6 years, 10 months ago

My Personal Productivity Approach

To be a self-sufficient contributor to an organization and/or to provide leadership to others, I feel its important to manage oneself first. I think using a formal/information system aides us in attaining clarity in our minds. That state of shoshin – a beginner’s mind ready for anything.

This assertion, coupled with my own OCD around being organized has driven me to try a number of techniques over my professional career. But in the end, its tracking what I have to do, taking ownership for it, and then following through. I must confess the latter part isn’t always easy. But I’m here to share my thoughts and not assert my expertise :)

Three major techniques have assisted me over the years. First, it was the Franklin Covey system at my first employer. It was almost a right of passage to have one of the company-provided binders with a way to track just about anything. I even tried this technique with my first PDA.

GTD caught my eye in the early 2000s. Consistent with Franklin Covey it drove me to get everything out of my head and onto paper (or into a tool) – something which is increasingly important as I get older :). I liked how things were decomposed with a simple hierarchy and allowed for “cross-cutting” with contexts across multiple projects. Depending on the tool I’ve been able to assign multiple contexts to actions which aides in catching everything. I’ve used this approach for task management with tools like Nozbe, Remember the Milk, Omnifocus, and index cards. Currently, Omnifocus is my tool of choice across my Mac, iPad, and iPhone. In case you are interested, my contexts are as follows. These are not so much based on the tool to accomplish the task – a criticism of GTD from time to time – but rather the cognitive load they impose on me.

  • Communicate – calls to make or emails I need to write to people
  • Waiting – actions which are either delegated or which create a “block” in the current project.
  • Review – content which I need to read and provide critical feedback on and/or capture actions
  • Read – articles and other papers that I find for personal enrichment.
  • Author – presentations, papers, or other “thick” content to create. This context requires focus. Writing blog articles falls under this category.
  • Agenda – this context is a hierarchical “hot mess” of people decomposed by organization. It tracks topics to review with people when I speak to them.
  • Errands – things which require me to physically move out of my chair. Running to the post office, grocery store, or going to the ATM fall in this category.
  • Admin – tasks which are typically performed on my computer but are easily executed in a busy airport with a libation. Expense reports, travel arrangements, or time sheets are typical items in this context.

I’ve experimented with Personal Kanban (PK) off-and-on in the last year and found some of the principles helpful (e.g., limit WIP) and the idea of “flow”. But frankly it didn’t feel tight enough for the style of work I do where I’m not always in content creation mode. I’ve read an article or two how to merge Personal Kanban with GTD but haven’t ventured too far into that realm yet.

What about you? What task management system are you using? If you are a GTD person, what contexts do you find useful? If you are a PK person, what am I missing with GTD?

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