Getting Things Done in Tough Places

This is a guest post by Euan Semple. Euan is an international speaker, author of Organizations Don’t Tweet – People Do, and is one of the few people in the world who can turn the complex world of the social web into something we can understand and at the same time learn how to get the most from it. While working in a senior position at the BBC, Euan was one of the first to introduce what have since become known as “social media tools” into a large, successful organisation. He has subsequently worked with organisation such as KPMG, Nokia, The World Bank and NATO. You can learn more about Euan at his website and follow him on Twitter.

A lot of what is written about productivity and David Allen’s GTD methodology is written by freelancers or people in roles that afford them a high degree of autonomy. Yet most of the workforce who are trying to get things done are much more constrained about what they can do in a number of ways:

  1. They don’t always have the luxury of using their own technology and their ability to work across home and work systems is severely compromised.
  2. They are often less in control of their time than they would like to be.
  3. Their projects are not at their own instigation and their ability to maintain control over the various tasks in those projects can be severely limited.

So what to do?

Although GTD contexts are problematic if you use the same tools and are online all of the time they still have their place if you are moving from the technological constraints of the workplace to the relative freedom of home.

  • Don’t bang your head against a brick wall trying to do tasks that require access to online tools at work if your IT department make that difficult. Save those for the nearest Starbucks or home.
  • If you have a strong meeting culture at work make the most of that and condense as many meetings as possible into as small amount of time at the office as necessary.
  • Maximise your energy. If it is hard to concentrate in the office do your focussed tasks like report writing somewhere where you will not be disturbed.

All of the above suggestions assume a degree of control over your movements. Even if you don’t have this degree of autonomy at the moment argue for it. Explain where you are most productive and why and make the case for increased flexibility to your boss.

The amount of information we have to take in at work, and the number of things we are expected to do with it, are only going to increase. We need to get better at deciding what actions are the most effective and productive for us to take on – and say no to the rest. Having a productivity system of some sort gives you a stronger basis for saying no. Be ruthless in saying no.

This calls for a level of assertiveness that some may find challenging but having a productivity system can help. In the same way as budgeting doesn’t give you more money but does let you know exactly where you are financially, an effective productivity system lets you know better where your lines in the sand are. Knowing exactly what your workload is not only helps you to stay sane and cope with pressure, it also gives you the basis for conversations with others, including your boss, as to how they help or hinder your effectiveness.

Every journey starts with a small step and the way to overcome the feelings of powerlessness that can so often overcome us in the corporate environment is to start small. Take control of one aspect of your workload. Even if it is just knowing, for the first time perhaps, what is expected of you and what you can and can’t realistically do – at least you know where you are starting from.

Exercising control over your time and location come next. You may have to fight a culture of presenteeism, or make the case for more flexible hours, but you have to gain control over your work environment as much as you can.

Rediscovering a sense of personal agency is the reward. Slowly crawling out from under our bureaucratic and process driven worlds to build our ability to cope and get things done benefits not just ourselves but our whole organisation.

Photo credit: babette1 via SXC.HU