Each Sunday, The Simple Dollar reviews a personal productivity, personal development, or business book of interest.
Being a person with a pretty packed schedule, I’m always looking for little tips and techniques for squeezing a little bit more out of my day. I’ve read Getting Things Done many, many times, and I’ve absorbed little tips from countless other time management books. The end result is that I’ve got quite a little toolkit of methods for keeping me on task and efficient with my time. I am far more productive during an average day today than I was during an average day three years ago.
Because of this, I’m constantly on the lookout for nice little tactics I can add to my toolbelt, and that’s exactly the role that Getting Organized fills. Getting Organized (by Chris Crouch) is much like Ready for Anything: a nice collection of specific organization tips, each with two or three pages devoted to it, that can potentially add something useful to the organization system you already have in place. This book in itself is not a time management solution, but it offers a lot of small ideas that you can add to your toolkit.
Are there interesting insights in this book that you can add to your time management strategies? Let’s dig in and find out.
A Deeper Look at Getting Organized
This book has 55 short chapters on specific time management and organization techniques. I’ve selected twelve of them that stood out at me from the pack.
Most people don’t try out new ideas because they believe it’s either too hard to try or too simple to actually work. Don’t let that derail you from trying out a new tactic, no matter what the environment. I used to think that the idea of keeping a notepad and a pen in my pocket was stupid, but when I actually started trying it, it was an epiphany. Similarly, the idea of just doing my emails once a day and then closing the program drastically improved the efficiency of my day, more than I ever would have believed.
6. A Few Thoughts on Gadget-Based Solutions
If you’re not organized before you get a PDA, you’re not going to be organized after you get a PDA. I wholly agree with this. A PDA is merely a way to speed up an organization system that’s already in place – it’s not an organization system in and of itself. If you’re tempted to get one, just get a pocket notebook and a pen and see if you find yourself using these. If you’re not using them, then you’ll likely not use the PDA either once the “new” wears off.
Multitasking makes you stupid. You’re not giving full attention to a task, and thus you vastly increase the chance of messing that task up, and you’re also likely spending longer on the two tasks together than you would doing them sequentially. So, shut off your email program. Take the phone off the hook. Shut your door. Then, focus in on just one task. Block out everything else around you and just occupy yourself with just this one thing. That’s the key to success.
15. The Proper Order of Events
Many people, as soon as they hear a task, jump straight into doing it, and that often results in far less productivity than it would with a bit of preparation. Crouch argues that there are actually three important preparatory steps to do before actually diving into doing the task. First, gather everything that needs to be considered or acted upon, including other tasks you need to be working on. Then filter all of this stuff, eliminating the unnecessary items and tasks (as well as the ones that can be handled very quickly). After that, prioritize what’s left, then get down to the task of doing stuff. With that little bit of time up front, you’ll be far more productive with the time you have remaining.
17. The Five Decisions
Whenever you first address a new item, you should make one of five choices concerning it: discard it, delegate it, take immediate action on it, put it in a reference file, or file it for follow-up. This is basically the core of the Getting Things Done philosophy – process your inbox once a day or so and make one of these choices for every item in the inbox.
23. Control Point Drawer
Crouch also suggests a “control point drawer,” where you keep all of your most important documents in a single place, as well as all documents needed for upcoming events. Crouch offers a ton of suggestions for different files to keep in there (one for each month, one for each day in the coming month, one for each person you interact with regularly, one for each regular meeting you attend, one for things you’re waiting on a follow-up for, and so on). These folders help keep your material well-organized. For me, it’s usually overkill, but there are regular occasions when I can see strong appeal in this system.
34. Prioritizing Your Workload
Don’t know how to prioritize your workload? The book offers a very clever and simple method for doing this, and it syncs in well with Getting Things Done. At the end of the day, for each task you have to do tomorrow, have a sheet of paper with that task written on it. Some of these might actually be documents – other ones might just be Lay all of the sheets out in front of you. Then, pick the item that has the highest priority and lay it face down off to the side. Then, from the remaining face-up items, choose the one with the next highest priority, then lay that one face down on top of the one you already set aside. Repeat until they’re all done, then flip the stack over and you have a prioritized list of tasks for tomorrow.
In order to accomplish serious work, you have to eliminate the interruptions. This means closing the office door, closing the email program, turning off the ringer on your phones and sending them straight to voice mail, closing the web browser, and so on. You can’t control every interruption, but you can minimize their effect and by doing so make your own work much more effective. When it’s time to bear down on a project and really focus, take the time to reduce the chances for interruption and it’ll pay real dividends over the long haul.
