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Defining What Done and Doing Look Like

Defining What Done and Doing Look Like
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    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 July 21, 2021

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to Make a Reminder Works for You

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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