Below are three of my favorite videos of all time. They’re all quite long (averaging just under an hour each), but I re-watch all of them from time to time to stay fresh on the ideas presented in them.
Scott Stratten: The Biz Media Sessions
Scott (@unmarketing) puts out a bunch of great info on how to use social media, and this video is a great overview of some of his ideas.
David Allen: Getting Things Done
I’m a big fan of GTD, and it’s greatly changed how I’ve organized my life over the past few years. David Allen is the man behind the system, and this was a talk he gave at Google a few years ago. Lots of great tips in there.
Merlin Mann: Inbox Zero
A major aspect of GTD, at least for me, is keeping my inbox completely clean. Merlin offers some great advice in this video on how to actually make it happen.
Any other great videos out there that should be on this list?
One of the complaints I often hear about most of the productivity tools that I use is that people don’t have time for them. I hear things such as:
“I barely have enough time as it is; I can’t add in these tools on top of it.”
“New tools are always coming out, and I don’t have time to keep up.”
It’s a valid point, because I felt the same way a few years ago. I was working as hard as I possibly could, so how on earth would I have time for all of this “processing” and “weekly reviews” and all of the other things that make systems like GTD tick?
It takes money to make money
You’ve likely heard the phrase “it takes money to make money” before. Those that have money can make solid investments and make even more. If you don’t have money, you can’t invest, and it’s a lot more difficult.
The same is true with your time. If you can carve out a little bit of time each day to process your inboxes, get everything into lists, etc, you’ll find that it creates more available time for everything else!
The weekly review
Another core part of GTD is the weekly review; once a week, sit down and review every task in every project that you have. Make sure all of your inboxes are processed and you’ve got everything in front of you.It takes 30-90 minutes for most people, which is certainly a good chunk of time, but it really helps you get a high-level view of what’s going on and help you focus on what’s most important.
Similar to keeping an empty inbox, this is one that you have to try before you’ll believe it, as it doesn’t necessarily make a lot of sense. However, once you start taking the time throughout the day to keep on top of everything, you’ll find yourself working much more efficiently and getting a lot more done.
Try it for yourself
The best way to see this in action is to simply try it for yourself. For the next week, focus on keeping your task list updated and your inbox empty and see what happens.
Have you found “it takes time to make time” to be true in your day-to-day work?
As I’ve mentioned a few times before, keeping my inbox at zero is a huge part of my organizational process, and I attribute much of my productivity to it. Having your inbox clean makes it much easier to prioritize new messages so you’re always on top of everything that you’ve got going.
A big part of inbox zero is having systems in place to keep everything. I put my tasks in Nozbe, file attachments in Dropbox, passwords and other notes into Evernote, and I count on auto-resurrection to bring emails back when a response comes in. If you don’t have a great way to deal with every email in your inbox, you’ll never be able to get them all out of there.
The two-minute rule
However, another big piece of the GTD method is the two-minute rule. If you get a new task and it’ll take less than two minutes to do, then do it immediately. If you wait on it, then you’re adding more meta data to the task that will ultimately slow you down. For example:
Adding it to your task list takes a minute to do, as does crossing it off later and prioritizing it in the meantime.
Leaving it in your inbox just gives you one more item to look past as new items come in.
It’s more difficult to have a “mind like water“, since you’ll probably be thinking about it until it’s done, at least subconsciously.
Even better, I’ve found that clients love it! People are amazed when they send me an email with a minor update to their site and it’s done (with a reply back to them) in just a few minutes. I certainly don’t always respond that quickly, especially if I’m in the middle of another project at the time, but I work hard to respond as quickly as possible.
This idea could really lead to another conversation about distractions. The nature of my work requires that I stay on top of client requests during the day as much as possible, leading to many (paid) interruptions. However, for most people, processing email in scheduled “chunks” throughout the day (instead of responding each time a new one comes in) is often a more productive way to handle it.
Not always just two minutes
Another thought is the length of time that you fit this rule into — I often stretch it to the “5 minute rule”, or even a bit longer. If it’s something that needs to get done at some point that day, and it’s a 5-10 minute task, I’ll still usually tackle it right away. If it’s a longer task, or something that isn’t a priority for today, then I’ll add it to the to-do list and worry about it another day.
Regardless of how often you process your email, the two-minute rule is gold. Get it done and move on!
