People say that ideas are easy, but execution is difficult. When I started penning my book, The Coolest Startups in America (find it here on Amazon) last year, I had a simple thesis: there should be a book that introduces people to startups. But in practice, it was not so straightforward. To write and publish a book, there are hundreds of moving parts and dozens of players.
After six months of writing and hours of interviews (Producteev CEO Ilan Abehassera included!), my idea for The Coolest Startups in America book became reality, available to delight readers around the country on the best startups in the nation. As I reflect on my process, there was one tool with me at every step. That’s right, my Producteev account.
Here is how I used Producteev to move my project from goal to reality:
1. Use Producteev to Brainstorm
Inspiration can come from anywhere. I used my Producteev account to collect quotes, notes and images that would be useful in the writing process. Because Producteev focuses on cross-platform fluidity, I was never pigeonholed into using Producteev.com specifically, instead adding to my account on-the-go via Producteev’s iPhone and iPad apps.
2. Use Producteev to Land an Agent or Publisher
I decided to pursue finding a literary agent and publisher early on in my book-writing process. Because Producteev allows multiple Workspaces within each account, I could keep my writing work in one Workspace and use another for the purpose of securing representation.
While Producteev won’t magically get you interest from an Agent or Publisher, it can help coordinate your outreach. As a first-time author, agency names and publishing houses were esoteric and niche, so I used each “task” in Producteev to store notes on the organizations. And, for each Publisher rejection (happens to every writer like a right of passage), Producteev lifted my spirits because I could cross a name off the list to see a pretty green check mark indicating that I was only getting closer to my goal, never farther from it.
3. Use Producteev to Organize Research
Over a span of about two months, I conducted 50+ interviews with startup CEOs, government officials, academics, thought-leaders, and journalists for The Coolest Startups in America, so staying on top of scheduling could have become a fiasco. Not so with Producteev! Rather than create calendar alerts for checking in with PR reps and sources, I could schedule reminders within Producteev so that the contact information, notes, interview questions and scheduling for each person remained centralized.
I also put Producteev’s labeling features to good use. With 72 startups featured in the inaugural volume of The Coolest Startups in America, organized into 18 categorical sections, colored labels helped to keep the content tidy so I could easily navigate around the tasks for the many chapters.
4. Use Producteev During Editing
When it came time to involve my editor in the book process, Producteev was a gem. I could “assign” chapters to my editor as I finished working on them. If there were items within the chapter for me to review, he could seamlessly assign the task back to me within Producteev.
5. Use Producteev for Publicity
Among bookers, producers, articles, friends & family outreach, volume sales (Plug: Want to order 10 or more copies? Email me for a discount code! ;) and more, there is so much for authors to do after the writing process is complete. No matter whether an author decides to use a traditional publisher or go DIY, book promotion always has the author in the driver’s seat. Producteev is helping me stay on top of publicity for The Coolest Startups in America. In fact, I’m off to cross off the to-do item for this article right now; using a spreadsheet is so last century.
Producteev was named one of “The Coolest Startups in America.” Buy the book to find out about the best new companies around the nation in the first-ever mainstream book about entrepreneurship.
Author Doreen Bloch is an entrepreneur & writer in New York City (hometown: Palo Alto, CA). Her first book “The Coolest Startups in America” was released in February 2012. She is a member of the Young Entrepreneur Council and a former Analyst at SecondMarket, where she worked on the auctions for shares of Facebook Inc. and other leading private companies. Her personal website is http://www.DoreenBloch.com.
Photo credit: Ed Mitchell
Most working professionals complain about the volume of email they receive each day. What they don’t know is that they have their eyes on the wrong target, and instead should shift their attention to the time demands buried in electronic messages.
To explain, let’s start with a definition of a “time demand,” which is nothing more than a mental, individual commitment to accomplish a task in the future. It’s a peculiar invention of the human imagination, and has some distinct characteristics. A time demand is:
- created in the mind of the person making the commitment
- automatically assigned a likely duration, and starting time
- something that disappears when the task is completed
- the cause of stress when too many of them are carried in one’s memory
Email, phone calls, text messages. physical letters, action items in meetings and tweets are just some of the carriers of time demands. We process these pieces of content, and as we’re doing so we create time demands. The more content we process, the more time demands we are likely to create:
The average person in the year 1750 saw as much information in their entire lifetime as one sees in a typical Sunday New York Times.
However, the problem isn’t as simple as cutting back the number of emails received each day, or the number of pages read on one’s Kindle. After all, we two hundred emails in a day might only result in 1or 2 time demands that require 15 minutes to complete. In like manner, 3 emails could result in hundreds of time demands spanning several months. The problem isn’t in the volume of messages we receive, but their contents, and how to process them.
