One of my favorite recent discoveries is David Allen, author of Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. (affiliate link) Allen's book is wildly popular and his methods are used by some of the nation's most well-respected organizations. Recently, my friend Tasra Dawson told me about the video of part of a presentation David Allen delivered to Google employees about how to master your work flow.
(If you're reading this via email or RSS and can't see the video, click here.)
Allen says that someone has called this “knowledge work athletics.” I found his points so compelling that I jotted them down to share with you. It's worth 45 minutes of your time to watch the video, but if you can't, take note of these 5 keys to gaining control of your work flow. (These are my summaries of Allen's words, not Allen's words.)
Deal with what's in front of you. This is about gaining control by collecting everything in your physical environment that has potential meaning to you. For example, look around your work area and put everything you don't use all the time (like the phone, laptop, printer, pen holder) in boxes and label them. Starting with the detailed chaos and working your way up allows you to clear your brain from the ground up so it can focus on what it was designed to focus on: intelligent thinking.
As you gain control of the small, unimportant details, your perspective improves and you are better able to to focus and act on the big ones.
- Clarify what those things mean. Now that you've cleared your space, you can focus on clarifying what needs to be done. This helps you avoid the fatigue associated with a bunch of undone, unaddressed, psychologically repulsive stuff.
- Organize. This is about context. If your work area is clear and everything else is in labeled boxes, you can toss out what you don't need and fit the rest physical space. Once everything has a physical space, you can focus on giving it only the mental space it needs.
Review, and review repeatedly. Put what's not discarded into a system (well, you have to create one that works for you) that you use and review repeatedly so your brain can let it go. Once everything is properly stored and accounted for in your physical system, it can be dealt with at the right time (and this is critical) in your mental one. This process releases your brain from the worry and anxiety produced by all the “stuff.” It relaxes your brain so it can be productive. Everything not discarded is safely stored in a specific physical context, making it available to your intelligence at the exact time it's needed.
For example, if you're completely overwhelmed this week because you have to write and Tweet a blog post, update your FaceBook Fan Page, accept your LinkedIn connection requests and check in at your women's business networking group, you use use these work flow keys to create a social networking system of your own.
Knowing that you'll check LinkedIn on a particular day at a particular time, that you'll blog on a particular day at a particular time, etc., lets your brain know that you don't have to worry about those things until the time to do so comes up in your system. This frees your brain to focus on other priorities. It doesn't have to worry about FaceBook until your system says it has to worry about FaceBook.
- Engage and do. Now that your mind is free from the annoying details that clutter and sabotage your productivity, you can engage your brain in intelligent activities that produce results.
It's not rocket science, but if you are a small business owner, your ability to increase both productivity and profitability depend on your ability to prioritize and control tasks you must perform. If you're like me and you own and manage a family business from home, you can take your life one compartment at a time — kitchen, home office, bedroom, etc. — and just go through the steps here.
Question: How do you control your work flow for maximum productivity?