Productivity fails when all you have are meetings

Much has been written on the subject. Much has been said and even more research has been conducted. I can only say that, the older I grow the more AGAINST meetings I am.

Well, maybe not ALL meetings per se… but wasteful meetings. From my experience more than half of the meetings we go through are simply waste of time. Instead of being substance only, they tend to wonder off on subjects not related to the meritum.

A lot of them are also done simply to pat oneself on a back… ergo.. see how much I have done? why haven’t you done so much? … seldom there is questions of what I can do to help you get more done?

Are you really so complex ridden to have to prove your superiority in such a low manner?

I guess in corporate culture we forget that we are part, tiny wheels of one and the same mechanism and if one of us jum up on something… the rest won’t be able to be as efficient as should, until we help that jummed up wheel to move along as well.

So stop patting yourself on the back… start looking at the larger picture and helping one another.

Balance number of meetings vs. what you and the rest of your team needs to do. Else, all you will do is have meetings and none will be actually done

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work and life balance- on paper

There is simple math to life. There is only 24 hours in a day and 7 days in a week. A month is composed of 4 weeks, year of 12 months and 56 weeks. There is no time to stretch that.  Neither me, nor anyone else can have more time. Thus good time management is essential.

Much has been written and said on the subject. With some I agree, with others I don’t.   Let’s do a little math.

  1. first thing that one needs is sleep. Adults need on average 6-8 hours. Results of not getting that for a long time are disastrous to our health. Also if you can’t get that squeezed in your daily plan.. most likely you are doing something wrong. Thus  from our 24 hr .. 7 (average again) is gone.  We are left with 16-17 hours.
  2. Another big chunk of our day is work. It should be taking you between 8-10 hours. In all honesty, I have not seen a person who would stay focused and really productive for as long as that.  I for instance divide my work-time into several areas that are interrupted by certain events allowing me to refresh and refocus. It is my daily routine, which I find best written down on paper and on side of my desk.

My work-day plan looks something like this:

4:00-6:30  work + snack and coffee

6:30-7:00  getting my son ready for school and sending him off

7:00 -12:00 work + breakfast while doing concept work on paper

12:00-13:00 break (usually spent on studying for coming up exams) usually with a tiny lunch

13:00-15:00 talks/phone calls/meetings

15:00-17:00 at least a few minutes exercise and study time

17:00-19:00 dinner with family and help with school work

19:00-21:00 usually household stuff

21:00-4:00 sleep

Of course it varies from day to day due to other arrangements such as different school day start time for my son, his extracurricular activities, my lectures (as I am 2nd year student of law, which means that Thr/Fri evenings from 15:00 till 21:00  and Saturdays from 8:30-19:00 I am away).

3. As you can see there is little to none time left for me and family although in theory there should be at the least 5-6 hours a day. There was a time I worked at an office. Commuting, on top of 8 hours at the office, took me 3 additional hour a day and it was rarely possible for me to get any time during the week for my loved ones. Yet I did make a point of it to leave work on time, if need be I would take projects home and work on them when family went to bed.

Here and again I have proven to myself that time alone and time with family is needed and no planning is the golden rule. With a carefully planned week in a hand you can work out almost anything. In today’s economy it is hard to change a job, yet there are other options that might be a solution for you.. just need to look for it and include it in your daily plan.

Remember, there is no way to stretch time, there is no way to recover the time you have spent working instead of being with those you love. We have just one life.. thus do plan your days- it helps.

Pulling myself together

It is true that old habits die hard, yet there is nothing that can really stop you except for yourself.

Since December I am running an experiment on myslef and I can say that at the least in my case the rule of 3-weeks for a new habit is BS. I guess I am weird. Anyway, that has not worked… what did work out.. it seems is my new approach to my self organization.

Yes, I work at Nozbe, and yes I have a lot to do with GTD on daily basis. Yet, it never quite kicked in on my personal life and personal struggles. Perhaps because I have tried hard to separate the two worlds. Regardless, I have decided to make a bit more sense and give my day a written structure at the end of last year.

