We live in an age of preoccupation. You might have noticed this. Everyday is almost similar. You keep working harder and more things pile up for the next day, next week and next month. We all know that preoccupation is a never ending phenomenon. Yet, we fool ourselves. [Read more…] about How to Avoid Stagnation and Find your Zone of Creativity
In past two years, I’ve read dozens of books and blogs on improve personal productivity. I tried everything from Fancy to-do apps, GTD and Pomodoro technique to inbox zero, Zen habits and automation. Out of these, a few habits really made a winning difference in increasing my productivity manifold. In this article, I am going to share with you how I started these habits, why they have stayed with me and how can you get started to skyrocket your productivity. [Read more…] about 8 Powerful Habits to Skyrocket Your Productivity
It began somewhere in the middle of August 2013. Inspired by so many benefits of Meditation, I decided to give it a try. It’s been almost 17 months and I thought it’s a good time to reflect and share what I learned from my experience with meditation. [Read more…] about My 17 Months Journey with Meditation and Lessons Learned
Wouldn’t it be amazing if you have to work only 6 hours each day and achieve amazing productivity in the workplace? You can then spend rest of your day doing stuff you love. That seems like a distant dream. But you will soon discover how to turn that dream into reality.
This kind of workday has become so much a part of my life that I call it “the 6-hours workday“.
The 6 hours workday methodology has two stages:
[Read more…] about How to save 2 hours everyday
Almost everyone who begins GTD journey bumps across Evernote and start using it to store To-Do’s. I did the same too. After a brief stint with Evernote GTD, I realized that it was not meant for GTD. Though, some people (productivity experts) make it work, but I did not had the time or inclination to become an Evernote pro. Mainly because Evernote tends to get too cluttered and out of control if you do not spend time organizing it.
In fact, I ended up wasting a lot of time setting up filters, notes and notebooks, almost trying to hack my way to GTD. Eventually I gave up. Like most (ordinary) people, I dumped Evernote but ended up using it for another reason (more on this later).
Since then, my quest to find a good To-Do app began. I tried Wunderlist, Omnifocus, Notational Velocity, Doit.im, Simple Note and many other apps (over two dozen apps in total). At one point I got so frustrated that I wanted to go back to the good old paper.
In just three days, with negligible cognitive effort – I went from beginner to a pro in using ‘Things’. After using it some more, I saw that devil was in details. And in those minute details Things App shines. Here are some great aspects of Things App that makes it a poster boy from all productivity apps I have tried so far:
1. Lightweight interface
A fundamental criteria I look for in a To-Do app is – light, easy and fast. ‘Things’ scores high on all of these parameters. It’s easy on users and machine alike. It’s an extremely lightweight native app, with low memory and cpu footprints.
2. Easy To-Do’s
Things app is purposefully built “less techy” with a little raw feel. And I totally love it. It has a very mild character , making you feel in control of the app, instead of app controlling you. Pressing ‘Ctrl+Space’ gives you a new To-Do instantly no matter what software you are using. Dumping everything out of my mind can’t get easier. Moreover, I could drag and drop a To-Do item to an Area of responsibility, Project or a Person – no more typing of information in the ‘fields’. Things deliberately tries not make productivity a ‘Task’ in itself.
3. Intuitive decision-making
The biggest reason why we need a productivity app is because it can show us a clear picture of what we need to do and allows us to take informed decisions. Things provides a quick visibility over all my projects and corresponding actions – in one single view. You can press CMD+T to prioritize a To-Do for ‘Today’. If you press CMD+T again, the same To-Do shifts back to ‘Next’. Pressing on CMD+Y shifts a To-Do to ‘Someday’. All these things happens very swiftly. The App does not dominate you at all.
4. Day-specific alerts without behaving like a calendar
Most productivity apps try to become everything – right from calendar to storage. Things has marked a great boundary between what it is and what it isn’t. Even though it stores day specific events, recurring events and also shows reminders, it does not try to become a calendar. Guys at Things are smart and know that there are really good tools for storage and calendar. Moreover, color coding of day specific To-Do’s is extremely thoughtful and intelligent. Yellow for tasks due today and red for overdue tasks. No clutter with colors.
