Interview: Becoming Effective

What change has made the most difference in making you effective?

Mmmm…tough question. Ironically, I think having less time available for discretionary projects has made me more effective in the areas of my life that I choose to spend time in. So get married, have kids and take a job that keeps you busy all the time: it’ll make you more effective!
Brendon Connelly from Slacker Manager (rss)

This seems counterintuitive, but I guess it makes sense. Having more stuff to do should help force you to be more efficient.

The two-minute rule I learned from reading David Allen’s Getting Things Done. If a task takes less than two-minutes to do, don’t put it off, just do it.
Chanpory Rith from LifeClever (rss)

This is a pretty powerful tip based around the idea that switching contexts is often more expensive (timewise) than the actual task at hand.

Getting up early. I started getting up at 4:30 – 5:00 am for a job I had about 10 years ago. My work schedule was 6:30am to 3:00pm, and when I left that job for a “9-to-5-er” I kept the habit of getting up early in order to get a few things done before I went to work, while the house was quiet. I have kept that up for the past 8 years and since I have started my “Getting Things Done” practice my productivity has skyrocketed in those early morning hours. Before I go to bed I make a list of things that I’d like to accomplish when I get up, and then I am able to get started on my Next Actions while the coffee is brewing. Those 90 minutes are typically my most productive of the entire day.
Stephen Smith from HD BizBlog 1.2 (rss)

I find myself switching back and forth between getting up early and staying up late. When I’m doing programming, I find that I get more done late at night after everyone else has gone to sleep. I think this is because I will tackle difficult problems that will take an undetermined amount of time. Late at night I know I won’t be interrupted if it takes 1 hour or 4 hours. When I try to do these types of projects during the day, I end up getting frustrated because 45 minutes into it, I’m interrupted and basically have to start again.

Projects that take a specified amount of time work well for me in the morning. So getting up at 5 to exercise for 45 minutes or read for an hour works great.

Realizing that my brain is not as effective as I’d like to think it is. For the longest time, I was confident I could process and remember everything: despite the fact that I forgot appointments, double-booked appointments, missed much of what I need to do, and more. Once I acknowledged that I needed a system to keep me on track, I became much more effective and efficient at what I did.

In spite of that realization, this is still the most challenging area in my personal productivity. It doesn’t take much for me to forget to use my systems. Then, as things drift out of control, I have to force myself back to the basics.
Ian McKenzie from Ian’s Messy Desk (rss)

Getting things out of your head and on to paper is what I consider the most useful concept from GTD. It is amazing how much cognitive noise we carry around in our heads. It is no wonder we have trouble concentrating when 50% of our attention is tending to random things in the background.

48 Minutes of focused work time (singletasking)
John Richardson from Success Begins Today (rss)

John’s idea of focusing on a task for 48 minutes and then taking a 12 minute break by doing something else is a good one. I think we all tend to under estimate the value of taking breaks and giving our brains a chance to process and deal with things subconsciously.

I think the biggest thing has been finding a long-term goal I’m passionate about (building a popular website) and constantly working on it. Actually doing something is the biggest part. We can hope and pray all we want, but nothing happens until you start doing, get some results, and adjust accordingly. Doing also gives your mind something focus on instead of worrying about the future and other stuff you can’t control.
John Wesley from Pick the Brain: An Analytical Approach to Self Improvement (rss)

Having a good idea is easy. Executing the idea is where most people fail. With my clients, I generally give them my ideas and recommendations for free, but I charge for execution. This is quite a bit different from what most other consultants do and lets me standout from the crowd.

Some people develop a habit of executing ideas. The more they do the easier it becomes. Many people develop a habit that is the opposite of this and become less and less effective at actually doing.

Understanding my values. For example, learning is very important to me, so I know that time spent reading versus time spent lounging around is more effective for me because it makes me feel more fulfilled.
Alvin Soon from Life Coaches Blog

I think defining your values is one of the more difficult things in life. We are so conditioned to just repeat cultural values instead of really defining what is valuable to us as individuals.

Setting specific goals that tie back to the things I most value in life, and following my gut. Combining focus with intuition is very powerful.
Tony D. Clark from Success from the Nest (rss)

Intuition is not something I feel I’m particularly good at following. I am still learning to differentiate between intuition and wishful thinking.

