5 Tell-tale Signs Of A Productive, Organised person.

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Because of the work I do on a daily basis, I get the opportunity to observe many people in their work environment. I see highly efficient people getting on with their work with seemingly little to no effort at all. I also see highly inefficient people complaining about how much work they have to do, how they never get home at a reasonable hour and why all the things that go wrong in their lives are always somebody or something else’s fault.

There are many things I have noticed that indicates to me whether someone is productive or not. One of them is how often they cancel their classes with me. Of course, this could be because I am a terrible teacher and my students do not think they are learning anything useful from me, but the more likely reason is that they are not on top of their game and allow themselves to get distracted by the tiniest of things.

So, here are the five things I have noticed about productive and unproductive people:

1. They write everything down

This one is a classic sign of an organised person. When I am with a student or a client and they make a commitment such as “Okay I will send that to you later today”, if they write it down, I know it will arrive later that day. If they do not write it down, I can be reasonably sure I will have to remind them tomorrow. Organised, productive people write all their commitments down.

2. They use their calendar

This is another tell-tale sign of an organised person. They make full use of their calendar. Before making a commitment, they will check their calendar to make sure they do not have any prior commitment. The less organised person never does this and they end up having to rearrange an appointment and let other people down.

3. They are never late.

This is another classic tell. Organised people understand the importance of being on-time when meeting friends, attending a meeting or arriving at work. Largely because they know what their commitments are and have organised their day around their commitments if they are late for anything it is usually because of outside, unforeseen occurrences such as a traffic accident or mechanical failure of some kind.

4. Their work environment is clean and tidy

Whenever I walk into an office with row upon row of desks, I can instantly tell the organised productive people in that office. The people with clean tidy desks with only the files and work they are currently working on open on their desks are on top of their work. The people with papers, devices, coffee cups and all sorts of other things strewn across their desks are the stressed out unproductive ones who are unable to find what it is they need to do the work.

5. They never complain about how busy they are

Classic sign number 5 and the biggest give away for me, are the people who are always complaining how busy they are. When you are not organised, are not writing down all your commitments and not utilising your calendar, then you are going to spend a disproportionate amount of time thinking about what you have to do and when. All this thinking about what to do next gives the illusion you are busy. On the other hand, if you know exactly what it is you need to do and when, you know where you need to be at any particular time and everything important has been written down in a safe, trusted place, you are not going to feel busy at all.

6. Bonus: Organised productive people are less stressed

This one’s a classic. People who are organised, know where everything is and know what they need to be working on are observably less stressed than their disorganised co-workers. Despite having roughly the same amount of work to do as everyone else, the disorganised easily distracted worker is going be going around telling everyone who will listen how stressed they are because of all the work they have to do. In the meantime, the organised, productive person, is getting on with the work.

So, if you find yourself feeling busy, stressed out and always late for meetings, maybe you could learn a few things from these observances and change some of your behaviours. You might just be surprised how less busy and stressed you start to feel and receive a new lease of life.

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Using Personal Roles to Organize Files and Evernote Tags

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This is a guest post by Ernie Hayden. Read more from Ernie right here and see his photos here.

In the early phases of my productivity journey I read Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, listened to Getting Things Done Fast CDs by David Allen, and listened to Tony Robbins’ The Time of Your Life cassettes. Please note this was circa 1998 or so and the Internet was not an active idea and there was no such thing as YouTube, streaming videos, productivity websites, etc. Basically, if you wanted to develop your productivity skills you needed to listen to cassette tapes, CDs, maybe watch some VHS videos, and of course, read books.

Sounds pretty amazing, doesn’t it?!

Tony Robbins’ program, The Time of Your Life, included and idea that has stuck with me for the past 20 years that I still use today. The idea revolves around what your key roles are in life.

YOUR KEY ROLES CAN BE AN EFFECTIVE WAY TO ORGANIZE YOUR SCHEDULE

Tony’s idea regarding roles is centered on developing a weekly plan. Tony tasks the listener to make a list of all the roles you are “assigned” either voluntarily or due to your position in life. Then, using these roles, actions can be assigned to each identified role with associated outcomes. Then, as you look at your weekly plan you take each role and assign an outcome/action to each day of the week.

In summary, the weekly plan has a general structure as shown below:

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The matrix above is to help you schedule your outcomes/actions based on your roles.

Admittedly, I’ve not been a disciplined follower of this approach, but I’ve carried away an organizational approach using roles that I thank Tony Robbins for even today.

