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Productivity Made Simple: How to Keep Your Projects from Killing You

Productivity Made Simple: How to Keep Your Projects from Killing You

    Some projects can be a real pain in the you know what. Not all of them, of course. But there are some that just keep us awake at night. There can be many reasons of such a situation. Sometimes the tasks that need to be done are simply difficult to perform. Other times it’s the amount of time required that frightens us.

    But sometimes the most frightening thing of them all is that we don’t know what’s going on in a project, and can’t seem to find a way to plan everything out and get a clear picture of what needs to be done.

    In the previous parts of the series we were discussing what to do once everything is perfectly laid out. Once we’re clear about the exact tasks that need to be done, and once we even know when we want to take care of them. But there’s one part missing, and that’s of course the part of planning your projects and selecting your priorities.

    Most projects we decide to execute should be defined and planned according to five main steps. These are:

    1. Setting goals and rules.
    2. Defining your vision for the end result.
    3. Brainstorming.
    4. Organizing.
    5. Selecting next tasks.

    Of course, not every project requires such an elaborate sequence of steps. Some projects are really simple, and defining things like goals or visions would be a complete overkill.

    If you just want to get your car fixed then you don’t need any smart rules to be able to get it done … you probably know what needs to be done without any additional help.

    However, GTD was designed to be able to handle any kind of project, no matter how big or small.

    The steps mentioned above are doing just that. They can be applied to anything. And after you go through all of them you can be sure that your project will be clear and understandable. This, in the end, will improve your chance of executing the project successfully.

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    To explain this whole thing we’ll have to leave our simple examples and take on something a bit more complicated… So imagine that you’re buying a new apartment for you and your family.

    1. Setting goals and rules.

    This is the part where you answer the questions of why and what for.

    For our example the question is: Why do you want a new apartment?

    Some possible answers: you want to live closer to your workplace, you want your kids to live closer to school, you want to have more space for yourself and your family, you want to live in the city center because all the interesting things are happening there, you want a more modern environment, and so on.

    The reasons behind every project are of course different. Furthermore, personal projects are entirely different in nature from business-centered projects. But they still have a lot in common. If, for example, instead of buying a new apartment you’re starting a business then the question remains – why do you want to start a business?

    So no matter what you’re thinking of doing you always need to start with your goals and rules. Goals we have covered (it’s the why). Rules are even easier to grasp.

    Going back to our example; some rules: what is your budget? where do you want to live (what neighborhood)? do you want to get one room for everybody? do you need a garage? and so on.

    Once you have all these things lined up you can go to the next step.

    2. Defining your vision for the end result.

    This is where you’re answering the question of what.

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    Create a complete vision of what you want to get as the end result of the project. The more details the better.

    Your vision reflects the goals and rules you’ve set in the previous step. The goals are the main guidelines on what should and shouldn’t be done inside a given project. So now, you’re using these goals to come up with your vision for the final result of the project.

    A possible vision for our project:

    I want a 4 bedroom apartment in the city center. At least X square meters of space. Large kitchen. It must have a garage. The price should be less than X. Modern furniture.

    This sounds like a good vision. Of course there’s a lot more things we could include here, but for now it’ll do.

    The next step is to take this vision and do some brainstorming around it.

    3. Brainstorming.

    Brainstorming is probably the most creative activity for any project. You’ve been doing it many times, I’m sure. However, brainstorming has very little point when done prior to executing the two previous steps.

    A brainstorming session always has to be created around a strongly defined main idea, so we have some guidance and know where we’re going with it. And this is exactly what defining goals and vision gives us.

    The brainstorming session itself is a very simple thing to do. Essentially, it’s the answer to the question of how.

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    Some people like to set some restrictions, for example, time constraints. This is good if we’re working on a given project at work, and more than one person is doing the brainstorming. But if it’s just you then you can spend as much time as you want. Of course, within reason.

    Start by taking your goals and visions and placing them in a visible place. Then simply let your creative mind loose and write down every idea that comes to mind about the things you might do in the project. And I mean EVERY.

    This is not the time to assess the ideas and erase the bad ones. Not now. This is the time to write everything down, no matter how stupid it sounds at first.

