Saturday, July 14, 2007

Beginning to Get Things Done

Being a recent college graduate I spent the last year being pretty aimless. I figured that working my butt off getting two degrees would set me up (whatever that means). But about six months ago, in addition to being neck deep in hundreds of unread emails, I realized I didn't have any plan for What To Do Next. I wasn't working on anything bigger than myself.

A couple of months ago I started reading about structuring my time to be more productive (not quite "GTD" though). This has really changed my outlook on tasks and goals. I've learned that my mind is a sieve and I need to write down my ideas. I need to lay out clear and specific tasks so I can plan and execute. And I need to regularly check in on my progress.

In addition to these things being fun—it's a nice to take a break and sit down with myself to examine what's going on inside my head—it lays out a clear path to continuing what is good in my life, improving what is not, and achieving the things I promised myself I'd do.

So let me shed some light on the resources—in addition to the above links—that have helped to bring me here, even if it's just the start of really getting things done in my life:

Marc Andreessen's Productivity Guide
This was the first post on productivity (after having seen many prior) that really hit home for me. Marc is a successful technologist (of original Netscape fame for one) and great blogger. So it's no wonder that he has a system behind it all. I really like the bits on email and daily todo lists. It has changed my inbox from a wasteland of junk requiring constant maintenance to a tool that serves me instead. And he thoughts about not keeping a schedule are pretty entertaining.
Lifehacker
This is the canonical on-line technology driven productivity blog. The editor, Gina Trapani is a smart cookie. I found it early and I read it often. It's full of links to other sites (not a bad thing), but there are occasionally excellent articles on personal productivity.
Web Worker Daily
Remember how I said Lifehacker is full of links to other sites? A ton of them go here.
Zen Habits
...And if they don't go to WWD, they go here.

I'm really just starting out on the road to productivity. But already I've seen measurable success. Marc's advice on managing email was a life saver. I cut through the crap, and respond quickly to urgent issues. I prioritize issues as they come in and keep and eye on things I need to follow up on. And his daily todo list is an amazing idea. It changed my days from the endless question of "what did I accomplish today?", into a directed execution plan. And keeping the task items small, to the point, and actionable, as Gina suggests, is key. I pick up the list and do what it says, it's as simple as that.

If you've got tips about being productive I'd love to hear about them. I'm always looking for self improvement :)

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Another good read - "7 Habits of Highly Effective People," and the GTD methodology which you referred to. I've increasingly found myself picking and choosing the points I like from certain work management paradigms. Probably not ideal, but it allows me to follow a paradigm more closely whenever I feel that control over my life is slipping away.

- AM.

Nick said...

AM,
I totally agree about picking and choosing what works for you. Even if the concrete methodologies (like pure GTD) work, I personally don't do well under such a prescriptive framework.

Anonymous said...

Yeaaaaaaaah, dude -

I'm a sailor on the "chaos" boat to getting stuff done, so rigid frameworks don't make my mojo go on overdrive, either. It's also interesting to apply one methodology or blend methodologies together.

For example:
When making GTD's all-encompassing list (something I've never done), we're told to do items that take less than two minutes to do immediately (instead of writing down the action items etc. for them).

Applying a similar approach to email (more personal than work) has done good things for me. Following the Andreessen suggestion and setting aside "email check time" (more often than him, though - once an hour, usually) instead of opening notifications is good. Then the GTD concept:

Responses taking less than about a minute are done as I check. These include "low priority" emails which I used to simply not really respond to but realized that people usually prefer closure to their email in some fashion or the answers to genuine questions (as opposed to the "social protocol" questions that one doesn't want an answer to). Anything that'll take more than a minute's worth of work (research involving more than one google search, lengthy articles to be read) get put in a priority queue which currently holds about 50 emails which I try to work on as soon as possible.

Net result?

- People don't feel I'm too busy to talk about things other than work. ( (: )
- Any request involving deadlines gets done around the deadline (usually before (: )
- Requests requiring work but without an immediate deadline suffer (as stuff usually gets queued before them), but that's what happens for things that require work but don't have a pressing timeline - even a fuzzy one - attached to 'em.

- A(veek)M.

Susan said...

There are several other good productivity tips and recommendations for books/blog posts in the comments on this post by Matt Cutts.