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Use Simple Productivity Practices to Get More of the Right Things Done

Use Simple Productivity Practices to Get More of the Right Things Done

    If you are a knowledge worker and read Lifehack then we can safely say that you are in a group savvy individuals who are looking for better and more productive ways to get life done. And with this “savvyness”, comes intelligence and a constant yearning to better yourself.

    I have delved into the productivity and lifehack realm for a number of years now, and even after reading and writing post after post about how to do ‘X’ and why you should do ‘Y’, all of the lifehacking and productivity tips come back to one base theme: Simplicity.

    In a nutshell, we have to simplify our lives (including the ways that we are productive) to make sure that we are getting the right things done on a continual basis. Here is the why and how of simplifying your productivity.

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    If it isn’t simple…

    If your productivity system and tools aren’t simple, then you probably aren’t getting things done, and more importantly, you aren’t getting the right things done. We can spend all day tweaking our systems and making sure that we have set up the right GTD contexts in our “trusted system”, but until we sit down and start getting the work done, our system isn’t worth anything at all.

    So, if your systems aren’t simple, then your ability to get more and better work done will be diminished.

    Complex jobs need simple instructions

    There is nothing easy about being a knowledge worker. We have a bunch of round pegs that need put into square holes that we have to deal with on a minute-by-minute basis. It’s up to us to define and breakdown our work. We all have to know how to take complex projects and break them down into actionable units to ensure that we are making progress on them.

    We have to simplify the complex.

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    Sometimes, simplifying your life can take some complex tools, especially if you are in certain fields, but remember, the first step to completing any project is identifying the next physical thing that you have to accomplish. Without that simple step, the most complex job can end up being impossible. It doesn’t take complex productivity tools and systems to figure out what your next step is of a project; the next physical thing you have to do to reach a desired outcome. This next steps is the beginning of your simple set of instructions to complete your complex job.

    When you know you are thinking too much

    If you are anything like me, then you are a productivity system “tweak-aholic”. That is someone who can’t get enough of tweaking their systems until they are just right so they can get more done. This state of just right doesn’t truly exist. Even if you could reach this state of just right if wouldn’t help you get more things done (unless we had some sort of artificial intelligence backed productivity system that forced us to always do the next right action not matter what).

    If you are trying a ton of different systems and always switching between them, then you are thinking way too hard about “being productive” and not actually being productive. If you are in the viscous cycle of checking out “productivity porn”, then you can be sure that you are thinking and trying too hard.

    Back to simplicity

    So, now that you know you are over-complicating your productivity systems and destroying any form of getting things done, what can you do about it?

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    Simplify.

    I’m not talking about shaving your head, joining a monastery, and retreating from the “real world”. You can still lead a complicated life and work life while utilizing effective and simple productivity tools and systems. Rather than complicate the already complicated, use tools that simplify your complex life.

    We have suggested using paper in the past to clarify your projects and next actions on those projects, but if you work digitally most of the time, it’s probably better to have a few simple digital tools that will do the trick. We have a few great posts on selecting the right tools as well as some suggested tools for different platforms.

    SEE ALSO: Productivity Made Simple: Where to Start with GTD, Productivity Made Simple: The 7 Main Elements of GTD, Productivity Made Simple: How to Keep Your Projects from Killing You

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    It isn’t about the tool that you choose, as long as it is something that you can use and aren’t repelled by. It’s all about you actually interacting and utilizing the tools that you have chosen create a make good, simple decisions on what to do next.

    (Photo credit: business cube creation via Shutterstock)

    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.

    How to Beat Procrastination: 29 Simple Tweaks to Make Design Is Important: How To Fail At Blogging 7 Tools to Help Keep Track of Goals and Habits Effectively 6 Unexpected Ways Journaling Every Day Will Make Your Life Better Why Getting Things Done is the Best Productivity System For You To Automate or not to Automate Your Personal Productivity System

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    Last Updated on September 30, 2019

    How To Write Effective Meeting Minutes (with Examples)

    How To Write Effective Meeting Minutes (with Examples)

    Minutes are a written record of a board, company, or organizational meeting. Meeting minutes are considered a legal document, so when writing them, strive for clarity and consistency of tone.

