Getting Things Done with the right priorities and best efficiency

In my previous blog, I wrote about how to set up a working Task Management System in Outlook. Here I will show you how to work with priorities and projects using your Outlook tasks. Getting Things Done

Calendar versus Tasks for getting things done

Where the Calendar tells you when “on” time, and reminds you of it by “pushing” a reminder your way, your Task System for “until” actions, is NOT about “push”. It is about “pull”.

With the tasks, YOU decide What to do and When exactly, not someone else, including your “previous” self. What do I mean with that? Let’s say you added a task like the one earlier: “Call John and ask for the latest sales number on product X”. Previously, when you added it, it seemed important to do it until tomorrow. Now it is tomorrow and when you see this tasks you might realize, that others are more important; this means you always Pull the right tasks based on your sense of priorities in the now, ad hoc, out of your system.

Getting things done versus not getting (some) things done

This also means, that less important tasks are left over, which I argue is good. Because NOT getting some things done is as important is getting the right things done. It is about efficiency and the right priorities. NOT about getting everything done on your list. The list of actions is there to free up your mind from stuff, so you can make good qualified decisions instead of just thinking in circles about everything else you need to attend to! Getting Things Done

Getting Things Done with the right priorities and best efficiencies

If you Group your Actions (ToDo’s) in the Action pane in Outlook by Category, sort by Due date and set a filter for only displaying action that have yet not started, you can see all of your open Tasks. Remember, you PULL from the various lists of Categories you ARE IN right now, what needs getting things done.You only need to see what you can effectuate, not the Tasks in other Categories which you at the moment can’t do anything about.

Even so, to learn What to pull out of the system and get started on, requires thinking of your priorities:

“What is the very next action I can take, which brings me the highest satisfaction/best result/most favourable impact with the least effort/energy/burn on resources?”  

Timothy Ferris, Peter F. Drucker and Staffan Burenstam Linder agrees. Getting Things Done

One of more views of what’s in need of getting things done

This view described above is great for finding the next best action to take, but what if you are not thinking of next actions, but rather of Goals, Visions, Projects or Themes? What do I mean? Many times, we need a different view of life’s choices. I might sit in a phone conference with my client and want to see all actions applying to that account. Or I might be in a meeting and want to see all actions applying to a certain project. Or I have a responsibility apart from my usual work and would like to see all actions pertaining to that area in my life. These actions can be viewed in groups based on other criteria’s than the Categories. Getting Things Done

As opposed to Categories based on “Where” or “with What” as mentioned earlier, I also use Categories for actions that belongs to the same Project, describes a Theme, or an Objective, Goal or Vision. This can be effectively achieved by using the category field in the task as a tagging tool.

The Categories for “When” and “with What”, I tag with an “@” symbol, Projects with full stop “.” and Themes, Objectives, Visions with an asterisk “*” glyph. This helps me to visually keep things apart and the chosen symbols also stack up nicely in order of * . @. Getting Things Done

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

The 1st Habit: “Be Proactive”

You might know the book by Stephen R. Covey and have read about the 7 habits. In terms of what Covey names “Private Victory” in moving from dependence into independence, the first habit of being proactive is close to getting things done by using a well thought of system for actions, just as described above. Getting Things Done

How to tag Projects using Outlook Tasks

The 2nd Habit: “Begin With The End In Mind”

The 2nd habit is a lot about planning ahead and think in projects. To plan a Project, you always need to begin with the end in mind, and “go backwards” towards the beginning, the first step. In Psychology and Neuroscience, you activate what is called the Reticular Activating System (RAS) in your brain, when you plan any sequence of events and actions. You start at the End, with your goal or objective in mind. Then your brain goes backwards towards the beginning, evaluating prerequisites in need of fulfillment.

When you set your intent, you are directing your Reticular Activating System to stretch towards your desired goal and future, and to also enjoy the journey getting there. The stronger the intent and vision for your future, the easier you will be able to overcome any obstacles planning how to get there. Getting Things Done

You can plan and easily make Projects visible in Outlook, in your task pane.

Any one task can have multiple Categories, if they are of a different type. Let’s say a task describes a next step action which I need to take in the Category @Laptop. I can also tag it with “.Annual Report”, as this one task belongs to my Project “Annual Report”, consisting of further tagged tasks sitting in other categories. This will give me the opportunity to see all tasks my Annual Report project consists of in the group “.Annual Report”, sitting above all the “@” Categories in my list view. Without going much into detail, this gives you the opportunity to set up a series of tasks, in different @Categories and with different due dates, that makes up the Project.

