Category Archives: Productivity

Start Every Day as a Producer


Looping back to this past Tuesday’s “20 minute thinking session” entry, I read this Lifehacker post about taking your thinking time in the morning. Instead of rolling over in bed and checking your iTems, spend your earliest waking moments thinking of the things you want to DO/ produce that day – both short and long term. If you begin the day checking your emails, reviewing Facebook, and reading the news, you are starting your day off as a “grazer of mindless consumption.” Let your earliest thoughts organize and clarify your day, so that the information you DO consume throughout your day is relevant to what it is that you’re producing.

This production of information is important to a healthy “information diet.” Your information consumption will have purpose and meaning. Wake up, sit down, focus, and write 500 words about something.

Waking up as a producer frames the rest of your habits. You’re not mindlessly grazing on everyone’s facebook’s statuses. You’re out getting what it is you need to get in order to produce. Waking up as a producer is procrastination insurance.

But there’s something else that being a producer does: it gives you more clarity about what it is that you think.”

Producer mindset:

The Information Diet:

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Getting Things Done: Processing – Getting “In” to Empty

You’ve gone through last week’s exercise of collecting everything that has your attention, now it’s time to actually wade through all of it. By the time you’re done with this step, you will have trashed the unnecessary stuff, delegated as much as possible, sorted through your own organizing system and identified any larger projects that are looming.

Check out the chart. Scary.

Basic rules: process the top item first, process one item at a time, never put anything back into your “in” basket. By “process,” Allen means “decide what the thing is, what action is required and then dispatch accordingly.” Your in basket is a processing station, not a storage bin, and the key question to keep in mind is “what’s the next action?” The action step needs to be the absolute next physical thing to do – such as “call accountant and set meeting.” If there is no real and immediate action that can be taken, you can trash it, incubate it or keep it as reference material in your filing system.

Once you determine the next action step:

Do it – delegate it – defer it.

Do it if the action takes less than two minutes.

Delegate it if you’re not the most appropriate person to do the action.

Defer it into your organization system as an option for work to do later.

Finally, shift your attention to outlining your projects – those outcomes that will take more than one action step to complete. Make a list of projects to ensure you have placeholders for all of those open loops. This project list must be completed, and maintained as the key driver for appraising your status and progress.


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20 MInutes to Asskicking Glory

I know in your world of multitasking, with browser windows open simultaneously, juggling your many iTems, etc, that setting aside twenty minutes to just THINK, uninterrupted, sounds like crazytalk. However, hear me out…

I came across this revolutionary concept in the Why People Fail book (previously reviewed) and it made total sense.

Put aside 20 minutes a day to just think. Plan things out before beginning them.

I’m not the type of person who can meditate. Yeah…yeah…I know, but I HAVE tried it. Doesn’t work for me. My brain cannot let go. However, I can totally get behind spending twenty minutes, alone, either eyes closed or with a pad and paper to harness the power of my bubbling thoughts.

The book suggests using the following structured brainstorming methods during your thinking time:

“Ridiculous Idea” – write everything down, no matter how “dumb” you think it is. These crazy concepts might lead you down a different path, where even more creative ideas can be conceived.

“Different Industry” – think of a successful business, service or product in a different industry from your own and brainstorm how you could emulate that idea in your business.

“Star Emulation” – emulate experts, celebrities and professionals who have great success. Put yourself in their shoes, examine what they have done. Are you facing a problem that someone else has already solved? Use the past as a tool.

“Dictionary/Word Association” – brainstorming lists of words and finding links between key words on each list. See this link for more details:

If you aren’t into formal methods of brainstorming – and I’m really not – just sit with a pencil and paper and think through a particular project or problem you may be having and free-form jot all of your thoughts down. You may be surprised at what you emerge with.

The other “20 minute rule” comes via Clifford Nass, professor at Stanford University.

Heavy media multitaskers perform poorly at actually multitasking. Juggling causes your brain to constantly “switch” tasks, leaving us less effective at performing the task at hand. Nass’ solution to combat this is that every time you start a new task, to focus entirely on that task for at least 20 minutes. Force yourself to do this, avoid checking emails or talking to co-workers and just perform that focuses activity. If you do this for two weeks, in theory, you will learn where your time is best spent, which activies eat your time and you will become more productive. Go so far as to applying this rule to other aspects of your life: relationships, hobbies. This Braincanvas entry is a fantastic place to start if you’re looking to apply this rule to your world:



I had Evernote on my old work computer back in NYC and never felt like I was taking full advantage of its robust offerings. Sure, I halfheartedly clipped a couple of web pages to it, but never really took the time to play around.