    Because minutes are a permanent record of the meeting, be sure to proofread them well before sending. It is a good idea to run them by a supervisor or seasoned attendee to make sure statements and information are accurately captured.

    The best meeting minutes takers are careful listeners, quick typists, and are adequately familiar with the meeting topics and attendees. The note taker must have a firm enough grasp of the subject matter to be able to separate the important points from the noise in what can be long, drawn-out discussions. And, importantly, the note taker should not simultaneously lead and take notes. (If you’re ever asked to do so, decline.)

    Following, are some step-by-step hints to effectively write meeting minutes:

    1. Develop an Agenda

    Work with the Chairperson or Board President to develop a detailed agenda.

    Meetings occur for a reason, and the issues to be addressed and decided upon need to be listed to alert attendees. Work with the convener to draft an agenda that assigns times to each topic to keep the meeting moving and to make sure the group has enough time to consider all items.

    The agenda will serve as your outline for the meeting minutes. Keep the minutes’ headings consistent with the agenda topics for continuity.

    2. Follow a Template from Former Minutes Taken

    If you are new to a Board or organization, and are writing minutes for the first time, ask to see the past meeting minutes so that you can maintain the same format.

    Generally, the organization name or the name of the group that is meeting goes at the top: “Meeting of the Board of Directors of XYZ,” with the date on the next line. After the date, include both the time the meeting came to order and the time the meeting ended.

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    Most groups who meet do so regularly, with set agenda items at each meeting. Some groups include a Next Steps heading at the end of the minutes that lists projects to follow up on and assigns responsibility.

    A template from a former meeting will also help determine whether or not the group records if a quorum was met, and other items specific to the organization’s meeting minutes.

    3. Record Attendance

    On most boards, the Board Secretary is the person responsible for taking the meeting minutes. In organizational meetings, the minutes taker may be a project coordinator or assistant to a manager or CEO. She or he should arrive a few minutes before the meeting begins and pass around an attendance sheet with all members’ names and contact information.

    Meeting attendees will need to check off their names and make edits to any changes in their information. This will help as both a back-up document of attendees and ensure that information goes out to the most up-to-date email addresses.

    All attendees’ names should be listed directly below the meeting name and date, under a subheading that says “Present.” List first and last names of all attendees, along with title or affiliation, separated by a comma or semi-colon.

    If a member of the Board could not attend the meeting, cite his or her name after the phrase: “Copied To:” There may be other designations in the participants’ list. For example, if several of the meeting attendees are members of the staff while everyone else is a volunteer, you may want to write (Staff) after each staff member.

    As a general rule, attendees are listed alphabetically by their last names. However, in some organizations, it’s a best practice to list the leadership of the Board first. In that case, the President or Co-Presidents would be listed first, followed by the Vice President, followed by the Secretary, and then by the Treasurer. Then all other names of attendees would be alphabetized by last name.

    It is also common practice to note if a participant joined the meeting via conference call. This can be indicated by writing: “By Phone” and listing the participants who called in.

    4. Naming Convention

    Generally, the first time someone speaks in the meeting will include his or her name and often the title.

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    For example, “President of the XYZ Board, Roger McGowan, called the meeting to order.” The next time Roger McGowan speaks, though, you can simply refer to him as “Roger.” If there are two Rogers in the meeting, use an initial for their last names to separate the two. “Roger M. called for a vote. Roger T. abstained.”

    5. What, and What Not, to Include

    Depending on the nature of the meeting, it could last from one to several hours. The attendees will be asked to review and then approve the meeting minutes. Therefore, you don’t want the minutes to extend into a lengthy document.

    Capturing everything that people say verbatim is not only unnecessary, but annoying to reviewers.