    Our example: call the real estate agency, go to IKEA, hire a contractor, ask around and find out if it’s a good neighborhood or not, choose paint colors, get a full-size Elvis sculpture, get an internet connection, get a bank loan, hire a van, check all the installations (electricity, etc.), and so on. The list for such an example can go on and on, so we’ll just stop here.

    Once you reach a point when you can’t think of anything else it’s probably a good moment to stop brainstorming and go to the next step.

    4. Organizing.

    Yes, this is where you get to select the good ideas and remove the bad ones. Brainstorming should give you a lot of both.

    Why brainstorming and organizing at the same time is not the best choice? Because these activities are opposing to one another. On one hand you have to be creative and invent stuff, but on the other you have to get back to the ground and be reasonable while assessing it. Doing this at the same time simply doesn’t work. That’s why organizing is a separate step.

    The process is simple. Just look at your brainstorming list and remove everything that doesn’t have much to do with your goals and visions, or is simply stupid (like the Elvis sculpture … or is it?).

    Once you spend some time on looking through all those things your brain will automatically start to arrange things according to their priorities and what needs to be done first. You should use this state of mind and quickly shift to the final step.

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    5. Selecting next tasks.

    This is where our old friend – the Next Tasks List – comes back into play.

    At this point selecting the next task for your project should be easy. After the phase of organizing all ideas you should have a nice set of actionable things that are in tune with your goals and visions. Things that are absolutely crucial for implementing the project. Now, simply select your next task for the project.

    Everything you have at this point goes into your Projects List. And the next possible task goes to your Next Tasks List. From that point on you can go back to your usual work (GTD style). This is where everything ties together.

    What’s next?

    Basically, that’s it. All you have to do now is use the system to help you get more organized and execute your projects more effectively. Both in personal life and in business.

    Just to recap, and point you towards the specific parts in this series.

    I admit, there’s a lot to do if you want to have GTD fully implemented in your daily life. But would you rather be running around like a chicken with its head cut off because you don’t have a clue what to do next? Probably not.

    One final encouragement for you: if you think you don’t have time for playing around with such methodologies then suspend your disbelief for a moment and have a little trust because after you implement GTD you will find time for everything.

    Feel free to share how GTD is working for you. I’m curious to know. I, for example, have been using it since 2009 and it truly works like a charm.

    (Photo credit: Productivity or Motivation via Shutterstock)

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    Karol Krol

    Blogger, published author, and founder of a site that's all about delivering online business advice

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    Last Updated on February 21, 2019

    How to Stop Information Overload

    How to Stop Information Overload

    Information overload is a creature that has been growing on the Internet’s back since its beginnings. The bigger the Internet gets, the more information there is. The more quality information we see, the more we want to consume it. The more we want to consume it, the more overloaded we feel.

    This has to stop somewhere. And it can.

    As the year comes to a close, there’s no time like the present to make the overloading stop.

    But before I explain exactly what I mean, let’s discuss information overload in general.

    How Serious Is Information Overload?

    The sole fact that there’s more and more information published online every single day is not the actual problem. Only the quality information becomes the problem.

    This sounds kind of strange…but bear with me.

    When we see some half-baked blog posts we don’t even consider reading, we just skip to the next thing. But when we see something truly interesting — maybe even epic — we want to consume it.

    We even feel like we have to consume it. And that’s the real problem.

    No matter what topic we’re interested in, there are always hundreds of quality blogs publishing entries every single day (or every other day). Not to mention all the forums, message boards, social news sites, and so on.

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    The amount of epic content on the Internet these days is so big that it’s virtually impossible for us to digest it all. But we try anyway.

    That’s when we feel overloaded. If you’re not careful, one day you’ll find yourself reading the 15th blog post in a row on some nice WordPress tweaking techniques because you feel that for some reason, “you need to know this.”

    Information overload is a plague. There’s no vaccine, there’s no cure. The only thing you have is self-control.

    Luckily, you’re not on your own. There are some tips you can follow to protect yourself from information overload and, ultimately, fight it.

    But first, admit that information overload is really bad for you.

