David Allen is the master of masters when it comes to simple and efficient productivity hacks. His Getting Things done is the no questions asked ultimate reference to handling your day to day work overload properly and elegantly.
Epipheo interviewed him about how to manage your to do list... It's also a 2 minute primer on GTD.
A question I get asked very often when people realize I use the Getting Things Done system to organize myself is
And the magical answer you are waiting for is..... It doesn't matter. The importance is that you have a tool where you can offload it from your psyche.
Your tools can be as simple as paper, pen, folder and in baskets all the way to super modern hi-tech tools like The Brain. Experienced practitioners will usually choose a specific tool for each of the main GTD functions.
As an example, in the GTD methodology, you need some kind of filling system for Reference. Some people, even David Allen, use a traditional filling cabinet and folders. Over the years I have tried different systems and have settled on using Evernote for my Reference system.
This doesn't mean Evernote is necessarily the best tool for the Reference system in GTD but it is the easiest and best for me. Its the one I chose after testing various systems. Remember that your tool shouldn't be more complicated than the function you are trying to perform.
Evernote is also my capture and Tickler system.
Don't forget that the core of GTD is lists (such as Next Actions, project, Some Day, Waiting for, etc). Lists are a simply thing and can be done and easily maintained on paper, on your smartphone's free note taking app, in Evernote, Google Keep, Workflowy, etc. The success of a GTD implementation is not the tool but rather the process.
Some newcomers to GTD falsely believe that getting a "GTD purpose built tool" will make them better GTDers fast. This is false. If you never drove a stick shift and I gave you a Ferrari, chance are you wouldn't get very far.
The worst thing you can do it try to learn GTD at the same time as you are trying to learn a new tool. This is a recipe for disaster. Once you understand the different requirements of GTD, ask yourself which of your existing tools can help you?
Once I started really understanding GTD and became very proficient at it, I then started testing various tools to see if I could become even more productive. I tried several dozen tools and eventually came back to my original basic toolset of Evernote and my iPhone/iPad.
Remember that the most important element of GTD is keeping things simple. Don't try to over-complicate a methodology that tries to simplify your life.
The only thing that saps productivity out of an organization more than meetings (Link) is email. Has email ever helped you become more productive? Email has outlived its usefulness and has become the ugly drunk uncle no one wants to acknowledge or deal with.
Assuming you have to live with email in the workplace, here are 7 tips to help make it a little more bearable:
- Start with the end in mind - Before writing your email, ask yourself what it is you want as an outcome to this email and decide if email is the right mechanism. If it is, make sure you write the desired outcome right at the start (e.g. Please approve, Please comment, etc).
- KISS - My modified definition of Kiss here is Keep it short stupid. I don't have time to read your 12 page essay masquerading as an email. Keep all emails shorter than 10 lines. Anything more and your recipient will likely file it under "Never Read".
- Never Reply All - Unless there is a very specific reason why everyone in an email thread should receive your words of wisdom, be judicious about who you reply to. Most people do a Reply All to protect their own ass. That's a horrible reason stop it now.
- One Channel for each message - If you decided that email is an appropriate channel for your message in step 1 then please don't use other channels to pass the same message at the same time (printing a copy and sending it to me, talking to me about it in the hallway, etc). You chose it as a channel now stick with it.
- Email doesn't convey tone - Remember that email doesn't convey the tone of a message. Ask yourself if the message could be misconstrued without the appropriate tone. If it can be misinterpreted then ditch email and use the telephone, videoconference or a good old fashion face to face. Countless issued have been created (tempest in a teapot) because the recipient over-reacted because he/she could infer the real tone of a message.
- Time is your enemy - In my world, email is a nice to have and I read incoming messages about twice per day.. .and I am at least a week late with my emails. This means that anything that is urgent or time sensitive shouldn't be sent via email. Email is asynchronous.
- Archive IT - Set a time after which all email get's archived (even if you haven't read it). I use a 1 - 1.5 week period then bam, everything get's archived.
My core message is that I hate email. It is an ugly creation that punishes me every day. Remember that next time you punish your coworkers with it.
Everyone loves meetings... Right? Of course you do. Nothing is more enjoyable than meeting 6 other people to go through a 120 slide powerpoint presentation in a far flung conference room. Fun ... Fun ... Fun ...
Joking aside, meetings are a necessary evil in the business world so productivity junkies are always testing new strategies to make them more effective. After 20+ years of searching, the core tenets for efficient meetings can be boiled down to a measly 5 bullets and have the main title of "Be Prepared".
Without further ado, I present the 5 magical tenets of efficient meetings:
- Book in advance - Unless you have an urgent issue which magically pops up, try to book all of your meetings a couple of days in advance. During my friday weekly review (Link), I make sure all of my meeting invitations are sent out for the following week.
- Create an agenda - Every meeting should have a clearly defined agenda with clear expectations from each participant
- Make material available - Make sure any material you will use during the meeting is distributed ahead of time and that participants understand how to process it before the meeting.
- Define the expected outcome - The agenda should include the expected outcome from the meeting. This goal should be repeated at the start of the meeting to ensure everyone is working towards the same goal.
- Book a meeting room - This may sound very basic as a rule but you wouldn't believe the number of times a meeting room isn't booked or you show up to the room and someone else is using it or the meeting room is too small or ill equipped for meeting.