Given that fact, it’s not hard to see that the modern workplace has progressed tremendously since the widespread adaptation of email in the 1990’s. Back then, time demands were transmitted in two ways: through real-time conversations and via paper memos. Today, in addition to these two channels, the average working professional must also master a number of others, such as text messages, email, social networking updates, instant messages and voice-mails.
Also, we must all must deal with the fact that our access to these channels has shifted. In a smartphone world, access to them has become a 24 hour per day, 7 day a week phenomena, rather than one that is restricted to “working hours.” (In fact, the very concept of “working hours” is fast receding due to the fact that the work of processing time demands never seems to stop.)
When we forget that we are looking for time demands within incoming messages, we often learn the bad habit of “skimming.” Instead of dealing with each message once before dispensing with them, we take a quick look and then decide to take action “later,” before moving to the next message. In no time, we end up with inboxes that are overflowing with time demands that we have put off until some time in the future.
These time demands prey on our minds, and make us feel overburdened as we realize that we’re not very good at remembering the exact nature of each item. We feel stressed when we realize that some are falling through the cracks as our memory fails.
Thankfully, there are better techniques available. Our research shows that it’s better to switch to keeping lists, once the number of time demands exceeds a certain threshold. This works for a while, until another threshold is reached, and at that point it’s necessary to switch to keeping a single, electronic calendar.
We don’t know that a hard and fast rule exists about when these upgrades must happen, as they depend a great deal on the user. Our coaching is simple: make the upgrade when you sense that your peace of mind begins to suffer by trying to mentally keep track of too many time demands.
When possible, process emails immediately. Make it a routine to archive and delete messages once a week, perhaps during your weekly review (for those who are fans of GTD).
Focusing on time demands, and their effect on our peace of mind, is the best way to make these changes, and to avoid making the mistake of focusing too narrowly on email volumes.
Francis Wade is a proponent of Time Management 2.0, and writes for several newspapers, as well as his research website: http://2time-sys.com. He is @fwade on twitter and can be found on our productivity resources twitter list.
For help with Producteev email sync and integration, check out the following options:
Photo credit: Hector Pierna Sanchez
It’s morning. You’re staring at your Next Actions list like you would a creature out of nightmare — something huge and ugly that’s reaching out to crush your soul into unproductive little pieces. It’s been this way for a week or so now, maybe more; you’ve lost track. All you know is that this GTD thing everybody goes on about — the super-productivity system you thought would save you from overwhelm — has turned on you. And it’s seriously kicking your ass.
Something has obviously gone wrong. But now what? You’ve invested a lot of valuable time into Getting Things Done, and the thought of starting all over again, either with GTD or some other system, is near mind-shattering. The longer you stare at your computer, though, the more appealing the idea of taking a hammer or some other blunt instrument to it becomes — and that can’t lead anywhere good. So again you ask yourself: Now what?
We’ve all been there (I’ve probably been there more than many, in fact) and it always seems bleak — but it’s a lot easier to get your productivity system back on track than you might think. It just depends on your approach.
If you’re anything like me, you got into GTD to take control of the crazy amount of things you need to accomplish on a daily basis. At least, that was part of it for me. I was also afflicted with the “big think” virus: I would have a goal (or 10) in mind — something huge and fantastically creative of course — and then I would just jump in to it (them) with both feet, flapping my arms about wildly while I tried to figure out a good place to start. My old vocal coach-slash-counsellor called it "Trying to build a house from the roof down." Eventually, I would expend so much energy flapping, that I would just burn myself out. That lead to last-gasp analytics of the projects, which would inevitably end with me so overwhelmed by what needed to be done and how to go about it that I would just say “screw it” and go play video games. What I needed to break things down to a manageable level, and David Allen’s Getting Things Done system seemed like the perfect thing to help me make that happen.
In the beginning, it was all roses. I got my system set up — I even figured out how to integrate it with Evernote, and then later with Producteev — and got things humming along just nicely. Unfortunately, as time went on, I ended up with longer and longer lists of next actions. My contexts were bursting at the seams, and there was just no way for me to keep up.
I looked at my lists and felt that old overwhelm creeping up on me again. Then I started to avoid looking at them altogether. I didn’t even realize I was doing it, at first, and the problem was, to make myself feel like I was still continuing with the GTD system, I was still collecting new tasks. In the end, the tasks weren’t even making it to the processing stage anymore, and I found myself with a faux-GTD system that was all Inbox — just a fancy shell over my original way of (not) doing things. I had completely reverted — and my computer was shivering in fear of the imagined sledge hammer by my desk.
