Category Archives: GTD

Working hard: there is no substitute

The first rule for improving personal efficiency is:

Act on an item the first time you read or touch it.

I’m not talking about those things that you can’t do now or even those things you shouldn’t do now. I’m talking about all the things that you could and should do, but you don’t. I’m talking about routine paperwork and e-mail of the sort you encounter every day. Take care of these things the first time you touch or read them, and you’ll save yourself a lot of time in the long run.

Call Mary. Respond to that e-mail message immediately. Answer the customer’s letter of complaint. Act on that voice mail as you listen. Talk to the boss about the problem. Do It Now. You’ll be amazed at how little time it actually takes and amazed at how good you feel when it’s done.

If you’re not going to act on your paperwork, don’t waste time looking at it. If you’re not going to return your voice mail messages, don’t waste time listening to them. If you’re not going to respond to your e-mail messages, don’t waste time looking at them. Don’t clog up your day with things you aren’t going to do. Instead, move on to what you are going to do, and Do It Now.

via The Personal Efficiency Program: How to Get Organized to Do More Work in Less Time.

Before there was Getting Things Done there was The Personal Efficiency Program. What I like about that book is that, at the center of all to the promises of new techniques and knowledge sat a fundamental point–a point about virtue.

Don’t wast time; work!

It seems to me that the value of working as a virtue is slighted all the time. I hear companies criticized because “they don’t do anything that no one else could do.” It seems the key to prosperity is having a lock (intellectual “property” monopoly perhaps) on some kind of supply. Actually managing to do something everyone else can do better than they do it doesn’t seem to be an option.

Likewise, we keep hearing about how people succeed by being “brilliant” or “innovative.” But as far as I can tell, mostly they are lucky. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs could have been just as brilliant in many times and places in human history and they would have been no more well known than the many other brilliant people that we have never heard of.

(Let that last point sink in. Every time you hear about how x leads to success, ask yourself how the researcher has found a wide sample of failures and managed to determine that x was not present in those endeavors. Finding what all success stories have in common might tell you something about making sure that you don’t frustrate the success you might otherwise achieve, but it doesn’t give you any reason to claim that x creates success because, for all you know, many failures have shared the same trait. In the world, and even in the United States, I think it is possible to find one or more examples of just about anything bringing about success. [This is something aspiring church planters might do well to meditate upon]).

A slack hand causes poverty; but the hand of the diligent makes rich.

I realize there there are plenty of visible multi-millionaires who think they found a shortcut. But people win the lottery too. Doesn’t make it a strategy. In the meantime, how is dumping money into lawyers and courts a productive allocation of resources? For example, from the summer of 2007, NYT:

The video rental chain Blockbuster said on Wednesday that it had settled a patent dispute with its rival Netflixthat challenged Blockbuster’s entry into online DVD rental. Blockbuster also signaled that the new business was taking a toll on its finances.

Although terms of the settlement were not disclosed, shares in Netflix jumped $1.26, almost 6.5 percent, to $20.78, while Blockbuster slipped 2 cents, to $4.20.

Blockbuster also disclosed in a securities filing on Wednesday that it planned to seek an amendment to its Aug. 20, 2004, credit agreement that would lower earnings requirements.

The company said in the filing that it planned to modify its popular Total Access plan before the end of the year to “strike the appropriate balance between continued subscriber growth and enhanced profitability.”

Now, I confess to having a weird preference to Netflix, but the idea that selling dvds online through mail via monthly subscription (this was about actual dvds, not online streaming) can be patented is a really stupid idea.

There was a time when the past was a gift and people were invited to do their best with it. Now, this form of stewardship is otiose; we’re supposed to go into debt to buy access to exclusive secrets in the trust that they will make us effortlessly rich. (It is God’s joke on the modern world that, when future historians analyze how we economically strangled ourselves to death, they will realize the fingers around our throat belonged to the gloved hands of a cartoon mouse).

Anyway, I think Solomon would tell you to worry far less about access to a monopoly and simply work hard. He would also tell you to read David Allen for lots of good advice but don’t believe the subtitle. There is no such thing as “stress-free productivity.”

Web Widget Wednesday: 30 boxes

I’ve mentioned 30boxes before. Google’s calendar is quite functional, I’m sure, but 30boxes has some unique features and, besides, I can’t allow the secret agents of Google to know everything about me that easily.

What you get with 30boxes is

  • a text-entry feature that allows you to quickly set a date and reminder without using your mouse to click and point.
  • A great many social networking features (though I don’t use these)
  • A reminder system that can use email or text messaging on your phone.
  • a virtual desktop with your important links.
  • Automatic weather forecasts for your days.
  • Automatic google map links to your destinations.
  • a task list.

