getting things done

Cranking the deadline

Posted by on Apr 2, 2008 in getting things done | 1 comment

As consultants, we live and breathe deadlines, like it or not.
They come in all sizes – from having to send an email at a certain time, to finishing the big deck of slides for the project’s final presentation. They overlap. They shift. Some are rigid, some can be bent – but you better not break them.

Here are some tips on how to tame this wild animal – your next deadline. Because not making the deadline is just not on the list of cool things to do.

Being able to concentrate under deadline stress is crucial to keep you productive.

  • Set the email-check to manual. The ping/notification every time a new mail comes in (that you cannot attend to now anyways) will distract you, and you would need precious time to get back to concentration and pick up your train of thought. Blackberry users, set your profile so that you do not get a ring/buzz on incoming email.
    If you are expecting important mail, ask the sender to give you a quick call once the message is sent, so you can check you inbox then.
  • Disable all IM clients. Doesn’t matter if it is private or corporate, IM has to go off. You have no time to chat.
  • CLOSE, not minimize, all applications that you do not need. If you are working in Powerpoint and Excel, close the browser. Close Outlook. What you don’t see doesn’t distract you.
  • When working in an office with many people, check if there maybe is a quiet office/conference room available where you can hack away without being distracted by other people’s phone calls, conversations, etc.
  • Get everything off your desk that does not relate to your current work.

Staying creative
It is good to be concentrated. That is enough for tasks where you are just hacking away and can put your mind on “execute”. But what if you need to actually be creative, as in thinking of possible concepts for a strategic option?

  • Have pen and paper available. For developing ideas, the link between your hand, eye and mind is more direct than when you are sketching things in PPT. When available, use your company’s yellow pads (those that are giving you the PPT-slide-frame, so that you can fill in action title, etc.
  • Use a brown paper for your storyline. When creating a story, it is important to see it in its entirety. Again, this is better done on paper than on screen. Print out your slides (they must not all be ready to do this, you can start with only titles on the slides), put them on a board/brown paper/wall.
  • Talk to someone who is not involved. Of course, you are short on time, so this is not the place for a tea party. Nevertheless, if you are braining away on an issue and do not come to a conclusion, present it to someone who is not involved. Often, the act of expressing exactly what your issue is, helps you to process and solve it.

Staying awake
Unfortunately, deadlines often result in late nights or all-nighters. So you need to stay awake beyond your normal comfort zone.

  • Get yourself a decent supply of caffeine. For me, a good mix of coffee and coke works well (not cocaine, buddy. We are not bankers ;-) ). Energy drinks tend to create too much of a sugar/caffeine high that fades quickly and leaves you more tired than you were before.
  • Switch all available lights on. Trick your body into believing it is day.
  • Make it cold. Not freezing cold, but the warmer the room is, the easier you get tired.
  • Sit at a desk. When working away in the hotel, chances are the bed looks really nice to sit on and do some work… and then you wake up in the morning with the imprint of the keyboard on your forehead. Sit on a chair at a desk.
  • Listen to energizing music. Chances are that your customer is already at home with wife and kids when you get cranking – so it might be possible to get the earplugs out and put some good vibes on. Avoid singer/songwriter type of music – the type where you actually listen to the lyrics -, you don’t want to distract yourself too much, just crank up the mood.
  • Take power naps. In your chair. Set the alarm to LOUD, set it to 15 minutes. Not more. When the 15 minutes is up, stand up, stretch, move around, get back to work. DO NOT EXTEND THE 15 MINUTES, that most of the time means you are losing the war against sleep. For power napping, I love pzizz. For the extra kick, you might want to try the caffeine nap.

What are your favourite techniques for cranking the deadline? Share in the comments!

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GTD on the road and on Outlook

Posted by on Mar 23, 2008 in getting things done | 2 comments

GTD is new to you? Why not have a look at the introductory post on GTD, that will clear things up for you.

I get the feeling that GTD was not designed for consultants, at least not when it comes to the proposed setup. 43 folders tickler file? How do I get that into my briefcase? Making new folders for every project that comes up? Carrying that as well? Yeah, right. I actually had the folders implemented, and always took those for the week with me. It was not too big a stack, and at the end of the week I sorted it back into my file cabinet, archived stuff that I had collected over the week, and took out the folders for the next. Unfortunately, there is not always a cabinet available to hang my folders. Now I am down to an organizer-type thing – like an A4 booklet, it has seven partitions of sturdy paper, and in them I sort everything I need for the next week (Monday to Friday), plus stuff that goes back to the Archive or the Tickler. That does work quite well… but let’s be honest, most of us don’t carry paper in an organized fashion, apart from the travel expenses that need to be claimed.

