Task Systems Too Full

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Reading time: 2 min.

Have you ever started using a new productivity system (app, list, notebook, cards, etc.) then abandoned it?

This usually happens because we let our systems get full of stuff to do that we haven’t done yet. As the pile of things to do grows, we add “do it today” flags and reminders to all sorts of items. It gets so unwieldy (and we often feel so guilty) that we go back to using email and fire-fighting to get stuff done.

Here’s the way out: instead of seeing items in our productivity system as a things to do, see them as things we are not going to do. Then, every week, we select three to four best next things we will do that week. And each day, we select three to four best next things to do that day, most of which will support the weekly things. (Lest you worry, we are remarkably effective at making these “best next” selections.)

Throughout the days and weeks, we complete what we chose to complete. We handle any truly urgent items as they come up. But we put most requests (emails, meeting takeaways, etc.) into our “not to do” list. Whatever doesn’t get done during a particular day or week goes back into the “not to do” pile. We can reselect them for the next week or day or pick all new items to do. If we complete everything for a day or week, we can choose to do the next best thing from the “not to do” list.

By actively keeping most things in a “not to do” pile, our systems remain manageable and we remain focused.

 

In your corner,

Mike

 

Today’s photo credit:
Alexandre Duret-Lutz
cc

What Does Your Work Pie Look Like?

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Do=Natural flow of action
Reading time: 2 min.

We can categorize any work into three types: routine, project, and fire-fighting.

Routine work is mostly repetitive. Examples include cranking the same widget over and over on a factory floor, processing accounts receivable, and delivering the same executive training course over and over.

Project work has a goal that will take more than one step to achieve. It has a beginning, middle, and end. Examples include selecting a new vendor, launching a new offering, and preparing for the important board meeting.

Fire-fighting is urgent work that we didn’t see (or didn’t try to see) coming. Examples include responding to angry customer complaints, dealing with requests from the press, and handling a breakdown in a process or project.

We can define our work pie or preferred blend or work types: what percentage of time we want spend doing each type of work. Some of us are are more adrenaline addicts and want little routine or project work. Others of us prefer mostly project work. Some of us like a good blend of all three types.

Though there is no perfect blend, we can be out of step with our roles. When our roles demand a blend of work types different from our own, we suffer. And, as leaders, if our preferred blend is out of step with the needs of the company, we will tend to force the work to match our preferred ways. In this way, everyone else suffers, too.

Of course, we can make adjustments. We can measure and compare the preferences of people and the needs of their roles. We can also redesign roles and workflows, hire people with compatible preferred-work-type-blends, and watch to make sure our work preferences don’t derail the company.

 

In your corner,

Mike

PS: The measure and compare tool is called Task Quotient™. Contact me if you would like to explore this tool in more detail.

 

Today’s photo credit: various brennemans cc

The First Step to Being Powerful in Life and Leadership

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Do=Natural flow of action, Leading, We=All Who Matter, What=Compelling Focus, Will=Our inner game
Reading time: 1 min.

To be powerful, our first step is learn to tell it apart from force. The difference is difficult to describe but easy to see. We can see it here:

Force is loud, power is always quiet.

Force damages, power aligns.

Force creates losers, power creates only winners.

Force causes mistakes, power corrects them.

Force drains us, power uplifts us.

It’s actually force that does the corrupting.

Force looks quick and inexpensive; it is actually wasteful and costly. Power is efficient.

Force tries to masquerade as power. It arises when we feel powerless or feel the fear of powerlessness.

Force fades, power endures.

Once we can tell power from force, we can build trust, know that we can handle anything, and navigate by curiosity. We can also align ourselves and others with compelling goals, play for win-win or choose not to play, and nurture just the right quantity and scope of systems to support our goals.

Be powerful, good leader.

 

In your corner,

Mike

 

Today’s photo credit: Anne cc

How to Work on What Really Needs to Get Done

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Do=Natural flow of action
Reading time: 2 min.

Productivity experts point to email, messaging, and meetings as major sources of distraction and stress. They have become fond saying that we should stop doing what everyone else wants us to do and concentrate on what really needs to get done.

Uh huh.

How do we figure out for ourselves what really needs to get done?  And how do we help others sift through emails, messages, and meeting requests so that they can know what really needs to get done?

Here’s a great start: redefine your role by desired outcomes and help everyone else do the same for their roles. Instead of a vague lists of tasks and responsibilities, we can describe any role in just three to five sentences. Each sentence describes a desired outcome. Prioritize these desired outcomes. Then suggest the percentage of time to spend each week on each outcome. All of this can fit nicely on a single page. The last step is to share everyone’s one-page role definitions.

With our roles defined like this, we always know what really needs to get done. We still will have emails, messages, and meetings. But our collaboration will make more sense and we can better navigate with our desired outcomes as context.

