Great article over at the 37 Signals blog on the true cost of watching TV.
Archives for April 2009
Chapter 1 of David Allen’s Ready for Anything is called “Cleaning Up Creates New Directions.” Great point. Here’s what he says:
Completion of open loops, whether they be major projects or boxes of old stuff we’ve yet to purge and organize, prepares the ground for cleaner, clearer, and more complete energy for whatever shows up. We’re often not sure what’s next or what to tackle. At that point, just clean or complete something — something obvious and in front of you, right away. Soon you’ll have the energy and clarity to know what’s next, and you’ll have cleared the decks for more effective responsiveness on every front. Process your in-basket, purge your e-mails, or clean your center desk drawer. You’ve got to do it sometime anyway.
In other words, there are two reasons that you need to close up your open loops.
First, because not having them closed up and cleared out is keeping other great ideas from coming. It is strange but true — when we feel like we have a lot of incompletes, we have an unconscious resistance to great new ideas. Finish up your incompletes and open up the channel for bigger ideas.
Second, because when we’re not sure what to do next, the most important thing is often to just do something. We often gain clarity on what we should be doing through the actual act of doing something.
So, what’s the next action on this? If you need more ideas and/or you aren’t sure what’s best next, maybe you need to just knock down your inventory of unfinished projects and actions. This will spark new ideas, and you’ll have room for them.
But keep in mind that this will also bring new challenges of it’s own, because the better you get, the better you better get.
Good point from David Allen in Ready for Anything:
In golf and tennis, too firm a grip can cause you to “choke” a shot. Hanging on too tightly can limit your ability to deal with things from the most productive perspective. Micromanaging — getting too wrapped around the axles of life and work — can be a seductive trap in getting things done. Fine points are fine, as long as there’s a point. (p. 122)
In other words, if you try to control too much, you actually lose control. As in tennis, so also in productivity: too tight of a grip will cause you to choke.
Allen touches on this in his latest book, Making It All Work, as well:
If your grip is too tight on a golf club, you will lose control of your swing. If your rules are too strict for your kids, they will rebel. A boxer or karate master will attempt to coax his opponent to fear losing control, which causes the opponent to tense up and overreact. (The tactic is called a “fake.”) If your policies and procedures are draconian, you will wind up only stifling creativity, flexibility, and momentum in your environment. (p. 65)
A key part of the solution is to realize that utilizing a disciplined approach to productivity, such as GTD, doesn’t relieve you of the work of having to think about your work. As Allen writes:
Once people catch on to the power of organization per se, they sometimes go too far and try to microorganize everything: “Let’s create a system so you won’t have to think at all!” But it can’t be done. My systems do indeed relieve the mind of the tasks of remembering and reminding as much as I can, but they don’t replace the need for regular executive thinking about my stuff. … You must still engage your mind, your intelligence, and your vision to integrate those moving parts into the whole of how you interact with your world.
Interestingly, the concept of being over controlled has implications for organizational and management productivity as well. For, as Allen alludes to in one of the above quotes, if an organization tries to tie everything up with very detailed policies, the result is often that creativity and momentum are killed.
In this regard, Marcus Buckingham gets at the solution in First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently: Good managers define the right outcomes, but leave it up to each employee to find the best way there. That brings together both the need for clear expectations with the equally important need for freedom and empowerment.
In both the realms of managing others and managing yourself, too controlled is out of control. When managing others, work with people to define the right outcomes, but leave the methods to them. When managing yourself, define your outcomes (projects) and the best next steps to carry them forward (next actions), but once you’ve done this, don’t think that you’re on autopilot. Rather, that is when another level of thinking needs to begin about how to integrate what you have to do into the reality of your ongoing, ever-changing daily environment.
From Alfred D’Souza, quoted in David Allen’s book Ready for Anything: 52 Productivity Principles for Work and Life:
For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin — real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way. Something to be got through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.
Even though we are in the midst of a recession, I’m going to have to say yes.
Last month I bought some neat-looking letter holders from IKEA to maybe serve as our new in boxes upstairs. However, my wife graciously pointed out to me that they simply will not go with our decor.
So I put it on my errands list to return them. One month later, they are still there. I think I am going to have to delete the errand throw away the bins.
IKEA is about 24 miles away from our house. Not too far, but returning them will be an investment of at least an hour round trip, plus an additional 15 minutes of lost time on each side. I think the total cost for the bins was about $12.
If I had other things to do over at IKEA or the Mall of America, it would make sense to group this with those other things, thus making the trip worth it.
But at this point I don’t have other things that will take me to the area. I would argue that making a special trip — taking 1.5 hours out of my life (plus gas) in order to get that $12 back — would actually be the wasteful thing.
Time is scarce, and the true cost of that trip is in the things I wouldn’t be able to do with that 1.5 hours instead. I can think of a whole host of more valuable things to do than spend 1.5 hours to save $12. I’m not saying that $12 is inconsequential; I’m saying that returning them would take away from things of even greater consequence, which are worth more than $12.