STEP 1: IDENTIFY ALL THE ROLES YOU FILL

The exercise is actually fun but not as obvious as you think. The task ahead of you is to make a list of every role you fill in your day-to-day life.

Below I share my current list of roles (with some minor editing) to give you some ideas.

EXAMPLE ROLES

Employment Related

• Employee

• Consultant

• Leader/Manager

• Salesman/Seller

Personal-Related

• Husband-Father-Son

• Citizen

• Consumer

• Family Historian

• Friend & Mentor

• Home — Auto Owner

• Learner/Student

• Medical-Patient

• Money Manager

• Pet Owner

• Photographer

• Spiritual/Religious

• Teacher/Speaker

• Traveler

• Writer/Author

In my case, this is a general list of my current roles that I’ve been referencing over the past 10 years or so. These roles have become the foundation of my computer file system as well as my Evernote Notebooks/Tags.

USING THESE ROLES AS A FOUNDATION FOR FILE ORGANIZATION

So, how do I use these roles for filing? Organizing?

The approach is quite simple.

I use the list of roles identified above and simply make folders in My Documents in my computer (pre-Evernote) titled with each role. I then put sub-folders into each role folder for related files and information.

Below is a screen shot of the actual list of folders in My Documents reflecting my roles:

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Of note, the numbers are used to organize the folders in an order I prefer based on my activity and use of the folders. You can use numbers or “@” or “#” or “^”, etc. to help sort your folders to your liking.

USING ROLES IN EVERNOTE

In my productivity journey, Evernote is relatively new, even though I’ve been using Evernote since June 2011. That said, I initially began Evernote in a haphazard manner and failed to realize the strength of the tags and the search engine. But, thanks to Carl Pullein’s YouTube videos on ways to use Evernote I’ve learned a lot and was awakened to the possibility of using my “roles” for tag assignments in Evernote.

Admittedly, I’ve got some ways to go before I’ve made a complete integration of my roles into Evernote, but it is on my Todoist list!

AN ORGANIZATIONAL SIDE NOTE

You may be wondering how I use my “roles” for reference files. Well, I don’t. Instead I have developed a series of reference or “REF” folders strictly for reference materials. However, I tend to use these folders less and less as I move my reference materials to Evernote.

In case you are interested my REF folders are in the screenshot below:

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EXAMPLE USE

So, how do I use this system? I literally began by taking each item in my “Collection System” (thanks to David Allen!) and ask the two questions: “What is it?” and “Is it actionable?” Yes, I still have my project folders but generally for any reference materials or incubation or archiving I think about what “Role” the paper/email/document belongs. Then, I will file the item into the Role file/Role Sub-file as appropriate.

Later, when I am wondering about the location of an item I simply think about what “Role” the paper/email/document belongs then do a focused search in My Documents and/or Evernote or GDrive if needed.

CONCLUSION

Please understand that this article is simply to give you some ideas on ways to organize all the myriad of “things” we collect in our lives. This is one way I’ve used for at least 10 years and I will admit that as I learn new ideas on using Evernote from Carl and Francesco, I make some edits and tweaks. Overall, though, my structure and approach to file management is still a role-based system.

I hope you find this useful and if you wish, please send me the Skype number and email of your favorite psychiatrist!

Notes:

1) The graphics are developed using SnagIt 2018.

2) The Getting Things Done Fast CDs produced by David Allen are no longer available; however, if you ever have a chance to listen to them, do it! They are a fantastic resource.

Why The Daily Mini-Review is So Important

When the first version of David Allen’s Getting Things Done was published in 2001, the world was very different from what it is today. Back then, business email was still in its infancy and the iPhone wasn’t even on Jonny Ive’s drawing board. The kind of work we did and the types of commitments we had seem almost prehistoric from the kind of work and types of commitments we have today. I would hazard a guess and say that most early GTD adaptors were using notebooks and pens to maintain their GTD system, and because for the most part GTD was analogue, a daily mini review seemed unnecessary.

But times have changed and the kind of work we do and the types of commitments we have today are very different. Email is ubiquitous. It is everywhere. On our home computers, lap top, tablets and phones. Email is today what MSN Messenger was back in 2001. The amount of inputs we receive each day has expanded also. Now it is normal to have received more than ten work related messages by the time you get off the bus in the morning.

