It’s been a while since the last time I wrote here. I started my working experience a few months ago and, as you might expect, now I have less time for me. So, instead of passing my days in front of a computer, I like to spend my free time with friends, family, Marta or following my passions (e.g. traveling). Yes, it’s been a while, but I’m still here and I haven’t forgotten that I have a site. Said that, today I want to talk about one topic in particular: productivity. In general, I see myself as a productive person but it took me almost one year to reach this point and my personal way to manage my tasks is still developing during the time. I think that I’ve reached a quite good way to organize my life and, at this point, I suppose that it would be a good a idea to share some of my own thoughts about “Getting things done”.
Almost one year ago (or more) I started to follow a method called “Getting Things Done (GTD)”. It’s a very simple method based on a few basic rules. The idea behind is to collect every task/idea/though and then organize it later. Let’s make an example. Suppose that you want to make a cake, but you’re doing something completely different and you can’t do it in that exact moment. What you should do is to take a note somewhere, something like “make cake”. Later, when you’re a little more relaxed, you can start to review all your notes and organize them. Taking back to our example, the simple note “make cake” can be declined into more specific and minor tasks that could help you to reach the final goal. So, you could write:
- Find a good recipe for the cake
- Go to the grocery store and buy ingredients
- Merge/cook the ingredients to make the cake (guys, I’m not an expert here)
- Invite friends to eat the cake together
All those actions are of course in sequential flow. In the sense that each step is needed to accomplish the next one. Well, this is the basic idea behind GTD, apart from one more rule (and maybe the most important one):
If one task takes less then 2 minutes to be done, do it now.
To better follow the GTD method you can rely on a few supports. There’re many good tools outside but my favorite is Omnifocus. I started to use it the day I decided to follow the GTD and it has been my loyal companion during those months. It’s not the cheapest solution at all and many of you may prefer a simple agenda… However, Omnifocus can be customized to fit your usage and it can be as complex as you want. I retain that Omnifocus is one of the best tool to follow the GTD in its purest way (i.e. without too many complications, like tags or labels or colors or other distracting things).
So… What’s the point until now? I’ve introduced you to the GTD and what else? Well, as you might know, seven months ago I started to work. I’m working in the fascinating ICT world, in particular in the eProcurement sector. I retain myself very lucky because my first work experience is happening inside an “Agile environment”. Maybe you don’t know what Agile is and it’s not so important for the purpose of this post. However, I think that an introduction can be helpful. Agile is basically a new approach of work, based on:
- A close contact to the final customer
- A continuous development of little usable pieces instead of approaching the totality of the problem and develop the entire system at once.
Basically, it’s like approaching the problem a single piece at once, trying to deliver value to the customer and adapting the product to its (continuos changing) needs. Well, an Agile guru that reads this post would probably scream and insult me, but it doesn’t matter, you got the point. Now, why I told you about Agile? Because I’m trying to learn as much as I can from my Agile colleagues, to improve my way of working and be productive. During those months I’ve learned many things and one basic concept seems to rule over the others:
Nobody can predict exactly what will be the final product or get all he possible variables/events with months (or weeks) in advantage.
Agile tries to face this problem by braking up the problem into little pieces. It tries to anticipate any different scenario in a way that it’s possible to create value (for the present and the future) with the actual informations available. Another thing that I’ve learned is that Agile is fast. Very fast. Nobody can follow with a precision of 100% all the development, nor the change of the context. This fact is, in my opinion, an important aspect to be aware. Basically, the velocity of the events could be a potential pain in the ass for every traditional project manager and of course for every good GTD supporter.