5. It’s on cloud, iPhone and iPad
Things comes with free cloud connectivity so that your tasks are synced up on all devices. iPhone and iPad apps are equally intuitive. Just what you would need to organize your actions on the go, no fluff.
Having shared so many good qualities of Things, it does have its own limitations. For instance, when I recommended Things app to a client and they wanted Tasks to be shared across the team and Things fell short. Here are a few areas where Things leaves something to be desired:
1. Lack of task collaboration
In today’s collaborative world, assigning a To-Do to someone is unquestionable. Things does not allow To-Do’s to be shared right on its interface. You need to send them via email and there is no track of it on your To-Do list.
Things is pricey than most productivity apps in its category. Majority of To-Do apps have free a basic version, while Things comes with free trial and a decent price tag. It’s not a freemium product. However, the price is justified once you start using it.
3. No Goals
This is a nice to have feature and not a real limitation. Having Projects/To-Do’s assigned to goals can make Things much more complete. Just the way Things has ‘Projects’, it would be nice if it can allow users to add goals. This is because I always like to know how I am progressing in my key goals.
4. No Windows/android/browser support
The biggest limitation of Things is its lack of cross-platform support. It’s only built for Apple. I find this very strange because not everyone is on Apple.
Apart from the above limitations, Things has nothing much to be concerned about. It is easily the best GTD app I have used so far. I am glad to be on a mac.
Our work swings between crisis and creativity.
The thing about crisis is, if dealt frequently, it becomes a thought pattern and begins to hurt. I call this pattern – ‘Crisis Mindset’. Those having crisis mindset breed crisis mentality and infect others with it. The types of conversations in crisis mindset are –
How do we do it fast? What do we do to fix this now? Why are people not performing?
If you notice, there is always something urgent or immediate to deal with. The crisis mindset does not realize that it’s inside, not outside. In the past few years, I had the opportunity to work with many entrepreneurs. Some have surprisingly relaxed and productive life, while some keep struggling to get things in control.
I noticed that high performance entrepreneurs exhibit creative mindset. They don’t look for short term fixes. Instead, they work like artisans. They shape every aspect of work and life using their ingenuity. When Steve Jobs started out to launch the legendary iPhone or 37signals created a wildly successful web app, creative mindset was in action. And it isn’t about the numbers or the fame, it’s about the work attitude that constantly focuses on creativity and bringing change that leaves a trail.
The conversations in a creative mindset are about making an impact, creating value, getting into the details and contributing to success of others. It’s still work, but of a different shade.
Creative mindset lives richer, meaningful existence. Crisis mindset leads to more crisis and fire fighting!
Which category do you belong to?
It’s easy to tell. Just ask yourself right now and the answer will come out. If you are somewhere in the middle, then you are not playing a bigger game.
Crisis mindset isn’t bad, it’s just unproductive. It is easy to deal with it if you are willing to climb up the ladder. Here is how you can transition from crisis to creativity.
The transition from Crisis to Creativity
Here are a few actions for you to get a head start:
- Crisply define your work before doing it
- Keep your mind clear, do not use your brain for remembering and reminding
- Think ahead about your work/life and chart out well-defined goals
- Align your day-today activities with your larger goals
- Develop the habit of deep practice and uninterrupted work
It takes conscious effort and practice to develop a creative mindset. In my upcoming course, I take this to a much deeper level. Once you practice it enough, crisis will start to fade from your life. The more you get into the creative mindset, the less and less you will see crisis happening. A new cycle of productivity and performance will begin.
How much percentage of creative mindset is involved in your work? Who are your favorite creative entrepreneurs?
Share your thoughts in the comment box below.
Join my free newsletter and get started on your way towards becoming a creative entrepreneur.
