Getting Things Done (GTD): Just Say No to Urgent Unimportant Tasks
How to Save the World Dave Pollard's environmental philosophy, creative works, business papers and essays. In search of a better way to live and make a living, and a better understanding of how the world really works.
It's been awhile since I posted anything controversial on this blog. This might make up for that. I suspect to hear some "it's not that easy" protestations. I'm ready for them -- I've walked the talk on this.
You're probably familiar with Covey's urgent/important quadrants, shown in the graphic at right. Covey's thesis is that we spend so much time on quadrant 3 matters (urgent but unimportant) that some quadrant 1 matters (urgent and important) may get neglected (since often they're onerous and time-consuming), and most quadrant 2 matters (important but not urgent) get pushed down the priority list and never get done at all (until/unless they become urgent quadrant 1 matters, which quite often happens too late, like on our deathbeds).
One of the things I've done with my GTD list (see model below) to try to address this tendency, is to flag urgent items on my list in italics, and important items in bold (and quadrant 1 items in bold italics), and pledge to do at least one important (quadrant 1 or 2) 'next action step' every day.
Dave's Getting Things Done process and list format
A: ACTIONS WITH A FIRM DATE/TIME
DATE TIME /DURATION
2005.12.16 Fr 17:00 /2
Appointment with Jo
2005.12.17 Sa 18:00 /4
Meeting with K
2005.12.19 Mo 17:00 /6
Discuss proposal for TNE with John
B: ACTIONS WITH NO FIRM DATE/TIME
TENTATIVE DATE TIME /DURATION
2005.12.16 Fr 09:00 /3
Discussion paper on AHA!
2005.12.16 Fr 13:00 /3
2005.12.17 Sa 09:00 /6
Followup coaching session with R
Donate old Christmas tree to charity
Submit PKM paper to journal
Recurring Activity x
cumbersome (call G to discuss)
Writing Project y
too big (break into shorter actions)
Entrepreneurship/Education Project z
not thought through (call J to discuss)
Innovation Project q
not sure I want to do it (decide!)!
Knowledge/Tech/Coaching Project r
customer not ready (set up proposal)
Project Outside Current Competency s
don't know enough (research)
The problem was, despite my best intentions, the urgent stuff kept getting moved up and the important stuff moved down. At the end of every day I was deleting completed tasks in italics, adding new urgent tasks, and, with a sigh, rescheduling tasks in bold to later dates.
Since my stress-induced disease hit me and woke me up, I'm not doing that any more. In fact, I've declared war on quadrant 3 (and 4) tasks: They don't get put on the list at all. Every action on my (much shorter) GTD list is now bold quadrant 1 or 2 tasks. Most of the quadrant 3 tasks, it turned out, fell into one of these categories:
E-mails and voice-mails
Paperwork (including electronic administrivia like backups, site maintenance etc.)
Meetings (regularly-scheduled ones, and those you were foolish enough to agree to when you shouldn't have)
Chores (stuff you hate doing, but have accepted as your responsibility, like committee activities)
Routines (stuff you do on a regular schedule, like exercising)
Impossible not to do these things, you say? I thought so too, until I realized the stress of dealing with 'urgent' tasks, and the disappointment of not getting to important (to me) ones, were making me miserable, and ultimately ill. How did I get rid of the urgent unimportant tasks? It was a three-step process:
Lower others' expectations: Essentially you need to train other people not to give you urgent unimportant tasks, and, when they do, not to expect you to do them. My disease gave me an easy excuse to do this, but I've been amazed how quickly people catch on to your becoming 'unreliable' at doing unimportant tasks and lowering their expectations of you without animosity or other serious consequences. It's easier to get out of non-essential meetings than you might think (and you might even be able to persuade your company to make all meeting attendance optional). And if the consequences are serious -- if the person you're trying to train is your boss and s/he makes your life miserable because you're not spending 90% of your life doing stuff s/he thinks is important but you know isn't, maybe it's time to stop acting like a trained seal, 'fire your boss' and find some meaningful work. [Do I dare suggest that for some, marriage/family is like a second job, and lowering others' expectations may be just as important in that role?]