I found myself very limited into the traditional GTD those months. The main reason is that I wasn’t able organize the tasks (mine and of the others). It’s not for a lack of time (well, not only), I believe that it’s due to a lack of perspective. At the actual time I’m not able to break up my tasks and organize my work in a strictly sequential (or parallel) flow of actions. It happens because the needs of the customer are constantly changing and, as always, good ideas come at the end. I mean, at the current time I’m not able to predict exactly which tasks are needed to reach a certain goal. I can predict at least a 60% of them and, I’ve been clever enough, I guess 40% of them. It’s a matter of experience of course, but not only. It’s a matter of context and global dynamics I think. I strongly believe that world is getting faster and faster and, from what I’ve seen so far, nobody is able to exactly predict what will be the trend for the next 2 or 3 years.
So, let’s not lose our main topic: productivity. I simply made this excursus to give you a little bit of context and share some of my actual thoughts. Let’s go back to how I manage my productivity. Well, as I told you, one of my basic suggestion is to follow the GTD but (and this is an important but) feel free to adapt this method to your personal way of working. Let me make an example. During those months I’ve been heavily using Omnifocus. I created different projects, I set up different levels of priority to manage my tasks and, of course, I defined different fixed steps into each project (e.g. “In Analysis”, “In Dev”, “Personal to Do” and so on). What I learned? I learned that it’s impossible to track everything on Omnifocus. What I did? I started to heavily use post-it to fill the gap. You may thing that I’m crazy and you may have many objections: “Post-it were used in the past, used by old people”, or “You may lose all your post-it, a software tool can help you not to lose anything” and others. That’s deeply true and that’s why I’m trying to combine software and physical post-it, following this rule:
Post-it for today to-do. Omnifocus for tomorrow (or long term) to-do. So, if a task needs time or it’s not possible to do it during the day, save it in Omnifocus, so that it cannot be forgotten.
I discovered the use of post-it thanks to my Agile colleagues. In our office we use tons of post-it. I’m not joking. Our walls are literally covered by post-it and our desks are always full of them. The potential problem is that this situation can easily evolve in a complete mess. Solution? I’m trying to throw way all the used (or no longer useful) post-it every morning. It works.
Apart from this massive use of post-it I learned one more thing, maybe the most important for my productivity: communication. I work in a team of almost 25-30 people. We work on different things (many are software developers, others are business analyst and so on) and we work from different countries (Milan and Chennai). Communication is a fundamental part of our daily routine. It’s not an optional aspect, it is the foundation of our work. To accomplish this need we have a lot of meetings during the day, plus we use Slack. Some of you may think that meetings are somehow a waste of time: “Why should I go to a meeting if I can work? I’m wasting my time, instead of being productive”. You’re wrong. In this incredibly fast environment, communication is one fundamental aspect and meetings can help people to focus, mainly on important things that they would otherwise missed. People need to discuss and compare in order to focus their energy on a real value productivity. That’s the truth. I’m not saying that people should spend their entire days involved into meetings (that’s deeply unproductive), I’m just saying that collaborating and debating are one of the most important aspects of work. It can be synthesized in the word “teamworking”. To do that we meet every day in the morning (all the team) and we heavily use Slack during the day. But remember, those are only tools not the solution to do a better job.
So, it’s true that I haven’t written for a while on this blog but maybe this time I’m writing to much. It’s time to synthesize. My rules about getting things done are changing, and evolving in the meanwhile I work but, at this point, I want to share with you a few points:
- Start to follow the GTD method but try to fit the method to your way of working. It’s a best practice, it shouldn’t be a constrain.
- Discover the importance of “tangible” post-it. The feeling you could have striking out a task written on a post-it is far more accomplishing then clicking on a screen. A post-it can improve your focus on your daily tasks and have them always under your sight is helpful. Also, always remember to throw away all the useless post-it and keep your working area as clean as possible.
- Communicate. Every day, every moment. Be aware of what your colleagues are doing and feel free to discuss about your personal thoughts on how to improve. Use tools (as Slack, that is incredibile) but remember that they’re just tools. The goal is to share informations, thoughts, problems, experiences and reach better results together: the tool itself is useless.
I hope that my suggestions will be helpful. And remember that productivity is not the ultimate goal of your life, it’s just a way to help you to live a better life with all your collogues, family, friends and passions.