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Defining What Done and Doing Look Like

Defining What Done and Doing Look Like
    From fjota on flickr

    I have been a productive worker wannabe for several years now. I have read a ton of books, prescribed GTD as much as I could, bought all the gear in the world that anyone recommended as being the best, and constantly failed at it. It wasn’t until I slowed down, settled with a set of tools and got back to the basics that I started to understand what being productive was.

    Being productive isn’t using your gear or being knowing the Getting Things Done flow chart inside and out. David Allen reminds us what being productive is at its most basic level:

    “You have to define what done means and what doing looks like.”

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    It’s really that simple. What I think is so amazing is that GTD is a very basic idea yet when we are thrown into the “rat race” of work and life, we easily forget to apply the basics. Either that or we have yet to master them. Let’s look closely at defining done and doing.

    Define What Done Means

    This was something that took a long time to “get”. I understood that defining a project was naming something that had more than one action to accomplish, but I still had trouble defining my outcomes with the project. Not so much with smaller things like, “schedule some time with a [insert friend name here] and catch up” but more along the lines of “development new web service testing suite for [insert web service here]”.

    There are hard edges with some projects while others are like a big ball of stuff just sitting there and taking up space. We have to be able to get through the stuff, find the things that are important, and then define what complete looks like. Luckily there is an awesome way to do this; use Mr. Allen’s 5 Phases of Project Planning. Here they are in a nutshell:

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    1. Define purpose and guiding principles. (Why is this being done?)
    2. What is the successful outcome? (What would it be like if this were totally successful?)
    3. Brainstorm (Get creative and write down and link anything that comes to mind about the project)
    4. Organizing (Create priorities and an order to the project)
    5. Identify next actions (keep reading for this)

    Now, like I said before, some project are pretty self-evident in what needs to happen. But there are many that are large and nebulous that need a clear outcome and a structure to complete. Once you define what “done” is, then you can move onto deciding what doing looks like.

    What Doing Looks like

    Coming up with the next action of a project may seem like its easy, but in practice can be very difficult. The biggest problem is that we tend to “over-generalize” our projects and tasks and add things to our lists like:

    • Plan birthday party for Amy
    • Create brand new web app for ‘X’
    • Lose your protruding gut

    These are some great things to accomplish, but they are far from being next actions. What we need to do is granularize our projects and get down to the “dummy level” with our tasks. We have talked about this many times before at Lifehack, but it needs repeating as this is the heart of getting more accomplished and being less stressed while doing it.

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    I liken this to the idea of “cranking widgets” and checking off easy todo tasks off your list one at time. This will eventually lead you to completely large scale projects while keeping yourself way less stressed.

    So, instead of “plan birthday party for Amy”, I’d better create a highly doable next action like, “draft a list of people to invite to Amy’s party.” Then I can get the ball rolling. In fact, all it takes to make a dead project move forward is identifying a single next action that you could do given the right context.

    That’s what doing looks like.

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    It’s all about the basics

    Like I said before, I know that if you are a GTD or productivity kind of guy or gal that this stuff is pretty basic. But the thing is that staying productive is all about mastering the basics. When life and work sets in and you are bombardo with the “real world” it’s important to know the basics well and use them immediately.

    More by this author

    CM Smith

    A technologist and writer who shares advice on personal productivity, creativity and how to use technology to get things done.

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    Last Updated on October 16, 2019

    Invaluable Lessons You Can Learn From Your Mistakes

    Invaluable Lessons You Can Learn From Your Mistakes

    Do you like making mistakes?

    I certainly don’t.

    Making mistakes is inevitable. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could be at ease with them?

    Perhaps there is a way to think of them differently and see their benefits.

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    Why Mistakes Feel Dangerous

    Mistakes often feel dangerous. Throughout human history, our errors have often been treated as dangerous for a variety of reasons:

    • Our vulnerability. We have limited and fragile support systems. When those systems fail, people often lose their lives.
    • Real dangers. Nature can be dangerous, and making mistakes can put us at the mercy of nature and its animal residents seeking a meal.
    • Ignorance. Many cultures scapegoats someone whenever there is a failure of some kind. Scapegoating can be serious and deadly.
    • Order. Many societies punish those who do not conform to the prevailing orthodoxy and treat difference and non-conformity as a mistake. Even our brains flash an error message whenever we go against prevailing social norms.

