Getting Things Done – My Approach

There are so many ways people have implemented David Allen’s Getting Things Done I avoided blogging about mine for ages. Then I realized, after three years of using it, that it’s pretty effective. It’s also pretty simple and that’s part of the appeal. Last but not least, it’s paper and pen based, which makes it portable and immune to the peculiarities of IT departments.

The system is simple and has the following elements:

  1. A list of all projects started. A project is, as written in GTD, anything that takes more than one step. I keep a handwritten list, each project in a numbered list.
  2. A stack of active projects, in a folder marked Projects. One sheet of paper for each project. Number in the upper right hand corner, title in the upper left hand corner. The sheet is a simple log of next actions, and sometimes a few additional thoughts. The lowest item is always what needs to be done next in simple, visible terms.
  3. A next action list. This also holds everything else that I need to do that is not a project. Date in the upper right hand corner, and a list of items. Sometimes I fold the sheet in half, and use the four pages for contexts (i.e. Home, Work, etc.) often I don’t. This list may get folded up and carried in a pocket, or it might sit in the Projects folder. This sheet also serves as a sort of inbox – a good place to jot new things to be processed. Because any new next action list involves copying items from the old one, the new items will be processed.
  4. Another folder labeled ‘Inactive’. This is where old next action lists, and full or finished, project sheets go. This can probably stay in the desk.
  5. Another folder is labeled ‘Someday/Maybe’
  6. A stack of blank paper for making new projects, or new project sheets for older ones.

The workflow is also pretty simple:

  1. Add projects to the project list.
  2. For each project, write a project sheet. At the top it sometimes helps to write a clear statement of the expected outcome. Write the next thing you need to do for that project.
  3. Add that next action to the next action list.
  4. When you’re done, start working on the next action list and all the other stuff life brings to our doors.
  5. At least once a week, or when the next action list has accumulated a fair number of check marks, review the project sheets.
  6. For each sheet update the status – what’s happened or been accomplished. Change the next action if necessary. If nothing was done, simply go to the next project.
  7. Record each next action on the next action list as you look at each project.
  8. If nothing has been done on a project in a long time, I ask myself if if this is really an active project or not. Many ideas get turned into projects, that then turn out to be either not as useful as thought or they simple become irrelevant. If it happens that a month or so goes by with no action I will usually make an entry that says something like “Hibernating until I have more ideas.” Sometimes a project will go directly to Someday/Maybe.

I’ve tried a variety of software on my desktop computer, my laptop, my iPhone, and web based. All had some neat features and some of those feature could have been addicting but for one thing. While I would rather do this stuff in software, in every one of these systems I found myself updating them after the fact instead of using them in the process of planning work. They were good record keeping systems, but they didn’t add anything to the process except work. This pretty much destroys the value of the Getting Things Done system, which is derived from the planning that comes out of the project review process.
I also tried a number of different combinations of paper, but in the end simple blank sheets and file folders work the best.

On Trade Show Exhibit Justification

How do you justify exhibiting at a trade show? I suspect this is a thorny issue for a lot of companies. It’s a large expense, it’s not usually measured very well by the exhibitor, and the show company can’t measure the benefit to the exhibitor directly. With no one measuring, it can be hard to justify trade shows in the marketing mix.

People think that trade shows are about getting new leads. This is a little like saying going to the mall is about increasing your self-esteem and life outlook. Yes, the trip may result in that, but what you do at the mall is shop and buy stuff. What you do at a show is meet with people and communicate with them. They may become leads, but really you’ve made a connection that can’t easily be made any other way.

So rather than calculating what a lead is worth, or wether or not a sale would have been made but for the show, let’s consider this on a much more basic level. It’s about visiting with people.

Let’s start with a basic assumption: On average, your company meets with one person per hour per employee while at the show. I’m not considering just planned customer visits, but all the contacts that happen. Industry colleagues you chat with, but otherwise wouldn’t. New people. Competitors. Suppliers. Press. Your network, old and new.

Sure, there are empty hours, but there’s also the 3-hour dinners with customers and others as well. I think one visit per employee hour is probably quite conservative, the real answer is probably closer to 2-3 per hour.

So let’s say you have a small booth at a major show. You’re going to take 5 employees, and the show is 4 days long. That’s about 200 visits that will be made at the show. What would it cost to make those visits? Would you even bother, with most of them? Now many of these visits wouldn’t merit a trip on their own, because it would be far too expensive. But that’s where the value of a show really comes in – bulk buying of visit hours, with very low marginal cost per visit. It’s a unique situation in business, except for similar events like conferences.

Going back to our example, you have 5 employees going to a show, travel’s probably $7000, booth is $3000, another 5k in other stuff. Let’s round it up to $20k and you have $100 per visit. that’s pretty cheap.

But STEVE, c’mon, what about shipping equipment and samples and what not to the booth? What about the booth itself! Do you know what these things cost?!?

Yep, they’re expensive, but they’re not really part of the visit, are they? Companies do these things for branding and image related reasons, not because they couldn’t meet with customers without them. I’m not advocating they just put up card tables and leave all the product at home, I’m simple stating that costs need to be allocated where they belong.

Even so – let’s add them in. Wow, that per visit cost went up, didn’t it. BUT you have to remember that now we’re talking about a visit where your employee toted along some rather expensive equipment just for that visit, including a custom-built meeting room. That doesn’t happen very often, does it?

Now let’s consider another aspect of this: Scheduling.

