How To Be More Effective

I should say right up front that these are not my tips. Rather, they’re bullet points I’ve collected from various blogs around the web because I either already follow them, or because I know I should follow them — because when I do, I’m a more effective person. These are not directly GTD principles, because I haven’t actually found the time to sit down and read the book, but from what I gather, they’re along the same lines.

I have two jobs, totaling 70-75 hours of work a week. I have a beautiful family. And Nicole and I are involved in assorted ministries regularly. We also manage our identity, finances and resources in two different countries. While we’re a long ways away from getting all of those things right all the time, I think we do a pretty good job most of the time. Here’s a couple things I believe are worth the effort to make life more manageable…

Side Note: There’s lots of expensive software and hardware tools out there that claim to be able to help you get organized. In my experience, the best tools are simply a decent mail client and a text editor.

  • Make a To Do list!
  • Everyone who’s ever written anything on the subject of managing time invariably gets this in there somewhere. Wondering why? It’s because they work! I don’t know how many times I’ve sat at my desk wasting my day because I couldn’t think of what I need to get done. To avoid that, whenever I think of a task, I write it down.

    There’s lots of programs out there to manage tasks. The best apps I’ve ever used are Stickies in OS X, or just plain Notepad in Windows. The more fancy your list system is, the more distracting it is. Keep it simple, keep it in front of you, and most importantly, check things off when you’re done! It’s a huge morale boost to look over your list and see what you’ve gotten done in a day! To that end, if you complete a task that you’d forgotten to put on the list, go back and put it on with a check mark next to it — don’t underestimate how motivating it is to see that you’re succeeding!

    Along these lines: keep, and share a calendar. iCal or Sunbird are two simple and free calendaring programs with WebDAV built-in for calendar sharing, and are a great way to co-ordinate with multiple people. Outlook’s calendars, on the other hand, suck — unless your entire life is lived at the office.

  • Use the “For Follow-up” Flag in your e-mail. And use e-mail!
  • Every modern e-mail client has this feature — its even supported natively in IMAP — and its a wonderful tool. In fact, e-mail is a wonderful tool, despite its problems.
    E-mail creates an audit trail. It lets you see at a glance where a task came from, when it arrived, and even (if the sender practices good etiquette) the priority of the task (don’t get me started on people who mark all of their e-mails as high-priority). If you communicate back with it, you also get a history of the task.

    “For Follow-up” is how I act on e-mails. If an e-mail comes in, I read (or at least preview) it immediately. If I can respond on the spot, I usually do — just so I don’t forget. If an e-mail represents a task being delegated to me, or requires more time for me to act on, I turn on the “For Follow-up” flag (usually a little flag icon, or an option in the context menu). flag.jpgThen I have a Smart Folder (or in Outlook a Search Folder) that shows all mail with the For Follow-up flag on. This folder acts as sort of a smart To-Do list. When I get around to responding, I un-flag the message, and my Smart folder empties out.

    Moral of this story? If you want something from me, the best thing to do is send me an e-mail! If you call me on the phone, your message gets lost as soon as it leaves my rather volatile short-term memory, and odds are good that it’ll never get done.

  • “Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.”
  • clock.jpgMy dad used to chant this too us all the time as kids — usually when he was dragging us out of bed at 6:30 to practice piano. Turns out its not a bad idea. You’d be surprised at how much more you can get done if you start your day earlier.
    I was doing pretty good at this earlier in the year, before I had a run of health issues, and I let myself get a little lazy. I restarted this weekend, disciplining my sleep schedule, and it has been worth it.

    When I’m up earlier, I get to eat breakfast so I feel better; I get to do my stretches so my body is in less pain by the end of the day (I have the world’s tightest muscles); I get on the highway earlier, so there’s less traffic stress to deal with; I get to the office before anyone else, so I get a little peace before the rat race starts; I get home earlier so I get more time with Nic and Ben… the list goes on.

    And it’s not just getting up earlier. Read this article on sleeping patterns — it’s dead-on accurate. If I discipline myself to 7 hours of sleep (enough for 2 REM cycles) I wake up feeling great and well rested. That means I have to get to bed before 11:00, but my days are long enough that usually I’m glad to hit the pillow, and drift off pretty quickly after I do.

  • Avoid Meetings Like the Plague
  • Speaking of being efficient with your time: whenever possible, decline those meeting invites — especially if you’re on the list with a dozen other people! Such meetings, unless they’re being facilitated by a very disciplined and task-oriented person, are rarely fruitful. Most likely you’ll end up wasting hours on personal opinions and unrelated rabbit trails.

    Sometimes you can’t avoid meetings — you really do need to sit down with the interested parties and hash things out. If you can’t do it by e-mail, try a phone call or brief conference call. If that doesn’t work, then resort to the meeting. But do so in a way that is respectful of those in attendance. Have an agenda. Follow the agenda. If you catch yourselves on a rabbit trail, “park” the topic for another meeting. If you make a decision, write it down. If you decide on an action, assign the action item verbally and in writing. Insist that all attendees stay on track, and on-topic. If there’s someone in the room that won’t do so, and you can’t politely cut them off (or if they’re your superior and you’re powerless to stop them) keep that in mind, and try to plan your next meeting for a time that they’re unavailable — if you need their opinion, get it in person at another time.

  • Schedule Your Downtime
  • Or: “Get a DVR/PVR”

    Seriously, you need downtime. It should be sacred, and no one should be allowed to interrupt if you don’t want them too. But you need to control your downtime — you can’t let it control you. Maybe you like watching Oprah, but sitting down at 4:00 every weekday robs you of effective work time (I’m only guessing at that, I don’t honestly know what time Oprah is). The solution is simple: record it.

    The PVR is the one of greatest inventions since the television — and the Internet is even better. Decide you need time to relax between 9-10pm (a good time to do it, so that you can go to bed with your mind numb instead of racing) and make your entertainment work around you.

    Even better than that? Read a book!

Anyone else have any life-hacking tips for making your work days more effective?

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One thought on “How To Be More Effective

  1. Wow, even I learned stuff out of this one. Good ideas.

    About the tight muscle thing. I’m sure that is why we both get plantar fascia inflammation. I’ve had a massage therapist tell me she has never seem hamstrings strung so tight. What the heck is that? Is is some kind of electro-chemical imbalance, or what?

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