Ask yourself this question: Five years from now, what will the consequences turn out to be if I simply don't do this urgent unimportant task -- not today, not ever? If the answer is 'not much', that should give you the courage (and it takes courage!) to 'just say no' to these time-burning, stressful, distracting tasks. Don't put them on your list. Don't do them. Don't give them another thought. Instead of doing my anal monthly bank reconciliation, now I just scan the bank statement for large, unusual or duplicate items and (never having found one) file it away. I'm moving all my bills to auto-payment, overcoming my 'loss of control' fear. There are some chores I do that can't be ignored or delegated, but amazingly, most of these turn out to be easy and/or fun (like mowing the lawn with the riding mower). And I'm a lot more casual about routines -- so what if I skip a day of scheduled exercising? Doing chores and routines less often really doesn't have any long-term consequences, and can free up all kinds of time. You need to give yourself permission to cut yourself some slack.
Delegate these tasks to people who think they are important: If you have admin staff, or junior staff itching to get into your good books, or friends or acquaintances who like this kind of 'busy' work and really find it meaningful, or just want to help you out, give it to them. Some people like doing paperwork. Don't feel guilty about it. Don't give them extra compensation or feel obligated. Just let them do it. Or find ways to automate these tasks or otherwise make them simpler and less time consuming.
As an example of step 3: A couple of weeks ago, we hosted the annual neighbourhood barbecue (which has actually evolved into a day-long series of events that take quite a bit of planning and preparation). In past years, the two preceding days have been, for me and my wife, an exhausting flurry of activities, where everything else gets deferred to make sure we're ready. And sometimes we don't get as much chance to socialize with the neighbours as we'd like during the event, because we're constantly dealing with urgent little matters (e.g. "we forgot to get mayo for the burgers, could you run to the store?") This year, because of my health, I had to scale back my ambitions. I cleaned and resurfaced our barbecue deck, because I wanted to learn how to do it and because it needed to be done desperately (i.e. quadrant 1). But many of the things that I urgently wanted to do but which weren't that important I knew weren't going to get done. I prepared my excuses for not having weeded the lawn, not having repainted the patio furniture etc.
But then something amazing happened. Starting the day before the event, neighbours started calling up and asking if there was anything they could do. And instead of the usual stoic "no that's fine, we've got it under control" we said "OK that's very kind of you". One neighbour who loves to paint and prides herself on her skill at it repainted 16 plastic patio chairs and tables. She loved doing it, did it brilliantly, and eliminated that quadrant 3 task from our list. Another neighbour came over with floral arrangements for all the tables. Another cleaned our pool. Another, who fancies himself an oenophile, picked out and delivered all the wine for the event. Other neighbours donated lovely hand-made prizes for the annual charity raffle that follows our dinner, reducing the cost of the prizes and allowing us to donate more to the local community charity. This was all spontaneous stuff, turning what would have been stressful chores for us into joyful activities that made the whole event better and more collaborative. All we had to do was 'let go' of the responsibility for these quadrant 3 tasks, and others who actually like doing these tasks self-delegated to do them for us. The only cost was a few genuine and appreciated "Thank You's". A next-door neighbour went home and retrieved some mayo. During the actual events, like Goofy Golf, we participated more fully than ever before. We had as much time for socializing as our guests. Everything went flawlessly. We partied until 2am and were so relaxed we could have gone on longer.
This may be an exceptional example, but it makes the point: What's an unimportant, distracting chore to you can be something important, satisfying, even joyful to someone else. Let go, stop being a control freak about your responsibilities and you may be amazed how much others will willingly, even enthusiastically take off your plate, while creating no obligation to you to 'return the favour'. It's human nature to enjoy helping other people we like. Why is it so hard for us to let them do so?
The first and second steps are harder, but they get easier with practice. Some people are naturals at doing these things, and studying them as 'role models' can help you learn how to do these steps quite gracefully, until they become 'second nature', and can show you how to 'get away with them' without adverse consequences.
