Jun 28, 2012

Personal Productivity Nightmare -- Can You Really Get Things Done?

As I have finally read (the whole) Getting Things Done by David Allen, I confirmed it is not the most interesting read. Not that I know more famous book on personal productivity though. There are parts that felt like a drag to read, like types of files, lists and details about keeping them. It was painful enough just to picture all my ''stuff'' waiting to be processed and filed but I got tremendous value from few insights that made me improve and take couple of actions. And that's a start...

When the author said that Getting Things Done methodology is ''simple and common sense'' that is when I got frightened. In this category of things we find all that we should be doing and we don't.

For example how many of you have a filing system that is ''easy fast and fun?'' Not to mention that it should also be reachable from where you sit. If you do, please make sure to leave a comment and let me know if you would like to be featured on this blog. Your secretary does not qualify -- it has to be the system you created and the one you maintain.

The biggest ''a-ha'' moments from the book I hope will get me to a better state, (although I am super organized comparing to many people I know or worked with) are:

1. You do not need anything on your mind.

''The more you have on your mind, the less you are able to do something about it. You do not need stuff on your mind. The short-term-memory part of your mind tends to hold all of the incomplete, undecided, and unorganized "stuff"—functioning much like RAM on a personal computer. Your conscious mind, like the computer screen, is a focusing tool, not a storage place. You can think about only two or three things at once. But the incomplete items are still being stored in the short- term memory space. Most people walk around with their RAM bursting at the seams, working on undecided things. They're constantly distracted, their focus disturbed their internal mental overload. Your mind thinks you should be doing it all right now.''

Although I am someone who always kept lists and do not ever go shopping, or doing errands without one, I discovered there is a huge area for improvement.

2. Stuff is controlling you.

''The "stuff" is anything you have allowed into your psychological or physical world that doesn't belong where it is, but for which you haven't yet determined the desired outcome and the next action step. “Stuff" is not controllable and traditional to-do lists are not efficient are they tend to be listings of "stuff," not translated to outcomes and actions. The problem most people have psychologically with all their stuff is that it's still "stuff"—that is, they haven't decided what's actionable and what's not.''

3. Clear the mundane stuff first.

Although we hear that we should start from the big picture, the author reports that ''Executives, who manage to clear their mundane "stuff" during the day, tend to spend the following evening having a stream of ideas and visions about their company or future.''

Why should I not believe someone coaching people in this area for twenty years? After all David Allen is a personal productivity guru, and I am not.

4. Capture all your stuff preferably during one session that could take 14 hours. That is how much it took a lot of David Allen's clients. Capturing means putting all stuff into in-basket a physical space that might as well be a container for some people.

5. Two minutes rule. I knew this from years ago when I read it in the book summary, but it is always worth remembering i.e. practicing. The rule says, ''If an action will take less than two minutes, it should be done at the moment it is defined.'' According to David only this rule created amazing improvement for many executives. He further says, ''Two minutes is the efficiency cutoff. That's more or less the point where it starts taking longer to store and track an item than to deal with it the first time it's in your hands. It can create a dramatic improvement in your productivity.''

I am starting to apply this rule to my e-mails too, instead of leaving them for ''tomorrow that never comes.''

As this is not a book review I apologize for not offering basic strategies, but just the things that made the strongest impression on me this time, or made me take an action. I have found dozen of applicable tips, and of course I still wish there was someone else to go through all my ''open loops'' and ''stuff.'' Unfortunately, there isn't. Reading Getting Things Done made me really notice how much ''stuff'' I have, and need to do something about. A lot of that stuff might go to trash if I only started making decisions. Basically, things I rarely use or need are taking precious space for what I do use regularly.

My final breakthrough thanks to this book was that I actually got the courage to start capturing stuff. I did not dedicate 14 hours to it yet, and doubt it would be sufficient, but made a deal with myself to go through just one drawer yesterday. So I did. In the end I managed to fit the content of two drawers into one. It felt great. Can't wait to do more, and plan to do one book shelf next weekend. But I have to confess, it feels like I am going to climb Mont Everest. And I am not a messy person. I wonder how they cope.

As I was reading Getting Things Done the funny thing happened. I was feeling like I can't wait to start cranking trough my things, many of them misplaced, piled together, or unused for ten years. Do you have something like that somewhere? On your desk, walls, drawers, somewhere you never look? What strategies or tips did you use to organize yourself or be more productive, and less numb or resistant to all that is representing your ''stuff''?

Is this whole idea of personal productivity a myth, or perhaps a great wish that never comes true for many (who do not work with David Allen)?

Anyway, I spent 3 hours sorting through one large drawer. It felt like a victory. Of course I had to trash few things. David Allen is right -- I did experience ''relief and control'' just after this one session. Another is due next weekend. Not sure if I will do one book shelf or perhaps two. When I get to my desk's two right drawers I might need a whole weekend.

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