39. Clarify and Begin
Clarification is the key to eliminating tons of extra work. The more detailed your specification for the task at hand, the less time it will take to actually execute that task. Thus, if you have a task that you’re unclear on, try to make it more clear and precise before starting by gathering more information and asking questions. I take this to heart with my writing, as I’ve found that outlining an article before I write it actually makes the entire process from idea to finished piece shorter than it would be if I just sat down and began typing. Not only that, the end product often makes more sense, as I followed a logical structure in assembling it.
Perfectionism is one of the biggest enemies of productivity. I had to forcibly break my own perfectionist habits in order to make The Simple Dollar work at all, because if I listened to my inner voice, I’d probably only post an article every two weeks after polishing every word and evaluating and re-evaluating every sentence. If you can accomplish three times the work at a 95% rate of quality, you should always jump for that opportunity.
47. Irrational Thoughts and To-Do Lists
This basically means “filter out the unimportant stuff.” When I make a list of the stuff I need to do in a day, often I realize that many of the items simply aren’t that important in the big scheme of things. Your to-do list should only include the truly important things you need to accomplish – excise the unimportant material from that list immediately. If it’s not vital, don’t include it – you can always do those things later on if you have some breathing room. The key is to get the truly important work done before you fill your time with minor tasks.
52. Homeostasis Hump
At some point in everyone’s life, they hit a level where they just simply can’t get anything done due to simple mental resistance. We all want a break sometimes – it’s human nature. How do you get past it? Find something that makes you truly accountable on a daily basis – a person you’re accountable to for daily work, for example. For me, I’m accountable to the schedule of The Simple Dollar – it gets me to work even when I feel a strong resistance towards it (which happens from time to time).
Some Thoughts About Getting Organized
After reading the book, I was left with several thoughts floating around in my head that were worth discussing. Here are a few.
Why is time management often so difficult? Over the last few years, I’ve learned to really hone my time use, but there are many occasions when I still feel far less productive than I know I can be. I’ll get distracted by playing with my son (i.e., allowing interruptions), which is pleasant, but over the long haul means I get to spend less time with him. I’ll get bogged down in unimportant tasks and fail to finish up the important ones. It’s simple psychology, but yet it’s difficult – something I really have to work at.
For me, the “to-do” lists usually include a mix of both work and non-work stuff. I make a list of the essential stuff I hope to cover in every aspect of my life, from things like going to the park with my kids and mowing the yard to finishing the next chapter in my book or writing a “major” article. I try to identify what’s most important to accomplish each day – regardless of the work/home barrier – and make a strong effort to stick to that list. For example, yesterday I wrote two articles, took my kids to the library (and spent almost all the time in the kids room, looking at picture books and eventually checking out two of them), cooked an amazing barbecue dinner (hickory-smoked grilled pork loin with olive-oil brushed zucchini slices), took the kids to the park, and finished a chapter in my book. Those were the things on my to-do list, and I did them all – an amazing day, all around. To me, the work-life barrier doesn’t mean much at all.
Planning up front is huge. Whenever I just dive into working on something significant, I usually regret it. Quite often, I spend 25 to 30% of the time of writing something or designing something up front, creating an outline and deciding on the logical flow of things. This initial effort always pays off, because once that outline is done, going through the actual process of making it happen goes much, much faster, and overall I wind up saving time because of it. It was a very hard thing for me to learn, but once I figured it out, it made everything much easier. In fact, with my upcoming book, I actually outlined the entire book before writing a single sentence. I had invested many hours without a word on paper, but when I started writing, things flowed out quite quickly and easily.
Is Getting Organized Worth Reading?
What you might notice from my selection of the “best” tips in the book is that Getting Organized has a lot of overlap with the Getting Things Done / Ready for Anything time management philosophy. The idea of processing everything that hits your desk in batches, making some quick key decisions about each item, and then moving on to the tasks at hand is basically the backbone of both Getting Things Done and this book.
In truth, Getting Organized is extremely similar to Ready for Anything. They both have fifty-plus short chapters on time management issues and both cover roughly the same ground. Both are solid choices for a person interested in time management that prefers the “short chapters that you can just pick up, read, and apply a specific tactic” style of writing.
Getting Organized is an excellent book to pick up for some very quick and direct tips on time management, and there are a few pieces that were intriguing to me, but I still recommend Getting Things Done as the best book on time management out there. Getting Organized is a great supplementary read, full of bite sized chunks that might fill a specific hole in your time management plans.