Productivity as a Process

This is a guest post by David Wyndham. David is President and co-owner of Conklin & de Decker, an aviation data and consulting firm in Orleans, Massachusetts. He is married to the woman of his dreams for almost 30 years, and owns two dogs: Briards. David and his wife compete in Agility with them and they are regulars at his work. You can follow David on Twitter as @djwyn.

I am a part owner of a small aviation consulting firm. As such, I’m managing workflows for my roles as an owner, marketing manager, aviation blogger, product development and tech nerd, consultant with multiple clients, and dog walker. The dogs are the only ones who let me know what I need to do and when. Many a time I’ve struggled with trying to remember when, what, and for whom as my email piled up. The brain is not designed to be a task manager, so I looked for something better. Initially, that led me to a guy named Merlin Mann, his site 43 Folders, and his treatise Inbox Zero.

That led me to Getting Things Done by David Allen. That was (and still is) a game-changer for me. Collect, Process, Organize, Review and Do.

I’m a heavy computer user, switching over to the Mac and iOS about four years ago. So I set out to find the “perfect tool” for GTD and the Mac-iOS system.

But I made the mistake of making productivity a goal.

I probably have tried a dozen to-do list managers in depth, and another dozen downloaded and discarded after a few minutes. Web-based, Mac, iOS and the like. Paper and pen never worked for me, even with a gorgeous Mont Blanc and Moleskine. After a few years with the “Productivity Tool of the Week” I figured out an (obvious) secret of productivity. It is a process and not a goal. A good productivity system is one that lets you get to “Do” as frictionless as possible.

For the past year I have settled on my tools of choice. They meet all my needs and many of my wants. I almost always have an iOS device handy. It needs to sync with my Mac at work and at home. I need to mange anywhere from 10 to 20 projects ranging from three steps to fifty. So now, I’m working to master the tools that I have rather than scanning the Internet for the next colorful to-do app.

As a result of GTD, I am feeling more freedom to think about what is next and what I want to do. I make the time for a weekly review and mini daily reviews to scan all that I have going on or coming up. Along the way, I added a layer on top of GTD, Agile Results. I use its Three Important Things for today, this week, this month, along with its Monthly Sprints to help me focus.

The biggest problem I have is in developing and reviewing the long term view, the 40,000 and 50,000 foot views in GTD. Those are the “what is my outer purpose in this world” views. Ideally, what I do should support that purpose, or at least not interfere with it. Some parts are easy to figure out: wanting to be the wonderful husband and friend my wife deserves. But things like how do I best contribute to my community and my career still need refinement. That is where I want to use the time being productive can afford me: the time to be still and think about the big picture knowing that everything else will still be where I can get back to it.

I enjoy podcasts and make “productive” listening time for Mikes on Mics, Enough, and still hang with Merlin Mann and Dan Benjamin on Back to Work. These are all found on and worth my very limited time. These help me not to pick out the next app, but to help me focus on the question of whether what I am doing right now is really what I want to be doing right now.

Biggest lesson learned: It is a process, its about doing the right things, the effective things. It’s not about the hot new toy/app/book. But be kind to yourself and keep at it. I have a lot still to learn, but feel like I’m on a path I can feel good about.

Photo credit: ColinBroug via SXC.HUp