Reading. Not just RSS feeds and tips posts (not to be too self-deprecating…) but actual books. The kind made with paper. Books are a window into the collective knowledge of the world. Although I’m not a believer that one idea can change everything, reading would come close. Going from reading several books a year to several books a month has to be my most profitable change.
Scott Young from Scott H Young (rss)

I once took a job and moved across the country because it would let me spend more time reading–even though it involved taking $30,000 per year cut in pay. Most of the people I greatly respect from history invested a considerable amount of time reading. With the easy availability of content on the internet, it is easy to forget the value of reading actual books. The amount of intellectual effort that goes into writing a 300 page volume is considerably more than what is required to write a bunch of 300 word blog post. As far as developing your brain, the depth of thought required in reading a well written book is considerably more than spending an equivalent amount of time reading blog entries on the same topic.

I’ve learned that to be productive, I have to “create” blocks of time in which I can zone in and get things done. The environment needs to be conducive but more importantly, my mindset has to be singularly focused on one task at a time. Eventually it just adds up to a productive state that you “tap into” on a daily basis.
Mike St. Pierre from The Daily Saint (rss)

With the recent addition to our family, I’m learning to redistribute my work schedule in order to move tasks that require concentration to blocks of time where I can focus.

Without question, the birth of my first child. The presence of a human being totally dependent on me and my good choices made me realize that I needed to look more carefully at my behaviors in life, and I’ve never looked back. Because of this new perspective on life, I actually wound up with much more on my plate, but somehow still having at least as much free time as I had before – I just eliminated things that were dragging me down.
Trent Hamm from The Simple Dollar (rss)

With our little girl, I’ve found that we’ve replaced much of our entertainment with just watching the baby smile. :)

Trent’s comment brings up an important point. Sometimes it is easier to re-evaluate things when we’ve gone through big changes in our lives. Even smaller things like rearranging your office can help force you to see your processes and organization in a new way and make improvements that wouldn’t have been obvious before.

Forcing myself to make a decision every single time I touch something.
Laura Stack, MBA, CSP from The Productivity Pro(R) (rss)

This goes back to the idea of context switches being expensive. When you pick something up there is a certain amount of time that is spent figuring out what the item is and running through a list of possible next steps. If you decide to put it back down, you’ll have to run through the same process again the next time you pick it up. Multiply this by the hundreds of things that come across your real and virtual desktop and you can lose a lot of time doing the same thing over and over again.

Finding a job I love. When you don’t love your job, you have given up 75% of your life to misery. I love working for Wise Bread. Everything I do for it gives me an adrenalin rush. I would probably work on Wise Bread for free, but luckily my partners have decided to pay me anyway. That old advice “find something you love and then try to make a career out of it” is often ignored. People think it is impractical and childish. But I’m the living proof that it can happen.
Will from Wise Bread (rss)

When parents are advising their kids on choosing a career, they usually say to go to college so you can get a job that pays well. I think we’d be far better off telling our children to go to college to figure out what they love, so they can choose a job that they will enjoy doing for the rest of their life.

Practice! Whenever I want to get better at something I practice and that makes all the difference.
Susan Sabo from Productivity Cafe (rss)

It is easy to get so focused on our tasks that we forget to work on improving our skill at those tasks. A small investment in developing our skills can pay off with big dividends. 5 hours spent reading a book on how to better utilize your operating system and practicing those skills can easily save you 50 hours over the next 12 months.

It would have to be the utter ubiquitousness of paper and pen. Pretty much anytime, day or night, I have a pen and small notebook or index cards in my pocket for capture. In the past, there wasn’t a day that went by when I wouldn’t either have an idea or be reminded of a task and forget it minutes later. Now, whenever anything comes to me (and I mean anything), it gets quickly scrawled down and lobbed into my in-basket for later processing. Gone are the days of trusting my own fallible psyche as a reliable storage medium.
Brett Kelly from Cranking Widgets (rss)

I have a friend who keeps a pen and paper next to the bed. At night he frequently gets brilliant ideas and write sthem down. In the morning he is usually perplexed by his random written notes that don’t seem to make any sense at all. :)

I think a lot of people try to use computers and PDAs with the idea that they will replace paper. I have yet to see any type of note taking apparatus that can even remotely compete with a pen and notebook. I usually carry some 3×5 cards with me for quick notes and lists.

