After a comment I made about my documentation binder in a previous post, Sebastian asked me to share my own system with you all.
Be regular and orderly in your life so you may be violent and original in your work. ~ Gustave Flaubert
My organizational premise is this-- if your recurring tasks are fully optimized and automated, you have more RAM to devote to novel tasks and projects.
Novel projects should be well documented. If they become routine, it's an easy starting point from which to optimize. If they don't, they may still be useful in the future. This is especially important because optimized systems experience entropy, and needs regular overhauling, which is actually what I was doing when SM asked me to expand on my system.
I like to overhaul about twice a year, but in practice, I overhaul when the drag of changing circumstances has aggravated me to the point where I either have to overhaul my system or abandon it. I don't find that “fixing as you go” is a viable strategy. Tweaks are fine, but there comes a time when you have to tear down and start anew, and you'll never get away from that.
A systems mindset is very different from an operations mindset. It's the difference between diagramming and 3D vector modelling. It requires complete different resources and ways of thinking, which is why it's so hard to create these systems “while you're flying the plane.”
Anyway, since I'm doing an overhaul, I'll share my system.
First, I created a HUGE mindmap. I started by hand because my computer was too much of a trigger of operations-style thinking, but after the map reached sufficient complexity, I switch to FreeMind. On the left hand is a diagram of the my systems. Graphing them makes it easier to see holes and redundancies and also serves to export a portion of your visualization load.
Where sea captains have a ship's log, I have a weekly review. It's part productivity log, part journal, but mostly I find that it's the narrative that shows direction and breathes life into a series of accomplishments.
It grew out of the GTD Weekly Review, and it's the absolutely crucial routine of reflection and analysis of how I spent my time. Not only does it keep things from slipping through the cracks (which merits deification right there), it's the trigger that takes me out of my operations mindset and into the visionary/planner and analyst mindsets.
I find that these aren't states of mind that 'just happen' very often. You have to trigger them, and have the discipline to trigger them, not just decide that the 3+ hours it takes to do a thorough review is better spent elsewhere. Because it's not. A weekly review pays substantial dividends in terms of efficient use of your time during the week, increased focus, and better leverage of your efforts because of your foresight and analysis.
I know it seems like I spend a lot of time just diddling around with these systems, but they're mostly set it and forget it, once you take the time to optimize. If it's something you're interested in doing, Michael Gerber's The E-Myth Revisited is a great resource, as is the Systems Flight Kit by Jenny Shih, which is free and extremely useful.
But here's my system, and how I went about getting things set up:
Setting this stuff up is all front end work, and then it's really easy from there. Sebastian said in a recent post:
"Invest in getting rid of recurring tasks. Get a maid, use technology, etc....sometimes, people who admire me or work with me try to emulate that, without the underlying foundation, and then things get screwed up for them. I’ve got intense underlying training on the numbers/fundamentals, so even if I’m not seemingly paying attention to it, I can ballpark pretty well"
While I can't say for certain that my method is what Sebastian meant by that, I do know that putting as much stuff as possible off my plate is revolutionary.
When I was recording the last video, when I said, "I actually don't have to capture anything that has to do with my recurring tasks because they've been optimized. I don't need to remind myself to do them because they've been scheduled," there was a part of me that was thinking, how many people can actually say that? In part it's because I have a great deal of administrative control in my life. I'm not sure that anyone who had a job or worked as a part of a team could do the same, but really, anything you do on a regular basis could be systemized once you take yourself outside of the reactive mode to do something about it.
My day to day implementation of my system is extremely laid back, compared to the level of detail involved in creating it.
I have, as you've seen, the weekly projects list, and the short list of priorities, as well as a Remember the Milk todo list that contains my duties.
Most evenings (I have optimized my end of the day routine a number of times, but it just never sticks) I look at my projects, and I look at my duties, and I figure out the top three places I should focus my time.
Because the stuff on my duties list has been simplified, I try to get as many of them off the list as possible in the evening when my energy is low (in this way I free up daylight hours for activities like gardening and hiking).
If today is Monday, I try to do Tuesday's duties, at least the short ones, because on Tuesday, having the duties looming over my head during my most productive hours would be a temptation: I would want to get them done, and off my plate, and I would essentially "waste" high creativity hours on low creativity tasks. So I try to stay ahead of the game with those.