More than this, there is simply the sheer complexity of life. It will simplify my life to stop having to pay attention to whether I have a reason to head over to IKEA. That’s worth $12 to me as well. In an age where we are pulled in so many directions, a major guiding principle needs to be: minimize complexity.
So, into the trash can these in boxes will go. Actually, for those who were slightly horrified that I suggested throwing them away, what I’ll actually do is put them into our “to give” box, so that they’ll end up at the local Goodwill.
But I mention the possibility of throwing them away to underscore the importance of minimizing the complexity of life. Reducing complexity in your life is more important than a $12 physical good.
Anyway, they’re off to Goodwill. And next time, I won’t make this mistake. Always learning…
This is incredible. From the Columbia Journalism Review. Keep in mind that an exabyte is actually two levels past a terabyte.
In 2006, the world produced 161 “exabytes” of digital information—3 million times the amount of information contained in all the books ever written. Next year, the world will produced 988 exabytes of data. (Columbia Journalism Review).
Here is a helpful four minute video clip of Tim Ferris (author of The 4-Hour Workweek) touching on a few of his top productivity tips. The video selections include some of his thoughts on:
- Single tasking
- Selective ignorance
- Parkinson’s Law (a task will swell in perceived importance and complexity in direct proportion to the time that you allot to it)
- Decreasing input and increasing output
- How he can spend only 5 minutes a day on email in spite of receiving 550+ emails per day
After you’ve given a presentation and want to make your slides available to people without having to email it as an attachment to lots of people, how do you do that? Slideshare.
Slideshare is an great place to upload and share the slides from your presentations. You can share them publicly or privately.
For example, I was recently at the Web 2.0 Expo, and a lot of the presenters put their slides up on Slideshare after their presentations. This was pretty handy.
You can also browse thousands of other presentations on the site. For more details, here is a helpful (slide) tour of the site. The most interesting 6 things it tells you about the site are that you can:
- Share your presentations with the world
- Find thousands of interesting presentations
- Create slidecasts (slides plus audio)
- Make professional contacts
- Join groups about interesting topics
- Check out slides from events you missed
Since we’re on the subject of PowerPoint (or Keynote) presentations, it’s worth giving a few words on quality.
First, here’s a helpful visual summary of how to present information in a way that is interesting and does not overwhelm the user.
Second, when creating a presentation, it’s worth checking out powerpointing.com for some useful designs.
Third, it’s worth checking out Edward Tufte’s essay The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint. He talks about the problem with PowerPoint, how to use PowerPoint right, how to avoid the boring use of bullet points, and basically blames the Challenger disaster on the incorrect use of PowerPoint.
Here is an off the cuff thought that I think may be fairly promising.
When it comes to productivity, there are several levels going on. In GTD they are called “horizons of focus.” They are:
I know a lot of people have a hard enough time just keeping a current project list, and that’s OK. For those that have attained to the level of setting specific goals and writing them down, my suggestion is this: memorize them.
In other words, David Allen’s counsel to have everything “outside your mind” so that your mind doesn’t have to use up its RAM to remember what it has to do does not apply to the higher levels. It is a great principle for the level of projects and actions. But since the higher levels are more big picture by definition, there is not as much to have to remember up there.
In fact, if you want the higher levels (your goals and mission) to govern your choice of projects and actions — which you should — then really there is almost no choice other than to have your goals down cold. It is important to write them down, but if you are actually going to be using them and guiding your actions by them, they have to be in your head as well.
This is possible because you shouldn’t have very many goals. Or, better, each quarter you should identify the most important 3-5 goals for you that quarter. You might have many more longer-term goals. But these quarterly goals need to be kept very few, because otherwise you will not be able to focus on them.
Since they are few, they can be memorized. And since they can be memorized, you can actually be acting on them. If you don’t memorize them, you’ll have the cumbersome step of always having to look back at them whenever you are deciding which projects and actions to focus on. Either that, or you’ll just ignore them.
Just some thoughts. I know that this post actually raises whole fields of issues, such as how to do goals, where to keep them, how to organize them, the nature of long-term goals versus shorter-term goals, and so forth. Thus, I run the risk here of getting a bit out of order, and discussing particulars before having given the larger framework. But, for those who utilize the 30k foot horizon of goals, this is an idea that might be worth considering.
We all know the drill: when it comes time to schedule a meeting, there is often cumbersome and detailed email back-and-forth to find a time and day that works for everyone.
There is a better way. With Doodle, you can set up a quick online poll with a few options for the meeting times. You then send the link to the poll to everyone, and they vote for what works best for them. You can then use this information to determine the meeting time, without going through a bunch of emails.
You can also use it to make a choice among movies, restaurants, or anything else that you need to decide on as a group.
And the best part is: no registration is required.