do Getting Things Done (MasterList Professional, Outlook with David Allen's GTD Add-In, Outlook alone, etc.), you need a Significant Other Project.

Now you might call it your Big Guy, Honey, The Wife, The Husband project (I’m a Californian, unmarried and have been living with my partner Tina for 20+ years – SO works for me).

Or you might decide you’d better call it the Acme, Widget or XRN project and go stealth, but you need to make room in your plans and projects for the one person special to you in your life.

Here’s some (unisex) tasks you might want to take out of someday/maybe limbo, add to your SO project and get cracking on:

  • Cook SO dinner for a change.
  • Take SO to a sports/cultural/music event that I know they really, really want to go to.
  • Address #1 thing that bugs SO around the house (toilet seat, clothes not put away, tech books on the dining room table).
  • Buy SO flowers. (always a good choice!)

Or, maybe, the first task is:

  • Find a Significant Other!

Whatever circumstances you’re in, don’t forget that GTD is about all of your life, not just the work bits. I guarantee you, it won’t be the work bits you remember later in life.

(Thanks Karen T. for the idea of this post!)

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February 16, 2006

GTD 2006.34: Beating voicemail dead

Paul M. English is mad as hell and he’s making it easy for you not to take it anymore. Paul’s on a crusade against voicemail gone mad, where the customer is sentenced to VoiceMail Hell with no possibility of either parole or talking with a human being.

Paul’s creation, http://gethuman.com, lists as of today the voicemail shortcut to get to a living, breathing and hopefully thinking human being for 374 U.S. companies and 20 U.K. firms. Next time you need a live human to Get Something Done at your favorite faceless company, visit, http://gethuman.com.

Customer service is about being human – dealing with people as people both who don’t fit in some predefined slot and as people who can think and act intelligently. Micro-ISVs – the successful ones – know that human based responsive support is their secret weapon in the marketing battlefield.

If large companies want you to be a prisoner in their system, they have only themselves to blame when you escape.

Gethuman

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Happiness is a warm endcap!

If you happen to go into a Barnes & Noble Bookstore between now and March 15, look for my book, Micro-ISV: From Vision to Reality. It's going to be a BN Featured Book on an endcap, probably in the computer or business section.

If you see one in the wild, please blog about it or send me a .jpg: I will be very appreciative!
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February 15, 2006

GTD 2006.33: Process first, then Tools.

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I'm beginning to really appreciate Eric Mack's post that technology in and by itself is no substitute for the methodology of Getting Things Done. A long, frustrating day of dealing with the joys of IIS, various ASP .NET 2.0 authentication methods and the like completely pulled me out of my GTD mindset and into technology hell.

Whatever your choice in tools, MasterList Professional, Outlook with David Allen's GTD Add-In, Outlook alone, tracking everything in a spreadsheet, wiki or even on paper, these tools are not as important as the process. The GTD process of managing externalizing your tasks and commitments is the magic.

So, today's GTD Tip is decidedly untechnological:

  • Focus on getting the things you need to/want to/should do off your mind and into a system you trust,
  • Identify which of these things are the absolute Next Actions you can take,
  • Take those Next Actions as needs, circumstance, context and energy level dictate.

And don't let your tools - especially your tools on your PC or Mac get in the way of Getting Things Done.

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February 14, 2006

GTD 2006.32: Known and Unknown Tasks

There's a very specific type of task you need to handle in GTD as carefully as a ticking time bomb: the task where you think you know how long it should take, but you don't know for sure how long it will take.

Here's a couple of recent things I thought I knew how long they would take, but did not:

  • Creating a Movable Type Blog (I know TypePad, so I should know how long this takes...)
  • Combining a blog with a traditional web site (I know TypePad and how to build a web site, so I should know how long it would take...)
  • Converting a Movable Type blog to a WordPress blog. (I know MT, I know html and php, I should know how long it would take...)
  • Deploying an ASP 2.0/SQL Server Express web application to a client's server. (I don't know how long it will take, but the demos made it look so easy.)

The common theme amongst these types of tasks is 1) they're online, 2) various forms of marketing hype and demos made it look easy, 3) I didn't have recent personal experience doing this task.

Programmers get caught holding this particular time (pun intended) bomb all the time: you think it's going to take say X hours to gabberize a widget because you know how to paderac a widget and you've seen the demos, and they did it in just Y minutes and the next thing you know you've spent 20X hours.