This substantial increase in the amount of inputs our tired brains receive each day means that solely relying on a weekly review to make sure your GTD system is working is not enough. There are far too many things being dropped into our inboxes every single day. So many, that the risk of something slipping through the net has increased exponentially. If you allow things to slip through the net, then your system breaks down and you no longer trust your system. Not trusting your system is the death knell of any GTD system.

So how do you prevent this from happening?

The way to prevent this from happening is to begin forming the habit of doing a daily mini-review. The daily mini-review is a scaled down version of the weekly review. You do not need to go through every project in your system in a daily review, you only need to go through those projects you are actively working on in that week, or just the projects you have worked on. A mini review is by its nature a review of only the basics. You need to be aware of what is going on in and around your life at that moment. A mini review is not the time to review your higher life goals or your contexts. A mini review is just a review of what is going on in that moment.

As for when you do the mini review, I would suggest you do that at the end of every day. A mini review should take no longer than fifteen minutes and can be tagged on to you processing. Once you complete your daily processing, go through the projects, calls and other regular activities and check they are still functional. This way you minimise the risk of anything slipping through the cracks and being forgotten.

Here’s how I recommend you do a mini review at the end of each day:

  1. Process you inbox
  2. Are there any other things that come to mind?
  3. review the projects you have worked on today
  4. Review projects you plan to work on tomorrow
  5. What things do you want to achieve tomorrow? (Flag them)
  6. Review your calendar for tomorrow
  7. Quick mind-sweep
  8. Done.

And that’s it. In my experience depending on how busy the day has been, a daily mini-review doesn’t take much longer than twenty minutes to complete, but I find by doing this last thing in the day (for some it is better performed first thing in the morning) I sleep better and I begin the next day knowing exactly what I want to achieve and what I need to complete for the day. This is truly “the Art Of Stress Free Living”

Organising Your To-dos

One of the key parts in my latest book, Your Digital Life (Amazon / iBookstore), is separating out regular routine work and real projects - things that take your life further forward. 

Most people who follow the GTD methodology don't do this. They group all their actions into individual projects and then find themselves overwhelmed by the sheer number of projects they have to complete. This results in losing focus on the things that really matter and the things that move their life forward. 

To avoid this, I recommend you put all your routine tasks into one project called "Routines" with recurring dates for when they are due to be completed. Ideally, if your to-do list manager allows you, you should sub-categorise these into "daily", "weekly" and "monthly" recurring tasks. Your remaining projects will then be the projects that will improve your life and move you further forward. 

Doing this allows you to focus your attention on the real, life changing, life improving projects and you can forget about your routines because they will come up into your daily task list as and when they are due. 

A screenshot of how I organise my routines in  Todoist

A screenshot of how I organise my routines in Todoist

To set this up all you need do is make a list of your regular routine tasks such as 'take dog for walk' or 'prepare sales figures for last week', and then put these tasks into their relevant sub-category (daily, weekly, monthly etc). The idea is that tasks you have to do on a regular basis should be treated as a routine and not as a project. Projects should be exclusively for things that will move your life to a better place. 

To help you with this, I have created a downloadable sheet you can use to help guide you through the process. It may take you a few days to get everything down, but the effort will be worth it. Once your routines are separated and dated you are not going to forget to do them and it will free up your mind to focus on the things that really are important. Routines should be the things you don't need to think about, they should just happen. the things you should be thinking about are the projects that will make you a better person and help you to achieve great things. That is where your mental energy and creativity should be focussed.  

 

You can download the sheet here

Your Digital Life: A Story

After 19 months of writing, Your Digital Life is finally published. It began life as a 'hobby project' last year and I am so proud to have finally self published a book. 

When I began writing the book, I set out with the goal to help people who are not in to technology, like many of my power-user friends are. People who have the latest smartphones, but have never learned how to make those smartphones work for them. My goal was to help people make the most of their devices so they could lead a more stress-free and productive life. 

In the book, I have tried to cover all the things technology can do for you and to make it as simple as possible. Things like using a to-do list manager, a calendar and a note taking app - the three foundation apps for a productive life. I have also touched on the many factors that can help make your day more productive and worthwhile, like managing email so it does not become overwhelming, no matter how many emails you get each day, and how to achieve your goals using a yearly planning system. In all, the book was written to help every single one of us take control of our lives and to have more time to do the things we want to do. 

So, if like me, you want to get control of your life, make full use of the amazing technology you carry around, and to be able to spend more time doing the things you want to do, and of course, if you have a few pennies spare, then head over to Amazon or iBookstore and buy yourself a copy. I am sure it will be an investment worthwhile. 