GTD became one of the epic time management/productivity books of all times. I became a GTD fanboy as soon as I read the book and implemented it in my life. Inspite of it’s popularity and a huge cult like status, it has several drawbacks which can get you into the productivity black hole. Here are four major fallbacks of GTD and why a new approach to productivity is the need of the hour.
1. Too many To-Do’s can be a waste of time
One of the most pressing things about GTD is organizing To-Do’s under respective projects and contexts, small or big. After doing this for almost two years, I felt, I was spending more time WRITING those physical actions instead of DOING them. Big drawback. Instead of detailing every project and corresponding physical actions, it makes a lot more sense to have one simple list and start taking actions. Many people have fallen into the extra work involved in organizing projects and actions. Time to get rid of it.
How I do it now?
I have a simple list of projects where I write key milestones and still review them regularly. All my physical actions are simplified in just ONE To-Do list.
2. Limiting Ideas by constantly writing them
GTD wants you to dump everything out of your mind so that it’s as clean as brand new. Actually, I found that some of these idea if kept in mind for hatching can bring deeper insight. Further, we are “thinking” creatures and we constantly churn out new thoughts and ideas. If we start capturing all of them, it’s going to be impossible to actually do anything worthwhile except organizing things in ToDo’s . For mundane tasks and regular work, dumping is still applicable but it’s not required. Instead of worrying about how many things you need to dump out of your mind, it would be fruitful to focus on the right things and just DO THEM.
How I do it now?
I do not write every idea or task that comes to my mind. If something comes back again and again, I write it down in one master list of ideas. I review the list of ideas every few days and try to expand those ideas that still look promising. I remove those which become obsolete or irrelevant. Small items such as ‘go to laundry’ never get into my To-Do list.
3. Physical filing is just a small part of the whole story
GTD lays a lot of emphasis on organizing physical files using an automatic labeler and keeping great mechanics. The truth is, we hardly use it. Most of material these days is digital. Physical filing system has become a very small subset for me. Individuals have shifted to dealing with huge inflow of digital information, which is nowhere mentioned in GTD. Physical filing may be still applicable to organizations and governments, but we are none of them.
How I do it now?
Use Evernote and Dropbox to organize digital content. I use very few physical files and often combine couple of items together. Any physical papers gets scanned and sent to my accountant. No more back and forth of physical files.
4. Mind like water by dumping everything outside your mind is a myth
According to GTD, you can achieve a mind like water state by keep everything outside your mind. That’s far from reality. You cannot expect to have a mind like water when you dump 500 hundred “stuff” outside your mind. Most people get numb as soon they see even 20 To Do’s in their list. It overwhelms them so much that they find it hard to take any action.
How I do it now?
I have four habits to nourish a mind like water state.
- Wake up by 5:00 a.m.
- Clear mind meditation to develop mental muscles of clarity and focus
- Conscious effort to identify and eliminate “unnecessary”, saying NO multiple times a day
- Personal reflection time to see where I am heading every Friday
Many people ask me, is there an alternative to GTD. The conclusion I came up with is – Instead of blindly following other’s system, create your own. Join my free productivity boot-camp where I unlock the secret to productivity using personal and business automation.
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I recently encountered an interesting question from a programmer – “I have 50 books to read on programming, how do I read them all”
My instant reply to that question was – Choose what you don’t want to read and eliminate. Then choose what you want to read.
But that’s not such a useful piece of advice anyways because making choice is the hardest part of all. We have so many options these days that making choosing itself can be a skill to master.
Choice is a classic problem faced by everyone, from programmers to president Obama. The good news is – choosing can be simplified by using a simple technique – Identifying guiding principles.
Here is an example from President Barack Obama:
President Obama simplified his choice of outfits by choosing a pre-defined set of colors for his suit. Everyday, he do not have make a choice of what suit to wear, because each suit color and style is pre-defined based on his guiding principles.