    For each agenda item, you ultimately want to summarize only the relevant points of the discussion along with any decisions made. After the meeting, cull through your notes, making sure to edit out any circular or repetitive arguments and only leave in the relevant points made.

    6. Maintain a Neutral Tone

    Minutes are a legal document. They are used to establish an organization’s historical record of activity. It is essential to maintain an even, professional tone. Never put inflammatory language in the minutes, even if the language of the meeting becomes heated.

    You want to record the gist of the discussion objectively, which means mentioning the key points covered without assigning blame. For example, “The staff addressed board members’ questions regarding the vendor’s professionalism.”

    Picture a lawyer ten years down the road reading the minutes to find evidence of potential wrongdoing. You wouldn’t want an embellishment in the form of a colorful adverb or a quip to cloud any account of what took place. Here’s a list of neutral sounding words to get started with.

    7. Record Votes

    The primary purpose of minutes is to record any votes a board or organization takes. Solid record-keeping requires mentioning which participant makes a motion — and what the motion states verbatim — and which participant seconds the motion.

    For example, “Vice President Cindy Jacobsen made a motion to dedicate 50 percent, or $50,000, of the proceeds from the ZZZ Foundation gift to the CCC scholarship fund. President Roger McGowan seconded the motion.”

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    This vote tabulation should be expressed in neutral language as well. “The Board voted unanimously to amend the charter in the following way,” or “The decision to provide $1,000 to the tree-planting effort passed 4 to 1, with Board President McGowan opposing.”

    Most Boards try to get a vote passed unanimously. Sometimes in order to help the Board attain a more cohesive outcome, a Board member may abstain from voting. “The motion passed 17 to 1 with one absension.”

    8. Pare down Notes Post-Meeting

    Following the meeting, read through your notes while all the discussions remain fresh in your mind, and make any needed revisions. Then, pare the meeting minutes down to their essentials, providing a brief account of the discussion that summarizes arguments made for and against a decision.

    People often speak colloquially or in idioms, as in: “This isn’t even in the ballpark” or “You’re beginning to sound like a broken record.” While you may be tempted to keep the exact language in the minutes to add color, resist.

    Additionally, if any presentations are part of the meeting, do not include information from the Powerpoint in the minutes. However, you will want to record the key points from the post-presentation discussion.

    9. Proofread with Care

    Make sure that you spelled all names correctly, inserted the correct date of the meeting, and that your minutes read clearly.

    Spell out acronyms the first time they’re used. Remember that the notes may be reviewed by others for whom the acronyms are unfamiliar. Stay consistent in headings, punctuation, and formatting. The minutes should be polished and professional.

    10. Distribute Broadly

    Once approved, email minutes to the full board — not just the attendees — for review. Your minutes will help keep those who were absent apprised of important actions and decisions.

    At the start of the next meeting, call for the approval of the minutes. Note any revisions. Try to work out the agreed-upon changes in the meeting, so that you don’t spend a huge amount of time on revisions.

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    Ask for a motion to approve the minutes with the agreed-upon changes. Once an attendee offers a motion, ask for another person in the meeting to “second” the motion. They say, “All approved.” Always ask if there is anyone who does not approve. Assuming not, then say: “The minutes from our last meeting are approved once the agreed-upon changes have been made.”

    11. File Meticulously

    Since minutes are a legal document, take care when filing them. Make sure the file name of the document is consistent with the file names of previously filed minutes.

    Occasionally, members of the organization may want to review past minutes. Know where the minutes are filed!

    One Caveat

    In this day and age of high technology, you may ask yourself: Wouldn’t it be simpler to record the meeting? This depends on the protocols of the organization, but probably not.

    Be sure to ask what the rules are at the organization where you are taking minutes. Remember that the minutes are a record of what was done at the meeting, not what was said at the meeting.

    The minutes reflect decisions not discussions. In spite of their name, “minutes,” the minutes are not a minute-by-minute transcript.

    Bottom Line

    Becoming an expert minutes-taker requires a keen ear, a willingness to learn, and some practice, but by following these tips you will soon become proficient.

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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