I see traveling (whether for work or pleasure) as an awesome opportunity for productivity. It is rare for me to get several hours of uninterrupted time to focus on projects, emails, writing or reading, so I see time on a pane as an opportunity that can’t be passed up. Here are some ways I get things done when traveling.
One key to being productive while traveling is planning ahead for your travel. I want to make sure I don’t run out of things to do on the plane, so I try to account for all possible needs. Being an Atlantan, I almost exclusively fly Delta, and it seems most Delta flights now have wifi. That being said, I have learned the hard way that you can’t rely on the planes having wifi, nor can you rely on the wifi working (yeah yeah – Louis C.K.). So, to make sure I can stay productive during flights, I make sure to:
Once on the plane, I pop in my headphones and get into a zone. I am not suggesting that you should be anti-social on a plane, but after the initial brief chatter while boarding, I like to excuse myself to my work.
The great thing about the wifi on planes is that while it is fast enough to send and receive emails, it is slow enough to be annoying for mindless surfing. I have actually wondered if throttling the internet speed in the office would decrease to amount of idle surfing (because who wants to wait 3 minutes to see pictures of cats!).
I honestly believe the time spent traveling can be seen as a gift. Enjoy the uninterrupted time to catch up on your pleasure reading or dive into that project in your someday/maybe list.
Entitlement is evil. Feeling entitled to certain treatment or a certain kind of result will sabotage you every time. Nothing is owed to you…everything must be earned.
It is important to make sure you are not acting or feeling entitled. Ask yourself, do you blame others for your situation? Do you feel like you are above certain kinds of work? Do you feel like you are owed something by others? If so, you might want to look into changing your thinking. Instead of waiting on others, focus on what you can do to change your situation. Roll up your sleeves if it will get things done. Go out and earn what you want.
It is just as important to be cognizant of those with a sense of entitlement at work. As a manager, if you have employees who act entitled, it is better to address such an attitude before it grows and entangles others. Classic examples include:
Bottom line, a sense of entitlement will hold you and your company back. Identify the signs and address the causes. Don’t let a sense of entitlement fester.
Contexts are an important part of David Allen’s Getting Things Done, but as we have changed the way we work, are they still as important? For a little context, contexts are generally defined as a particular tool, location, or group that are required for a certain task to take place. A classic example might be the phone context for a phone call you need to make.
I think people are beginning to re-examine contexts though, as the way we work has changed so significantly. For instance, for an example of someone using a comprehensive context list, check out the intro image to Merlin Mann’s talk about contexts on Mac Power Users. I count 54 different contexts – just the thought of trying to decide on one of 50 plus contexts makes me stress.
So, unlike when Allen’s Getting Things Done came out in 2002, many of the defined contexts at the time have merged. Do you always work in your office or do you always send emails at your Mac? I doubt it…
Always on and always connected means you can access your work email from the beach or take phone calls away from the office. For better or worse, many of the distinguishing characteristics between work and home have been erased. For me, this means the idea of contexts has changed.
My use of contexts is a hybrid version of the contexts suggested by GTD, but personalized to how I work. Currently, I use Home, Work, People, Phone, Errands, and Just Do It as my contexts. As you will see, some of these contexts are physical places, but most are not. Here is how I break them out in practice:
I use the home context for actions that absolutely must take place at home, but not necessarily for actions about my home. Here is the distinction, changing the air-conditioning filter must happen at home because that is where the air-condition unit lives, but calling the contractor about fixing my roof can happen anywhere I have a phone. Pretty simple huh? Watch out though, in the words of Vizzini from The Princess Bride, wait until I get going!
Work happens where ever I happen to be working. Sounds silly, but work might happen at home, at the office, on a plane, at the beach, etc. I use work as the context that is more closely aligned with my mental state than my physical location. If I feel like getting work done, then I jump into the work context and get to work! I used to keep an email context, but I found that to be redundant and now place emails into the work context. If you are interested, I have written about my use of OmniFocus to get to Inbox Zero before.