One of my mantras lately has been: We do what we must, then we do what's easy, then we do what's fun. Getting rid of the quadrant 3 tasks is a means of reducing the number of things you 'must' do, freeing up and making time for what's easy and fun (most stuff that is really important to us tends also to be fun). So by this simple process, just by human nature you end up spending more of your time doing things that are important and joyful. Besides, you tend to do a better job at things you think are important. And the few urgent things you can't avoid become less stressful and overwhelming, so you have more time to do them and you do a better job at them too.
The upshot of all this is that my GTD lists have become so much shorter, quickly crossed off, and easy to memorize (you don't forget stuff that's important to you) that I no longer refer to them daily, but weekly. I'm getting a lot more done with less work and less stress. I'm enjoying what I do every day. I'm making progress on things I've been putting off for a decade. I have the time and perspective to think things through more rationally, emotionally and intuitively, so I'm making better decisions. My 'personal productivity' has soared.
My apologies if this all comes across as a bit evangelical. I'm just kicking myself for not realizing it before. Why does it so often take a crisis, a kick in the head, to wake us up to some simple changes that can transform our lives, and make us so much happier and fulfilled? I'm beginning to think I'm not the only 'slow learner' out there.
Standing Librarian Bookends - Bookends at JustBookends.com: "Standing Librarian Bookends are an apt way to accent the bookcase in your library. Made of multi-colored polyresin and finished in bronze, this pair of bookends features a librarian trying to balance a stack of books. Any librarian or bookworm will appreciate the scene depicted in the Standing Librarian Bookends!"
In all my years, I have never seen a librarian get in such a predicament !!
Just when I thought I would never get to play, I was tagged by John Dupuis over at "Confessions of a Science Librarian". John was invited to speak to our local librarian group years ago about blogging and is therefore the person who got me started.
5 things you did not know about me:
1. I would love to live in a cabin in the woods with no neighbours, no traffic, a pond, a stream, a big garden, old trees, my family, tons of books, my computer - with high speed internet, pigs, chickens, and a wood stove. Does anyone have one I can borrow?
2. Spent a lot of time at my first real library job writing my own personal book called "How NOT to run a corporate library". I kept waiting for my manager to "leave" but it did not happen until two years after I left. Needless to say I did not stay long at that job.
3. I am an active member of the Canadian Federation of University Women (Oakville)(http://www.cfuwoakville.ca) even though I am not usually into any of the usual female/feminist crap. Started a blog and a wiki for them as well. Blog is at http://cfuwoakville.blogspot.com, wiki is private. It is tough getting them to use the new tools.
4. I had surgery on both feet immediately after graduation from Chemical Engineering in 1981 and went to job interviews with casts on both feet. Was offered two jobs the same day. And took the wrong one :(
5. We are fostering a Dog Guide Puppy, named Casper. He is a standard poodle, is currently 6 months old and will soon come to work with me a couple of days a week. Photo Here
RSS, YouTube, Blogs, Wikis, Facebook, MySpace, and more! There is a global conversation going on right now about what will the next generation of the web be like? It's happening largely under the meme of Web 2.0. It's the McLuhanesque hot web where true human interaction takes precedence over merely 'cool' information delivery and e-mail. It's about putting information into the real context of our users' lives, learning, research and play. Concurrently, a group of information professionals are having a conversation about the vision for what Library 2.0 will look like in this Web 2.0 ecosystem. Some are even going so far as to talk about Web 3.0! Web 2.0 is coming fast and it's BIG! What are the skills and competencies that Librarian 2.0 will need? MySpace and Facebook are just the tip of the iceberg! Come and hear an overview of Web 2.0 and a draft vision for Library 2.0 and an opinion about what adaptations we'll need to make to thrive in this future scenario.
