Posts Tagged Books

Quality and Impact – Making it Personal

I moved out of my apartment two days ago.  One of the last things I did to prepare for my year on the road was to give away my fridge.  I gave it away for free to a stranger by posting it on Gumtree (an Australian based trading site).  Despite it being a very busy week I made the effort to clean the fridge thoroughly before it was collected.  I removed every shelf and washed it, wiped all the inside and outside surfaces, cleaned every food crumb from the seals.  I imagined how much the person receiving the fridge would appreciate that it was clean and ready to use.   When the task was complete I silently thanked the fridge for the service it had provided me (I really did – it has been part of my ritual of letting go of most of my material possessions over the past two months).

I won’t pretend to have been fully present while cleaning the fridge.  I was thinking about why it was important to me to clean the fridge.  In part it was personal pride and wanting to make a good impression on the new owner.  The Golden Rule was also in operation – treating the new owner as I would like to be treated.  However, my sense of connection with this chore went beyond that.  I was reminded of two books that have influenced how I approach both everyday activities and my work.

In my early twenties I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig for the first time.  Using the narrative of a fictional 17 day motorbike journey, Pirsig explores the meaning and concept of quality.  It was probably my first exposure to mindfulness – to being fully present with a task or activity (despite my mind wandering while I cleaned the fridge).  I recall being struck by the extent to which the main character was in the moment with not only the task of maintaining his motorbike, but other experiences on his journey.  He was also intensely interested in the detail of things he was working with.  I’m unsure whether the book shaped my values or resonated with existing values.  What it clarified and solidified for me is a sense of care and connection with the projects and tasks that I take on.  If I take things on I want to do them well and put a lot of effort into being of service and delivering valuable outcomes in my work.

Linchpin by Seth Godin is the second book I was reminded of.  I read this more recently, shortly after it’s release in 2011.  The central idea in Linchpin is that anyone can make a significant impact regardless of their position, how much they like their job, or any other factor.  Linchpin is about the impact of looking for the opportunity to make a difference, to make a contribution of some sort simply because you want to bring your best self to the things you do.  Every now and then I get great service in a shop, or a bus driver that drives extra-smoothly and greets passengers in a friendly way, or coffee that has clearly been made with care and attention to detail.  In a world where most service is ordinary it’s not hard to stand out simply by caring about what you do and seeking to do it well.  An attitude like this creates opportunities.

The themes of these two books are similar, although expressed in different ways.  I felt content as I looked at the clean fridge and thought about what it symbolised.

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Sort Your Task List by Start Date

Smart Work by Dermot Crowley

Last week I read Demot Crowley’s book Smart Work, which he describes as a practical productivity book.  He uses a systems approach to the challenge of organising yourself in the digital workplace.  His system consists of:

  • centralising your actions
  • organising your inputs and
  • realising your outcomes (i.e. ensuring you are putting energy and effort into the things that are highest value to you).

The structure of the system (and the book) is logical and easy to follow.  It is written clearly and offers practical tips.  I especially appreciated the emphasis on keeping things simple.  A simple system or process is easier to follow and maintain.  I’ve tried following David Allen’s ‘Getting Things Done’ system, and found it too much effort to maintain.  On the other hand, Dermot’s approach strikes the right balance of practicality and relatively low effort with ensuring that you’ve got all your task inputs and actions captured and under control.

While I already have a reasonable solid, effective system in place for my personal planning and productivity, I’m constantly looking for minor improvements.  I was able to skim Dermot’s book and find a number of useful tweaks, especially in the ‘tech tips’ section at the end of each chapter.

One improvement that I’ve implemented is to organise my task list by start date.  I use 2Do as my electronic task management tool.  The default order for task display is due date.  I was using this default and got out of the habit of entering a start date for each task.  In order to figure out what to work on each day I needed to scan through all tasks due in the coming 1-2 weeks, mentally constructing a Gantt chart in my head.  I would use priority flags to identify the tasks I wanted to work on every day.  The flags would be used for a secondary sort of task display order.  Obviously this process had more steps, effort and time for daily task management than was necessary.  Based on Dermot’s tip I assigned a start date to all open tasks (as well as due date) and I now display tasks in start date order.  It’s much simpler and quicker for me to identify what to work on each day.

Consistent with my goal of a short daily dispatch I’m leaving this post with one key tip today.  I’m sure more productivity posts will appear in dispatches.  If your current approach to managing the flood of incoming tasks, emails, messages and meetings isn’t working well for you, I recommend you read and apply Dermot’s book.

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