Now back to the programming guy. You are naturally faced with the choice of 50+ programming languages which can be possibly learnt. The challenge is to choose that ONE programming language to focus on. Here is where your guiding principles come into play. You define guiding principles by asking some key questions to yourself. Here are those questions:
- What programming language I am least interested in or rather skip to learn? (20 languages eliminated)
- Which three programming languages I am most interested in? (3 languages identified)
- Which is the most popular programming language in demand these days? (1 identified)
If you closely look at those questions, first step was elimination, second question was narrowing down based on your interest, and in the third question choice was zeroed in based on specific needs. By answering these three simple questions, you created some guiding principles around which you can easily make a decision on the language you want to master. These questions can be changed and more can be added but the core principles behind these questions remains the same:
- Eliminate what you are not interested in
- Narrow down based on what you are interested in
- Zero in based on external needs
The single biggest reason why each one of us struggle to make choices is because we have not determined the guiding principles. Once you have the guiding principles right – your choice can’t go wrong. And guess what, when you make powerful choices, it’s so easy to focus on it and start getting things done. Productivity doubles up when you eliminate the unnecessary.
Now I want you to get started and implement this principle right away (there is no point in learning something and not implementing it). I want you to do the following and post in the comment below:
- Identify the area where you are faced with making difficult choices
- Frame your questions around the core guiding principles and answer them
- Write your final choice
Once you post your choice in the comment below, I will coach you to help you arrive at the right choice.
I have been asked a number of times about GTD and if it is worth following the system. Here is a slide-show that explains basic principles of GTD in a Nutshell.
Is it worth it? Simple answer is Yes, but it depends on how you use it!
GTD by all means is one of the best books on personal productivity. However, due to it’s inherent flexibility, GTD leaves a lot of questions to be answered and often confuse us. Majority of people end up facing quite a few challenges while using the system.
To address these issues, I am coming up with a refined and crisp system, evolved from GTD – very soon.
Subscribe to my Newsletter. I’ll let you know as soon as I am ready to share it with you!
Having used GTD since a few months, I had my ups and downs with it. Since the system is so much flexible, it can pose quite a few challenges, almost encouraging you to give it up. However the benefits of using the system far surpass the challenges associated with it. With a fair deal of struggle on my part, I learned many practical aspects of GTD which cannot be found in the book itself. Here are 9 reasons why you might struggle with GTD and ways to deal with it:
Reason#1: You are a Tool Freak
GTD has over 400 supported apps, which means we are spoiled by choices. At some point, I became a tool freak and wasted too much time setting up the “right” tools. Gradually, I realized that tools are least important and gave up all fancy apps in favor of Notational Velocity. I am completely in love with it’s simplicity and minimalism. With no checkboxes, buttons and clicks, it feel almost natural to use everyday.
Key take away: Use simplest possible tool to suite your natural working style and mindset
Reason#2: Spending time creating the perfect To-Do list
During the initial stage, out of sheer enthusiasm, I wanted my To-Do list to be as complete and as comprehensive as possible, like a prized possession. It’s like those times when the “perfectionist” inside me became out of control and I started treating To-Do list as real work. The reality is, no matter how good a To-Do list is, getting things done is what really matters. I paused creating extensive To-Do lists and kept them practical and realistic. I no longer churn out every single action step inside a project in detail and don’t write a To-Do for things I do on a regular basis such as- blog writing and course work. My habits take care of them.
Key take away: Keep your To-Do list lean and smart. Remove things from your To-Do list which you know you are going to do regularly. Only put those things in To-Do’s which you want to come back and review later because they might just slip away. You can even consider consolidating “less important” items into a single list so that it does not take away your attention.
Reason#3: Lack of Reviewing
Except the Someday/Maybe list, most of the lists can get irrelevant pretty quickly. If you fail to constantly review and update your lists, you will end up trusting it less. Does it mean a lot of work? Not really. It takes only 15 to 20 minutes each day for me to keep the To-Do lists updated. Reviewing To-Do list became much more simple and fast after I started using the bookmarking feature in Notational Velocity. Again, the simpler the tool, the better off you are at using the ‘System’ instead of the ‘Tool’.