Evernote is a “personal digital assistant,” allowing you to record thoughts and notes, clip web pages, take pics and store PDFs. Your notes are available everywhere you’re your desktop computer, the internets, your iTems… Everything you do on each of your devices is aggregated in your personal Evernote account for access anywhere.

Evernote supports tagging and advanced search and replaces bookmarking apps like Delicious.

When your’re on a website or in a pertinent document, select the text/image, hit command+c to copy, click the Evernote bookmarklet and choose “clip to Evernote.” Easy-peasy.

Evernote uses OCR to recognizes words and catalogs them – index, searchable by text.

Premium users can put it Word docs and spreadsheets.

CNET, Lifehacker, … they all RAVE about Evernote, calling it “life-changing.” Well with all that sexy hype, I must try it.

One con that was frequently mentioned was that Evernote doesn’t play well with Outlook (like anything does?!?!) but other than that, it’s all positive.

I’m not going to install on my current work computer – because it might not be my work computer forever… I’ll play with it at home on the desktop and my iTems and will report back.

Mac demo:|1|1

Evernote overview:

Evernote Essentials: The Definitive Getting Started Guide (paid eBook):

Tech Tuesday – Evernote

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Productivity: The Job Purpose Statement

I’ve explored the idea of a purpose statement before – specifically the “family” statement, which I think is a fantastic idea. Mission statements are such a great exercise because you can clarify your actions and discard the nonsense.

I lifted this particular “job purpose statement” concept from the “Why People Fail” book and performed further research on the trusty internets. A job purpose statement is a good way to think through and illuminate your objectives – both in your current position and long-term career.

It’s important to have a statement of purpose for every major aspect of your life – career, family, education. Subsequently, you can constantly review your activities and decisions against your purposes to make sure you’re moving in the right direction and not wasting time on extraneous crap.

The Job Purpose – from Why People Fail

Write down three most important tasks at work and put in order of priority.

I did this for my current contracting job, just to get some clarity and cut out some of the bullsh!t that comes along with a new position in a start-up. It’s not for my “ideal” position, it’s for what I’m dealing with right now:

(1) Produce compelling projects on time, in brief and within budget

(2) Make the client successful and satisfied; simplify her life as much as possible.

(3) Make improvements to process/workflow that allow us to get additional/new business and grow the company

The other method to draft a job purpose statement is a more involved three-step method outlined below and in the following links. This is particularly helpful if you are looking for a new position or looking to pinpoint and resolve possible dissatisfaction with your current position. I gave this a whirl as well….

This is tough in a down economy, I think, where employees just don’t seem to have the bargaining power that we did, say, 6 years ago. It’s hard to demand a bunch of stuff from an employer who flat-out tells you that you should be “happy to have a job.” But, it’s a worthwhile exercise, just to remind yourself that you still have values! And prep yourself for the possibility of better things to come….

Step 1: List your expectations: wants, needs, fears

I want to be able to take my 16+ years of ad agency project management experience and leverage that into a career change that allows me to focus on people rather than projects.

I want to work in a company that allows for flexibility – I can work in the office, work remotely, work from home, and handle my business as needed; secure in the fact that the company acknowledges that I’m a responsible adult.

I need to make at least $X per year in salary.

I need a job with a generous benefits package.

I fear starting something that is very different from my past experience, but – at the same time – I’m thrilled by the possibility

I fear getting stuck in another PM job where I’m doing the same thing forever – I’ve proven over and over that a fantastic PM, but I’m ready to move on and grow.

Step 2: Write a long, “from the gut” job purpose statement using the list from Step 1

Purpose statement: The purpose of my new job is to make a career change that leverages my advertising experience and soft skills with a company who values flexibility and work-life integration making at least $X per year salary with a generous benefits package.

Step 3: Write “I will” statements for your job purpose.

Return to the expectations (wants, needs and fears) and to the right of them, write down an “I will” statement. Try to make each “I will” statement specific, actionable and measurable. See below:

I want to work in a company that allows for flexibility – I will make sure to focus on employers who treat their employees like adults and will who value work-life balance. I will research Working Mother’s “Best Companies” list to get an idea of what types of organizations operate with this attitude. I will state this requirement to every prospective employer I meet with.

I need to make at least $X per year in salary – I will mention my salary requirement to potential employers and I will not consider any less, as I am more than worth that amount.

I need a job with a generous benefits package – I will get a full and complete picture of all benefits offered – from health and dental to educational expenses and the little perks and will weigh packages carefully against our family’s needs before deciding.