Organising Your Life [Part 4] Processing Your Inbox

This is part 4 of a series of posts I am doing on getting yourself organised and being able to take control of your life. You can read the first three parts here:
Part 1 - Organising Your Life
Part 2 - Choosing the best tool
Part 3 - Collecting everything

In this part I want to go through how you can process your inbox so that you know when you should be doing the tasks that you have collected. 

Last week I set you some homework. You had to start getting used to capturing all the tasks, ideas and commitments into a trusted place. That could be a notebook or a digital tool such as Todoist. I hope you were able to practice this habit. So now you are well on your way to becoming more organised. 

 

When it comes to processing an inbox, the best method is to again follow the GTD concept. David Allen talks about asking yourself a series of questions about each task or commitment. These questions are:

  • What is it?

  • Can I do it now? (will it take less than 2 minutes?)

  • Is it a project? (requires 2 or more actions) 

  • What is the very next step I can do to move this forward?

  • What does "done" and "completed" mean?

Over time you will get very fast at asking these questions, but in the early stages you may need to keep a handy reference card around to help you ask the right questions. 

In Todoist it is very easy to convert these tasks into projects, or add tasks to existing projects. Let's take a look at the inbox items I have above.

The first item in the inbox is "Phone Steven about meetings module". Let's go through the questions with this task.

What is it? - It's a phone call 
Can I do It now? - Probably. that depends on how long I anticipate the call to last and whether I have enough time right now. 
Is it a project? - On it's own, no. But it is part of a project so I can add it to that project by adding the project name, or just by simply dragging the task to the correct project - in this case under N1 Communications and "Meetings Module" 

At this point I do not have to go any further. This task is a phone call and it belongs to a project already. All I need to do is either make the call now if I have time, or schedule time later to make the call. 

Item 2 - Send Jamie's Contact details to Mike. This one's very easy to do. All I need to do is send a contact address, and phone number. This would take less than 2 minutes so I would do that immediately and check it off. 

Item 3 in my inbox is "take a look at this bag". Now this could be because I am thinking of buying a new work bag. This is a new project, so I would create a new project by clicking on the "Add Project" icon and create a new project called "Purchase New Work Bag". Then as I do not have time to take a look at the bag right now I would drag and drop the task to the new project.  At this stage I would add a date of Saturday, as this is when I usually do my internet research. 

As you can see, it is quite easy to process an inbox. All you need to do is keep in mind the questions above and go through your inbox from the top down until it is clear. It is important to try and make sure you do this every day so that your inbox is cleared at least every twenty-four hours. If you leave it longer than twenty-four hours you will soon have an inbox that is overwhelming and you will end up missing important tasks and commitments and stop trusting your system. I often process my inbox when I am waiting for a bus or waiting for a client meeting to start. I have trained myself to be able to process my inbox very quickly and over time you will also find yourself being able to process it very quickly. 

So, your homework this week is to get into the habit of processing your inbox every day and going through each task asking the questions: What is it? Can I do it now? Is it a project? This could be first thing in the morning or last thing at night. It really doesn't matter when you do it, but you need to do it. 

So until next time - Stay productive! 

Organising Your Life [Part 3] - Collecting Everything

This is part 3 of s series of posts designed to help anyone get themselves organised in 2015. 

In Part 1 we looked at collecting together all the routine tasks you have in your life, both for work and for your home life. In Part 2, I introduced you to the brilliant app, Todoist, which can form the 'control centre' for your new organised life and today, in part 3 we are going to look at 'collecting' tasks, commitments and anything else on your mind. 

 

Sample of a Todoist inbox

Sample of a Todoist inbox

In David Allen's Getting Things Done book, David Allen describes the process of "collecting" tasks as "capturing" and I really like that term. Basically, what you are doing is 'capturing' every commitment, idea, task or to-do that crosses your mind. The trick is to collect or capture those things into a trusted place. This can either be a piece of paper which is placed into a physical inbox or a digital inbox, like what you find in Todoist. It is really entirely up to you. But you need to choose a system of capturing or collecting everything that comes your way each and every day, and you need to be able to trust that system 100%.