In our example, there were 200 visits. Do you think you could schedule those 200 visits in four days without the trade show? Do you think you could get them all in even in a year? Probably not – many of those visits were ‘dry holes’ – people you thought could help but couldn’t. Or thought would be interested in having help but weren’t. Or whatever. 1 in 10 perhaps turns out to be valuable, but that one probably wouldn’t have taken your call without the show. Think about it – many of the people your company met with aren’t friends or acquaintances, they’re people who don’t really know you. Are they going to jump at having you come visit them in their office – let alone fly to see you? What would you have to offer (i.e. dinner, lunch, whatever) to help persuade them to give you some time?

Consider the opportunity cost of this.

When I was a product manager in the printing equipment business, I remember one show where a customer had come to talk about a rather involved, space-age kind of project. Very cutting edge, and there were a number of technical issues. Because I was at DRUPA (the largest printing equipment show on the world), in one day I could meet up with the relevant people to determine the feasibility of the project. Outside of that show it would have taken months. The point here is not that new projects are likely to crop up, but that you have access to a huge array of people in a very convenient way.

One last thing

Do you have employee meetings? They’re expensive, right? How about team building sessions, or other events designed to get people out of the office together for a little bonding? Travel to trade show, along with the time spent a trade show provides some of the same benefits.

Mojo Monitor Mishap, or the Peril Of Poor Partner Picking

I’ve started reading the book “Mojo: How to Get It, How to Keep It, How to Get It Back if You Lose It” (Marshall Goldsmith) (affiliate link) and I love the book so far. It’s a little similar to another good book, “Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment” (Tal Ben-Shahar) (another affiliate link) in that it operates on the principle that you will improve what you focus your attention on. For those looking for a magic bullet it might be a disappointment, but for those looking for simple techniques to help themselves it’s a great resource.

Anyway, one of the things to do is to monitor your mojo, basically a combination of happiness and meaning, by rating yourself after major events and at various times throughout the day. Sound like a great problem for an iPhone app to solve? Sure!

They made a mojo app, but instead of being great, it isn’t. They made three mistakes.

Mistake #1: They picked the wrong partner

They partnered with an unrelated service that doesn’t complement their cause.

The mojo app is part of the Rypple app. Rypple is an anonymous review service, more or less identical to the Checkster of old. The gist is that you join, and so does everyone else from our company (something not likely to happen east of California) and then you can give each other anonymous feedback. Great idea, and as soon as companies are filled with well-adjusted, confident, open-minded, web-savvy folks with a genuine interest in improving each other it will work great.

I figured this out only after spending quite a lot of time on the Rypple site. The first thing they ask for, before you can use anything, is permission to send push notifications. Then they ask for a work email address. Not a good feeling. Plus, I’m not at all interested in Rypple or what it does. I like the concept, mind you, but my company and culture simply aren’t compatible with this kind of thing.

This is why Mojo+Rypple is such a bad combination. One is an individual exercise that can be done privately. The other is a social exercise where the first thing they ask for is your work email address.

But I want to do the mojo exercises recommended in the book, so I download the app. Thankfully it accepts my personal email address, and fortunately the non-mojo part of the app isn’t too intrusive.

Mistake 2: The app doesn’t support the book or the brand.

I wasn’t even sure I had the right app when I downloaded it. I had to go back to the mojo site to make sure. there wasn’t any obvious branding that told me I had the mojo app – of course, there wouldn’t be until after I registered because that’s the first required step. Even after I registered I wasn’t entirely sure.

Mistake 3: The app is unintuitive, and doesn’t work

It’s not clear how to enter your mojo until you grok the idea that first you start by entering an event, which is similar to entering an appointment. Then you can enter your happiness and meaning values. Not the ten values described in the book, just happiness and meaning. There is no way to just add them quickly without entering an event. Entering an event is more than enough of a hurdle to make it easy to put off.

The app is supposed to be able to wake up on a regular interval and prompt you to enter these values – every hour or a multiple there of. Only it doesn’t work. Every time I go to the app the time-based reminders are turned off. I turn them on, but when I return, they’re off. Oh yeah, and it doesn’t wake up, either.

For an app that has perhaps 7 buttons, this is pretty poor quality control.

A book this good deserves it’s own app, and the author’s brand deserves one that works well.

Online Bully Defense

Yesterday I wrote about how one’s email address has become their online identity. As I think about online identity, it occurs to me that a difference in strength of identity might be enabling online bullies. Just as a physical bully seizes initiative to exploit another’s physical weakness & lack of vigilance, online bullies can operate in the same way. If your whole online life revolves around one site, and the bully has a stronger presence, bullying is enabled. It’s a difference in strength of online presence and reputation.

The internet is so new, has moved so fast, its not surprising that this is happening. Even well-funded corporations who have devoted huge resources to PR are still challenged to manage their reputation online. No wonder kids can find themselves exposed.

Helping my kids develop a stronger online identity, in advance of them really needing it, will help them be more bully-resistant. Having their own place to publish content is also a hedge against social sites changing terms or moving from free to paid. At the end of the day, what will matter in the long run is what comes up when someone types my daughter’s name into a search engine.

I’ve pulled their firstnamelastname.com domains, and when needed we’ll develop sites for them. They have control over the content, and can build whatever presence fits them. They can probably manage the SEO of their own site well enough to make it place higher than Facebook or other pages, which is a hedge against the inevitable, regrettable social media content. It can be the site they mention to prospective employers (preferably, investors) or whoever else they need to impress.

They can still enjoy all the fun and drama that comes with Facebook and other sites, but they will have their own presence on the web as the anchor. This is the same strategy recommended to businesses, and the same logic is applicable to personal brands as well.