The task list is what kept me from making 30boxes my homepage was the rather mediocre tasklist (or so I thought). But I’ve figured out that the tag system can make it much better. The task list I used had contexts (“work,” “home,” “yard” etc) and projects. All I had to do was start using tags for these to classifications.

30boxes You really ought to give it a spin.

Oops.  I just realized I’m fifteen minutes late.

Web Widget Wednesday (abbreviated): moneytrackin’

I am way busy getting the house ready for visitors, so WWW will have to be truncated.

I have loved moneytrackin’ for budgeting projects. I will eventually want something tied to my bank account, but for now this is just fine. The use of tags is really helpful.

My only advice would be to think of some overarching categories and distinguish them from other tags. I do this by capitalizing some words. See what works for you.

Counting down/day 29: I need a new alarm clock

My phone goes off for a minute (I think) and then gives up forever. If I sleep through that minute there is nothing left.

So I didn’t get up till six and I almost went back to sleep then. Only the shame of having to write this down in my logbook kicked me into gear. I listened to a godpodcast (no. 16) and then used the treadmill for half an hour. This time I was in shorts and sneakers and went a little bit faster because it was more comfortable to do so than not.

Frankly, if I had the startup capital and connections, this would be a great time to offer super alarm clocks with gtd usability at some website. I’m surprised no one is doing so.

Since I just blogged about GTD

Let me just say I think “stress-free productivity” is simply not a helpful expectation. I’m all for reducing the stress in getting things done. But I think one helpful attitude would be to accept some forms of stress as a sign that you are growing, maturing, and producing.

For one thing, I think an emphasis on freedom from stress can encourage people to use GTD as a way to avoid getting things done (see this excellent tip). I experience a lot of stress actually working through my inbox but no stress surfing Merlin Mann’s blog or listening to MacBreak Weekly.

We see “stress-free” people all the time (sort of) who remain that way by not producing. Many times the problem is caused by exaggerated fears. It is great when that sort of stress can be reduced. But, at another level, we should be glad we have stress and that we have an opportunity to learn how to handle it.

As I see it, creation ex nihilo is stress free. For finite creatures, creation means overcoming resistance.

I think a lot of GTD is learning how to properly handle stress, but I don’t think claiming productivity can be “stress free” is really the essential point.

For those who have no idea what fad this is, which I am promoting (despite this rather soft criticism), here is a summary:

  1. Collecting stuff
  2. Dealing with stuff
  3. Context and Next Actions
  4. Projects
  5. The Weekly Review
  6. The round-up

Web Widget Wednesday: Joe’s Goals

I’ve blogged about this earlier, but I thought Joe’s Goals deserved more comment and made a worthy beginning to my new and continuing (I hope) Wednesday blog topic.

Due to my trip to Florida, I have fallen away from using it. But I will get back in the saddle soon because I have found it very helpful.

Joe’s Goals allows you to set positive and negative goals for yourself and track your fidelity to your decisions to do or avoid doing certain things. You simply check the box when you do an action on a daily or weekly basis. If you have listed the activity as positive, you score a point and if you have listed it as negative you lose one.

What I have found works best is to open a logbook under most of my goals. Rather than the point system, Joe’s Goals allows you to actually keep a daily journal entry. Typically for each activity (“read fiction,” “eat after supper,” or “publish heresy on the web”), I have a logbook on the same topic. While each new category appears on the bottom of your list, a control panel is provided for re-ordering them. That way, I can list what exercise I actually did as well as checking off the box.

I think Joe’s Goals looks like a great way to undertake disciplines and follow through on commitments.

10 Reasons You Should Get a Job

Let me start this by saying that Steve Palina has a lot of worthwhile things to say. Just because I think his 10 Reasons You Should Never Get a Job is pretty flawed does not mean that I disagree with everything else and don’t find other great things on his site to read. I do. Just not his 10 Reasons You Should Never Get a Job.

1. Income for What You’re Best At

First of all, people have different gifts and abilities, as well as resources. It doesn’t follow that the people whose best assets are their own labor for others are stupid or dumb. A brain surgeon, for example, is going to need someone to provide resources such as medical equipment. It is no reflection on his intelligence if he works for a hospital.

Palina’s recommendation of building an income-producing system is only smart if your resulting income is superior to what you will make by “trading time for money.” (this isn’t simply a matter of which brings in more revenue; maybe you would rather make less and work less).

Of course, if you’ve never thought about finding a way to generate revenue without having to “trade time for money,” then reading Palina’s essay might be the best thing that ever happened to you. But that won’t be everyone and it has nothing to do with your intelligence.

The fact is that not everyone can get income in this way. The economy thrives on diversity. There will always be people who work for a living and they aren’t dumb because they do so.

Finally, with a salaried position, you are not simply paid for when you work. Most business owners will tell you that sometimes things are slow and other times they are not. Yet they pay their employees regardless unless business slows down to the point where they are forced to lay people off. What you are paid for is not purely your work. You are paid, essentially, to be on retainer because someone appreciates what you can do for him.