Here is what I did:

  1. I bought a physical desk calendar, one of those large ones where you have a whole week on one page and the page next to it is for notes.
  2. I started to keep regular notes of what I do each day in it and what I plan to do … there are things I have already in plan for June or September. ( I do have them in Nozbe as well, but due to work related matters I seldom have time to look at my private ones).
  3.  I do have some financial worries ( it is not precisely easy to be the sole supporter of a family of 3, on a rental and with 2 cats and studies to pay for)… so I started to record everything I spend and to cut out things I can live without on regular basis. I do admit that damaging my car is not going to help my finances in scope of another 6 months or so… but ohh, well…effects of stupidity do tend to be painful.

How I do it:

  1. I record any events as soon as I can in it; and I check on daily basis all the info on them as recorded. I also keep a Google Calendar to be able to update the information on the way, but somehow the physical on-paper version works better on my mind.
  2. I use the blank note page for calculations of finances and recording all the spendings
  3. In a month I have 4 of those pages, so I really use only 1 max 2 of them for the finances. I actually split the page in halves. One for the spending, other for remaining matters.
  4.  Each month after receiving my salary and any other income I might get I run through my account at the bank, pay all that I need to pay and NOTE down in my calendar precise sum that I am left with (if any) .. if it is a debit…I write it in red
  5.  I seldom check my account after that point… as not to get too down in dumps and I do have it all in my physical form.

What I hope to achieve:

  1. I hope to avoid forgetting any appointments ( I have always been ‘on time and on spot’ person but somehow my boys have managed to get me to be late on more than one occasions…I really do not like that). – So far so good
  2. I hope to slowly pull myslef out of the financial issues at hand… of course a 2nd working person at home would be of use… especially after 5 years +… really tired of that. – and here, except for the unforeseen accident, things were going slowly but rater good.
  3. I hope to cut some time out for myslef and things I really wish to do:  a) return to studying Japanese; b) get more time for exercising; c) get time and funds for practicing drifting ; d) add more structure to my study-time as the amount of material covered at the university raises exponentially it seems. — so far rather minor-to-none in terms of results.

I have to admit that I have been raised in times when Internet was not so readily available. I have to admit also that what I wrote in the past about switching to Nozbe ( or any other virtual time management system) is still valid and for one though since early the value of paper and physical calendar …I guess I’m tired of fighting it, although I do see still much value in the virtual system. I can see that the next generation is rather allergic to pen and paper. Yet, after so many experiments on myself, I decided to give this another go… and in combination with virtual tools I think, I hope it might finally work.

Thus far this method has been more effective and more old-habit-breaking than anything else I have tried.

 

 

Procrastination

I believe this to be a curse of even the most productive people. I see that it happens to any of us. .. and it is not easy to avoid it.  But it is possible. I will share with you a few of my tricks, maybe they will come in handy.

One thing is to keep focused. Easiest way to do so is to make ahead of time planning sessions. I kind of like David Allen’s approach of weekly review and try my best to be religious about that. Over the years it has proven very valuable, and the only time I do fall of the wagon and behind my in my to-do lists is when I fail to keep this habit up. Those 2-3 hours in a week for planning and time ‘distribution’ are essential and you should give yourself that time. Regardless if you work with some electronic devises or just plain paper.. sit down, cut all external influences off, concentrate, review what you have done, look at what is to be done in a longer run and plan what will get you there, what little steps you need, to keep heading where you want/need to.

Another thing is to be honest with yourself.  It is humans natural tendency to find excuses, especially where they are reviewing things done or overdue. Stop wasting time on excuses! finding them consumes energy and time.. and they lead to nowhere. Ok, so you failed to deliver something, you failed to complete this or that. I really does not matter why… what matters is what are you going to do with it from now on. So, get your act together, put the item yet again on your list.. at the top and focus on getting it actually done asap.