In any case, that was the past. I now have my GTD system up and running again, and it’s working the way it should be. To get there, all I had to do was follow these five relatively simple steps:
Identify the Problem
Start by taking a step back. Overwhelm is an insidious beast and you won’t be able to do anything about it unless you approach with a clear mind. Think of it like cleansing your palate while eating particularly rich foods. Everything will taste better, and you’re that much more likely to make it through the meal.
Now pull out a pen and paper and start to write down your main goals again. If you have trouble doing this, you have already discovered the core of your difficulties. Nothing ever truly gets accomplished without a clear goal to apply it to.
Once you have your goals in hand again, use them as a focal point as you examine your approach to productivity over the past few months. Try to identify what worked and what didn’t work, what you liked, and what you found frustrating. Think about the tools that you use, any modifications that you made to the methodology to suit your life, and the different projects you’re engaged in. Then do your best to identify all of the other things that you’re giving your attention to. Write it all down. This is the best way to discover where the bottlenecks are, and what about your approach has allowed things to backlog.
For me, the problem was as simple as not adding how long a task might take (which lead to scheduling too many things on any given day), combined with collecting things under the banner of my overall goals that really should have been either ignored, or put into Someday/Maybe-land. A little more analysis also revealed that I was not nearly disciplined enough with my weekly reviews, which would have helped me to identify those two problems in the first place, thus saving me from the hole I had dug myself into. Finally, I discovered several things outside of the GTD system that were distracting me. Things like keeping my email open, social media notifications, and working in a place easily accessible by my lovely wife and extraordinarily cute little girl. They don’t mean to be distractions, but how can they not be?
Once you’ve identified the problems that have lead to GTD-breakdown, find ways to streamline your system. Remove extra steps, use a better tool, cut out (or at least cut back on) distractions, and do whatever else you reasonably can to deal with what is getting in the way of your productivity.
This might sound scary, given that you are here because of an already overwhelming amount of task data. Don’t worry, though — at least half of the work has already been done for you. You already have things collected, and a number of those things are already processed into tasks. Now, all you need to do is take a look at those tasks, and reprocess them based on your newly refined goals, working around the problems that you identified in the first step. Chances are good that you will find a lot of tasks that are already complete, or no longer relevant — and every one of those tasks that you get rid of will make you feel just a little bit better. Kill them dead with impunity!
The easiest approach to reprocessing may be to start with your Projects list, as it will be smaller than your combined tasks, and it will be easier for you to identify the projects that can be removed completely, or added to Someday/Maybe. Once you have gone through that list, you can simply throw away any tasks related to those removed or moved projects, which will speed up your overall processing time, and get you in the right frame of mind to approach other tasks in the same way.
If this still seems overwhelming, then do the reprocessing in chunks. You won’t lose anything if you don’t do it all in one day — just make sure that you keep coming back to it until it’s done.
Reestablish the Collection Process
Now that you have the backlog out of the way, it’s time to start collecting again. The difference here will be that you are once again sure about your goals, and your system will be tweaked for optimal collection and processing. That’s a fun and fancy way of saying that you’re back on track, focused, and ready to rock your way to the productive lifestyle you aspire to.
Before you get going here, however, do a final check to make sure your refined Inbox is as easily accessible as you need it to be. If you are using Producteev or another online tool, be certain that the email addresses, extensions, apps, and other methods to send things into those services are in your contact lists, installed, and/or otherwise ready to go. Give yourself some leeway here, as well. It’s possible that things may not work entirely as you thought they would, so you may need to do a bit more tweaking over the next week or so.
Create Good Habits
GTD or any other productivity methodology is really nothing more than a collection of habits. It starts with discipline, certainly, but after a while the things that you do daily to maintain the processes should become second nature. Problems arise, however, when we have or create conflicting habits that could drag the system into another breakdown. Since you’ve already identified the bad habits that contributed to the last crash and burn, you are already a step ahead in the game. Unfortunately, bad habits don’t go quietly, and creating good habits in the face of the bad is not easy.
The key here is to not try to do everything at once. If you try a massive attack against all bad habits, trying to replace them with the new good ones, you will end up with a fight on your hands that will lead you back down the path to overwhelm. Instead, go with surgical strikes. Make a list of those bad and good habits and attack them one at a time. If you lapse here and there, don’t flay yourself over it. Just methodically get back on the proverbial horse and eventually, you will be successful.
*The Weekly Review is Your Friend
It’s human nature to get a little lazy with things now and again, and this can be a problem, if you let it. Again, don’t be overly harsh with yourself, as it will only make you more likely to abandon your system. Who wants to do anything daily that is attached to self-recriminations and other forms of negativity? Not me — and probably not you, either. Instead, just make sure you keep up with the parts of the system that are there to help you keep things together. Chief among those is the Weekly Review.
