Why Productivity is a Matter of Life and Death for Me

This a guest post by Dallon Christensen. Dallon is the direct of accounting and finance and chief financial officer of Evolution Power Tools in Davenport, Iowa. Dallon has fallen off the Getting Things Done wagon more times than he can remember while organizing his roles as devoted husband, father, friend, co-worker, and blogger. Dallon is restarting his blog and is the co-host of the Packers Fan Podcast. Dallon has recently helped his nine-year-old stepson Thomas organize lists with Remember the Milk and a Kindle Fire to help Thomas stay organized while going to school.

Productivity is a key element for success in business and life. However, for most people, productivity is not a matter of life and death. This is not the case in my family, where being productive and organized can mean the difference between a healthy lifestyle or a dangerous medical situation.

In April 2012, my stepson, Thomas, was diagnosed with Type 1 (juvenile) diabetes. My family’s existence changed forever upon learning this announcement. Our lives now involve checking blood sugar ten to twelve times a day, monitoring insulin treatments, and computing the level of carbohydrates for each meal and snack. We are blessed that Thomas is a very active child who lives a reasonably normal life. However, my wife and I must take care to regulate Thomas’ blood sugar levels. Too high of a blood sugar level can lead to long-term health issues. Too low of a blood sugar level can lead to a critical short-term diabetic emergency.

Before Thomas’ diabetes diagnosis, I made several half-hearted attempts to implement a productivity and organizational system. I read Getting Things Done in 2004, and I tried several different productivity tools to become more organized. I faced the following three issues in my productivity journey:

  1. I had more room for error in my life. If an action step did not get into my system, I might have to redo something or take some extra time after work hours to finish a task. While these steps were inconveniences, they were usually not critical to my life or my family’s life.
  2. I was not fully engaged in a productivity system. I had read Getting Things Done, and I thought I could take what I wanted from GTD’s “systematic approach”. I did not use the full framework of GTD, but I did not have the motivation to complete the full GTD system.
  3. I still kept ideas in my head. I thought I could trust my brain to keep my key ideas in my life. I did not empty my head and put my ideas into a system.

After Thomas’ diabetes diagnosis, I realized I would have a whole new list of demands and numbers in my life. I would have more challenges to balance Thomas’ blood sugar, insulin, and carbohydrates. I knew I would deal with much more information in my life. This was finally the motivation I needed to fully embrace a change in my organizational and productivity lifestyle.

My productivity journey changed in four important ways:

1. I had to maximize my time at work.

I am a chief financial officer for a growing industrial products company. Like many of you, I have deadlines and commitments I must meet. However, I must set very clear time boundaries. Dinner at home is a whirlwind of measuring food, checking blood sugar, and logging key diabetic numbers. I have a hard stop at 4:30 PM. Since I get to work at 7:15 AM, I must maximize my productivity. I must prioritize my time and energy every single day.

2. I had to create routines and checklists.

Every trip outside the house involves bringing key diabetic supplies, nutritional charts, blood sugar meters, and Thomas’ diabetic pump. We have routines for everything from how to change the insulin pump delivery site to packing a bag for football games. I now use Evernote and Trello to maintain our checklists and routines so we do not forget something. Thomas’ health depends on routine, and we document these routines so they are out of our head.

3. I must balance my Areas of Responsibility (AORs) more effectively.

I have always tried to maintain a balance in all areas of my life. However, my family becomes an even more important part of my life. I must be available to help my wife and ensure we are a team working with both of our children.

4. I must collect everything more effectively.

I cannot rely on my brain to store everything I must remember. I simply have too much to absorb. My professional and family life now revolve around so many numbers. I have drastically improved how I collect everything into my system. I am very analog in this process and carry a Moleskine pocket notebook everywhere with me to collect my thoughts.

I wish it had not taken Thomas’ diabetes diagnosis to motivate me to finally become more productive and organized. However, I have tried to use this challenge to change an area of my life which needed improvement. I feel more confident and in control of my life, and I have a better outlook on what I must do to succeed. I use Todoist and Evernote for my GTD system, but my biggest challenge was my mindset. Productivity is no longer a “nice to have” in my life. My stepson’s health and my family’s overall well-being depends on it.

Photo credit: manolo via SXC.HU