Using GTD Agendas and Life Dinners to improve your relationship

My Wife Sarah and I try to have Life Dinners every month.  It’s a great time to organize, talk about upcoming trips or things we want to accomplish together.  Recently we have found ourselves with little to talk about related to life tasks and schedules as we leverage basecamp and email for passive communication about life stuff.  However, passive communication can get overwhelming at times.  I have found myself barraging Sarah with emails about various life tasks which stresses her out and creates the same problems we were trying to solve with the Life Dinners.

A few weeks ago I attended the “Mastering Workflow” GTD seminar.  This was mostly review for me but the tactic of using “Agendas” really stuck.   In Things, there’s a “People” list that I have never leveraged before.  As life tasks crop up that I need to discuss with Sarah, I associate them with her in the Things and wait until our Life Dinner to discuss.  I also do this with my boss as we have a weekly video chat standing meeting to review anything outstanding.

Using Agendas is a great way to cut down on daily email and task switching while still feeling organized.

 

How a pregnant wife helps with software development

My wife is pregnant with our second child, due in May.  For those of you who have never experienced this release cycle, it’s 9 months long and does not have an exact release date.  There’s a thing called “Nesting” that occurs during this time in which a couple works together to get every single detail perfect in preparation for the baby’s arrival.

As I shop for curtains, read updates on the latest in car seat technology and scour color palettes for that perfect shade of blue, I am reminded how “Nesting” plays a serious role in the day to day life of the Agile Product Owner.  As a Product Owner myself, I am not writing the amazing code that drives our application, I am focused on keeping everything in motion and getting all the pieces just right.  As I see our baby room come together in just the right way and our app taking shape so beautifully, I can’t help but feel like a proud papa.

Now, if only I could get my wife to use Kanban.

 

Calendar Retrospective

You feel busy, wish you had more time and work really hard but feel like you are still behind.  Sound familiar?  It’s time to do a retrospective on your calendar.

I use a program called RescueTime to analyze my productivity in conjunction with BusyCal.  I have tuned the software to run from 9a-5p only Mon-Thu.  I don’t like to analyze my Morning Think or nightly reading routines and work at home on Friday usually declining meetings.  A few weeks ago RescueTime told me that I was averaging 6hrs per day talking, on skype or in meetings.  No wonder I was struggling to keep up with my workload.

I decided to try an experiment to see if I could reduce the 15 or so meetings I had on my calendar for the upcoming week.  I reached out to Project Managers explaining what I was doing and asking to be removed from the meeting request for a few weeks.  I promised to rejoin if my name kept coming up in the meeting.  This worked and I have reduced some of my standing meetings freeing up some quality time to be productive.

Our our software development team we are using agile and have a scheduled retrospective at the end of each release (quarter).  It is important to physically block time for the team to analyze how they work together, pros and cons and ideas to improve efficiency.  I am finding this same concept is important to the quality of your personal productivity.  Do yourself a favor and conduct a calendar retrospective.

Smart processing of the Inbox is great, but what about responsible email sending?

I love the topic of email and read articles with titles like “staying on top of your inbox”.

Most articles about email focus on processing your inbox and prioritizing which emails to read in what order.  Just yesterday Google announced Google Priority Inbox as a way to solve this problem.

Smarter processing of email is not the entire answer to our email woes.  We all need to be more responsible with sending email. Please do your part and start today!

Here are some examples of irresponsible email sending behavior:

1. “Thanks”
Most people feel the need to reply with “Thanks”, not as a sincere Thank You for something that was done but as a way to acknowledge that they have received your email.

Solution: don’t reply with “Thanks” ever, especially to email threads with multiple recipients.  Try this for a week and it will help, trust me.

2. “Thoughts?”
So often I receive an email saying “Take a look at this company, thoughts?”  Even though this is one of my favorite things to do, I dread these emails and they typically end up at the bottom of my inbox.  Using “thoughts?” implies some eventual response is needed but has no clear definition around what is needed.

Solution: ask specific questions about the company such as “Could ACME’s product be used to solve XYZ problem we are having?” or use your Project Management systems to have this conversation.

3. Attachments without context
I receive many emails with MS Word or Excel files attached that contain content that should not be locked up in attachments.  Examples are meeting notes, agendas and simple spreadsheets.  These emails often do not contain any context around the content in the attachments which is annoying in general but also makes finding these emails using search very difficult.

