Saturday, January 30, 2010

RFA: Chap 8 -- Closing Open Loops Releases Energy

Just read a fascinating article by Peter Bregman that dovetails nicely with this one. Bregman is one of my faves over at Harvard Business Review. Check it out.

Meanwhile, let's change this up a bit, shall we?

My most devoted readers and the rest of you Astuties out there, will duly note the one week delay on this post. Was pretty sick last week this time, and though drafted this piece on Sunday last, well, it's been a procrastination-fest for some reasons this week.

Did also preliminarily draft this week's piece, too, so there'll likely be a few following here in short succession, including the piece for the Monthly Goal Meet Up Goal Brazen Careerist Network.

Allen's point in this chapter is simple: PHYSICAL ENGAGEMENT, I.E. ACTUALLY DOING what's in your TO DO list creates a synergy and unleashes new energy.

It's like fusion.

No, fission.

Intention and action collide with HYPERFORCE--OK, MAYBE NOT HYPERFORCE.

But the collision itself is enough to effect entire new projects , new ideas, new bridges, among old ideas.

Me, I find it inordinately hard to let go of literally the smallest scraps of paper.

Every receipt tells a story.

Chronologically organized as my mind is, I find it difficult to impose other order -- hence this series -- but more to the point, I find it difficult to toss these bookmarks of my history, nor to organize them in any kind of display/collection.

Then there's any of my daughter's schoolwork, which I'm loath to give up. And there's a bunch of it.

Not to mention every scintilla of brilliance I've ever put on card stock, parchment, papyrus or refined wood pulp.

Notebooks, too. Lots of notebooks. Dating to '75.

And, of course, the organizing of the small treasures: photos found in an old notebook, book, box, bag, etc. I have containers w/in containers and putting things wanted in some order continues to challenge me.

I'd like to close a lot of these open loops and release that energy.

I've got books, clothes, cassette tapes, housewares and more. Free to good homes.

Contact me at this blog.

But my papers are priceless.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


I'm no dispassionate reviewer.

I'm a fan.

Bought my first Godin book in '96, The Guerrilla Marketer's Handbook, co-written with the original Guerrilla Marketer, Jay Conrad Levinson.

These are only three sentences that show why you should buy Seth Godin's Linchpin:

1) "It's OK if i get fired because I'll have demonstrated my value to the marketplace. IF THE RULES ARE THE ONLY THING BETWEEN ME AND BECOMING INDISPENSABLE, I DON'T NEED THE RULES." (Emphasis mine.)

2) "Emotional labor changes the recipient, and we care about that. That's why emotional labor is so much more valuable than physical labor."

3) "Thinking About Your Choice: And it is a buy into the fear and the system, or to chart your own path and create value as you do. It's your job to figure how to chart the path, because charting the path is the point."

OK, OK. So these are three excerpts, not sentences.

My point is -- Seth Godin gets it, gets it, gets it.

In Linchpin, he gives it to you.

It's a gift.

Pick it up.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Ready For Anything: Chapter 7-- Priorities Only Function at the Conscious Level

Lots of folks confuse bad management with destiny.

Kin Hubbard

Speaking of "open loops," those projects that require more than one next action to close, Allen opens Chapter 7 with a reminder of how deleterious they can be to one's "psychic RAM."

Allen says that when things of secondary importance stay there, and aren't constantly reviewed and updated, we lose track of them.

Then there are they are, double-demanding our attention, threatening to three alarm, to ICU. All because we "didn't have time" for the secondary.

Now they're all we have time for, and everything
else is secondary.

Allen says: "This syndrome does not self correct--it self perpetuates."

The reason, Allen suggests, is that current thinking in organizational management is very "ABC." While he acknowledges that certain projects have a greater upside, and so deserve more time and effort, the down side remains: we tend to ignore the less important entirely, until we can ignore it no longer.

That's where the "Someday/Maybe" file comes in.

We all have responsibilities, in the form of ongoing projects that need completion to move the well-being of ourselves and our loved ones forward.

But we need to remember the importance of PROCESSING our responsibilities at least daily.

Remember, first we COLLECT: brain dump all projects / open loops.
Get 'em all down on paper/word doc.

Then, we PROCESS to the level of immediacy.

The "Someday / Maybe" file is where we put open loops that we may want to act on, but DO NOT NEED to act on today, or even this month.
Things that may, in fact, fall away, to be superseded by others.

Simply put, no "right here/right now" commitment.

"Someday / Maybe."

Allen says:

If it's on the projects list, you need to decide next actions equally on each one and review the status of each regularly. It's okay not to take action on them, as long as you know what the action is and as long as it's a conscious choice. But most people avoid involvement because they don't stop to think what the action is and then miss countless opportunities to move it forward before it morphs into crisis.

