Doing More With Less: A Personal Productivity Workshop

By: Dylan Book

My approach to learning of any kind is to look for the takeaway.  I ask myself, “what are just a few key paradigms or principles that I can easily adopt and apply to my life?”  The 180th Pacific Coast Scout Group hosted its very first Personal Productivity Workshop on January 29 2013, which was based on “GTD”, Getting Things Done by David Allen, a work-life management system and 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, a business management book by Dr. Stephen Covey.

The workshop started with an obvious but important step: actually figuring out the things we had to do.  We wrote down 6 of the things we had to accomplish that day on sticky notes.  After that, we wrote down the physical steps that had to be taken in order to get those things done.  I found this simple two-step task great for getting a visual handle on my responsibilities, and breaking things down into physical steps made the job much easier. One of the justifications for procrastinating is that the path to getting the job done isn’t clear.  Processing makes the path much more obvious and thereby prevents procrastination.

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Later on, we approached the topic of email management. The presenters talked about a system called “Inbox Zero” based on Merlin Mann’s book, Inbox Zero, about “how to reclaim your email, your attention, and your life”.  The idea is that you use 5 action verbs to help you transform the email into an action: Delete, Delegate, Respond, Defer or Do.  Once an action has been taken you just remove it from your inbox: either by deleting it or archiving it.

I was skeptical about it at first. I had over 2500 emails in my inbox and thought most of them contained information that I needed to keep.  My approach was to use my inbox as a big, messy box of information; it’s not like I was anywhere near my storage limit and I could always just search for anything I needed.  But then I started deleting some of my oldest emails and quickly realized that most of my emails were not worth keeping.  I quickly decided that any information I needed just shouldn’t be kept in my inbox.  I placed it in a more sensible location, like a Dropbox folder or Evernote journal.  Now my inbox contains only 61 messages, and I have a process in place to get it down to zero very soon.  This has been the biggest lesson I got out of the workshop. Now that I have the Delete-Delegate-Respond-Defer-Do process in place, I can approach my email in a more systematic and effective way.  I’ve found that having better control of my email is a lot like having a clean desk: it makes it easier to focus and clears your mind.  It’s just one less thing I have to think about.

The concept of processing tasks and “Inbox Zero” were just a couple of things I got out of the workshop.  The Personal Development team also covered prioritization techniques, scheduling and time management strategies, and tips for effective task execution.  The workshop made good use of hands-on exercises and real life examples which showed us how to effectively apply those strategies.  I really liked this workshop because we are an active Scout group, and taking part helped to ensure that we would be productive with our Scouting projects.  These strategies will also be invaluable tools for all of our future endeavours.


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