Starting something and finishing it. I used to start lots of projects without concentrating on finishing, hense I would end up with loads of projects on the go at once. Now, if I start a next action I will make sure as much as possible to get it done in one session. That way I can get it off my mind and stop worrying about it.
James from Organize IT (rss)

This comes back to the idea of execution. As others have mentioned, I think an important component of this is to create the right size task. In software development, one of the most productive styles of programming is to start off by creating something that works–even if it only implements a small portion of the final features. The next step is to modify it into something that works with a few more features. This approach is useful for other types of projects as well. By consistently doing smaller projects and completing them you can build a habit of finishing which will be very valuable as you take on more challenging tasks.

Starting a blog. Being a decent blogger is hard work, and it reinforces skills that are important for other areas of life: relationships, communication, quality writing, unique ideas, etc. It’s also forced me to manage my time more efficiently and set strong priorities. At the same time, I’ve gained great friends, made awesome connections, and learned a ton.
Andrew Flusche from Legal Andrew (rss)

One of the benefits of writing for Productivity501 is that it forces me to think much more deeply about by personal productivity and organization. If I want to learn about a new area, one of my first steps would be to start a blog on the topic. In addition the practice of writing on a regular basis is very beneficial no matter what your field.

Learning to thrive on change itself, so that I am continually creating, tweaking, discarding, and reinventing. Deciding that change is good for me has helped me banish my sacred cows, and has cured me of both procrastination and perfectionism. When you love experiments and pilots, you consider everything a work in progress, keeping you open-minded and far more nimble.
Rosa Say from Managing with Aloha (rss)

A lot of people hate change simply because it means hard work. However the amount you learn from going through change is so much more than what you’ll learn from doing the same thing you’ve always done.

The most important change that has made the most difference in making me effective in life is a combination of going back from digital to analog (pen and paper) and implementing David Allen’s action management methodology “Getting Things Done” (GTD). GTD allows me to keep a feeling of relaxed control and the use of paper allows me to be more creative and flexible, making me more effective as a result.
gtdfrk from Getting Things Done (rss)

I’ve found it very interesting how many people are moving back to paper. Around 2002 I decided to get a PDA that would meet my needs. After trying 4 or 5 different models and brands, I gave up and went back to paper for the next 4 years. I’ve finally found a combination PDA/Phone that works for me, but I’ve learned to only use it for things where it really makes sense (addresses and telephone numbers) and use paper for everything else.

Knowing my life purpose. Knowing my life purpose gives me clarity and meaning in life. It becomes far easier for me to assess everything I encounter in life; I can figure out what to do and what not to do relatively easily.
Donald Latumahina from Life Optimizer (rss)

This ties in nicely with the suggestions of defining your values. When we don’t have a clear idea of our values and purpose, our default behavior is to try to be busy.

Just being exposed to the possibility of a system for self-management has facilitated a tremendous shift for me. In my case, influences include the works of David Allen, Kerry Gleeson, Stephanie Winston, and Chris Crouch. I call what I do “WorkFlow 101,” which reflects my perspective that these days (with tremendous information overload and too much to do), we all need a way to manage ourselves in work and life, but that we’ve often not had the opportunity to learn such a system. As a result, we either define ad hoc methods that provide a small bit of relief, or we rely on outdated methods from the age of phones and faxes, not email and IM.
Matthew Cornell from Idea Matt (rss)

Those author’s names have been added to my reading list. I think there is a lot of value in creating a system, but I think people tend to blindly follow a particular method instead of really figuring out what works best for their particular situation. Spending some time studying a bunch of different systems and taking the parts that are most relevant to your personal situation seems like a good approach.

First, I have a personal productivity system that works well for me. Second, I have a belief system that helps me to focus on the present moment and approach every challenge in life with a certain level of mindfulness and compassion. Third, and this may seem incongruous with item number two, but it is not, skillful use of the three greatest productivity tools ever imagined – The Trash Can, The Delete Key, and The Word “No”.
Patrick Rhone from Patrick Rhone (rss)

Ah the trash can. :) I think this is where a lot of productivity systems break down because they let you track a bunch of minutia that you shouldn’t be worrying about. Having a task list of 3 to 7 items is far more productive than a list of 50 things that need done. Learning the discipline to say no to things that would be “good” to do in order to focus on the things that are most important is very difficult.

