I am a student of productivity. I’ve been working for years to determine the besttools, systems, tricks and approaches for enabling me to work effectively and with meaning, and then helping others learn how as well.
I’ve long been a fan of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and his related “First Things First” approach. I love the idea of having all of my work flow from my personal and professional mission statement and relate to my values and key roles in life. The challenge for me has always been translating that to every day – how do I get the long list of ToDo’s done and stay focused on not only my highest priorities, but also dealing with the minutiae of daily life? I’ve been living the 7 Habits (or at least attempting to) since 1995 and still struggle with conquering Habit 3 from the organization and execution standpoint. Being a certified facilitator of the Covey 7 Habits and other leadership programs helps, as we always learn more when we teach others, but it is still a challenge for me.
Enter David Allen and his Getting Things Done (GTD) approach. I was first introduced to GTD back in 1999. I didn’t realize at the time that it was still a relatively new approach. I had the honor of attending a workshop taught by David himself and then working with an implementation coach to incorporate the approach in to my life. GTD totally handles the big and little stuff in work and in life overall. The “Someday Maybe” list was an amazing revelation for me and continues to be ridiculously long as I tend to be very creative and come up with many ideas for “things to do, learn, read, experience …” on an ongoing basis. Thus the challenge of staying on top of my lists and focused on what REALLY needs to be done NOW vs what would be nice to do someday.
I began to marry the two methods – 7 Habits and GTD – and for the last decade have played with many tools and systems to try to make it all work. While still in Corporate America I was limited to Microsoft Outlook. It was partially there, but better with the FranklinCovey PlanPlus add-on. I began working with those two when I started Wings of Success LLC in 2002.
As my business grew, I was wanting a more robust Client Relationship Manager and Project Management tool to integrate with my ToDo list and Calendar. Outlook wasn’t quite cutting it for me, even though they were beefing up their Business Contacts Manager. At the advice of my IT guy, I switched to TimeMatters by LexisNexis. That made for an interesting several years! While the product was very robust and capable of far more than I’d ever use (it was ACT! on steroids), it was just too much for a small business like mine. I spent 1000’s of hours and dollars (no exaggeration here – a steep price for an already too busy small business owner) trying to customize the system, streamline it and get my IT infrastructure stable enough to handle it. What a frustrating experience. The whole time I struggled to stay on top of the growing demands on my productivity and to provide the strategic vision and guidance for my business and life. One valuable lesson I learned in this phase is that I HAVE TO HAVE the “trusted system” David Allen talks about for tracking all of my “open loops” and commitments. TimeMatters wasn’t a trusted system for me, and it continued to stress my productivity and frazzle me.
Finally, in late 2009/early 2010 I cried “uncle.” I had switched my email platform to Gmail (after the IT storm cloud I lived under had caused my other email provider to basically flip such that all spam was going in the inbox and all real email was going in spam). What a blessing!! I immediately saw productivity gains just by leaving Outlook and my other provider behind and using Gmail. I then began heavily researching Google Apps and the emerging Marketplace to find Gmail solutions that could fill my other needs.
I am pleased to say I am finally stabilizing on a solution set that I think will finally be that long sought-after GTD Trusted System, and also enable me to still sprinkle in enough of the Covey 7 Habits approach to make it meaningful. My new happy productivity place is guided by 4 main pieces: Gmail, Google Calendar, Solve360, and GQueues (all built on my Google Apps premier subscription for my business). How sweet it is to finally feel like my contact list is under control and being updated regularly (Solve360), I know the key projects I am working on, who they involve, what their status’ are and the next steps (Solve360), I have a calendar that plays nicely with my tasks and appointments (Google Calendar), and FINALLY, AT LONG LAST, THE MISSING PIECE – I have a ToDo/Next Action management system that is straight-forward, simple to use, yet robust enough to manage all of my immediate next actions as well as the agendas and someday maybes, big and small, near or future (GQueues). Oh, I shouldn’t forget one other piece – Solve360 just allowed me to push slightly under 1000 contacts into MailChimp in just a couple minutes to send a Thanksgiving greeting to valuable clients and colleagues!
And, the beautiful thing – all of this is cloud-computing and works seamlessly with my Android Samsung Moment, so wherever I am, in the office, on the run, as long as I am “online,” I’m connected and able to process and stay on top of my life! There are so few times I’m not “connected” that I don’t worry too much about having off-line access, but Google Connector does allow me to sync down to Outlook (it still lurks on my computers) and GQueues has an off-line version coming once HTML5 becomes the new standard.
It feels so good to finally have the system in place again after months (years!) of struggle and anxiety about what I might be forgetting and how my productivity was suffering. Thank you Google, Norada (Solve360) and Cameron (GQueues)! You are making my life immensely better! Stephen Covey and David Allen would be proud!