Any programmer can tell you their own horror stories substituting their programming language for "gabberize" and "paderac"; the point is the more of your life you spend online, the more you become a programmer. (Even if it's "application programming" like setting up gmail effectively rather than "true programming")

So, today's GTD tip's bottom line: keep an wary eye out for tasks that you think are like something you know how to do, but could hold nasty, unknown surprises.
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February 13, 2006

GTD 2006.31: Dealing with bits of Paper

Are you the kind of person who writes short cryptic notes to yourself as you work? You know what I mean; short notes like "415-555-2043 - save this number!" or "ping Fred re Project".

Until the day comes when you can -instantly- pop up a form on your laptop's screen that somehow knows in advance how to categorize/process these various cryptic little notes, you're going to need to include a clean-edged way of processing these notes into your Getting Things Done system. Here's mine.

  • Start with a supply of the 5"x8" mini-legal pads - no need to waste regular 8.5"x 11" paper.
  • Keep one pad close to your laptop or desktop. Label "Paper InBox".
  • As little things come up during the course of your workday, jot them down in the following format:
    • R or A (Reference or Action)
    • Subject or Project (depending on above)
    • The note itself.

And keep on working! Getting pulled out of whatever task you're in note a small task or item you need to followup is a real productivity killer: better to keep a running tab of these items that you can get off your mind and deal with at the end of the day as you process them into your GTD system. If something comes up that refers to a note, you know where its pending.

A variation of this that is popular, but I think flawed, is to write all of these notes down in a lab book. The problem is the InBox (the lab book) becomes a defacto filing system, compromising your main GTD process. Instead, use that pad as a genuine InBox, process it to empty every day, and don't let yourself get pulled off-purpose.

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February 10, 2006

GTD 2006.30: Avoiding Friday Fatigue

Do you find that by Friday, you are just dragging through the day? Welcome to my world. If you are like me and a lot of people, by the time Friday rolls around, our productivity is at low ebb. Here's what you can do about it today and in the future.

Today:

  • Go with the flow. Unschedule what you can for today, renegotiate commitments that can be renegotiated; in short, cut yourself some slack.
  • Go do something physical. The fastest cure for mental fatigue is physical activity. If you work out or do a sport, go now. If you don't go take a 20 minute walk. Do something to get your body moving.
  • Go get ready. Clean up as many open loops of administrative trivia as you can. Don't forget to check your Small Projects files, clear your inbox, and generally do all the housekeeping stuff you've been putting off. Do your Weekly Review.

Next Week:

Here's where we get serious: Why are dragging by Friday every week? Not enough sleep? Keeping to high a pace the rest of the week? Not enough physical activity to burn off the week's accumulation of mental and emotional stress? If you're losing your Friday's to fatigue as regular as clockwork, you're losing 20 % of your productivity in the name of being more productive. It doesn't work that way.

Define 3 changes (of any size) that you think and your guts agree would make next Friday more productive. Maybe one might be making sure you get a good night's sleep Thursday. Write them down, try them next week and come back and report here what worked for you.

Getting Things Done is a marathon not a sprint; taking the steps you need today to improve next Friday, and the Fridays after that is exactly the type of "productivity investment" that pays well.
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February 09, 2006

GTD 2006.29: Falling through your Getting Things Done road to success

You've heard the expression, "only as strong as the weakest link"? That applies in spades to using David Allen's Getting Things Done methodology.

So where are your weakest collection, processing and organizing, reviewing and doing links? Where are the open manholes you fall through?

As today's GTD tip, here's a quick, partial checklist of common pitfalls and foottraps when it comes to  plans and routines to consider:

Personal Life:

  • Have you worked out exactly how you handle bills, receipts, balancing your bank/etc accounts so you know exactly when and how to repeat this task effectively?
  • Do you have up to date ICE (In Case of Emergency) info on everyone you care about strongly and who cares about you?
  • Do you have a routine for cleaning your home to whatever of organization/cleanliness you (and your significant other, if applicable) are comfortable with?
  • Have you worked out a mental checklist for getting out the door on time, every time?
  • (Extra credit for us mid-life people) Do you have a long term plan for staying healthy?

Professional Life:

  • Do you know what your short, medium and long term professional goals are? If not, why not?
  • Do you have a process for measuring how you are doing in achieving those goals, and a way to communicate them to others who should know, such as your boss?
  • Do you have a process and time allocated for ongoing learning and education in your field?