I use the people contexts to keep track of stuff associated with a specific person or group of people. I have specific contexts for:
Keeping a context for a specific person allows you to have focused discussions with that person when the opportunity arises. Instead of trying to remember that thing you wanted to discuss about that project, you will have a concise list of discussion and follow-up items readily available.
For those Text Expander users out there, I use “.fu” to expand to “Follow-up about” to help generate quick reminders in Omnifocus (obviously typing in what I want to follow-up about after “about”). I then add the context of the person I need to speak with and, boom goes the dynamite!
Like the home context, the phone context is more like the traditional definition of the context in GTD. Of course, unlike in 2002, I have a phone in my pocket all day, every day. So, it is not a matter of being near a phone that governs the use of this context, but more so, having the time available to make calls.
My favorite place to access the phone context is in my car. I have a 40 minute daily commute each way, so there is plenty of time to dive into calls (when not listening to one of my favorite podcasts). Of course, be sure to use a handsfree kit to remain safe and legal (depending on your state’s laws).
But, I like being able to quickly work through my calls by going to my calls context. One note – and this is actually true for all the contexts, it is critical to put sufficient information into your reminder so that you don’t have to hunt for information when you have time to make the call. So, instead of “Call Jim”, I would strong suggest “Call Jim re: Quarterly Report at 555–555–5555”.
I lump all errands into the errands context. You will find a few raving lunatics who try to break out errands into the hardware store, the pharmacy, the grocery store, the apple store, or whatever else, but just like how the work context can take place in a variety of locations, tooth paste can be founds at a variety of stores.
If I am headed out of the house, I will check out my errands context to see if I am going by anywhere that might have the item I need. Ok, fine, raving lunatics was a bit harsh, but a simple errands context should suffice for all but the most OCD of you.
My “just do it context” was shamelessly stolen from the Asian Efficiency blog. Those guys know them some GTD and OmniFocus by the way. I like this context as a someday/maybe like context for things I want to do when the mood strikes. Random research on the internet, a particular article I want to read, or just some mundane task that doesn’t require much brain power goes in the just do it category. The AE guys came up with sub-contexts of Low Energy, Research and Read and I really like those and use them frequently.
Adding additional layers of complexity to your GTD system by having dozens of contexts just doesn’t make sense to me. Of course, some will find adding a context for everything works for them, and of course, if it works for you, stick with it. But, if you are struggling to decide which of your many contexts a particular task belongs to, I would suggest limiting your contexts to the absolutely critical ones. After all, it isn’t about fiddling with a bunch of different contexts, it is about getting something done.
I received my invite to participate in the OmniFocus Mail Drop service today. Signed up and started firing tasks to the inbox. Works great, with almost no delay. My only gripe so far is that mail messages sent to your Inbox via Mail Drop are not given the super handy like directly to the message in your Mail.app or Postbox. While that is a bummer, I do see that the system will be handy if I am away from my Mac and want to add something to the inbox.
Getting Things Done with OmniFocus is great for managing your own personal workflow, but can you use the GTD system and OmniFocus to manage other people? It seems most of the productivity advice is geared towards lone workers managing some tech project such as a web site build, but what if you manage people instead?
Just like managing your own productivity, managing other people’s productivity can greatly benefit from establishing a system to track all of the various balls that might be in the air at any given time. More so, establishing a system that allows you as a manager to interact calmly and in an organized manner will not only make your meeting more efficient, it might just help you avoid being hated by those you manage!
We have probably all had the boss who micro-manages driven by their own anxiety. That is, the boss that wants to make sure he told you to do X (even if he has told you 10 times), or peppers you throughout the day with random thoughts as they spring into her head, or fails to follow-up on projects that were proclaimed to be mission critical because his attention drifted elsewhere.
To avoid being this kind of boss, it is critical to have a system in place that allows you to focus on the big picture of running an organization while resting sure that the details are not going to be dropped. After implementing GTD and OmniFocus for myself, I have found it works great for managing others by implementing the following processes.
The key to keeping track of projects assigned to those you manage is the use of contexts associated with specific people. Essentially, any project, action item or follow-up you file into OmniFocus dealing with a person you manage will receive the context of that person name.