Allen uses the example of needing new tires: "either you do you don't." There's not much of a slope there.
Problem is, a decision like this one on tires too often will go from "not needed" to "desperately needed."

The difference between an effective and an ineffective approach to this open loop is the difference between "Call tire store for prices" and "Call AAA to fix blowout."

That's why my car has an appointment with my mechanic to check its timing belt.

In closing Chapter 7: Prioriites Function Only at the Conscious Level, Allen concludes:

Clarify and define all the outcomes you've committed yourself to accomplish, small and large, and the actions required to move on them. Then you're ready for the real efficiency game of getting them all done as soon as you can, and feeling okay about how it's going with each one.

What lies in our power to do, it lies in our power not to do.


Friday, January 15, 2010

Ready for Anything: Chapter 6 -- Two Commitments in Your Head Create Stress and Failure

Taking on new projects is not necessarily a positive change. It may be a sign of recklessness and non-fulfillment. But going back to all levels of non-completion and completing them is a sign of positive change.


There are a few things I'm learning as I'm writing this series.

First of all, that it's tremendously therapeutic.

Addressing (gerund, kids, gerund) my personal DIS-organization issues in this very public manner is slowly making me more organized.

It's what someone I was reading recently--whose name's missing now--was saying about "hiring a Board of Directors" to keep you accountable.

Now, it's well known -- or at least easily look-up-able--that this blog is not commented on by many.

Still, it is in the public eye.

I'm not much adept at determining how many discrete page viewers I have per week, and which posts they're reading, but I know people do read this blog, and that awareness helps keep me focused.

Second, more than anything, the structure of David Allen's book keeps me focused.

As mentioned in Post 1 of this series, the fact that Ready for Anything has 52 chapters visibility than keeping me organized in a most constructive way.

52 chapters in 52 weeks. Launched on the first anniversary of Pragmatic Alternative, looking forward--clearly--to the second and -- by implication -- beyond.

The third thing is the nature of serendipity. Ready for Anything came to be the template for this year's posts because I couldn't put my hands on Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, the first David Allen book. It was buried under a stack of books and other stuff next the bed.

Knew I had it. Figured it was nearby, in a place of nominal importance. But could I find it?

Not so much.

Because I've committed to evaluating RFA each week, I've been able to begin to integrate CoPORD into my life. In another four weeks I'll have a better big picture idea of all my roles responsibilities projects, and goals.

Meanwhile, it's nice just to know where I put my copy of Getting Things Done.

Today I take great pride in having found an organizational template that works for me, and am committing to working that plan.

It's a good thing.

Because my lack of structure has stood in my way.

It's not a strength.

Enter David Allen and his GTD methodology.

Kind of like Elvis's "TCB." Only different.

In Chapter 6 of RFA, Allen answers critics who claim "getting things done" and CoPORD are "reactive" strategies.

That by focusing first on minutia/trivia, the micro over the macro, don't we then run the risk of staying in Covey's Quadrant IV: Important and Urgent?

"Hey, seeing the big picture, great idea!" says David Allen. "But might not the minutia, the trivia, the overflowing "In" box need to be reckoned with first? "Open loops," as Allen refers to them, must first be closed before we can hope to maintain effectiveness.

What are "open loops"?

Simply put, they're items on yesterday's "to-do" list that didn't get done.

They represent commitments to yourself to do certain things.

Things that didn't get done.

As a result, they take up way too much space in what Allen refers to as "psychic RAM." Because we know we haven't gotten things done we'd planned on getting done, these "open loops" take up--and worse, FRAGMENT-- space in our psychic RAM.

They slow down our operating speed by slowing down the speed of our processor.

It's just that simple.

And how do we close open loops?

By CoPORDing: Collecting. Organizing. Processing. Reviewing. Doing.

Over and over again, with a particular eye to closing open loops, or else putting them in the "Someday / Maybe" file.

It takes time, but as I'm finding out--and betting you will, too--it's time not just well-, but best-spent.

Then horizons -- now replete with mountains and oceans -- beckon.

And the paths are clear.

And you're positioned to choose effectively among them going forward.

It's a good thing.

If you know the point of balance, you can settle the details. If you can settle the details, you can stop running around. Your mind will become calm. If your mind becomes calm, you can think in front of a tiger. If you can think in front of a tiger, you will surely succeed.


Saturday, January 9, 2010

Ready For Anything: Chapter 5 -- Infinite Opportunity is Utilized by Finite Possibility

OK, so four weeks later, how far have I come in my CoPORDing, Ready-for-Anything, Getting-Things-Done, David-Allen-run New-Life paradigm?

I know what I need to achieve and I know what I want to achieve, and my constant reviewing of these goals is keeping me focused on them.