Like I said, a quick, partial checklist, from a guy more than a little obsessed with planning. Your mileage, and octane, may differ - but keep checking for those open manholes!
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February 08, 2006

GTD 2006.28: Following up on your following up

In some ways, doing GTD is like having laws on the books: what matters is enforcement, or the lack thereof. Take for example emails you need to follow up, either because you need to take action on or because you are waiting on for a reply. How do you enforce?

My approach is Trust myself, but Verify:

  1. Emails I need to act on go it the Act On Folder at they top of my Outlook Favorites Folders.
  2. Emails I waiting on go into the Waiting On Folder just under Act On.
  3. On even days, I process through Act On, deleting or filing or emailing as needed. I don't stop until I've eyeballed everything.
  4. On odd days, I do the same to Waiting On.
  5. When done in either folder, I select all and Mark As Unread so I have a count in the folder title.
  6. Anything fairly important (read, involves money) in either I flag with a red flag: just hit the Insert Key while on the email. I created an Outlook Search folder Called 14 Day Followup that lives as an Outlook Favorite Folder too.
  7. 14 Day Followup gets checked everyday, no matter how busy I am.

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Like I said, trust - but verify.

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February 07, 2006

Clickable MIVR Appendix and Summary posted

In case you're interested, I've added a run down of the the Book's contents and who I interviewed for it over at MyMicroISV.com  and a clickable version of the appendix over there; look for more articles and updates soon.

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MIVR Podcast at Microsoft Channel 9

The podcast of my interview by Michael Lehman at Microsoft's Channel 9 just appeared; Michael is the host of the Channel 9 show, The MicroISV Show.

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Speaking of the Book, I plan to put up the "media talking points" doc I did last week in the next day or so at MyMicroISV.com , in case you want an item-by-item bullet list of who I interviewed and what I covered.

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GTD 2006.27: A 40 hour week

I know this is going to rub a lot of you the wrong way, but I come to the considered conclusion that a 40 hour work week, with explicit, limited, bouts of longer hours is more productive overall than the typical 60-70 hour work week.

Last year, I averaged about a 60 hour week, every week. This year, I've gotten that down to a 50 hour week, but I'm more productive. I need to push through and finish a couple of commitments, but I really expect to get down to a 40 hour week by the end of this month, and be still more productive.

It comes down to productivity. Workers can maintain productivity more or less indefinitely at 40 hours per five-day workweek. When working longer hours, productivity begins to decline. Somewhere between four days and two months, the gains from additional hours of work are negated by the decline in hourly productivity. In extreme cases (within a day or two, as soon as workers stop getting at least 7-8 hours of sleep per night), the degradation can be abrupt. - From an article by Evan Robinson, at International Game Developers Association site.

For me, there are two components of this productivity increase:

  • Improved problem solving. I've noticed that my solutions - either when coding, writing or working with people, have markedly improved since my 40 hour a week or bust push started. This is true productivity: improving the outcome without increasing (and often decreasing) the time needed to produce the outcome.
  • Fewer mistakes coding. 100 lines of crap is still a hundred lines of crap. The better I code, the fewer bugs I create for myself down the road, the more productive I am overall.

So, today's Getting Things Done tip is to at least do a bit of research on why a 40 hour week is more productive, and perhaps, start thinking about how to make that happen in your own life.96306006_fa7cf77566_m

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February 06, 2006

GTD 2006.26: Clear your desktop, clear your mind

This is one of the weirder Getting Things Done tips, but it works. Is your PC desktop a mass of file icons? Every time you see your PC desktop sees all those visual references, some part of your brain tries to process, sort, evaluate them, whether you planned to do this or not.

Humans are hardwired to process quickly what they see: is it a threat or lunch or something I don’t care about? Whether it's a carnivore-like shadow in the trees or the shadow of some downloaded attachment from Outlook, our brains are going to process this first (or there might not be a second chance). What’s more, we will keep doing this as long as these visual cues remain unclassified.

At best, it's visual static. At worse, you get locked into a habit of distraction that wastes time.

So stop: make a folder and dump all those loose desktop files into it. Call it 2006, or Jan 2006 or Week 5, or whatever. Now, as far as the part of your brain that’s in charge of making threat/food assessments, you’re done.