Making plans in actual ink and paper is crucial. Regardless of my trusted on-line tool where I keep everything, I still plan on paper. Why? Over the years I have discovered that our brain sees these electronic means as fleeting…pen and paper for some reason seems to be more stable to it. Ergo I first plan on paper then transfer stuff over (as needed). And I keep my plan always with me. It is a constant reminder not to postpone.

Small steps method in Planning. Do plan big. Using small steps does not mean you are not planning BIG.. it only means you are not jumping at the huge idea.. instead building a solid foundation for it. So do split big plan into smaller areas, set time to do them.. and DO!

We all have our ups and downs.  Whenever I have my down I repeat to myself “a bee must, a bee does”. Truth is that if I slip off the track I will need to catch up later on.. thus I prefer to do things as soon as possible and not have to remember about them anymore. That also helps keeping on track.

Last but not least… I have tried with reminders…they are cool when you have very tight schedule, but too many of them are a killer to your effectiveness. They detour your mind away from what you were doing, they are disruptive and destabilizing. Though I am a multi-tasker, I choose NOT TO.. cause I would rather get a one job done to perfection than work on 100 little things and get none done properly.  Ergo my reminders are limited to bare minimum. I simply check my calendar daily.

Tough it may seem strange coming from me (person working in a GTD and on-line task management for all those years) I still believe pen and paper can be of value.. the key is to use it right.

 

Psychological problems with switching to Nozbe.com

I’m no psychologist, mind you, but I do like to see myself as an observant and analytical individual.

This post is based purely on my observation over the years of users, and also of myself. Some five years ago I was in the position of any new Nozbe user… no clue about the system… little or no knowledge of the GTD.

 That’s why I have decided to chip in my 5 cents here and point out some of the most common issues a new user might have. Surely, to some this may be discouraging, but I do have to say that it is worth the pain.

 We are all raised with certain beliefs on how one should organize their day. Those principles grow out of observation of our parents, grandparents and later on of our teachers and professors. But for the most part we do not take one aspect into account…that the times change…and as result that which was sufficient or efficient for the older generation might not go well with what is expected of us or what we expect of ourselves. This often leads to frustration and looking for alternative time management solutions.

And here is where Nozbe.com (http://webapp.nozbe.com/a-Amirgse ) appears.

 It is one of many of programs found out there. It is certainly not a cheap solution, but yet tens of thousands of users pay for it. Why do you think they (and I also) feel it is worth it? What is the magic behind it?

 Well, Nozbe concentrates not so much on time management and ordering your tasks as on helping you, encouraging you to get them done… but (yes there is a ‘but’) before you jump at it…it also needs you to think about your duties in a bit of a different way than most of the programs out there. So if you are looking for spending your time on fiddling around with tasks – look elsewhere.  If you want to get things really done – this is the spot for you.

You can say that Nozbe is ‘flat’ in a sense.

There are no priorities. Why? For one, at the end of the day does it really matter what you did first? Or is the fact that you did it more important? I think the fact of getting it done is they key.

Besides if you really need to do things in a certain order and not by their contexts, then ‘drag’n’drop’ allows you to set whatever order you like among your tasks.

There are no sub-tasks or sub-projects. Why? Here David Allen’s book on “Getting Things Done” comes into play … he says that any task that you need to do but requires more then one step is a project… Now why is that? One of the reasons behind it, and behind Nozbe.com being the way it is, is that this flat 1 level organization allows you to see how much you really are getting done and as you task list shortens throughout the day you actually get encouraged to do more and more, because you easily can see the effects. We humans love instant gratification… GTD and Nozbe.com if used properly can give us a sense of it. It is just a different way of looking at the things you do anyway. Multi-level tasks and ever more projects seem never to end…and I do not find that very encouraging if you never really see anything major done.

Now, some can say that they don’t have a problem with that… that most of us have an internal urge for priorities and making multi-level projects that are really very daunting. This is a result of all those years observing how previous generations dealt with matters. For them, with more time, it was fine to sit down with pen and paper and write out their day in point and order… for us… that time can be used for the simple purpose of actually getting things done.

