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Productive Interview Series: Andy Mitchell

Productive Interview Series: Andy Mitchell

Productive Interview Series is a quick four questions interview, targets on productive people who have been changing their work/life style with life hacks and self-development tips. The following are the answers from Andy Mitchell, author of GTDGmail.

Andy Mitchell

    Who are you?

    I am Andy Mitchell, best known as the humble author of GTDGmail and Bumble Search. I also go by other such titles as Engineer of Systems and Tinkerer of Businesses.

    I am a Brit, but a Brit who in the past two years has spent nearly as much time out of my country as in it. Thus all common stereotypes – be they tea at four, a penchant for colonising small countries, a passion for top hats and fopsy politeness, or indeed, tap dancing chimney sweeps – can be neatly sidestepped.

    What cannot be sidestepped is my personal organisation.
    I am disorganised.
    As with all problems, admitting it to myself was the hardest part. Since my ‘awakening’ several months ago, I have been enthusiastically – bordering on obsessively – attempting to reduce the overload. Wherever possible I have tried to share my progress with others.
    Which brings us neatly to this interview…

    What have you done to increase your productivity?

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    I gave myself a pretty rigorous interrogation, and eventually confessed my true working practices. If you read no more of this interview, I heartily recommend you at least work out your own ‘style’. In productivity, one size certainly does not fit all.

    Build a Framework…

    • Simple. Structured.
      I follow simple guidelines. Complex rules and massively long lists on ‘how to be productive’ are precisely the kind of clutter I try to avoid.

      If I use any software tools I only pick those that are straightforward. If I have to read a manual, or feel overwhelmed by the functionality, I get really rather angry. Your tools should be working for you.

    • Lay the Foundations
      The single greatest productivity aide I employ is to know what I am going to do next at any given place (a similar concept to David Allen’s Contexts and Next Actions).

      In particular, I like to decide what I am going to do the next morning, before I go to sleep. Otherwise, I wake up with all the mental acuity of Herman Munster and spend an hour scratching my head and wondering what I should do first.

      Forward planning is also great for getting more done – a.k.a. doing a better job. Take these two examples for planning to visit the gym:

      • I will go to the gym today
      • I will go to the gym at 8pm and do 30 minutes of running and 3 chest sets

      The first example means I may make it to the gym and will probably just have a nice chat and a sauna when I get there.
      The second example means I will go to the gym, and when I am there I am certain to have a great workout.

    Clear the Clutter…

    • Be regular and keep your system clean
      It is a fact everyone knows: spend just five minutes each day tidying and it will never get on top of you. So why do we not do it?
      In my case, it was “only five minutes? that can wait until tomorrow…”.

      My solution was simply to ‘get tough’.
      I picked the same time each day for a tidy up and stuck to it. In case I am too busy, I also picked a back up time (I am second-to-none when it comes to deluding myself that I’m too busy to do something).

      ‘Setting a time’ is a basic psychological trick, but it is certainly effective. Since removing the stress of clutter – both mental and physical – the sky has been bluer, the air fresher, and small children wave at me as I float past.

      Tidy Ups
      Typical tidy ups include condensing scattered notes into my wiki, tearing up finished hand-written diagrams and ideas, responding to outstanding emails and dumping any tasks/ideas that are still in my mind.

    • Decide what you least want to do. Do it
      If there was a task I did not like, I would find other tasks to justify not doing it. The very essence of procrastination!

      The problem is that the boring task would linger over me like an executioner raising his axe. It was stopping me fully concentrating on any other tasks. It was causing me to worry about not having done it.

      Tackling what you dislike is the not-too-distant cousin of David Allen’s two minute rule: you are clearing the niggles so you can focus on the tasks that matter.

    And for Extra Merit…

    • The Mega Mini Challenge
      I am most likely to procrastinate when there is no pressure; and for me, there can be no pressure unless there is a deadline in a few hours.

      Therefore, mundane daily events have to become deadlines. Lunch cannot be taken until X is done. The call of nature cannot be answered until Y is satisfied.
      It certainly sparks focus, not to mention weight loss and exemplary bladder control…

    • Embrace Procrastination (if you can’t beat it, join it!)
      So, you want to see if there is a new post on Lifehack.org? Then check it!
      (Bear with me, this is not an attempt at subliminal advertising…)

      Quite simply, if you deny yourself you will just become obsessed with it, and then you are no better off than if you had just checked it in the first place.
      The trick is to only spend a few minutes or less doing it… little & often!

      An excellent idea is to try one of the many personal timers that are available, and monitor your work habits. (I personally like the web-based SlimTimer). Record the bits where you are not working as you should. Do this for no more than two days – otherwise you will get bored and not do it properly.
      You may even find you waste far less time than you imagined – and thus your stress levels will come down even more.

    What is your best life hack?

    My favourite life hack – which has little to do with productivity – is the gym.

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    I have been engaging in a somewhat self-inflicting relationship with my local gym for many years; but it is only recently that I have come to appreciate the positive effect it has (beyond giving me the excuse to squeeze one extra bacon sandwich into my daily ritual).
    The biology is fairly straightforward – you train, you get endorphins, you burn fat and you feel accomplishment. This all leads to a nice sensation of confidence and control that lasts for several days.