I usually also add a task named “Project Plan”, tagged with only the .Project Name to have an “anchor” in the group of tasks that are visible in the .Project category. This is not a task in need of getting things done, but rather a place holder for any information pertaining to the project, such as hyperlinks to files, attachments and notes. I also tend to collect any results from individual actions taken, as the project moves along and I execute and close tasks as completed. This gives me a really nice overview, not just of the results of the project, but also the story of “how I got there”. This in itself is often quite important for referencing.

Going further, you can use individual tasks within a certain project, to enter time spent on a project, budget, travel and more information. Outlook tasks offers all kind of fields for this. Knowing how to run export and run reports off of such data is an interesting perspective for any business. You can learn more of this in our ProWork Workshops. Getting Things Done

The Full Stop (.) describes a bunch of actions belonging together by the named Project, with sequential dependency on each other.

How to tag Themes, Objectives or Visions using Outlook Tasks

The 3rd Habit: “Put First Things First”

The End in Mind points to a Project, but Putting First Things First point to re-occurring processes, themes, objectives or visions. By planning your goals in life, you are much more inclined to get there. Your Reticular Activating System (RAS) works in your favor here as well. Because of this biological function, whatever you are thinking about or focusing upon will seep down into your subconscious mind only to reappear at a future time. Have you ever decided that you wanted to buy a certain car, and shortly thereafter, you see cars everywhere like the one you wanted? That is how the RAS works.

So, by fleshing out what “Putting First Things First” means for you, it is easily possible to make these things visible in Outlook, also in the task pane.

Any Theme, Objective, Goal or Vision you have can be appointed a Category. A very practical way of bundling all my actions for a certain Key-Account, is to tag all the tasks pertaining to that Key-Account with the name thereof, like “*VW”.

The *asterisk is a very versatile tool. Depending on who you are, what you do, how you work and in what environment, you can use the asterisk for all kind of things. People I teach Self-Management to and coach, come up with all kinds of individual adaptions, *Management Objectives (name the objective), *Important people (name the person), *Responsibility (name it), *Work areas (name it), etc.

By reviewing your Themes, Objectives or Visions regularly, you are re-assessing your resources, such as time, financial means and others, and your priorities by focusing on such tasks that are tagged to your most important asterisk category. If you are a sales person, you shouldn’t have ANY task in your system that is NOT in line with your Sales Objective, such as “*EUR 100k/Month”. But even a sales guy might have other objectives, such as “*3 new Clients/Month”, which points towards quite a different sort of tasks to plan and execute, to fulfill that objective. Getting Things Done

The Asterisk (*) describes a bunch of actions belonging together by the named Category, but without any individual dependency.

Getting Things Done continuously

The 7th Habit: “Sharpening the Saw”

To continuously learn, adopt and adapt, you occasionally need to go back and sharpen the saw. This is expressed in what I like to call daily-, weekly-, monthly- or yearly-reviews of your system.

Just like you check your Calendar in the same way, when you plan across different horizons of your life’s’ commitments, the reviews of your Action System have the same purpose – to establish a sense of priorities and reshuffle your commitments accordingly.

If I see across the coming week, that my Calendar is rather full, I already know that I won’t be able to execute too many tasks. So, what are the tasks I need to focus on? I might find them in any particular .Project I need to meet deadlines on, or within an asterisked *Theme or *Objective I need to focus on, or just as a bundle of similar tasks within an @Category, like paying invoices. Having seen both your Calendar and To Do’s you can now decide on how you want to commit your time across the week, to execute these items in the most efficient way.

Priorities and Time cannot be “Managed”

I usually just block time in my Calendar for certain types of tasks. This has the advantage of not being too strict in terms of Time-Management. Time is finite – you can’t manage it. What you can do though, is to choose and decide WHAT TO DO each minute of the day, which necessitates that you actually SEE what you CAN DO for making good decisions based on your priorities. A bunch of emails in your inbox or stacks of paper can’t do that for you. Your Action System can though. If something else happens later, which makes it impossible to fulfil what you planned to do in those blocks, the tasks won’t go away or disappear, they’re still in your Action System.