Key take away: Reviewing and processing often will save you a bunch of time and keep your work current.
Reason#4: Lost in too many projects
Since GTD encourages you to create as many projects as possible so that you hold a stake in the ground until it’s done, I ended up creating many projects. As a result, I got totally bogged down by the long list of projects, making it challenging to choose my Next Actions. To solve this puzzle, I first created a set of key Goals, each representing the most important projects I need to work on. Then I grouped rest of the projects into one single list of ‘Personal Projects’. This not only reduced the number of projects I need to look at, it automatically brought greater focus on the projects which are really important.
Key take away: Identify key projects based on your career or financial goals and create a project for each one of them. Group the rest under a single list of “personal projects”.
Reason#5: Too May Collection Buckets
If you have too many places to record and store your “Stuff”, you will end up wasting a lot of time collecting, let alone processing it.
Key take away: Try to minimize or consolidate your collection buckets so that you can get to the task of processing efficiently.
Reason#6: Obsessive about GTD
I often come across people obsessed with GTD giving it a cult like status. In reality, GTD is a means not the end. Use GTD to your advantage by making it suit to your working style and your professional demands. Don’t try to get consumed by trying to follow every piece of GTD advice on the planet. Most importantly, don’t try to limit yourself by using GTD oriented tools. If you try to be a cult follower of GTD, instead of liberating, you might find it limiting and eventually give it up (and all benefits associated with it).
Key take away: Use and adjust the system based on your personal and professional patterns instead of getting consumed by so called “best practices” by so called “experts”.
Reason#7: Clear distinction between actionable and non-actionable items
The real benefit of GTD comes alive from the “Next Action” thinking. The system literally drives you to be focused on taking most effective physical actions that will allow you to make progress on your situation. If you fail to have a clear distinction between actionable and non-actionable stuff, you will end up having an ineffective “Next Action” list.
Key take away: Take extra care in ensuring that “Next Action” only have actual physical actions and not projects or SomeDay/MayBe items which might easily slip in as “Next Action”.
Reason#8: Confusion with Contexts
Many people get confused with Contexts in GTD. This means, they are missing out on a very useful aspect of the system. Let me clarify contexts right now. Contexts are various categories in which you organize a To-Do item with respect to how you DO the work most effectively. What you DO when you are in Office, what you DO when you are in front of computer, what you DO when you are traveling. Office, Home, Computer and Travel are the “Contexts” for your “Next Actions”. Associating Context with a To-Do item is liberating and very powerful.
Key take away: Use Contexts to organize your To-Do items. Evolve your Contexts based on your lifestyle.
Reason#9: You are overcommitted
The most common yet most overlooked reason why you may fail to implement GTD is simply because you are overcommitted. No productivity system in the world can help you become efficient if you have taken up things far greater than your realistic capacity to deal with them.
Key take away: Reduce your drive to do everything and be everywhere. Clarify your purpose, why you exist and narrow down your goals to the most important ones, the ones which are consistent with your values. The ones you want to truly want to live with.
The final piece of advice
GTD is advanced common sense. In fact the use of terminology “GTD” itself has created lot of confusion and misleading perceptions around it. In reality, we are actually doing a lot of it naturally.
What GTD does – It provides a structure and consistent standards to think about your work, get organized and get things done. So that your mind is available for creative and constructive purposes instead of simply doing the job of remembering and reminding.
GTD can be adapted to your own styles and tools. It is as practical as you want to make it. Try to implement GTD using physical pen and paper first and then use a notepad file or similar program to keep a track of your lists.
Keep yourself rooted in the basics of GTD, which is – keeping the job of remembering and reminding out of your mind. And to follow such a simple principle, you don’t need a sophisticated software. All you need is your work and a willingness to keep yourself organized.
Time to start Getting Things Done!