    We have a history of handling mistakes and failure in an unpleasant way. Since each of us carries our human history with us, it can be a challenge to overcome the fear of making mistakes.

    If we can embrace the reality of mistakes, we can free ourselves to be more creative in our lives and dig up some interesting insights.

    Why We Can’t Avoid Making Mistakes

    Many people operate under the notion that making mistakes is an aberration, a mistake if you will. You can call it perfectionism but it is a more substantial problem. It is really a demand for order and continuity.

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    When we think we can eliminate mistakes, we are often working from a perspective that sees the world as a fixed place. The world, however, is not so obliging. Like it or not, the world, and everything in it, is constantly changing.

    Change is more constant and pervasive than we can see with our own eyes which is why we often miss it. Our bodies are constantly changing. The natural conditions of the earth change constantly as well. Everything, including economic and cultural systems have life cycles. Everything is in a constant state of flux.

    We cannot see all of the changes going on around us since rates of change vary. Unfortunately, when we try to create a feeling of certainty and solidity in our lives or operate from the illusion of stability and order, we are fighting reality and our natural evolution which is built on adapting to change.

    It is better to continually bend into this reality rather than fight every change we experience. Fighting it can cause us to make more mistakes. Finding the benefits in change can be useful and help us minimize unnecessary mistakes.

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    Lessons Learned from Making Mistakes

    Life has so many uncertainties and variables that mistakes are inevitable. Fortunately, there are many things you can learn from making mistakes.

    Here is a list of ways to harness the mistakes you make for your benefit.

    1. Point us to something we did not know.
    2. Reveal a nuance we missed.
    3. Deepen our knowledge.
    4. Tell us something about our skill levels.
    5. Help us see what matters and what does not.
    6. Inform us more about our values.
    7. Teach us more about others.
    8. Let us recognize changing circumstances.
    9. Show us when someone else has changed.
    10. Keep us connected to what works and what doesn’t work.
    11. Remind us of our humanity.
    12. Spur us to want to better work which helps us all.
    13. Promote compassion for ourselves and others.
    14. Teach us to value forgiveness.
    15. Help us to pace ourselves better.
    16. Invite us to better choices.
    17. Can teach us how to experiment.
    18. Can reveal a new insight.
    19. Can suggest new options we had not considered.
    20. Can serve as a warning.
    21. Show us hidden fault lines in our lives which can lead us to more productive arrangements.
    22. Point out structural problems in our lives.
    23. Prompt us to learn more about ourselves.
    24. Remind us how we are like others.
    25. Make us more humble.
    26. Help us rectify injustices in our lives.
    27. Show us where to create more balance in our lives.
    28. Tell us when the time to move on has occurred.
    29. Reveal where our passion is and where it is not.
    30. Expose our true feelings.
    31. Bring out problems in a relationship.
    32. Can be a red flag for our misjudgments.
    33. Point us in a more creative direction.
    34. Show us when we are not listening.
    35. Wake us up to our authentic selves.
    36. Can create distance with someone else.
    37. Slow us down when we need to.
    38. Can hasten change.
    39. Reveal our blind spots.
    40. Are the invisible made visible.

    Reframe Reality to Handle Mistakes More Easily

    The secret to handling mistakes is to:

    • Expect them as part of the process of growth and development.
    • Have an experimental mindset.
    • Think in evolutional rather than fixed terms.

    When we accept change as the natural structure of the world, our vulnerability and humanness lets us work with the ebb and flow of life.

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    When we recognize the inevitability of mistakes as part of the ongoing experiment which life is, then we can relax more. In doing so we may make fewer of them.

    It also helps to keep in mind that trial and error is an organic natural way of living. It is how we have evolved over time. It is better to be with our natural evolution than to fight it and make life harder.

    When we adopt an evolutional mindset and see ourselves as part of the ongoing human experiment, we can appreciate that all that has been built up over time which includes the many mistakes our ancestors have made over thousands of years. Each one of us today is a part of that human tradition of learning and experimenting,

    Mistakes are part of the trial and error, experimental nature of life. The more you adopt the experimental, evolutional frame, the easier it becomes to handle mistakes.

    Handling mistakes well can help you relax and enjoy all aspects of life more.

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    Featured photo credit: Sarah Kilian via unsplash.com

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