 

In your corner,

Mike

 

Today’s photo credit: E-Mails @ Computer via photopin (license) 

Drawing Your Way Out of Procrastination

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Do=Natural flow of action, We=All Who Matter, Will=Our inner game
Reading time: 2 min.

One of the main causes of procrastination is confusion about what to do next. When we do not know the best next, small, discreet step we can take to move a project forward, we become overwhelmed with details, lost in possibilities, or stymied by what seem to be insurmountable obstacles.

The cure is remarkably easy: mind mapping. A mind map is like an outline. Both let us break big ideas into smaller chunks and break these chunks into even smaller ones. But an outline is harder to work with because it is linear (A, i, ii, 1, 2, iii, B…up and down the page), tough to rearrange, and heavy with text. Outlines force us to think about topics from top to bottom.

And if we could do that, we wouldn’t be overwhelmed, lost, or stymied!

By its graphical nature, a mind map lets us think through things better. It is more open and more visual. It helps us group ideas graphically across the page and it makes moving ideas around a snap. Mind maps let our ideas unfold completely. They help us brainstorm, see the big picture, and not lose any details. And they make navigating and communicating our ideas much simpler.

Next time you find yourself stuck, try mind mapping.

 

In your corner,

Mike

PS: Mind mapping works great for team brainstorming and planning, too.

PPS: Here is an overview of mind mapping and how to build a mind map.

PPPS: You can draw mind maps on paper or a white board. I prefer using apps such as SimpleMind on my laptop, projected on the wall for team work, or on my smartphone.

PPPPS: The mathematically minded will see that a mind map and an outline are basically identical structures. But the visual aspects of mind maps make them so much more effective.

 

Today’s photo credit: Chris Gladis cc

the pressure

The Pressure We Feel

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Do=Natural flow of action
Reading time: 1 min.

We often misinterpret the pressure that we feel to do more, to be more productive. We think it means we need to get busy, work harder, and churn through more tasks on our task lists. So we do. And we long for relief and release.

But productivity is not how much we get done in a day or year. It’s how well and often we get done whatever advances our goals.

The pressure we feel is really the drive to set and achieve meaningful goals and dreams.

We start to know our goals by asking, “Generally, what three things are most critical for me to do in my role?” And each day we can ask ourselves, “What three outcomes do I want to see by the end of today, this week, and this year?”

Feel the relief?

 

In your corner,

Mike

 

Today’s photo credit: Wesley Lelieveld cc

every day

Our Every Morning Story

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Do=Natural flow of action, Will=Our inner game
Reading time: 1 min.

“Psst.

“See that pile of tasks over there? Yeah. And the other pile behind that one? And all the tasks you’ve got in your inbox and floating about your brain? That sure is a lot of tasks. Horrible, ain’t it? Better get busy.”

So goes the story we tell ourselves as we get busy every morning. And our days unfold as they begin.

Or, we can insert one simple habit into our morning story. Before we even look at an email or process a task, we can pause to raise our buzz. Just 5 minutes is all it takes.

Feel good, then act. Change your story, change your day.

 

In your corner,

Mike

 

Today’s photo credit: Håkan Dahlström cc

How to Pick What Next to Do

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Do=Natural flow of action
Reading time: 1 min.

There are exactly three ways to select the next thing to do.

First, we can do whatever we always do. When faced with situation A, we do X.

Second, we can do whatever other people tell us to do. Or, often, what we think they (would) want us to do.

Third, we can do whatever we are inspired to do at the moment. When we have a fairly accurate list of all the things we could do–including the things that others have asked us for–we get to choose the most compelling thing we will do next.

Choice is the key.

 

In your corner,

Mike

PS: Did you choose door number three? Wonderful!

PPS: If we look at it right, option three helpfully includes options one and two.

PPPS: In the advanced version of this technique, we don’t bother with the list and it all still works out swimmingly.

fresh start

How to Adopt a New Personal Organization System

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Do=Natural flow of action
Reading time: 2 min.

Adopting a new system for organizing ourselves can be daunting. We can do it with ease, though, if we follow two principles, watch out for three traps, and adopt seven habits, one at a time. And we can get going immediately with a quick-and-dirty start-up method.

Two driving principles

  1. Record every task that you could/might/should do in such a way that you can, at any moment, pick out the one next best thing to do/work on/complete.
  2. Feel good. Then act. (See related posts here and here.)

Three related traps

…that will kill any organization system:

  1. Keeping things (tasks, ideas, reference material) in your head,
  2. Getting things out of your head but writing them down in multiple, random places, or
  3. Writing things down in one or a controlled few places but in an unwieldy, jumbled mess.

Habits

And these are the seven habits to build. Start with any of them and build up over time. To build these or any habits, try this.

Quick-and-Dirty Start-Up

A quick-and-dirty way to get started includes building one giant list and one, daily small list. From here your organization system can grow to contain these lists over time.

 

In your corner,

Mike

PS: You can find more effectiveness and organization ideas and tools in other Daily Notes here.

 

Today’s photo credit: Erunion cc