Solution: even if you used MS Word to take notes, spend a few minutes to craft a responsible email that is easy to read or use software like Evernote that lets you take notes and email them as text.

Here are some tips I have gathered that will help you be a responsible email sender:

  • Use “FYI” in the subject line – this implies you don’t need a response from the recipients, not even a quick “Thanks for sending this”.
  • Use “cc” the way it was intended – if you put a recipient as a “cc” you should not expect a response from that person, you are simply copying them so they can optionally follow the conversation.  If you want a response from them or require they follow the conversation then include them in “to”.
  • Use your Wiki, Intranet or whatever your company uses to discuss company wide ideas – when a discussion deserves thought and will last over several weeks.  This will help preserve the shelf life of the discussion and the contents won’t get buried in your email trash.
  • Use your project management systems for all project data – everything related to a project or client should be in a system like Basecamp or Rally.  Granted, these systems communicate using email, however by posting data to those systems you ensure it is in the appropriate place and recipients of emails from those systems can use filters within their email client to sort and organize their email more efficiently.
  • Use IM and the Watercooler to get quick questions answered – if someone is on IM or is getting a cup of coffee they are saying “it’s OK to interrupt me”. Use that as an opportunity to ask a quick question instead of sending an email that may not get answered until the next day.

Like many tools in the business world, email can be used for both good and evil.  Don’t be that guy that sends “Thanks for sending this” to 10 people on an email thread, be the responsible guy that lives in a world of Inbox Zero and helps others get there as well instead of adding to their never ending pile of email.

Related Articles:

How does Fred Wilson, VC Blogger, deal with email?

Empty your Inbox everyday, use Keyboard Shortcuts and other great tips from Michael Hyatt

Email Sucks. 5 Time Saving Tips (Kevin Rose)

Extreme Makeover: The Email Inbox Edition (Gina Trapani)

Why Email May Be Draining Your Company’s Productivity by Mark Suster

Related Posts from ktinboulder’s blog:

Being More Productive

What Powder Days say about your Professional and Personal life

Any dude that’s a real skier will talk about powder days as their best days ever after major life events like their wedding, birth of their children and graduations.

As a Skier myself, I have faced many situations caused by powder days, some extremely satisfying and some that test the core parts of my life such as my marriage and my job. I recall vividly an incredible Thursday powder day at Vail a few years ago with my brother, as we rolled into the Village I turned on my phone to see 10 voicemails, our servers were down and I was no where to be found, uh oh.

Over the years powder days have been harder and harder to swing. My heart is in it, but my schedule says that meeting is too important to miss or that look in my wife’s eye tells me it’s time for me to watch the baby while she sleeps in.

All of this got me thinking about powder days as a gauge to the control you have over your life and business. If I called you right now and said “Dude, A-Basin is getting dumped on, let’s hit it tomorrow!” Could you?

I think getting to the point in your life where you have this freedom is an amazing goal. You used to have it, but now responsibility has crept up on you. Work-Life Balance is all about being an incredibly responsible, hard working, successfully, total Bad-Ass that can sneak away and grab a powder day.

Here are 3 suggestions for helping you ditch work and ski pow:

1. Have you put process in place to help you manage fires in your daily life? Hopefully Yes, you need to be in a situation where the big decisions that cause tons of stress are made thoughtfully and slowly. Don’t be the guy that has to react to every single thing throughout the day. There is always a punching bag like this in every company, no matter how big or small, you need to work hard to not be that guy.

2. Does your company culture thrive on who is in the office when? I just heard Jason Fried of 37 Signals talk about this in a recent podcast about Remake, “Every office has the asshole that waits until everyone leaves then leaves 5 minutes later.” Work very hard and never let face time bother you, it has no value to your career and you just have to let it go.

3. Talk to your Boss with total transparency about this. “You know I love to ski, and this winter I would like to take a few days off, only when it is dumping snow in the mountains, to ski for the day. I will never let this affect my work and have worked hard so that everyone has me covered. I will always email the night before to key team members and check my phone throughout the day.” I have learned in my professional and personal relationships that sometimes if you want something you just have to ask, and be ready to work hard for it. When your boss says “Thanks for being so transparent with me, I think that’s a great idea.” it also means “I am granting you this freedom and you have to work really hard and not screw up to keep it.” Asking your Boss to take powder days can only be asked once, no second chances.