2. Gaining Experience

There are plenty of ways to gain experience, but to be paid while you do so is not a bad way to do it. There have been jobs for which the demand has suddenly ceased, leaving people unequipped to find a comparable income in the marketplace. But, while this has happend, it is also common to find people who have found their jobs lead them in directions they would have never have gone otherwise, providing them with a new way of making of living. A man gets a job doing website design for a company ends up in project management with a much better income (and eventually has the connections and skills to go into business for himself).

Of course, a great deal of the experience really consists in meeting other people, both customers and suppliers and bringing them together. And, besides experience, there is a reputation to build up so that, when the time is right, you might get to move on up into self employment or investing in some asset that generates revenue.

On the other hand, your growth in experience and relationships may make you become a great asset at your job so that you don’t need to do anything else. Maybe not. But you never know and there is no reason to burn bridges unless you are sure it is in your best interests.

3. Domestication

Learning to work with others is a basic human skill, including others who you do not like and who have too much authority. You can try to live life like these situations are completely avoidable. For those who choose such a life, ninety-nine percent of the time they will become worse than the problems they want to avoid. How many victorious rebellions end up creating situations that are worse than the ones they overthrew?

Lets assume Steve’s pejorative description is accurate: jobs are domesticating. Even so, systems of domestication are not always evil for all people at all stages of their lives. Overbearing mothers who try to keep their children from growing up are not an argument against all mothers and all families. The fact that people (maybe many people who will be helped by Steve’s article) will be more hindered than helped by a job, does not mean that “domestication” is always a bad thing.

4. Buying Power

The reason why Walmart can sell at low prices is because they can buy in high quantities and get products sold to them for less. Then they pass on the savings.

Likewise, companies can provide things for you that would be much harder to get if you were to try to go into business with no starting capital of your own. Investors and owners provide equipment you would have to acquire somehow. Other members of the team find customers who want the work you do. Teams can often do more together than any one member could do by himself. This is not always true. People discover they can work more productively on their own at some point. More power to them. But claiming that a company represents “too many mouths” to feed, simply isn’t true in all cases.

5. Reducing Risk

When someone has something of value to offer, the main challenge is spreading the news–finding the people who need the value offered so that they know who to go to. Getting a job means you don’t have to do all that marketing yourself. You just need to reach one person who already has a network.

There is a trade-off of risk here. But usually, if you do a half-decent job and learn some basic social skills, keeping your job is easy. And, you can always save and invest so that you can soften the blow if you are fired.

6. Living In the Herd

One of the basic values one needs to have to be a successful independent business man is to not burn bridges when one is involved in a disagreement. You never know when the person annoying you will be in a position to provide you with something you need. No matter how idiotic a person is being, it is best to extricate yourself in a way that does not leave anyone unnecessarily offended.

Likewise, just because the word “boss” derives from “master” and “bovine”–I’ll not challenge the veracity of the linguistic connection since I have done no research on the subject. But if you can only think of your boss–simply because he is your boss–as an evil bovine master, then I doubt you will be any good as either an employee or an independent business man.

7. Money is given to you by other people; you don’t give it to yourself

The reason why people more often ask their bosses for raises rather than investing in their own income-producing business is because the former is usually much easier than the latter. Not many people go into their own business or live on investments and there is a reason for that: it is much more likely to fail.

I think it is great if you want to go for it, but don’t pretend that earning whatever you want is some sort of easy accomplishment that everyone else would achieve if Only They Weren’t So Stupid.

8. Your Social Life is what you want.

People hang out with people they like and usually who are like them. Sad but true. That is the same whether you are an employee or not.

9. Freedom is making cost/benefits decisions

Corporate rules and regulations can be insane, but usually they are caused by the litigious and over-regulated government-mandated environment that effects all of us whether we have jobs or not. Should you put up with it? Not if you don’t want to. But don’t make that decision on the pretense that you can go to a realm where your behavior is not ever going to be irrationally constrained. It will be as long as you deal with other people. And you will have to deal with other people in order to get money.

10. Fantasizing is not courage

If you are the kind of person who completely conforms to what everyone around you is doing, then you are not going to be a great entrepreneur nor are you going to really excel in your workplace. Either way you need to stand out (especially in possessing the wisdom to know how to stand out).

Blaming all your attitude problems on having a job is a step in the wrong direction. You may indeed be the sort of person who needs to leave, but you won’t do any good on your own if you can’t show greater maturity toward your supervisors and co-workers than to blame them for your own thinking.

Quit Your Job?

Then go for it. But be wise. Do it at the right time and have a plan. If you can find a way to produce passive income then more power to you.

But there is no shame in holding down a job. And it may produce more for you than what you could produce any other way. Why claim otherwise?