One of the basic ideas behind GTD is what David Allen calls “mind like water” — keep your mind clear by keeping your tasks in a trusted system. This simple premise has improved the quality of sleep as well as my prayer life, because my mind was no longer racing with things I had to do.
However, I was only doing that for significant tasks such as “upgrade WordPress on Joe’s site“, “contact Bob about that proposal“, etc. For smaller things, like when my wife would ask me to start the dryer, I’d count on remembering to do it in a few minutes. We know how that ends up…
For the past few months, I’ve worked very hard to get every thought out of my head and recorded before it had a chance to just slip away. Now I keep a notepad at my desk and write down everything as a quick note. For example, I have one sitting here now that simply says “start dryer“, because there’s a load in the wash right now that we need clean in the morning, but it’s still going. When I come back into my office to shut it down for the night, I’ll see that note. It helps to have a clean desk, or the note would get buried.
I’ve also been using the notepad on my phone more often (via a quick note in Evernote) when I think of things. I used to use Jott for that, but this is a simpler solution. By using it with Evernote, that quick notepad is with me wherever I go — it’s on my phone, my desktop, my laptop, etc. When I get a chance to sit down and process my inboxes, I make sure to clear out that note and either do the tasks or add them to Nozbe.
Other techniques can help as well. Some examples:
I need to drop a check in the bank tomorrow morning, so it’s in my wallet but I left it sticking out. When I grab my wallet in the morning, I’ll see the check and remember to take it to the bank.
Our current dishwasher doesn’t have a delay timer on it, and I really miss that feature. We do the dishes right after dinner, but can’t start the dishwasher right away because the girls need hot water for their baths. In the past, I’d intend to start it later in the evening so it’d be clean for the morning, but I’d often forget. Now, I just put the dishwater detergent bottle out on the counter after I finish loading it. Later in the evening, I’ll see it sitting out and it’ll remind me to start the load that’s in there.
I’m sure you have similar little techniques that help remind you of small tasks. What are some of your favorites?
One of the great ideas behind GTD is the “two minute rule”. In a nutshell, it says that if you come across a task that will take less than two minutes to complete, do it immediately. Otherwise, the meta options around it (adding it to a task list, etc) will make it take much longer than it should have.
Because Gmail groups all of your emails into “conversations”, you can use this to your advantage. If you get an email from someone with a task that you need to complete, but you need more information, you can reply back to them and archive the email with no worries. When they reply back to you with the requested information, everything is still right in front of you to get it done.
Here’s a quick video that shows what I mean:
Like I say in the video, this only works if you trust the sender. If you know that the other person is someone that often lets things slide, you’ll probably want to make a note to follow up if they don’t respond in a timely fashion.
This works well even if you need to go back and forth a few times. With each response, I can keep my inbox cleaned out — great for maintaining “inbox zero“. When the conversation is finished and I have all of the information I need, all of the emails are automatically pulled back into my inbox and I can take care of the task.
I’ve been using Nozbe for a while now to manage my tasks, and overall I’m quite happy with it. It’s certainly got some quirks and minor issues, but it’s not bad. However, I always feel like there must be something else out there that’s at least comparable to it. I mean, there are literally hundreds of task management systems out there; can’t any of them get it right?
Here’s what I’m looking for:
iPhone app (or at least an iPhone compatible version).
Project based. Call it something else (“queues” or whatever), but I need to be able to group things.
“Next Actions” or “Starred Items” or some kind of nice overview. I don’t want to see everything at once; just the items I’ve selected.
Have items due today (or overdue) show up on that overview page.
Recurring events. Nothing fancy here.
Sharing. Just have shared projects show up along side my non-shared items, not tucked away in some special “sharing” section.
Here’s a short video where I explain those items a bit more:
So what do we have? I’ve gone through a ton of different systems and they all fall short on at least one of the items above. Am I asking for too much? It doesn’t seem like it, but maybe I am…
Here are the 3233 34 35 systems I’ve looked at, in alphabetical order. Some are very good, but I’m not covering their good points today. With each one, I’ll explain what feature(s) it is missing:
5pm — Solid, but sharing is odd. You share with your “team”, and they’re either an admin or they can only see what you give them. I want others to be able to create their own private lists, and share with people other than me from time to time. They over-thought it and it’s a mess.