Over the years, I've used a physical inbox which gradually moved more and more towards a digital inbox as cell phones became smart phones and with the introduction of tablets. Today, I am 100% digital with my inbox. I still take notes in meetings with an old fashioned pen and paper, but once the meeting is over, I take a quick scan of my written notes and send the scan to my inbox. Later, when I have more time, I can 'process' my inbox and pull out any commitments or tasks I have that came from that meeting. ,

Most of the 'stuff' that you will want to enter into your inbox will be digital in it's form these days. Emails for example can be collected either in an email folder, or you can forward the email to your digital inbox - most digitial task managers will allow you to do this. 

I should point out that there are some exceptions to this. For example, if you receive an email that requires a quick reply, then go ahead and just reply. There's no need to send it to your inbox. However, if you receive an email that requires a bit of research or further information, then send it over to your inbox. If you prefer a physical inbox, then you can write a quick note on a scrap piece of paper and put that into your physical inbox. 

A NOTE OF CAUTION:
If you decide to use a physical inbox, then, as I mentioned in Part 1, trying to separate your personal life and your work life is not going to work. I find having one inbox is important, because when it comes to processing you inbox, it is important to have all your commitments, ideas and tasks in one place. Having them in two places runs the risk of you not really knowing what you have to do at any particular location. That is why these days it is far better to use a digital inbox that can be taken with you everywhere on your phone or your tablet.  

The key is to get into the habit of collecting every idea, commitment, task or errand into your inbox. In my experience this takes time to become a habit and you will find that sometimes you think you will remember to do something and not put it into your inbox. You have probably experienced that awful moment when you realise that that fantastic idea has gone and you cannot remember it. Write it down! Once it is in your inbox you know you will not forget it. 

HOMEWORK
This week make a decision on what systen you want to use. Digital or analogue. Then get into the habit of capturing / collecting everything. All you have to do is to begin forming the habit of collecting. Next week, I will go through what you need to do to process your inbox. 

So, till next time - Stay productive! 

Organising Your Life [Part 1]

This the first of a series of articles I will write on how to get yourself organised. My plan is to take you through the steps needed in order to enjoy a stress free and productive life, being in control of everything in your life from your work commitments as well as your personal life. 

 


Setting Up Your System Gathering your Routines


One of the mistakes people make is trying to separate their work-life from their personal-life. Today, that is almost impossible because technology brings your personal-life into your work-life and vice versa. If you need to call your bank to discuss a personal issue, the chances are you are only going to be able to do that during working hours. Or perhaps you have an important presentation to do first thing in the morning,  you are going to want to put the finishing touches to your presentation the evening before - while you are at home. Once you accept that your life is one big life, not a series of unconnected parts, then you are ready to start putting together a system that helps you to reduce your stress and to help you feel more in control of your life. 

In the system I am going to help you develop, there is going to be no distinction between your work-life and your personal-life in your day to day activities. I will make a distinction later, when we begin to build projects, but for now I am going to keep everything together. 

Gathering your Routine Work

Everyone has a number of things they have to do every day, every week and every month. These can be tasks such as take the kids to school, take out the rubbish, update the daily sales figures or submit your monthly expenses report. These tasks have to be done every day, week or month and they are fixed. Most of these task need to be completed on particular days and at particular times. These are your routine tasks. Basically, anything you have to do regularly is a routine. 

Creating Your Routine Tasks List

Get a piece of paper and a pen (or a digital note taking app if you prefer) and write down the flowing headings - make sure you leave sufficient space between each heading in order to create a list below each:

Daily Routines
Weekly Routines
Monthly Routines

Now, start adding all the things you have to do daily. Put everything down, both personal and work related. It does not matter how trivial you might think these tasks are, they could be as silly as "get out of bed", "brush teeth", "make coffee" or "turn on computer". You can edit your list later. You need to open up your mind and think of everything you do daily. 

Next start adding things you have to do on a weekly basis. For example "send out agenda for weekly departmental meeting", "Do the weekly grocery shopping", "email sales activity report to HO". Once you have this list done, move on to your monthly routine tasks and write done all the tasks you have to do monthly. Things like "file expenses report", "pay gas bill" "Send £125.00 to savings" etc. 

Once you have these lists completed take a good look at them and see if there is anythnig else you might want to add.  Don't worry if you haven't added everything just yet. You can add to these lists anything you want at any time. I find that my lists change regularly as my work schedule and pesonal life changes. They are not static, they can be as fluid as you like. 

In Part 2, I will go through a number of different tools you can use to make these lists come alive and really help you lead a more stress-free and productive life. 

So, till next time ... Be productive.