Tracking my work output. Using a daily review helps me to uncover those pesky areas of my life that aren’t quite as productive. By seeing trends in my own productivity, I can see what works and what doesn’t. Now, I don’t make a daily todo list, but rather just track what I got done. It’s a little scary sometimes how much time I waste on stupid things. ;)
Glen Stansberry from LifeDev (rss)

I have played around with software that measures how much time you spend in each application and on each document on your computer. It can be pretty insightful to see how your time is actually distributed at the end of the day.

What Glen describes is very similar to Benjamin Franklin’s method for self improvement. He had a list of “virtues” and at the end of each day he would note his success or failure at achieving each one.

Realizing you can’t do everything at the same time without losing effectiveness.
Frank Meeuwsen from What’s the Next Action (rss)

The people who define their daily success based on achieving 1 to 3 tasks usually seem to get much more done than people who attempt to accomplish 30 or 40 tasks each day. I think some of this comes down to the idea that if you take care of the really important stuff, the trivial tasks will kind of fall into place. We are far more effective when we realize that multitasking is harmful and give our complete concentration to one task at a time.

It is without question thinking positively and acting upon those thought. I think a lot of people think if we think positively our lives should change, that’s not going to happen. We think positively and act positively as well. Taking action on my thoughts is the biggest change I have made in doing anything in my life.
Steven Aitchison from Change Your Thoughts (rss)

Steven makes a good point here. It isn’t just what we think. It is what we do. However, if we aren’t thinking productively, we won’t act productively.

No more cable TV has freed up MANY hours in my day.
Phil Gerbyshak from Make It Great! (rss)

Most people will benefit from reducing their television watching habits. Canceling the $30 to $50 spent on cable television can save you money and time.

  • Focusing on one thing at a time and NOT multi-tasking. Multitasking makes everything take longer and it’s not done as well. It also makes you more susceptible to distractions.
  • Becoming less of a perfectionist, but I’m still working on it!
  • Reducing Distractions – Letting calls go to voicemail when I’m working on something important. Turning off email notification.

Ariane Benefit from Neat Living (rss)

Email notifications are one of my biggest pet peeves. I don’t understand why people think it is a good idea to have that turned on.

The change that has helped me most is to make the productivity process as visual as possible. I’m still working on this too.
Rosemary Hon from Daily PlanIt (rss)

This is an interesting idea. I’m curious what types of things Rosemary does to make things visible. I guess I need to spend some more time over at the Daily PlanIt. :)

When I left my corporate job. I am a much more free thinking, creative type person and my job was stifling every last bit of expression I could muster. Since I left, I have started another blog, gotten back into writing, taken on more hobbies and am 150% happier and more productive than I was before.
David from My Two Dollars (rss)

Working for yourself should be a sure fire way to increase your productivity. I think happiness isn’t considered nearly enough when it comes to how effective we are.

I finally realized that I am very busy, but not as productive as I want to be. Admitting there’s a problem is the first step! Now that I know that I have a tendency to do the easy, even boring stuff first, I can try to take steps to combat this procrastination tendency.
GTD Wannabe from GTD Wannabe (rss)

The problem with being overly busy is that it can keep you from noticing that you aren’t actually getting much done.

Simply changing the way I manage my inbox. This includes the implementation of one of the most effective tools I have ever run across…the 2 minute rule. If it will take less than two minutes to respond or complete a task…do it now.
Jason Echols from Blackbelt Productivity (rss)

This is something I am still working to improve.

Simplifying, without a doubt. I realized that I was trying to do too much, and that I was wasting my time on stuff that nobody would care about in a week. Truth is, only a few of the tasks we do have lasting importance — focus on those and eliminate the rest.
Leo Babauta from Zen Habits (rss)

It is amazing how much stuff we can stop doing with little or no consequence. :) I have to keep asking myself “what happens if I just don’t do this.” Many times I find I’m wasting time doing stuff that really doesn’t need to be done.

Comments

  1. says

    More excellent information! This is truly Web 2.0 in action (or rather, the following comments are, but you know what I mean). Keep up the good work, I am looking forward to the next installment.

  2. says

    Once again a great read, Mark. I’m definitely printing and filing these posts for future reference. I’m particularly looking forward to your third post because it will contain all the best blog articles from all the bloggers who have contributed!
    BTW, your title should read Interview and not Inteview :)

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