Action Method — No good “next actions” screen. Sharing is there, but is kind of weird.
gQueues — Poor recurring event setup, weak sharing, no real “next actions” page (though “smart queues” are close). This one is actually quite close, as it has all of the right features – they just need to be tweaked.
Verb — No real “next actions” page, no recurring items.
Vitalist — No easy way to view all “next actions” and “due today” on a single page. Also, I didn’t understand how sharing works, and an email to them for clarification has gone unanswered for more than a week.
Wedoist (added 8/14/10) — Closed sharing (everyone must be in one account), no overview page of any kind.
Wrike — Overly complex. I guess “simple” isn’t technically a requirement, but this is a mess.
Zenbe Lists — No stars, next actions, overview page, etc.
So there you go. 3233 34 systems later and we’ve got nothing. Nozbe is still the only one to handle those basic ideas. I think Nirvana, gQueues, Thymer and Producteev have the best chance of getting things cleaned up. They’re all very close, but they’re all still missing some essential items.
I’ve looked at Google Tasks, but it’s missing so many features that it’s not worth even adding to the list — yet.
Is the answer out there? Let me know what other systems should be added to the list.
If you’re like most people, you have files on your computer everywhere. Programs, spreadsheets, documents, presentations, logos, ebooks, pdfs, and a variety of other stuff. Even if you have it well-organized, you probably have two big problems:
You can’t access it away from home. Right now, you try to remember to put the important files on your thumb drive, but often forget.
It’s not backed up very well. I used to keep a copy of my files on an external hard drive as a backup. Sometimes…
There are two tools I’m going to show you today that will help solve both of those problems very easily. Google Docs and DropBox.
:: Google Docs
Google Docs is Google’s online version of Microsoft Office. All of your files live on their servers, and you edit them through the web. The programs aren’t quite as complex as the Microsoft versions (for better or worse), but they offer some huge advantages:
Access them from any web-connected computer.
They’re always backed up by Google
You can share documents with friends/family/co-workers so they can view/edit them.
You can share documents publicly if you want to show them to a wider audience.
They’re fully compatible with Office documents. Upload from Office, or save the files in Office format to send to your less-connected friends.
To go with that, though, there are a few disadvantages:
No internet = no files. They offer “offline” access to your files, but it’s something you need to set up ahead of time and you need to do it on every computer where you use docs. Of course, most of us have our computers connected 24/7, so offline access isn’t a big problem very often.
Lose your account, lose your files. In the event your account gets hacked or otherwise terminated, your files go with it. With this in mind, I keep my Google password really long and complex, and I’m very careful about where I use it.
All in all, Google Docs is a great answer for your basic documents. I keep the majority of mine in there, and it’s very handy. I can work on them from my desktop, but have all of them at my fingertips when I’m on my laptop. Or my network. Or my wife’s computer. Or anywhere else.
DropBox is one of the most innovative tools I’ve seen in a long time, and it’s dead simple. When you install the program, it creates a folder called “My DropBox” in your documents folder (similar on the Mac). Anything you put in there gets synced to their servers, and then over to any other computer where you have Dropbox installed. In my case, I have it installed on my desktop, my laptop and my netbook. If someone sends me a file that I need to keep, I simply toss it in Dropbox so I’ll have easy access to it. Once it’s in there, I can access it from any of my computers, my iPhone, or the Dropbox website.
Here’s a short video that explains it better than I can:
The neat thing about this is that it actually copies the files to your computer. Even if you don’t have internet access for a little while, the files physically live on every machine so you have direct access to them. If you make a change, the updated file is sent as soon as your internet connection comes back. The one downside to this is that it consumes space on every computer to hold the files. In my case, I have about 6GB worth of stuff in Dropbox, so that folder is taking up 6GB of space on all of my computers. 6 gigs isn’t much anymore, but I wouldn’t be able to store my wife’s 40GB of photos in there — I’ll talk about options for those tomorrow.
They also have a killer sharing feature. You can set a folder to be shared by others, and it’ll appear in their Dropbox. I name my shared folders things like “Mickey and Steve shared” so I can be clear about what goes in there. If Steve adds a file to that folder, it syncs to all of his computers and all of mine.
You can also check out this post I wrote a few months back on how I integrate Dropbox with GTD.