. My reading notes for Getting Things Done, The Art of Stress Free Productivity, David Allen and James Fallows – Part 7..

The right time and place for the review. Do whatever you need to, once a week, to trick yourself into backing away from the daily grind for a couple of hours. Not to zone out, but to rise up at least to the horizon of all your projects and their statuses, and to catch up with everything else that relates to what’s pulling on your attention.

I recommend that you block out two hours early in the afternoon of your last work day for the review. Three factors make this an ideal time. The events of the week are likely to be still fresh enough for you to be able to do a complete post mortem. Uh, yeah, I need to make sure I get back to her about when you invariably uncover actions that require reaching people at work.

You’ll still have time to do that before they leave for the weekend. It’s great to clear your mental decks so you can go into the weekend ready for refreshment and recreation with nothing else pulling on you unnecessarily. Whatever your lifestyle, you need a weekly regrouping ritual. You likely have something like this or close to it already.

If so, leverage the habit by adding into it a higher altitude review process. Executive operational review time. I’ve coached many executives to block out two hours on their calendars at the end of their workweek. For them, the biggest problem is how to balance quality thinking and catch up time with the urgent demands of mission critical interactions.

This is a tough call. The most senior and savvy of them, however, know the value of sacrificing the seemingly urgent for the truly important, and they create their islands of time for some version of this process. The bigger picture reviews. Yes, at some point you must clarify the larger outcomes, the long term goals, the visions and principles that ultimately drive, test, and prioritize your decisions.

What are your key goals and objectives in your work? What should you have in place a year or three years from now? How is your career going? The explicit focus of this book is not teasing out those Horizon 3 Tominus 5 levels, Urging you to operate from a higher perspective is, however, its implicit purpose to assist you in making your total life expression more fulfilling and better aligned with the bigger game you’re all about.

As you increase the speed and agility with which you clear the ground and horizon one levels of your life and work, be sure to revisit the other levels you’re engaged in, as needed, to maintain a truly clear head. You need to assess your life and work at the appropriate horizons, making the appropriate decisions, at the appropriate intervals, in order to really come clean.

That’s a lifelong invitation and obligation to yourself, to fulfill whatever your unfinished destiny or intentionality happens to be. In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion. Albert Camus. We can always use a refreshed view of our visions, values, and objectives, indeed.

But in my experience, you’ll resist that conversation with yourself, if you don’t think you’re handling the world you’ve already created for yourself very well. This future thinking dynamic is the value of staying immensely flexible and informal about goal setting. A significant change in this area has been pioneered in the software world, as agile programming has become the norm for successful startups.

Have a vision, do your best to imagine what it might look like, get cranking on producing something as a viably marketable first iteration, and then dynamically steer, maturing both your vision as well as how to implement it, based on real feedback from your real world. The message is, positive future thinking is critical and fabulous, but it’s most effectively manifested when it is tied to a confidence of execution in the material world, with responsiveness and course correction built in.

Engaging, making the best, action choices, trust your heart or your spirit, or if you’re allergic to those kinds of words, try these, your gut, the seat of your pants, your liver, your intuition, whatever works for you as a reference point that has you step back and access whatever you consider the source of your inner wisdom.

That doesn’t mean you throw your life to the winds. I have found three priority frameworks to be enormously helpful in the context of deciding actions. The four criteria model for choosing actions in the moment, the threefold model for evaluating daily work, the six level model for reviewing your own work.

The four criteria model for choosing actions in the moment. Remember that you make your action choices based on the following four criteria. In order, context, time available, energy available, priority, context. At any point in time, the first thing to consider is, what could you possibly do, where you are, with the tools you have.

If you can’t do the action because you’re not in the appropriate location or don’t have the appropriate tools, don’t worry about it. As I’ve said, it’s often helpful to organize your action reminders by context. Calls, at home, at computer, errands, agenda for Joe, agenda for staff meeting, and so on. Your action list should fold in or out based on what you could possibly do at any time.

I frequently encourage people I’m working with to structure their list categories early on as they’re processing their entries because that automatically grounds their projects in the real things that need to get done to get them moving. Creative context sorting. As you begin to implement this methodology consistently, you will invariably find inventive ways to tailor your own contextual categories to fit your situation.

Time available. The second factor in choosing an action is how much time you have before you have to do something else. Energy available. Although you can increase your energy level at times by changing your context and redirecting your focus, you can do only so much. I recommend that you always keep an inventory of things that need to be done that require very little mental or creative horsepower.

When you’re in one of those low energy states, do those things. Casual reading. Magazines. Articles. Catalogs. Web surfing. Contact data that needs to be inputted. File purging. Backing up your computer. Even just watering your plants and filling your stapler, these are some of the myriad things that you need or want to deal with sometime anyway.

This is one of the best reasons for having very clean edges to your personal management system. It makes it easy to continue doing productive activity when you’re not in top form. If you’re in a low energy mode, and your reading material is disorganized, your receipts are all over the place, your filing system is chaotic, and your in tray is dysfunctional.

It just seems like too much work to find and organize the tasks at hand, so you simply avoid doing anything at all, and then you feel even worse. One of the best ways to increase your energy is to close some of your loops. So always be sure to have some easy loops to close. Right at, hand, priority. Given the context you’re in and the time and energy you have, the obvious next criterion for action choice is relative priority.

Out of all my remaining options, what is the most important thing for me to do? At any point in time, you’ll be engaged in one of three types of activities. Doing predefined work. Doing work as it shows up. Defining your work. Many people let themselves get sucked into the second activity, dealing with unplanned and unexpected things that show up, much too easily, and let the other two slide, to their detriment.

People are actually more comfortable dealing with surprises and crises than they are taking control of processing, organizing, reviewing, and assessing that part of their work that is not as self evident. It’s easy to get seduced into busy and urgent mode, especially when you have a lot of unprocessed and relatively out of control work on your desk, in your email, and on your mind.

If choosing to do work that just showed up instead of doing work you predefined is a conscious choice based on your best call, that’s playing the game the most effective way you can. If you let yourself get caught up in the urgency of the moment, without feeling comfortable about what you’re not dealing with, the result is frustration and anxiety.

Too often the stress and reduced effectiveness are blamed on the surprises. If you know what you’re doing and what you’re not doing, surprises are just another opportunity to be flexible and creative, and to excel. Another reason people consider unexpected demands or requests negative is because they don’t trust their own system and behaviors to be able to put a bookmark on any resulting action that needs to be taken, or on the work they’re doing at the moment.

They know they need to do something about the new work. That just showed up, but they don’t trust that a simple note in their own in tray will ensure it is handled with proper timing. It’s easy to get lured into not quite so critical stuff that is right at hand, especially if your in tray and your personal organization are out of control.

Too often managing by wandering around is an excuse for getting away from amorphous piles of stuff. Research has now proven that you can’t actually multitask, that is put conscious focused attention on more than one thing at a time, and if you are trying to, it denigrates your performance considerably.

If you have established practices for parking still incomplete items midstream, however, your focus can shift cleanly from one to the next and back again, with the precision of a martial artist who appears to fight four people at once, but who in reality is simply rapidly shifting attention. Your ability to deal with surprise is your competitive edge, and a key to sanity and sustainability in your lifestyle.

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