We must stop. We cannot go on. It’s too painful.

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

We must stop using our email inbox as a to do list. We cannot go on running our days from that list of dozens, nay, thousands of emails. It’s too painful and we all know it. Our email inbox makes a horrible to do list. Here’s why.

First, a list of emails offers us no perspective. It’s just a pile. We have no good way to extract from the pile what’s doable, what’s FYI, what’s to be delegated, what’s reference, and what’s garbage. We cannot access our higher levels of organization like the projects we are working on or our goals. And there is no way to scan a pile of emails to know what is the most compelling thing to do right now.

Second, a list of emails is biased and binding. Emails contain an overabundance of requests (demands?) from other people. They say pretty much nothing about our perspective or what we would choose to do. We can easily feel trapped.


We default to using our email inbox because it looks easier than building and nurturing an effectiveness system (and here and here). It so is not. Any investment we make in our system will pay back handsomely.


In your corner,


PS: Yes, we can try to work our email inbox using stars, labels, and sorting. Mostly this leads to lots of stars and lots of things marked “important.” We are usually disappointed.

PPS: Take the plunge. Build yourself an effectiveness system. You’ll love the freedom of it.


Today’s photo credit: xJason.Rogersx via photopin cc

highclere castle

Why Your Tasks Management is Like Downton Abbey

Posted 2 CommentsPosted in Do=Natural flow of action
Reading time: 2 min.

It’s helpful to think of our need for an effectiveness system as the same need that executives, lords, and ladies (think of the popular costume drama) of old had of their secretaries, butlers, and house managers.

Back in the day, the work of farm or factory workers and lower-level managers had been industrially engineered into simple, repeated tasks. If you were in these sorts of roles, you really had no need to prioritize, organize, and manage your tasks.

The executives, lords. and ladies, on the other hand, had work that was varied, dynamic, and wide-ranging. They were busy running corporations and estates. And they knew they could not keep track of it all. Their assorted personal assistants were ubiquitous, resourceful, trusted, and reliable. They kept it all running smoothly.

Today, our work is much more like that of those executives, lords, and ladies. Every day we tackle piles of tasks that are varied, dynamic, and wide-ranging. Most of us, though, will not be hiring personal assistants any time soon. We use clever tools instead.

Consider this, then: how can your effectiveness system become more like your valet, maid, or personal secretary? What tweaks will help it become more ubiquitous, resource-full, trusted, and reliable?


In your corner,



Today’s photo credit: GriffinStar7 via photopin cc



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

What do we do when there is too much to do? How can we get to working on the big, important things when there are so many fires to fight?

At first, working harder, getting organized, and using more efficient processes helps. But soon the complexity of work outstrips our ability to just press harder. Overextended and tired, we soon realize that no amount of activity offers us a way out.

The way out, of course, has nothing to do with process, action, or organization. We simply change our minds.

The mindset that got us here includes the belief that we can and should get it all done. We fear what will happen if we don’t. This mindset also includes the affirmation that we are inundated by the waves of tasks and chaos; thinking we are overextended means we are. This mindset erodes our productivity and satisfaction.

Choosing to see ourselves as riding the waves of chaos changes everything. The mindset we need understands that there will always be too much to do.  Now we can give up trying to do it all. This is a huge relief. No longer burdened by that guilt/pressure, we are free and can trust ourselves to choose the best things to work on. Paradoxically, we become so much more productive. We also get more mental capacity to find better solutions (e.g. delegating, renegotiating, reprioritizing) to the tasks at hand.

Better still: this mindset is contagious. Having chosen to ride the waves, we will naturally influence the army of pushing, overextended co-workers to ride atop these waves with us.


In your corner,


PS: This is one of those changes in the way we are not in what we do. To others, the change look subtle. And, in impact, it is monumental.


Today’s photo credit: Phil Gibbs via photopin cc

balls in the air

How to Clear Lingering Tasks

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

We waste time and energy on lingering tasks. They distract and drain us until we finally deal with them. If we have a task that we just can’t seem to get done, then it usually falls into one of these three categories:

  1. We don’t want to do it now and we don’t want to forget about it. We try to remember it and every other task. Truth is, our brains aren’t really wired to keep track of more than a few tasks.
  2. We want to do it at one level and we fear doing it at another level. For example: we want the benefit of having made those sales calls but don’t relish making the calls.
  3. We don’t want to do it all and we don’t know how to get it off our plate. We’ve said yes and now regret agreeing to do this.

The first step to clear any lingering task is to acknowledge it. Pull it out of the corner of your mind it has been hiding in and face it: “Here is a task that I have not yet done.”

The next step depends on the above category.

  1. If you don’t want to do it now and want to remember it, put it on your back burner list. You will review it every time you do a weekly refresh of your effectiveness system.
  2. If you hesitate out of fear or discomfort, chances are you are considering too big of a bite. Try doing the smallest possible and still practical next step. In the sales example, maybe you imagine your next step to be “Get them all to like us and buy our product.” The real next step could be to make one sales call with express purpose of setting up an exploratory meeting.
  3. If you don’t want to do it and can’t see how to get it off your plate, go back to the person you made the commitment to and renegotiate. Be clear and seek win-win. “I am avoiding doing this task. Can we renegotiate it? Tell me a bit more about the results you like to see, I’ll tell you what I am interested in, and we can then put our heads together to come up with an approach that works best.”

Enjoy the ensuing calm.