I fear starting something that is very different from my past experience – I will focus on the wealth soft skills that I gained from over 16 years as an advertising PM, and leverage those in a new position.

I fear getting stuck in another PM job where I’m doing the same thing forever – I will commit to looking only at non-PM jobs and will not settle for another such position. I will network with people from the other industry(ies) that I am interested in, to get a better picture of possible career choices.

I feel like the last couple of “I wills” aren’t super actionable – so I’m going to keep plugging on them. But you get the idea…. Go forth and create the opportunity you deserve!


Getting Things Done: Collection – Corralling Your Stuff

In this week’s installment of GTD, we finally get to take some action. Gathering all of your crap, sorting, tossing, and moving forward.

ImageSet aside several hours to gather all of your incompletes, your paper, your “stuff” into one place. Note: this works for both your home and office workspaces, so tackle the most egregious one first. Search your physical environment for anything that doesn’t belong where it is and put it in your in-box (or if you have a lot of crap, use an actual large shipping box), so that they are available for later processing.

What shouldn’t go into the in-box:

• Supplies

• Reference material

• Decoration

• Equipment

If something is clearly trash, go ahead and toss it, don’t put it into your in-box.

Order of attack:

• Start with your desktop

• Move to your desk drawers

• Countertops (stuff on top of cabinets, credenzas, etc)

• Then inside the cabinets

• Floors, Walls + Shelves

• Equipment, Furniture and Fixtures (anything you want to change about the physical space itself)

Once you’ve gathered your stuff to be processed or tossed (hopefully), you’re ready to move on to what David Allen calls “the mind sweep.”

Sit with a stack of blank printer paper and a big ass marker and write out each thought, each idea, each project or thing that has your attention on its own separate sheet of paper. You will be processing these items individually, so it’s best to put each thought on its own sheet. Stick these sheets into your in-box.

To assist in your brain dump mission, you can use this trigger list – go item by item to make sure you’ve included everything.

Print out your important emails, transcribe important voice mails – it sounds terribly analog – but make everything paper-based and physical and put it into the in-box.

Once you have an overflowing in-box and feel that everything is physically and psychically in one place, you can tackle next week’s step: “Getting ‘In’ to Empty.”

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Productivity: The “TO DON’T” List

focused on the most important tasks?


Take a day or two, and jot down the bad habits that keep you from being productive on a daily basis as they arise – like opening your inbox every time a new message comes in, spending too much time on blogs, working on unimportant tasks, etc. I’m super guilty of opening my email as soon as something pops up and then getting distracted there, or going down the rabbit hole of the blogosphere.

Post your list where you can see it every day – preferably somewhere near your to-do list. It’s just a little visual reminder to keep your eyes on the prize.

Here is the original Lifehacker entry on the topic:

As well as the source material from Marc + Angel’s Hack List:

There’s even a whole blog dedicated to the subject (although it’s on the humorous side):

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Getting Things Done: Processing Your Stuff – Time, Space + Tools

Today’s installation of David’ Allen’s getting things done, I’m implementing his “stuff processing” method on my filing system. Although, I must confess, it’s already in pretty good shape. In this chapter, Allen states that his method is all about “tricks” (hacks!) and sometimes one great trick can make going through the whole process worthwhile. I totally agree, as I’m a committed lifehacker.. I’m talking about little tricks/cues/hacks like leaving the tote bag on the front door knob to prompt me to remember to bring replacement clothes or diapers or burp clothes with us to daycare in the morning. It’s the little things… According to GTD:

“You increase your productivity and creativity exponentially when you think about the right things at the right time and have the tools to capture your value-added thinking.”

Ideally, over time and with the right tools in place, managing your workflow would become automatic. Anyway, if you’re into it, here are his steps to processing your stuff into a manageable filing system:

• Set aside the time and prepare a workstation with the appropriate space, furniture and tools (ideally two whole days, back-to-back)

• Set up the space – the bare bones is a desk surface and an in-basket; if you work outside the home, you should also have a satellite system in your home. Focused work space: work, home, if possible – in transit. Don’t share space – you should have your own physical space in each of those locations – don’t split the desk with yo’ man.

• Gather basic processing tools: paper holding trays (minimum 3), stack of plain letter printer paper, pen, 3×3 post-its, paper clips, binder clips, stapler/staples, scotch tape, rubber brands, label maker, file folders, calendar, trash/recycling bins.

Set up your filing system – file drawers, folders, labels, logical basis of organization. No hanging files if possible – this is controversial – hanging folders less efficient because of the effort it takes to make a new file ad hoc and the formality it imposes on your filing system.