    Why Information Overload Is Bad for You

    Information overload stops you from taking action. That’s the biggest problem here.

    When you try to consume more and more information every day, you start to notice that even though you’ve been reading tons of articles, watching tons of videos and listening to tons of podcasts, the stream of incoming information seems to be infinite.

    Therefore, you convince yourself that you need to be on a constant lookout for new information if you want to be able to accomplish anything in your life, work and/or passion. The final result is that you are consuming way too much information, and taking way too little action because you don’t have enough time for it.

    The belief that you need to be on this constant lookout for information is just not true.

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    You don’t need every piece of advice possible to live your life, do your work or enjoy your passion.

    How to Stop Information Overload (And Start to Achieve More)

    So how to recognize the portion of information that you really need? Start with setting goals.

    1. Set Your Goals

    If you don’t have your goals put in place, you’ll be just running around grabbing every possible advice and thinking that it’s “just what you’ve been looking for.”

    Setting goals is a much more profound task than just a way to get rid of information overload. Now by “goals” I don’t mean things like “get rich, have kids, and live a good life”. I mean something much more within your immediate grasp. Something that can be achieved in the near future — like within a month (or a year) at most.

    Basically, something that you want to attract to your life, and you already have some plan on how you’re going to make it happen. So no hopes and dreams, just actionable, precise goals.

    Then once you have your goals, they become a set of strategies and tactics you need to act upon.

    2. Know What to Skip When Facing New Information

    Once you have your goals, plans, strategies and tasks, you can use them to decide what information is really crucial.

    First of all, if the information you’re about to read has nothing to do with your current goals and plans, then skip it. You don’t need it.

    If it does, then ask yourself these questions:

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    • Will you be able to put this information into action immediately?
    • Does it have the potential to maybe alter your nearest actions/tasks?
    • Is it so incredible that you absolutely need to take action on it right away?

    If the information is not actionable in a day or two, then skip it.

    (You’ll forget about it anyway.)

    And that’s basically it. Digest only what can be used immediately. If you have a task that you need to do, consume only the information necessary for getting this one task done, nothing more.

    You need to be focused in order to have clear judgment, and be able to decide whether some piece of information is mandatory or redundant.

    Self-control comes handy too. It’s quite easy to convince yourself that you really need something just because of poor self-control. Try to fight this temptation, and be as ruthless about it as possible – if the information is not matching your goals and plans, and you can’t take action on it in the near future, then SKIP IT.

    3. Be Aware of the Minimal Effective Dose

    There’s a thing called the MED – Minimal Effective Dose. I was first introduced to this idea by Tim Ferriss. In his book The 4-Hour BodyTim illustrates the minimal effective dose by talking about medical drugs.

    Everybody knows that every pill has a MED, and after that specific dose, no other positive effects occur, only some negative side effects if you overdose big.

    Consuming information is somewhat similar. You need just a precise amount of it to help you to achieve your goals and put your plans into life.

    Everything more than that amount won’t improve your results any further. And if you try to consume too much of it, it will eventually stop you from taking any action altogether.

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    4. Don’t Procrastinate by Consuming More Information

    Probably one of the most common causes of consuming ridiculous amounts of information is the need to procrastinate. By reading yet another article, we often feel that we are indeed working, and that we’re doing something good – we’re learning, which in result will make us a more complete and educated person.

    This is just self-deception. The truth is we’re simply procrastinating. We don’t feel like doing what really needs to be done – the important stuff – so instead we find something else, and convince ourselves that “that thing” is equally important. Which is just not true.

    Don’t consume information just for the sake of it. It gets you nowhere.

    The focus of this article is not on how to stop procrastinating, but if you’re having such issue, I recommend you read this:

    Procrastination – A Step-By-Step Guide to Stop Procrastinating

    Summing It Up

    As you can see, information overload can be a real problem and it can have a sever impact on your productivity and overall performance.

    I know I have had my share of problems with it (and probably still have from time to time). But creating this simple set of rules helps me to fight it, and to keep my lizard brain from taking over.

    I hope it helps you too, especially as we head into a new year with a new chance at setting ourselves up for success.

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    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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