In addition, my openness and forthrightness here only serve to confirm these commitments.

At least, I hope they do.

As my good friend, Neil Young, once said, "I know you know."

The thing I've least mastered is the filing system.

Because the failure of any segment of the pentagonal construction that is Getting Things Done a.k.a. CoPORD, leads the entire mass of one's organizational structure to diffuse, dissipate, and otherwise disengage, in Chapter 5 of Ready for Anything, Allen addresses, in an imagined 53-second radio/TV segment of a promotional book tour, the question:

"What's the one thing we do that gets in the way of being productive?" and answers thusly:

"It's not one thing but five things all wrapped together: People keep stuff in their head. They don't decide what they need to do about stuff they know they need to do something about. They don't organize action reminders and support materials and functional categories. They don't maintain and review a complete and objective inventory of their commitments. Then they waste energy and burnout, allowing their busyness to be driven by what's the latest and loudest, hoping it's the right thing to do but never feeling the relief that it is."

The more I devote myself to studying Allen's methods, the more I realize how effective they are.

Of course, my biggest stumbling block remains the heart of the matter: Organizing.

The best news for me, and maybe for you if you're a regular reader of this column, is Allen's response to what needs to be done, i.e. "What are the five best-practice behaviors to ensure that Getting Things Done gets done?"

Exactly those I listed in my Chapter 2 analysis, and which I lovingly refer to by the acronym, CoPORD.

Here's Allen's repetition of that essential message:

"It's a combined set of the five best-practice behaviors: Get everything out of your head. Make decisions about actions required on stuff when it shows up--not when it blows up. Organize reminders of your projects and the next actions on them in appropriate categories. Keep your system current, complete, and reviewed sufficiently to trust your intuitive choices about what you're doing (and not doing) anytime."

Allen then offers an even simpler distillation: "Focus on positive outcomes and continually take the next action on the most important thing."

Simple, no?

But if it were easy, we'd all be great.

David Allen seeks to make it easy, and all of us great.

Me, too.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Ready For Anything: Chapter 4 -- Getting to Where You're Going Requires Knowing Where You Are

"It takes about ten years to get used to how old you are."

You're gonna need a map, and you're gonna need to know how to read it.

Sure, you can hire GPS to tell you where and when to turn. But be ready to put up with the sighing "Recalculating," when you get off Chatty Cathy's chosen path.

Nope, you're gonna have to come up with answers to these six questions--then know them on a deep level, internalize them--in order to best position yourself in your world of hopes, dreams, and daily to-dos.

According to David Allen, in order to set your priorities, you're gonna have to understand that these six questions add up to one big one: What's your job?

1. What are your current tasks? Allen reminds us that these are those to-dos last mentioned, your current "next actions," and that the average person has "between a hundred and two hundred of these" every day.

What are your current projects? These are agreements with yourself about what you want to achieve in the relative short term. Getting the car ready for a 5,000 mile vacation. Getting your applications for grad school completed. Planning a wedding. Allen estimates most people have between "thirty and a hundred" projects.

3. What are your current areas of responsibility? You have these both on the job (teacher, coach, liaison to PTA, Class of '13 sponsor) and at home (care and feeding, finance and investments, recreation, education). Ten to fifteen of these we each have, says David Allen.

4. How are your job and personal affairs going to be changing in the next year? In other words: How will you be guiding your ship in the coming year? What are you trying to change? What needs to change in your business, home/family life, personal approach in order to achieve your next steps forward?

5. How are your organization, your career, and your personal life going to change? What are your longer-range goals for achievement and personal growth? What projects will you need to undertake to get there?

6. Why are you on the planet? What is your job as a human being? What do you need to accomplish before you die?
Who are you?

These are big questions on big levels. They get to the heart of what you want to do or be.

"Most people," says Allen, "want to do or be something in the future -- something different. But without a reality-based reference point of where they in fact are on all levels of life, they're like the Flying Dutchman, doomed to drift."

Clarifying your reality -- finding out where you are on your personal map of success -- tells you exactly where you are, and so, which way to turn next to get where you want to go.

Friday, January 1, 2010

2010: The Year of Superior Vision

20/20 vision is what scientists consider normal. It means you can see at 20 feet what you should see at 20 feet if your vision is healthy, aka "normal." If you have 20/40 vision, you can see at 20 feet what someone with normal vision can see at 40. Not as good. Read more about vision here.

But, if you have 20/10 vision, you can see from 20 feet what most normal people must be only 10 feet from.

20/10 means superior vision.

So, I hereby dub 2010: The Year of Superior Vision.

A Happy, Healthy, Prosperous 20/10 to all my readers.

How will you show your superior vision this year?