It took me over a year to stop thinking in terms of priorities and looking at things to do in this ‘flat’ perspective. I can’t imagine how hard this can be for older users, but I have to say it is worth every drop of sweat put into it. I do not regret the change I have made, it has made me encouraged and happier about everyday work. And I hope my post will help others in Getting Things Done and being happier about what they do in their daily lives. 

GTD Tips: 1. short names of actions

We live a hectic life where concrete, precise and short information is worth its weight in gold. Unfortuantely, it is not an easy fit. Starting with our overlong emails ( a very good article on this is to be found in Productive! Magazine no.8 by Leo Babauta “Your emails are too long”) through everyday writting to as simple things as name of actions.

Our schools teach us to write long, use description and baisically to pour as much ‘word-water’ as possible. But the times are changing. Now, increasinly wrtiting long proves to be obsolete and simply redundant. It descourages us from doing anything…. if you have to read long instructions before that. Tell me honestly how often have you sit down to read a manual for your DVD recorder if you saw it in form of a 300 page book? I bet you just jumped at using it and though… ‘ I will figure it out along the way’…. and most often you did just fine without it.

 

Now please explain to me why your task name looks like this:

” Tom please go to the coat rack, pick the dog leash, leash the dog, open the door and take the dog out, please make sure it has enough time for running and doing its things becuase it needs at least 30 minutes of running, plus for his toilet”

 

By writting long task name you achaive some very negative effects. One of them is that if the person (be it you or someone else) sees the name, they instantly feel repulsed by it. By the way the get half trhough the name they start to feel like idiots that need to be explained everything and you create a mess in their task list, finally people stop respecting you… because they way you phrase your tasks passed to them shows how big esteem you got for them. Would you respect someone who does not seem to value your time or writes to you like you were an idiot?

The key is to provide short and precise information. Don’t you think task like “walk the dog” delegated to Tom says is all??? I believe if you pass it to him, he already knows where the dog leash is, he is aware that dog needs to pee and stuff like that. Else, why would you delegate the task to him in the 1st place?

If there is information you do need to provide Tom with…. why not write it in a note? Why stuff the task name with it? Is a taks name roast chicken that needs as much stuffing as possible? When Tom takes a look at his chores and sees “walk the dog” I bet he will feel better about it then if he sees ” Tom please go to the coat rack, pick the dog leash, leash the dog, open the door and take the dog out, please make sure it has enough time for running and doing its things”. And if you will leave him a note accompaniyng the task saying e.g. “I’ve moved the leash, it’s at the coat rack. Dog needs at least 30 mins run.” I think Tom will preciate it much more then this absurdly long task name you have orignally created.

 

I know for a fact that I feel much better when I see 1st thing in the morning my NA list and it contains maybe 30-50 tasks with names like “walk the dog”; “view/comment on forum”; “support”; “refunds”; “write Mr. X about a post” and so on… then when I see a list of equally many task but with names length of a parafraph. If I had lists like that I would not even get 1/2 done…just reading the names would take much time… and what about time do perform those things?

Most of those names of task are routine and I don’t even need notes for them, some have notes added by my colleagues informing me who e.g. needs a refund, what is Mr.X email address and all other needed info. But I really do not need to see it as soon as I see the task…. I need it once I get down to doing it.

 

I would compare creating actions/tasks to writing a book. If you give it a name/title that is too long.. what are you trying to do? Put into it the content of the book? Then why give it a titel? And who is going to read it?

As I see it, most successful are these book (or tasks) that have short intreaguing names. Names that are pure essence of what needs to be done… and not the guts.. guts can be described with as much grousome details as you like in the notes. If you dump the details on someone up front, you will make them simply feel overwhelmed or not even want to take a look at what you ask them to do.

Do think about this next time you will feel tempted to write a novel instead of task name.