Stephen Abram, MLS, is the President-elect of SLA and the past-President of the Canadian Library Association and Vice President Innovation for SirsiDynix. He has been VP of Corporate Development for Micromedia ProQuest and Publisher Electronic Information for Thomson. He ran libraries for Suncor, Coopers & Lybrand, Smith Lyons Torrance Stevenson and Mayer and Hay Group. Stephen has been listed by Library Journal as one of their first "Mover and Shakers", the 'key' people influencing the future of libraries and librarianship. He has been awarded SLA's John Cotton Dana Award as well as being a Fellow of the SLA. He was Canadian Special Librarian of the Year and Alumni of the Year for the Faculty of Information Studies at the University of Toronto. He is an adjunct professor at the University of Toronto, Faculty of Information Studies. He was President 2002 of the Ontario Library Association as well as sitting on the SLA Board of Directors as Director and Secretary. He gives over 90 international keynote talks annually to library and information industry conferences and writes articles and columns for Information Outlook, Feliciter, Access, Multimedia & Internet @ Schools, and Library Journal.
5:30 pm: Check-in and pick up badge 6:15 p.m. : Meeting / Presentation Light dinner will be provided.
Oakville Public Library Auditorium 120 Navy Street Oakville, ON (parking - free after 5 pm - at library accessible from Water Street (lower level around the back)
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Not being American, US copyright law is of interest only because I work for a US corporation, so I am not usually looking for copyright blogs. I found this one by accident and started reading, and reading. He actually makes this stuff interesting.
From his page: "William Patry -- Senior Copyright Counsel, Google Inc. Formerly copyright counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, formerly Policy Planning Advisor to the Register of Copyrights, formerly Law Professor, Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law; author of numerous treatises and articles (including one on fair use with Judge Richard Posner), including a forthcoming multi-volume treatise on copyright"
There are six international Amazon stores, and we've found ourselves checking the books and products we want to order at all of them, to find the best price. You may think that ordering from the nearest store would be cheaper, but it isn't in many cases.
That's why we created Pricenoia, we want to help people around the world check for a book's price at all the Amazon stores, in a convenient way.
This is what you get:
* We search for the price of a single product at every store in its local currency * We show you all the prices in the same currency, daily updated (Euro for europeans, US Dollar for the rest of the world), to catch the differences in a easy way * We add the shipping fares (the cheapest shipping available to your country from each store, usually Standard International Shipping ) * We show the total amount (product + shipping) * We redirect you to the specific product page in the site you select
If you have never checked the prices of the books or other products you buy, you'll be amazed (or shall we say amazoned?) of the differences in some cases. Even if there is a local Amazon store in your country, it can be cheaper to order abroad! If you don't have a local site, choose the best one to order from!
Pricenoia is an Amazon associate and get its prices in real time when you are checking a product.
You know you're a librarian when... ... you worry about punctuation ... you tell people to be quiet in bookshops ... you use acronyms more than you use real words ... you know what all the acronyms you use stand for ... people are amazed that you need two degrees to stamp books all day ... you read dictionaries for fun ... you know when you're breaking copyright law ... you've left your friends in the pub to go and look something up ... you can tell what someone is going to ask you by the look on their face ... 245 00 $a makes perfect sense ... you have dreams/nightmares about Dewey ... you know what the last digit of an isbn is for ... you pride yourself on not conforming to stereotypes ... you smiled at at least two of the above
from Blue Magnolia.
and I answered "yes" to 10 of them. I am not quite sure if I should be proud of this or not.
Carol (sic) Sidey from the Xerox Research Centre of Canada reported an apparent limit of 1,200 hits when other sources will retrieve far more (e.g., "Xerox" on GPS turned up 1,204 hits, while the USPTO file listed 17,390).
National Engineering Week (NEW) is a national celebration of engineering excellence. We’re dedicated to reaching out to young Canadians, to let them know that engineering is an exciting, fun and rewarding career choice.
When a couple of the little rubber feet (LRF) can off the bottom of my laptop, I tried without success to re-attach the small bits of rubber with "super glue", rubber cement, and a hot-glue gun. After the last attempt, I realized that the rubbery material used with the hot-glue gun could by itself serve as an LRF replacement. This worked so well I ended up ripping out the still-attached LRFs. By now the hot-glue replacements have served longer than the original LRFs.
-- Preston L. Bannister
Since I was at home when I read this I ran right over and plugged in the glue gun. Brilliantly simple solution to a problem I have been having myself.