Once you know how to process your crap and have a reliable system established, you really just need to create and manage lists – so you might want to add a planner/notebook into the mix once this processing step has been completed. I got these cute new Jonathan Adler file folders so that I have something pretty to look at for my home office filing system.


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Book Review – Why People Fail: The 16 Obstacles to Success and How You Can Overcome Them by Siimon Reynolds


I know I’ve mentioned points from this book on this blog before, but I wanted to dive more deeply into the content. I am totally bonkers in love with “Why People Fail,” it was such an interesting read, super thought provoking. I’m not typically into rah-rah self-help bullsh!t, however these tips were totally in earnest, and the book makes no promise that you’re going to be a gajillionaire or any of that Tony Robbins-type nonsense. WPF just clarifies some basic steps you can take in your everyday life to make room for more joy and more “success,” however you choose to define it. I went through each chapter with great intensity and focus and really thought about the questions Reynolds poses in each.

Here’s an overview (using my language, YMMV…):

  1. Failure to define goals (from short-term daily to lifelong dream)
  2. Destructive thinking – going into every day feeling negative and not psyching yourself up and being thankful for the good things that you have going
  3. Low productivity – wrestling your to-do list to the ground and making it your bitch
  4. Having a fixed mindset – failure to participate, giving up before you’ve even started
  5. Weak energy – crappy eating, crappy sleeping, lazy fatassitude (guilty!)
  6. Not asking the right quality questions – what would you do if you couldn’t fail?
  7. Poor presentation skills – don’t be afraid to stand up in front of a crowd (and no, imagining your audience is naked doesn’t work unless you want to gross yourself out)
  8. Mistaking IQ for EQ – smart people are smart but sometimes they don’t know how to deal with people….learn how to deal with people
  9. Poor Self Image – waaaaah!
  10. Not enough free time to think – you should set aside 20 minutes a day to just think – no working, no iTems, no phone calls, etc
  11. Institute Daily Rituals – (see my “chain” productivity post from earlier in the week)
  12. Stress – I haz it
  13. Relationships – you need an “inner circle” of trusted people who you can run ideas by, get feedback from, and drink with
  14. Lack of Persistence – Meh.
  15. Obsession with Money – this should be a bonus, not your primary focus (hard to do when student loans are on your ass)
  16. Not focusing on your strengths – figure out what your strengths are first (the Clifton Strengths Finder is a great tool, I’ll address it in a future post), and then center your life around these strengths.

Worth a think, no?

Mostly I just wanted to write this post so I could scour the failblog for awesome fail imagery…

Getting Things Done: The Five Phases of Project Planning

David Allen posits that the key ingredients of “relaxed control” are:

clearly defined outcomes – PROJECTS

next actions required to move them toward closure and  reminders placed in a trusted system that is reviewed regularly. He calls this “horizontal focus” and it’s all you need in MOST situations.

However, if you need more focus to get a specific project under control and moving forward, this will require “vertical focus” which should take place within the framework of his “natural planning model.” This sounds like some sort of fertility exercise to me, but I bear with it…

Your brain is already an amazingly accomplished project planner (who knew), automatically dividing a complex task into the following steps:

(1)  defining purpose and principles – why are you doing this thing?

(2)  outcome visioning – what would success look and feel like

(3)  brainstorming – capture all of your ideas, big and small, in an easily relatable format like mindmapping

(4)  organizing – identify components, sequences and events….what are the things that must occur to create the final result and in what order?

(5)  identifying next actions – activate the “moving parts”

For example, I’m really considering writing a book. It’s a biography about a figure I admire, but I’m not going to share because if it doesn’t happen, I’ll feel like an asshole for bringing it up. So, neh.

Anyway, to apply this model to my potential project would look like:

(1) I want to write a book about Person X because she is amazing and relevant with a life story worth telling, and she has not been the subject of a previously released biography

(2) This book will be interesting, engaging, timely, and will honor the subject. This book will be published, successful and read by a wide variety of people.

(3) I need to do a great deal of background research. I need to determine if her previously published written content can be included as part of this book by the people who currently own the rights. I need to sit down and really dive into her life story, her writing, her process and figure out the most interesting and relevant way to present this information in book form.

(4) Write up a plan: start researching, put an outline together, start writing, shop the book around.

(5) Immediate action item would be to start the basic background research

ImagePhew. There. I put it out there – out of my head and onto the internets. I’m making it real – and I’ll do it using these techniques I’ve been working on this year and report back on my progress. I’ve been mulling this for months and I just really need to get off my ass and at least get started – even if it takes me a decade to finish.

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