If the above sounds silly to you, and you don’t think having an icon-laden desktop means anything, try it for a day and see if you’re stress level doesn’t ratchet down a notch or two. You can always go back to what you had.
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February 04, 2006

What's your CI?

Stowe Boyd over at /Message has coined a new metric that I think micro-ISVs would benefit by adopting: the Conversational Index. Start with your micro-ISV's blog (you do have a blog, right?). Tally up you posts, divide by the sum of comments plus trackbacks (posts/comments+trackbacks): That's your CI.

A CI of < 1.0 tells you your prospective customers are not just passively listening to you, but care enough about what you say to say something back. A CI of say >4.0 means you need a major change in direction because no one is interested in what you say enough to comment or post about it.

Now, Don Dodge calculates CI a little differently, but the point is the same: your blog to be effective needs to be a conversation, not a monologue. And, this metric needs to take into account RSS, but I expect as more data becomes available, how CI is defined will be tweaked to take RSS into account.

My CI? 1.62. Good, but definitely has room for improvement. So what should I be writing more of, or less about? And while you're at it, what's your CI?

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February 03, 2006

And now, the news!

CBS News is doing something extraordinary. If you go here, you can vote for one of three stories to assign to Steve Hartman and the winning story will air on the CBS Evening News the following Friday.

It would be like the Pope, with all due respect, lifted his robe while on the Vatican balcony and said, "What should I be wearing?"

Kudos to CBS for getting in touch with its viewers like never before.

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GTD 2006.25: Know your current operating priorities

The Getting Things Done methodology is the best power saw out there for cutting through the tasks and projects in your life, but you’re responsible for drawing the line of what gets done and what gets cut. It’s called knowing your current operating priorities.

If I called you right this second and asked you, “What are your priorities, today?” could you tell me? Yes – pass go and keep going. No – then how do you know you’re getting the right Next Actionable Tasks done?

My GTD Tip to you today is everyday when you first sit in down to work, take exactly 60 seconds to set your operating priorities for the day. Write them down – save them for review during your End of Day Review.

Yes, your current operating priorities may need to change as the day progresses and/or falls apart. Fine. But these are the few priorities in your life of the many you are going to move further today, if at all possible.

If you focus on them today, you will get somewhere. Tomorrow will take care of itself.

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February 02, 2006

GTD 2006.24: Know your desired outcome

One of the (many) things I like about the Getting Things Done methodology is the emphasis it puts on clarifying the desired outcome of each task and each project. It’s not enough to do; you need to consciously choose what you want from what you do.

Today’s tip is simple; the more of your life you are going to spend attempting to accomplish something, the more important it is to define, refine and explicitly know what the desired outcome is you are seeking. It might be a few seconds to define a few hours work, or it might take years to define the outcome you want from life, and the rest of your life trying to achieve that.

There’s no guarantees you’ll get what you want. But you can take to the bank if you don’t know what you’re desired outcome is, you are not going to achieve it.

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February 01, 2006

Kudos for MIVR from Larkware

Just a quick post to give Mike Gunderloy who runs/is http://www.larkware.com a public and heartfelt and humble "thank you" for his very positive review Monday of Micro-ISV: From Vision to Reality.

Mike is one hell of a writer, programmer and more recently a micro-ISV (although he might take exception with that term) and has been one of my role models for years.

By the way, if you're in IT and for some reason don't know about Larkware, head over there right now: it's one of the single best sources of real developer news on the Web.

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GTD 2006.23: Leave time for the unexpected

A simple rule for all Getting Things Done things, especially if they involve moving a physical something from place A to B, and especially you: allow at least 10% more time than it "should" take.

The difference between theory and reality is that in theory, there is no difference. In reality, there's road construction and slow drivers and accidents.

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ToDoOrElse?


  • Who?
    Bob Walsh, (Author, managing partner of Safari Software, Inc. a micro-ISV)
    What?
    Exploring the intersection between Getting Things Done and building a micro-ISV.
    Where?
    Live from Sonoma, California USA.
    When?
    Once or so a workday.
    Why?
    Because there's a way to get everything done, I just know there is!
    Micro-ISV?
    Micro Internet Software Vendor, a self-funded startup company: See mymicroisv.com for information and resources.

Also:


  • Micro-ISV: From Vision to Reality
    At Amazon.
    Buy as an ebook.
  • (begun Jan. 3, 2006)
  • Search todoorelse.com
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