Saturday 12 July 2008

Mission Control - another alternative to GTD

I've just listened to episode 39 of The Productivity Show, where the host, Tony (sorry I don't know his last name) interviewed Doug Fisher of Mission Control, which is another productivity methodology to add to your productivity toolbox alongside Getting Things Done, Do It Tomorrow, and the others.

I haven't fully digested the technique yet but I did pick out some really interesting ideas that I think might help me be more productive, so I thought I'd share them here.

Getting everything done is impossible!

The first was the idea that in many of these systems we are subconsciously saying that we should get everything done, and that we are failing if we don't. We need to be realistic and realise that we will never get everything done, so once we can accept and believe that, that will be a great stress relief. In other words -
making a conscious choice about what you are aren’t doing gives you more control and puts you more at ease.

I can certainly identify with this myself.. As someone who has been dabbling with productivity methods and tweaks for two and a bit years now, I have just started to come to this realisation myself. This is a world full of stimulating, interesting and appealing ideas, activities and so on, not to mention all the things we need to do or feel we should do - no wonder that productivity is becoming such a hot topic, we are basically trying to find coping strategies for dealing with information overload and the feeling that "There's never enough time". I'm starting to realise that all you can do is focus on the things that are most important to you, and the things that really have to be done - a mix of what is necessary, and what makes you happy.

Give yourself more power to change your habits

Apparently Mission Control is all about giving people
more power to change their habits, which is often very hard since we are still using habits that we have been doing our whole life, even though the world has changed around us. This makes a lot of sense - I know that for me, these are the times I have struggled with GTD, I understand the theory - but changing my natural habits of just winging through life without planning & lists & reviews has proved very tricky. (Recently I've finally found a way that works for me of getting into the review habit - but more on that in another blog post).
So I can definitely relate to this idea that the key to productivity success is in actually changing our habits. There are a couple of key ways that Doug proposes empowering yourself to do this.

"If you're going to do it, schedule it"

One of the key ideas of Mission Control is that if you really want to get something done, there's no point putting it on a list, deferring it to some non-specific time of "Later" - better to really plan to do it, every task will take at least some time, so why not actually assign that time on your calendar for that task. (The related tip was to schedule 50-100% more time than you think you will need - sounds like a good idea to me since I always procrastinate and am not too good at sizing how long something will take!)

Make your calendar & tasks more compelling by keeping the reason visible

Another key idea is that you need to make your calendar entries (or tasks) more compelling and appealing - The most common reason for not doing something is because it sounds boring or there is no clear benefit. The example was discussed was doing your tax return.. If you just put that on your calendar, there's a high chance you won't do it.

The solution proposed is to frame every task or block of time in terms of the reason why it is important to you. For example,
"edit & publish podcast recording"
which might seem a little unappealing, could be changed to
"make a difference and leave a legacy by editing & publishing podcast"

This sounds like a really great tip.. I've already found that knowing the reason for why a task is on your list can really help focus you. There's something about having the reason clearly visible that makes it much easier for you to make intelligent choices and prioritizations. I experimented when using Thinking Rock with using a different Topic/colour for each reason.. in a way it's a little like moving up to the 10 or 20,000 ft view in GTD. I even transferred my tasks under these categories when I moved from TR to Protopage for my task management. Eventually I stopped doing this type of categorisation of tasks though, either because the tools didn't make it easy, or because having to categorise and colour code things became too much work, in other words I couldn't see an easy way to build consideration of the reasons for a task into my task management system. But maybe it's easier than I thought - just put it as part of the description of the task... only problem is they could get a little wordy.. It's definitely something I plan to try though.

To finish, I'll share the list of "reasons" I broke down my tasks into, in case you find this useful (If nothing else, it's a good list of stimulus when doing a GTD-style head-emptying exercise, or stimulus for a monthly review) Naturally, these are my own personal raisons-d'être so YMMV!

  • Because I want to put time & effort into relationships
    (Friends & Family) - includes everything from calling home to planning special events with my partner or catching up with/visiting friends
  • Because I want to save for the future & watch my money more
    (Budgeting & Saving)
  • Because I want to learn and be intellectually stimulated (Learning & Stimulation) - includes browsing blogs & RSS feeds as well as hobby programming, tech projects etc
  • Because I am required to do it
  • Because I want to be more organised
    (Organisation) - includes all productivity related stuff as well as physical tidying etc
  • Because I want to look after things & keep things stocked
    (Maintenance & Restocking) - includes DIY, mending/fixing things, errands to buy parts or accessories for things
  • Because I want to do it for myself
    (Entertainment, Leisure & Social) - includes computer games, reading, films etc.
  • Because I want to create & invent & write
    (Ideas & Writing) - includes hobby programming, creative writing, etc.
  • Because I want to share & give & help others
    (Volunteering & Sharing) - includes blogging, charity work etc
  • Because I want to be healthy & look after myself
    (Health & Wellbeing) - includes planned exercise,
  • Because I want to stand up for my & others' rights
    (Complaints & Rights) - includes writing letters when left out of pocket or walked over by companies, writing to MP, petitions etc