Most consultants live out of Outlook.
(For those of you forced to work with Lotus Notes, I am sorry. Maybe you were a mean kid and deserve it? If not, go complain to your IT department)
Living out of Outlook can be a blessing, and a huge pain. It does mean that your calendar, your mail and your tasks are in one place, and sync with your blackberry or whathaveyou-Exchange-compatible phone. It means that you can arrange meetings with your colleagues and not miss the important “changes due on Monday, 8am” mail from your boss Friday night.
Unfortunately, Outlook (and especially its ToDo-features) is not built with GTD in mind. There is no notion of projects and contexts by which you could sort from the getgo… but fear not! The mighty powers of the internet have caused other people to tackle that issue before you. Here’s a quick list of places to go:

  • Jello.Dashboard
    This freeware (beta) gives you a GTD-feasible dashboard view on outlook. Looks promising, but as the developer says it is not compatible with Exchange yet, I can’t try it out, and only those of you with a standalone Outlook (Lonely knights of consulting) should. [Edit: As Jello.Dashboard's developer, dr. Uqbar, pointet out in the comments, the plugin generally works with Exchange, but he cannot test it thoroughly, lacking an Exchange environment, and thus can't guarantee it will run under all circumstances.]
  • The official GTD plugin from Netcentrics
    This is a plugin for GTD licensed by David Allen Co. – so it must be good, right? In addition to supplying new Task-views that implement Contexts and Projects, it adds a custom toolbar to your Outlook, with which you can easily file, mark as someday/maybe, etc. … it is not free though, after a 30 days trial it costs you USD 69.95… now lets see if we can do better than that:
  • Melissa MacBeth gives some good tips on how GTD can be implemented with Outlook 2007′s own tools.
  • And finally -for the Outlook part of today: The threeparttutorial from David Ornstein on embedding the GTD workflow into Outlook 2007. This is deep stuff, it will need some (very well guided) work on your side – but hey, even the folks from DavidCo were impressed – maybe it is worth the effort for you as well?

So you see, there are possibilities to improve your life in Outlook by a vast amount. If you try some of this stuff out, let me know how it goes!

As for me – I am still stuck on a homegrown solution of ToDo-Views, which to implement projects and contexts basically… but it is a hard trick for me. See, I am a Mac user by heart. I have sworn never to have to work on a lousy Windows machine once I made the switch… until my new job came around the corner, and all you get is a ThinkPad with Vista pre-installed, Blackberry and Office 2007. Period. Being a newbie, asking for special treatment was not an option (especially not in a big firm, where you do not really have a lot of choice over your hardware in the first place). I miss my OmniFocus big time. *sniff*. Anyway.

In the next week, we will look at online-options of implementation, for those of you not wanting to tinker with their Outlook, and those who might want to integrate personal and work task management.

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GTD for consultants – do we need that? (an intro)

Posted by on Mar 10, 2008 in getting things done | 0 comments

Monday is GTD day at KillerConsultant, but before we dive into a quick intro on what the David-Allen-GTD is all about, a quick primer.

Do consultants even need stuff like that?
I mean, come on. This is a performance profession. Consultants must have all this down from the get go, right? Have you ever met a consultant who struggled juggling tasks? Oh… you did. Have you ever seen a consultant working longer hours than he already does, because things got a bit lost on his big list of “Priority 1″ items? Oh… you did. So the answer of course is (and you saw that coming): YES, we do. Dearly. And because our job is so fast paced most of the time and because we are in the professional services industry, it is crucial for our success and our sanity to be organized, get things done and juggle our plates.

What this GTD-stuff is all about
GTD, the methodology, not the wish to get things done, was created by David Allen. GTD is about…

Capturing anything and everything that has your attention.
Defining actionable things discretely into outcomes and concrete next steps.
Organizing reminders and information in the most streamlined way, in appropriate categories, based onhow and when you need to access them.
Keeping current and “on your game” with appropriately frequent reviews of the six horizons of yourcommitments (purpose, vision, goals, areas of focus, projects, and actions)

(Taken from the source, here) Sounds good? Sure did to me. As there are many many good intros to GTD, I won’t try to sum it up again. For a start, read the great article on 43folders, and when you are done there, and you still like the ideas of GTD, then fork out the ten bucks and get the book (amazon us / amazon de).

Now that you got an idea what GTD is about, get ready for next week, where I will introduce the first of many GTD-tools to you that can make your life as a consultant a more organized, stress free and relaxed one.

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