Probably you had to decide to do something else because that had a higher priority, compared to what you had planned. Again, this is naturally occurring, because you can’t manage your Priorities – you have them! What you can do though, is to re-assess your commitments to do certain things any time of the day. Any To Do item is thus interchangeable with anything new coming up – if that new item has a higher urgency, based on your fixed priorities. Getting Things Done

Your Task Management System is your Negotiation Tool

This is how you work the system minute-by-minute, daily, weekly, monthly and yearly. It’s the same process of re-assessing and negotiating the commitments you have made, with others and yourself!

This means you can negotiate anything much more easily, with anybody, because of the transparency of your system. Let’s say your boss walks in and want you to handle something. This puts a strain on your already busy schedule and many tasks at hand. So, show him! “This is where I stand boss, these are my next actions for today and upcoming meetings. What would you like me to postpone?”, you can say. It is not about shying from work, it’s about making the best choices for your business; together you re-prioritize what’s necessary for getting things done in the best way. Getting Things Done

Your Action System is helping you to avoid stress

This also in good news for dealing with yourself. Every time we break a commitment, we do so with danger. It usually comes with consequences; either somebody is upset with you or something will suffer. Earlier, you would do so unknowingly, and thus build up a string sense of guilt, pointing towards yourself. This equals feelings of shortcoming, being insufficient equipped for your work, stress and depression. If you only can blame yourself, what can you do to release that guilt? Without getting religious, psychology tells us we need to release the guilt and stop blaming ourselves, i.e. we need to forgive ourselves!

Forgiving your debt to the system is easy, when you see what you CAN achieve, understand your limits and now know, that you choose to do what had the highest priorities. Going forward, I handle my guilt and forgive my debt to myself, whilst doing reviews (see above). Looking backwards, I see what I actually DID complete and can easily forgive myself based on a good sense of achievement. I am OK with many tasks being uncompleted and overdue, as I now know I did the most important ones.

Your Action System is protecting you from burnout

I friend of mine is a psychologist and she one’s told me that, “most burnout syndromes are just severe depressions”. Burnout seems to be labelled on anything these days, but it is symptomatic for a problem many of us have – we can’t get a grip on our commitments. In almost any business I am working with, I get the same keywords from the participants in my Workshops, when asked about their expectations:

  • Too many emails
  • No time
  • Overview
  • Setting Priorities
  • Deal with interruptions
  • Projects
  • Responsibilities
  • Planning
  • Too many meetings
  • Phonecalls

The list is pretty much the same everywhere I go. The root cause as I see it can be summed up as: “We can’t get a grip on our commitments because we don’t SEE what work is.”

You Action System and Calendar will now give you 100% view of work, if done correctly. That is the best remedy I can give you. Getting Things Done

What do you think? Please give me your comments and feedback below.

Göran Askeljung

About Göran Askeljung

Prof. (op) Göran Askeljung is also the author of BrainRead – Effective Speed Reading and Director and Senior Trainer at immediate effects. Since 2015 Göran is also a Certified Facilitator und Associate of Consensus in NY, MD of Consensus Austria and Germany and Business Consultant at Göran is Professor of Practise and Head of the Institute for Sales and Negotiations at the Georgian School of Management (GSOM). He is a member of the Board of Directors for the Swedish Chamber of Commerce in Austria. Göran is a consultant for The Forum Corporation (UK), eBda (Fr) und Napier Training Associates (UK) and is a Certified Solution Selling® Professional from the SPI University in USA. Göran is also a certified Microsoft Solutions Sales Expert (MSSE) and is an associate lecturer at the Economical University of Vienna, the University of Vienna and the University of Graz in Austria. Having lived in Austria since 1990, Göran has held positions as MD for Microsoft Networks (MSN) in Austria, Framfab and Icon Medialab, as well as various Management positions at Ericsson, T-Systems and Konica Minolta. As a Sales- and Productivity expert, Göran is passionate about developing sustainable efficiency through interactive and well-designed learning experiences. His compassion about his expertise comes from experience as a business owner and through many years in Management. Since 2003 he has built his own L&D business in Austria, designed and developed L&D programs and facilitated for many thousands of people. Göran is married and has two children. Social Media Links: Oxford Encyclopedia | LinkedIn | XING