In this case, I have created a follow-up item to discuss check printing software with Laura. You will notice I used a Context of Laura with a Start Date equal to the date of our next scheduled Weekly Review (more on that below). I use the start date so that when sorting tasks by availability, I can “hide” those actions that don’t require my thinking about yet or don’t need to be brought up yet (if, for instance, I want to set something out a month, I don’t want to see it at each weekly review until then). Further, I don’t give it a due date unless there is a hard and fast due date.
Another simple thing you can do is enter emails sent to people you manage to OmniFocus so as to track the follow-up on the item. OmniFocus is implementing a new feature called “OmniFocus Mail Drop” that will allow you to send emails directly to OmniFocus, but until this feature comes out of beta, you can add the email manually or by using the steps described here.
The weekly review has been called the “critical success factor” of the Getting Things Done system by no other than David Allen, and it is the very same weekly review that can supercharge your management of other people. For a quick refresher, here is Allen on the importance of the weekly review:
I am a strong believer in the power of the weekly review for both your own personal work and those whom you manage. If used effectively, the weekly review can be a time to track progress on assigned projects, answer questions or brainstorm solutions, identify new projects, and prioritize work for the coming week. Most importantly, a weekly review gives the manager a great opportunity to provide one-on-one feedback and coaching.
OmniFocus allows you to easily review all of the projects or follow-ups assigned to someone you manage. In this situation, I have three projects pending with a context of “Laura”. Using the Contexts view, you can select the appropriate context to see all items associated with that context. You can then use the View fields to select Grouping (in this case by project) and Availability (in this case by all remaining items):
This perspective gives me easy access to all pending items that should be discussed in our weekly review. More importantly, it allows me, as a manager, to drive an efficient and productive one on one meeting. Finally, any follow-up items that arise from this weekly review can be easily added by following the same steps again.
I have often struggled with much of the GTD writing and advice out there as it seems to be geared to the freelancer, independent dev, or solo-practioner, but after implementing the system for myself, I have discovered that the same techniques that work for driving individual productivity can certainly apply to managing others. The key remains capturing, organizing and reviewing your tasks with special emphasis on the weekly review.
Recently, an article entitled “Getting (Unremarkable) Things Done: The Problem With David Allen’s Universalism” written by a fellow named Cal Newport began circulating the inter-webs. The premise of the article is contained in this quote:
Creating real value requires deep work, which is a fundamentally different activity than knocking off organizational tasks. Deep work cannot be reduced to clear next actions.
It seems Newport believes GTD is about the small menial tasks and can’t mesh with larger goals. I think he misses the purpose of the system in three key aspects.
The first element of working a successful system under the GTD guidance is capturing all of the things in your head, large and small. By removing this clutter from your head, you are effectively freeing up hard drive space between your ears to allow you to focus on what is important.
If you have a system you trust that time and again proves it is trustworthy, you can place items into that system without fear of balls being dropped. Trusting your system is incredibly freeing and allows for deep and meaningful work without interruption from smaller worries.
Second, if you think GTD is about checking off minor tasks, you are missing the point. Newport seems to think GTD claims all tasks are of equal value, but prioritization of tasks is a key element to GTD. Using Context, Available Time and Energy, it is easy to determine prioritization of tasks in the moment.
Think of it this way, assigning a priority to an action ahead of time fails to take into account changes in your situation such as location or time available. Therefore, you must stay in the moment and judge accordingly.
For example, if you find yourself in the research library with ample time on your hands and strong energy, then it makes sense to prioritize the critical research on the specific item you need to do ahead of writing your dissertation. On the other hand, if you are worn out traveling on a train with 10 minutes left before reaching your destination, then maybe you can fire off that thank you note to your aunt for your nice Christmas present. Either way, those tasks will be contained in your trusted system and you can turn to that system as context, time available, and energy allow.
Third, like the college you attend or the ingredients in your kitchen, the results of a productivity system are truly what you make of it. If you see GTD as ticking off small tasks that lack in value, you will never realize the full benefits of the system. On the other hand, freeing your mind of clutter by using a system you trust will allow you to focus on what is truly important.
Interesting interview of Ken Case, CEO of OmniFocus, on the coming changes.