I write this post mainly as a motivation to myself. I am just as guilty of being sucked into responsibility as the next guy.

Good Luck, and Bon Hiver.

Being more Productive

Being More Productive
One of my hobbies is studying how to be more productive.  I have read David Allen’s GTD books, listen to 43 Folders podcast, thirst after Inbox Zero and talk to people about how they manage their time.  Below are some things I’ve learned.
Plan your year in context
I learned this from Brad Feld.  Think of your time in segments: Year, Quarter, Month, Week, Day.  Create a routine for each of these segments that you follow such as taking a vacation each quarter, wake up at the same time each day, etc.
Understand how your spend your time each day
I am using a utility called RescueTime that runs in the background and analyzes the applications you have open.  When you are away from your computer RescueTime asks you “What have you been doing?”.  You can view reports of “Time Wasted” and “Producive Time”.  I don’t run RescueTime everyday, just every once in a while to help me stay on track.  It’s amazing how much time I waste everyday!
Trust your System
I learned this from David Allen’s GTD books.  I use Things as my ToDo list.  Anytime anyone says anything that I need to follow up on I dump it into my Inbox on Things.  Each week I have my “Weekly Review” to organize this list.  The amount of stuff that I procrastinate on or drop has been reduced dramatically by using Things.
Morning Think
A few days a week I try and wakeup at 5am.  For about 2 hours I sip coffee and do whatever I want, usually read or research on my laptop sitting in my robe.  This time is extremely productive and helps me think about the big picture, read or just knock off small tasks.
2009 has been a transformative year for me as I’ve become extremly productive following the above tactics.  My goals in 2010 are to be more productive on the bigger things in my life now that I have the day to day figured out.

One of my hobbies is studying how to be more productive.  I have read David Allen’s GTD books, listen to 43 Folders podcast, thirst after Inbox Zero and talk to people about how they manage their time.

Below are some things I’ve learned.

Plan your year in context

I learned this from Brad Feld who calls this “The Rhythms of his Life“.  Think of your time in segments: Year, Quarter, Month, Week, Day.  Create a routine for each of these segments that you follow such as taking a vacation each quarter, wake up at the same time each day, etc.

Understand how your spend your time each day

I am using a utility called RescueTime that runs in the background and analyzes the applications you have open.  When you are away from your computer RescueTime asks you “What have you been doing?”.  You can view reports of “Time Wasted” and “Producive Time”.  I don’t run RescueTime everyday, just every once in a while to help me stay on track.  It’s amazing how much time I waste everyday!

rescuetime

This is a graph showing my day today.  I woke up at 5am for my Morning Think time but my daughter woke up as well so I spent my morning with her.  As you can see I took a break around lunchtime and mid-day is when I am interrupted the most with random questions and water cooler conversation.

Trust your System

I learned this from David Allen’s GTD books.  I use Things as my ToDo list.  Anytime anyone says anything that I need to follow up on I dump it into my Inbox on Things.  Each week I have my “Weekly Review” to organize this list.  The amount of stuff that I procrastinate on or drop has been reduced dramatically by using Things.

things

The above shows the Inbox view in my Things app.  Every task, usually life stuff but some work stuff, I dump into the Inbox for “processing” later.

Morning Think

I have written about my Morning Think Time on this blog previously.  A few days a week I try and wakeup at 5am.  For about 2 hours I sip coffee and do whatever I want, usually read or research on my laptop sitting in my robe.  This time is extremely productive and helps me think about the big picture, read or just knock off small tasks.

What’s Next?

2009 has been a transformative year for me as I’ve become extremly productive following the above tactics.  My goals in 2010 are to be more productive on the bigger things in my life now that I have the day to day figured out.

My Workspace at The Fuel Team in Denver

Recently we restructured our teams at The Fuel Team and I found myself not sitting with the Dev Team for the first time in my career.  I was hesitant at first but the physical move has created a new headspace for me to operate in.  Our Dev Team cranks hard, everyday.  They work on big features, production work, design work, work within multiple languages and platforms and find time to have a ton of fun as well.  Being separated from this has allowed me to slow down my pace, ween myself off the high that comes from cranking out work, and think hard about our products, product roadmap and software development approach.  It’s funny how the grass is always greener.  I always wished for more time to think about our products, now that I have it, I find myself longing to program….trying to learn Rails and Objective C in my spare time!