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GTD Refresh, Part 4: Getting Sorted

GTD Refresh, Part 4: Getting Sorted

File Folder

    Last week, I talked about finally getting my projects in order. Of course, that’s not a one-time thing, but I’m not quite ready to talk about the process of bringing new projects into my lists just yet, whether “on-the-fly” or as part of my weekly review.

    But getting a grip on my projects, both big (there’s a book proposal I want to write) and small (I need to find a decent dentist) is a two-step process. The first is what I described last week: identifying all my active projects and getting some next actions assigned to each of them. The other part of the process is setting myself up to actually do them.

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    In some cases, of course, I can just figure out what needs doing and go ahead and do it. But for the bigger projects, I need materials, and that means files.

    Maintaining files is a weak area for me, not because I, like any other full-blooded productivity geek, don’t have a healthy lustful appreciation of file folders and my standard-issue GTD label-maker, but because it’s the least interesting and fussiest part of doing anything. But I’m 1800 miles from home – if I am going to get anything done in this 5-week sojourn, I don’t have any room to forget anything crucial, or for being disorganized.

    I can’t think of anything less interesting than talking about putting paper in folders (except maybe actually putting paper in folders) and I’ve posted about filing before, so I won’t get into the mechanics of it all here, except to say that every project gets a folder (or sometimes a hard-bound notebook, if it will be unfolding over a long period of time) and every folder is neatly labeled. While a project is active, I’m careful to keep every scrap of paper related to it – I would rather have a little extra cleaning to do at a project’s close than find myself without something I didn’t know would be important down the line.

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    What I do want to talk about here is that perennial chestnut of personal productivity literature: paper vs. technology.

    Now, I’m a big old geek, no getting around that. I’m the kind of guy whose as likely to have his nose stuck in his Blackberry as not, who fantasizes about new home network configurations (I’ve got two old PCs under my kitchen table waiting to be repurposed…), and who travels with not one but two laptops. I love well-designed software that does a job beautifully, and love the searchability and security of keeping important information in electronic form, preferable backed up in multiple places.

    That said, I am as far from paperless as possible. My productivity system, indeed my office as a whole, is “paper-full”. For all the arguments against it – and believe me, the environmental impact alone pains me, though I try to use recycled paper whenever I can get it – I find paper is important. No paper, no productivity.

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    For one thing, I’m a writer. And while I am pretty comfortable letting words flow from my fingers through the keyboard to the screen, I can’t edit that way. I’m just not comfortable enough with the screen to read for any length of time at it, and especially not to do the kind of finicky re-thinking involved with a revision for publication.

    But that’s just for writing. My preference for paper goes way beyond just editing and revising. And here is where, I hope, it gets interesting for GTD’ers everywhere.

    There’s something very physical about GTD, or perhaps about working in general. Something about writing things down with pen or pencil on actual paper, about holding things in your hands, that acts as a trigger for action. Email, Evernote notes, tasks on online Todo lists – I find it all too easy to scroll through them, to glance at them and think “yes, that’s something that has to be done” and not actually do it.

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    But paper, something I hold in my hands, something I  physically manipulate… It’s as if physically interacting with my work in a material way triggers that animal part of me that feels the sun moving across the sky and knows that work must be done, and if not now, it will be too late.

    So while I use all manner of virtual technological tools to get things done, in the end most things funnel to a paper file – a nice, heavy file folder stuffed with papers. I buy decorative file folders for two reasons: a) they tend to be made of sturdier stock than plain folders, thus holding up to use better, and b) they are easily differentiated one from the other, making my work just that little bit easier to get to.

    When I’m ready to go to work, the folder comes out, the contents get scanned, and somehow, almost as if by magic, I get down to working. And things get done.

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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