Posting this as a personal bookmark because it comes up often in conversations with new leads. When I talk to people new to management I highlight the mindset change from “just you” to “the team.” The context of an outward mindset is important — you don’t own your time when you manage more than your own time. Keeping track of everything changes drastically when you start paying attention to more that just your own time and tasks.
This explains the frustration of a work day gets cut short — which can happen if something comes up unexpectedly or you’re continually interrupted. The resulting “short period” of time for making or creating is essentially lost. The big project, like the essay or talk you need to start on, don’t get attention because you don’t have the time for deep work.
Another clue for discovering the maker-vs-manager mindset is how you view your calendar. By month — and not by week or day — means you could be in maker mode. If you care more about every hour or 15-minute interval, you’re likely in manager mode.
A visual note to illustrate this concept:
Meetings can be disruptive to makers, says @phil_wade on Twitter. This ties into the concept of “flow state” made famous by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and others. If you’re curious to learn more, search that name (hard to spell!) for his talks and books — and read my thoughts on the flow fallacy.
Some days my normal task list doesn’t cut it. To easy to be distracted, and not stick to the task at hand with 100% focus. At its worst, the more pressure I feel, the slower I seem to move. The end of the day looms with zero progress on important projects.
Wouldn’t I rather just get things done? GTD. Yes, ideally I’d move everything even a tiny bit ahead.
On the most productive and successful days I look back to see that I’ve advanced 8-10 tracks forward. This is positive for two reasons: 1) I want to spend time in more than one area, and 2) I’d like to start something in each track to unblock and gain momentum.
To systemize the day I often throw out my GTD software (closing the Things app) and go back to simple paper tools plus a timer.
Index cards or a printed list. Write one task per card, or one task per line on the big paper. Start the timer. When it ends, flip to the next card or list item. Repeat.
A timer. Could be the Clock app on the phone, or something like BreakTime.
The use of time intervals to organize work is commonly known as the Pomodoro Technique (Wikipedia).
I alternate between 20 minutes on, 5 minutes off — or longer intervals of 50 minutes on, 10 minutes off. The length depends on criteria such as urgency, amount of items to get moving, and other obligations and distractions.
In short: I turn to simple paper tools plus a timer to systemize the day when I need to focus. To get many tasks moving, I close my task manager and other apps to remove distractions. Maybe mute or turn off the phone. Bring out the paper tools, start the timer, and get to work.
From time to time I take a close look at my workflow to see if I can improve it in any way. Incorporate new tools, processes, or ideas—or remove things that don’t work or cause more noise than signal.
I’d like to share a productivity hack that’s worked well for me recently when trying to decide what to work on each day. Faced with a full plate of tasks, requests, emails, and interruptions—which should I tackle first?
I apply a few simple questions to each email, task, or incoming ping—things I might need to work on next. The questions are:
Do I have to do it?
Do I want to do it?
Is it urgent for today?
Can someone else do it?
Here’s my version of a decision tree that combines the questions and answers.
I’m inspired by similar grids and charts that you might have seen. There are several variations of these “getting things done” (GTD) decision trees and quadrant matrices.
I use @ notation for email labels to determine both status and type of action needed: @action, @reply, and @read/review, etc.
The “Soon / Later” items at the bottom right—those logged for later—do become things to start with again once they come up in review. In my workflow, I repeat the flowchart decisions for each item during weekly and monthly review.
“Quick wins” aren’t mapped here; they are tasks that don’t take much time and are easy to complete. You can shortcut the flowchart from “Not urgent for today” to “Do it now” for these quick ones.
Sweet! Now I can mark as done posting this to my blog.