In your corner,



Today’s photo credit: borkur.net cc

How to Better Handle Other People’s Requests

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

When people ask us to do things, we usually respond unthinkingly with “yes,” “no,” or silence. That’s because we are unsure about what else we have on our plates to do. If we are unsure and optimistic or unsure and not wanting to displease, we habitually say, “Yes.” If we are unsure and not wanting to over-commit or over-burden ourselves, we say, “No.” And if we are overwhelmed, we may choose silence; we don’t respond in hopes that the request will just go away.

Though each of these approaches can work, in the short term, we all want to be much more proactive and productive. Enter our Effectiveness System (and here).

When we have an effectiveness system that we really trust, we have 99+ percent of everything we could do, might do, or want to do in a central, easy to access place. It is up-to-date (within 24-hours or so). And we can celebrate knowing we don’t have to track all those things in our heads.

When we have an effectiveness system that we really trust, we can make an informed call whether to accept, reject, or renegotiate each request others make of us. That’s another reason to celebrate.


In your corner,



Today’s photo credit: D1v1d via photopin cc

Effectiveness Habit #4: Act Naturally

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Do=Natural flow of action, Success, Will=Our inner game
Reading time: 3 min.

We have been discussing the seven habits you can build to be more effective and efficient. Today’s habit is…

Effectiveness Habit #4: Act Naturally

This habit describes how you’ll actually do your tasks.

With the third habit, MOD It, you transformed the written mass of tasks, ideas, and potential tasks you had previously been keeping in your head into something more useful. You now have at least three lists. One for things you are not going to do soon (“back burner”), one for things that take more than one step to complete (“outcomes”), and one for all the actual “doable” tasks. Some doables are the very next steps to take for your outcomes (example: “Email Steve for his recommendations re: the Whently contract” is the next doable task for the Whently outcome). Others are one-off tasks not associated with any outcome (example: “Buy milk.”).

Once you have a list of doables, how do you know which one to do? Here’s how:

  • If you have committed to someone to do the doable by a certain date, add a due date to the doable in your list. Or put it in your calendar on the proper date.
  • Do the due doables first thing each day, or as soon as possible in your day.
  • Whenever you find yourself having just completed a meeting or another task, scan your list of doables to decide what’s the best thing yo can do next given how much time and energy you have and what’s available. Example: “I have ten minutes before my next meeting, I’m sort of tired, and I’m in my parked car. I can’t clean my desk. Nor can I buy that milk right now. But I can do a quick email or phone call.” After a quick scan, you choose to email Betty the contact details of a friend who can help with the new promotion materials.

I call this scanning method, “Act Naturally” because it is easy, effective, and far less stressful than trying to assign and follow arbitrary due dates or task priorities. You’ll find that you are very good at quickly scanning your entire list of doables to pick the best one to do at the time. As you get familiar with this process, you’ll notice that your actions will flow better, taking less time, and getting more done. And you will feel much better about what you have on your plate.

Next up: the habit called Know Why.

Effectiveness Habit #3: MOD It

Posted 1 CommentPosted in Do=Natural flow of action, Success, Will=Our inner game
Reading time: 3 min.

You can get more done with more ease by building seven effectiveness habits. Build them one at a time over the next several weeks and months. You need not, for the most part, build them in the order I present them.

Here’s today’s habit…

Effectiveness Habit #3: MOD It

With Effectiveness Habit #1: Get it Out of Your Head, you write down any current or potential “to do” so it doesn’t rattle about your head and take up what effectiveness guru David Allen calls your “psychic RAM.”

With the third habit, you transform your written mass of tasks, ideas, and potential tasks into something more useful.

Imagine a machine. It’s whirring and churning. At the top is a hopper filled with your mass of tasks etc. Coming out of the machine are your tasks, clarified and organized. The output is so good that you’ll be able to scan it and in seconds know what exactly is the best item for your to work on next.

What happens inside the machine? The tasks are MODded. That is, they are processed for meaning, outcomes, and doables. This is what you’ll do with your hopper of initially written but as yet unorganized tasks. These are the steps to use for each item in your hopper. It looks complex at first. I promise, though, it’s quite simple.

  1. Meaning – What is this particular item, actually, and what does it mean to me? Is it something to file for later use? Is it something to toss? Is it something I might do but not just now? Is it something for someone else to do? Or is it something for me to do soon? If it’s something for me to do soon, then take it to the next step, Outcome. Otherwise, file it, delegate it, throw it away, or put it on a “back burner” list as appropriate and move on to the next item in your hopper.
  2. Outcome – Can I accomplish this item in one step? If so, record it on a list of tasks that I can do soon (we’ll call this the list of doables). If no–if it will take multiple steps to complete–then record this item on a list of Outcomes [David Allen calls these projects. But if I called them projects, it’d mess up my acronym.  🙂 ] But first, decide and describe the desired outcome, i.e. what success will look like for this item.  Example: an item called, “Paint the office” cannot typically be done in one step. So, I’ll record it on a list of on-going items called Outcomes and include this description of the desired outcome: “The office will be freshly painted in modern colors. It will be done cleanly and expertly. It will stay within the $5500 budget.”
  3. Doable – For the Outcome, decide what is the very next doable step on the way to achieving the outcome. It has to be something you can actually do. Example: for the “Paint the office” outcome, the very next doable step would NOT be, “Get quotes.” But “Call Karen to get the name and number of the firm that painted her office,” is a doable. Record this on your list of doables.

The outputs of this process are, effectively, several lists. The main 3 are doables, outcomes, back burner items. When complete, your mass of tasks etc. will be in a form that you can immediately start using. More on that in the next habit: Act Naturally.