Saturday, 30 April 2011

Keeping fresh and avoiding burn-out

I've been reading an interesting article in the Harvard Business Review - an interview with David Allen and Tony Schwarz. One particular answer from Schwarz regarding work and energy struck me:

"There’s a fundamental misunderstanding about how human beings operate at their best. Most of us mistakenly assume we’re meant to run like computers—at high speeds, continuously, for long periods of time, running multiple programs simultaneously. It’s just not true. Human beings are designed to be rhythmic. The heart pulses; muscles contract and relax. We’re at our best when we’re moving rhythmically between spending energy and renewing it."

This is an interesting concept and one that I have noticed in my own work, but haven't applied the lesson as diligently as perhaps I should. It is very easy to fall into the busy trap and think that you can't afford the time to take a break. But I often feel more energised and productive after a break.

The habit of pushing your body, telling yourself to get on with it and keep going, is one that is hard to break. It is also something that is embedded in many work cultures - if you are not seen to be at your desk, you are not working hard enough.

One way of including breaks, but still accomplishing something, could be to run errands. I work on a fairly large site and delivering or collecting items from others allows me to take a break from my computer and still tick a job off my list.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

GTD on cruise control

David Allen writes an interesting article, in his recent Productive Living newsletter, about getting GTD on cruise control and staying there:

Persistence and practice is so important when trying to learn anything new, riding a bike, driving a car, implementing a new method of working. I always find it so surprising when colleagues don’t give themselves enough of a chance to learn these new methods in the same way that they might with, for example, learning to drive. It is fairly unusual to be able to learn to drive in just a few hours and then pass your test. Yet so many people expect the behaviours of GTD to stick really quickly and then become disillusioned with themselves when they don’t. Persistence is key, as well as acceptance that you can’t change things overnight. Some of the practices, such as the two-minute rule, can make an instant difference. But for the real “mind like water” experience, practicing, learning and refining your system to fit around your needs takes time and effort – and is well worth every moment.

I have been using GTD for nearly two years and would not yet consider my system to be on cruise control. However, I have had glimpses of the mind like water experience and the more comfortable I become with my processes, the closer I feel to gaining this more of the time. I can feel my persistence paying off every time my inbox is at zero and with every completed action.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Getting back into GTD – rebooting the system

Due to a long term illness, I have found myself having to almost restart my GTD system over the past couple of weeks, after nearly 3 months of inactivity. It has been a very interesting journey and one that has forced me to refine and simplify how I do things while I get back into my routine. The foundations of my system were still there, but much was out of date.

My biggest challenge was to tackle my email inbox, which had bulged to many hundreds of items during my absence: the 2-minute rule, a pen and paper and my @Action Support folder allowed me to deal with these without being frighteningly overwhelmed. Getting my inbox back to a manageable level really helped me to feel more in control and to have a better understanding of how much I could manage to take on as I slowly regained my feet.

Interestingly, I have found that I have stuck with pen and paper since that first day of sorting emails, rather than returning to the electronic system that I was running before I became ill. Returning to the basics, including to pen and paper, has simply felt more comfortable.

I was relieved to find that the habits I had developed hadn’t vanished due to lack of use and they were a lifeline for me in trying to get my work in order. “What is it? What’s the next action?” – this methodical approach gave me hope that the seemingly never-ending backlog of work could be managed. Thanks to GTD, when I was able to come back to work, I could set out my tasks meaningfully and trust my judgement regarding importance and urgency.

If you haven't felt able to engage with your system recently, don't beat yourself up about it. Take one step at a time and try to implement the areas that might make the biggest difference for you. My experience has taught me that a system can lie fallow for months and still be resurrected to help you get back to more productive ways.