I usually start the day with some reading. I don't get in a hurry about starting work until I've been up a couple of hours. I was an early riser at other points in my career, but I enjoy this pace, at least for the moment.
Eventually I'll feel like picking up a project, and if I have a post to write, or something associated with a deliverable, that's usually first. The recurring tasks take roughly 1/3 to 1/2 of my day on average, but it skews wildly depending on whether, for instance I have a client. I offer email support for my clients, and while technically that's a procedure that's been optimized, it still requires substantial time investment.
The second chunk of my work is on small projects, things that can be completed in a week or so. Guest posts. Researching income streams. I call these one-offs, and I really enjoy the freedom I have to pursue them because I always know what I have to do.
The third chunk is longer term goals. I tend to spend a lot more time putting systems in place than I do chasing goals, because I've had way too many experiences of achieving my goal and not having it be what I wanted. So, although I do have them, and I do spend time on them, I don't pursue them in the same agressive manner that most people subscribe to.
In the first place, I find that I have to sacrifice too much flexibility, that there are a ton of shorter-term opportunities I would otherwise miss. And in the second place, I just have never been able to sustain that kind of do-or-die mentality for long.
The whole reason I designed this system was to shift the focus to short-to-medium-length projects and to get them under my belt in a fun, focussed and efficient manner. I do feel like I'm moving in the general direction of my long-term goals, but I'm tacking the sails a lot and exploring more, which I'm firmly convinced is the right choice for me.
I'm curious to hear everyone's responses to this.
Shanna Mann does her own thing, and teaches others to do theirs, at ShannaMann.com
Thanks, Pat. I've never used ZTD, but I've heard good things about it.
Cyborganize seems time-consuming. Is the creativity that comes out of it worth the extra time spent? My own experience is that more time spent on the notes quickly degenerates into 'fiddling,' increasingly complex and grandiose ideas that in no way aids the initial build.
Great Videos Shanna, loved the small tips that you mentioned here. Also, thanks for introducing me "The Tao Of Awesome". It sounds really interesting and I would love to give it a go...
My personal productivity system is a mixture of ZTD (Zen to Done) and Cyborganize (cyborganize.org). I used to be a big Fan of GTD but I found Cyborganize to be a lot more fluid and a much better fit.
If you're not familiar with Cyborganize, here's a quick over view of the entire process
Just wanted to drop a quick line, thanking you for so many interesting posts. I also have a few (hopefully) brief questions for you.
When you have several things to work on, how do you choose between them? I typically go back and forth, thinking that this one or that one is what I actually want to do. The problem is that none of these projects are small. And constantly changing my mind means that nothing gets done.
When you have a wide variety of interests, how do you choose what to spend your time on? Like I said, I go back and forth a lot. I'm only now taking a piano class (my second) because I forced myself to. Making myself take first aid type courses this summer as well, but there are a LOT of things I want to do. Art, more music, more programming (I'm a software developer), writing, and so on.
How can you fit your interests into the day when you have work, trying to find someone to start a family with, trying to keep healthy, and taking time to relax? The only way I can see it is to try to combine as many as you can into each activity. For example, find a job that keeps you active, do a relaxing social activity, and such.
Almost everyone I know is busy as hell. Running companies, contracting, doing creative work, and keeping a huge mix of projects going on.
Keeping busy is good, but sometimes it turns into a tragedy where you've got your head down doing work and duties, but you never get some of that real juice out of your life that you're wanting.
And many of the busy people I know -- myself included -- periodically have a day where they snap back to reality and really feel it for the first time in a while. "Oh god, I'm out of shape, my energy is low, I feel like crap, I'm not doing some of the key projects I love, I'm passing up a lot of really big opportunities stuck in the grind, I'm neglecting my hobbies and what I want to train... and for what?"
This applies just as much to entrepreneurs as people on salary, maybe even moreso. It's very easy as an entrepreneur or executive to get caught up in running around, getting stuck in the "errands" of business, dealing with what's on fire, and really neglecting the really expansionary projects that aren't urgent, your health, and maybe worst of all -- forgetting to have fun.
Is there an answer? Read on...