The Weekly Review is where you get the chance to check on the health of your system. You can see where your projects are at, and can examine what worked and what didn’t work over the past week. I can’t put enough emphasis on the importance of taking the time to do this — and thoroughly — every single week. If you let it slip too far, you will miss out on key indicators that could help you catch a problem before it starts or spins out of control. Schedule at least an hour every week — two hours, or more, if necessary — and go through your review in detail. If you get done early, that’s a bonus for you! Either way, the time spent will be worthwhile, and will save you more time in the end. Just make sure you reward yourself when you finish so that you have incentive to keep coming back.
As a final thought on getting back to (and keeping up with) GTD, remember that good visual presentation goes a long way. This isn’t to say that a pretty app or sexy Moleskine notebook is the best approach for your system, only that anything that makes it easier for you to look at and process your data will increase the likelihood that you’ll keep coming back.
- Make sure that your contexts are clear and well organized.
- Keep next actions on any given project down to one or two at a time, if possible.
- Make tasks obvious that will take a while to complete.
- I’m sure you get the idea…
Most importantly, if your system starts to break down again, don’t wait until you are on the verge of a mental breakdown before you do something about it. GTD can be a powerful ally to the productivity Jedi — but if you give it enough leverage it will turn around and give you an ass-kicking you wouldn’t believe. Eternal vigilance and such, dig?
Share what you do to keep your GTD on track!
Bobby Travis is a geeky dad with passion for writing and online marketing, coupled with a serious bent for productivity systems. You can chat with him on Twitter (@bobby_travis), connect with him on LinkedIn, or read more of his work on 40Tech. He is also a big fan of money, so if you want to hire him for some freelance work, he won’t be mad at you! Email him at email@example.com.
Learn more about Producteev weekly digests. Tune in to our first twitter chat about productivity!
Wednesday, May 18, 2011 from 1pm - 2pm EST. Topic: Getting Things Done.
Maintaining a healthy life balance is not only crucial for happiness and well-being; it can be advantageous to your productivity and success as well. A well-balanced person is better equipped to focus their attention and energy on achieving their goals, accomplishing meaningful actions and moving forward.
Each of us has different life situations, many things pulling us in different directions and a whole host of other factors that we collectively call our lives. Despite these dissimilarities, we all seem to be feeling the same challenge to make it all work somehow.
So, what can you do to regain a positive work-life balance? Or maintain that equilibrium once you find it? How about trying some of these strategies that have worked for others!
- Shut it off – Disconnect on the weekend, at least for one day or a few hours each night. Step away from the computer, turn off the phone and give your brain a rest. Yes, you can do it!
- Health first – It seems like we’re beating a dead horse sometimes, but it really does make a difference in the quality of our lives and our work if we: get enough sleep, drink more water, fit in some activity and eat a bit healthier.
- Cut back – It goes without saying that if your life is too full of the wrong things (sometimes even too much of the right things) you will never be able to pull it all together and find your balance. Ruthlessly trim activities that are not absolutely necessary or do not add value to your life.
- Relationships matter – Make time for your family, spend time with friends and get to know the people around you.
- Say goodbye to “Negative Nancy” – Minimize contact with people that are negative, complainers, whiners or have bad attitudes. You know who I mean…you do not need other people’s junk dragging you down. Surround yourself with positive, supportive, can-do people whenever possible.
- Get quiet – Time alone is probably the hardest thing to do for the typical overworked, overwhelmed, busy individual, but it is crucial for lowering stress, increasing happiness and fostering creativity. Meditate, journal, draw, practice yoga or simply sit quietly for a few minutes each day and do absolutely nothing. I dare you to give it a try!
- Soak up the world - Take a walk and notice what’s going on around you, attend a performance of some kind, play amateur photographer, visit a new town or try being a tourist in your own.
- Expand your mind - Read a book that sparks your interest, listen to uplifting music, take a class, learn to paint, try something new that you’ve always wanted to learn.
- Indulge – Get a massage, a pedicure or a facial. It doesn’t have to be expensive; a glass of wine, a special kind of coffee or tea, a wonderfully scented candle or beautiful flowers.
- Reach out – Join a community organization, volunteer, get involved in the larger world community. It seems counterintuitive to the average person living the typical hectic existence, but doing something to help others most often adds even more to your life.
- Laugh – Have some fun, find your sense of humor, subscribe to a daily joke or get a tear-off calendar. Nothing makes the world feel right again as fast as a good old-fashioned belly laugh.
Royale Scuderi is a personal productivity expert and author. She blogs about productivity tips, tools and strategies at http://www.productivelifeconcepts.com. Her mission is to help you to work smarter and live better! You too can have business success and life satisfaction through increased efficiency, organization, clarity of purpose, motivation and awareness.
Photo credit: Gau Gorri