    It is the last two – confidence and control – that make all the difference. They enable me to enthusiastically bluster through tasks and overcome even the stuff I have been putting off.
    Sadly, I only notice this when I have not been getting my daily dose. Without exercise, I get overwhelmed more easily and procrastinate more readily. And I do not get my bacon sandwich. Which makes me very angry indeed… (There is a distinct possibility that all of the above is hokum, and my complete productive existence is indeed tied to nothing more than a sandwich… the shame!).

    What are your favorite posts at lifehack.org?

    That would be “On Ho’ohiki: Keeping your Promises“.

    A short, sweet and perfectly accurate framework on the best way to remedy a broken promise. I particularly like the honesty – it does not encourage you to cover up your mistake but to actively address it.

    Previous Productive Interview was: Patrick Rhone

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    Last Updated on July 8, 2020

    What Everyone Is Wrong About Achieving Inbox Zero

    What Everyone Is Wrong About Achieving Inbox Zero

    Ah, Inbox Zero. An achievement that so many of us long for. It’s elusive. It’s a productivity benchmark. It’s an ongoing battle.

    It’s also unnecessary.

    Don’t get me wrong, the way Inbox Zero was initially termed is incredibly valuable. Merlin Mann coined the phrase years ago and what he has defined it as goes well beyond the term itself.[1]

    Yet people have created their own definition of Inbox Zero. They’re not using it with the intent that Mann suggested. Instead, it’s become about having nothing left in immediate view. It’s become about getting your email inbox to zero messages or having an empty inbox on your desk that was once filled with papers. It’s become about removing visual clutter.

    But it’s not about that. Not at all.

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    Here’s what inbox zero actually is, as defined by Mann:

    “It’s about how to reclaim your email, your atten­tion, and your life. That “zero?” It’s not how many mes­sages are in your inbox–it’s how much of your own brain is in that inbox. Especially when you don’t want it to be. That’s it.” – Merlin Mann

    The Fake Inbox Zero

    The sense of fulfillment one gets from clearing out everything in your inbox is temporary at best, disappointing at worst. Often we find that we’re shooting for Inbox Zero just so that we can say that we’ve got “everything done that needed to be done”. That’s simply not the case.

    Certainly, by removing all of your things that sit in your inbox means that they are either taken care of or are well on their way to being taken care of. The old saying “out of sight, out of mind” is often applied to clearing out your inbox. But unless you’ve actually done something with the stuff, it’s either not worth having in your inbox in the first place or is still sitting in your “mental inbox”.

    You have to do something with the stuff, and for many people, that is a hard thing to do. That’s why Inbox Zero – as defined by Mann – is not achieved as often as many people would like to believe. It’s this “watered down” concept of Inbox Zero that is completed instead. You’ve got no email in your inbox and you’ve got no paper on your desk’s inbox. So that must mean you’re at Inbox Zero.

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    Until the next email arrives or the next document comes your way. Then you work to get rid of those as quickly as possible so that you can get back to Inbox Zero: The Lesser again. If it’s something that can be dealt with quickly, then you get there. But if they require more time, then soon you’ve got more stuff in your inboxes. So you switch up tasks to get to the things that don’t require as much time or attention so that you can get closer to this stripped down variation of Inbox Zero.

    However, until you deal with the bigger items, you don’t quite get there. Some people feel as if they’ve let themselves (or others) down if they don’t get there. And that, quite frankly, is silly. That’s why this particular version of Inbox Zero doesn’t work.

    The Ultimate Way to Get to Inbox Zero

    So what’s the ultimate way to get to Inbox Zero?

    Have zero inboxes.

    The inbox is meant to be a stop along the way to your final destination. It’s the place where stuff sits until you’re ready to put it in the place where it sits until you’re ready to deal with it.

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    So why not skip the inbox altogether? Why not put it in the place where it sits until you’re ready to deal with it? Because that requires immediate action. It means you need to give the item some thought and attention.

    You need to step back and look at it rather than file it. That’s why we have a catch-all inbox, both for email and for analog items. It allows us to only look at these things when we’re ready to do so.

    The funny thing is that we can decide when we’re ready to without actually looking at the inbox beforehand. We can look at things on our own watch rather than when we are alerted to or feel the need to.

    There is no reason why you need an inbox at all to store things for longer than it sits there before you see it. None. It’s a choice. And the choice you should be making is how to deal with things when you first see them, rather than when to deal with things you haven’t looked at yet.

    Stop Faking It

    Seeing things in your inboxes is simply using your sight. Looking at things in your inbox when you first see them is using insight.

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    Stop checking email more than twice per day. Turn off your alerts. Put your desk’s inbox somewhere that it can be accessed by others and only accessed by you when you’re ready to deal with what’s in it. Don’t put it on your desk – that’s productivity poison.

    If you want to get to Inbox Zero — the real Inbox Zero — then get rid of those stops along the way. You’ll find that by doing that, you’ll be getting more of the stuff you really want done finished much faster, rather than see them moving along at the speed of not much more than zero.

    More Productivity Tips to Get Organized

    Featured photo credit: Web Hosting via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Merlin Mann: Inbox Zero

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