Going Solo: Martin Roell – Self-Organisation for Effectiveness: Tools and Methods to Get Things Done

How can we work in a way that we actually get the things done that we want to get done. It becomes especially puzzling when we choose our job – as freelances, we choose what we do. So we have a job we like, but still we doing it. Found the answer today – chap in the audience has T-shirt saying 98% chimp, and that’s it. We’re monkeys. There’s nothing wrong with it, but they’re not so useful. We have to be useful, if we don’t feel useful, we don’t feel happy, and nobody’s paying us.

We can self-organise and get things done. Talking about systems for organising ourselves. The system that matters is you, and your brain. We build systems to let this brain system operate better. When I talk about systems and self-organisation, it’s not about building a better system, it’s about using systems so that you can do what you do better.

To use your brain, you have to get all the stuff that is in there out, into a trusted system. We know a lot, but the problem is, when you focus on one task, and you have 50 or 500 other tasks in your head you will not be effective. So the basic principle of almost any system is to get the stuff that you’re thinking about out of your head so you can focus on things to get things done. If you use the GTD system you’ll know this.

How do you get stuff out of your head? Write it down. all your thinking about tasks, it’s your projects you are working on, want to work on, should be working on but are not. Everything. Collect it by writing it down, and collect it in an inbox – a physical inbox. Do this even if you use a computer. But make these things physical and collect them into a box into which everything goes.

In seminars, this usually takes people half an hour to get done. End up with something like 300 items, seems a lot, and it is a lot. The reason to do this is not to start worrying about having 300 items to do, the reason is to see the reality. Always think about lots and lots and lots of things, but we can only do one thing at a time. Collect everything, then convert it into an action. So you’ve collected a Moo card, what next? Convert it into an action. What are you going to do? Call them? File it? Figure out what the action is and then write that down. This is very boring. It’s writing list of To Dos. End up with lots of lists of things to do. But the point is to have a complete overview of what you have to do, want to do, etc. But the thing is that then you can focus on your task and ignore everything else.

Martin uses software called Things, but there are other tools.

Most people have 300 items, but realise about 50 of them are so stupid that they can throw them away because you are just not going to do it. Throw out as much as you can. If you doubt a task, throw it away. If it turns out to be important, it will come up again.

Then organise by context – where can you do this task, e.g. office, home, telephone, offline. Martin travels a lot, and hates working on a mobile phone on a train. So he filters so that he can do the tasks that are possible on a train. Context varies, in your office you can do most anything, but other tasks can only be done in a certain place. So filter list to what you can work on now.

How many things can you focus on? One. So focus on one thing, the one thing you want to do right now. You need to make a conscious decision on what you are going to do. How do you decide?

– by context, can you do what you need to do.
– by importance, makes sense to do the important things first, but we don’t, we do the nice things first.
– by energy, how do you feel? do you feel energised? no? this works in the other way, when you have bad days, there are a lot of tasks that are very boring, and these go well with bad moods or low energy days. one part in his to do list for mid-afternoon when he feels unfocused, usually stuff that’s away from the computer.
– by time available, seems obvious but we overlook that. we don’t use it to organise our lists, part of his list is ‘offline’, which is basically train time. use train times for focused tasks where he doesn’t want to be interrupted.

Decide consciously what you want to do. Do one thing, finish it, then move on. Don’t get caught up in other things. If you’re using a computer based To Do list, it’s useful to chose one item then close the system, work on that item, then open the system. Don’t switch between different tasks, or between organising tasks and doing them.

Don’t start the day by checking email, because that just creates more tasks. Instead, decide what to do next and do that. Email will always come.

Procrastination is interesting, because only humans do it. Why don’t we do these things that we want to do? To research into this, used Twitter, asked two days ago “Everyone: Pls send me the task from your todolist that you have been procrastinating longest! Will use it for my talk at Going Solo..”

Got a reply from me!: “Suw: @martinroell jsut the one? that’s hard… clear out my email inbox is probably the one thing that’s always on my list but never gets done”

More detail about it: “it says “reduce inbox to 0” as an overall project then “reduce inbox by 100″ as a action. and i never do it.”

Problem – to get rid of email, you create 50 things in your inbox. But a more fundamental reason why this doesn’t work – reduce inbox by 100 is not an action, it cannot be done. This is why some GTD systems work and some don’t – it’s what do you consider to be a task. No. 1 response was ‘tax declaration’.

Has to be “Look at first email in inbox and decide what to do with it.” The wording of the to do items is very important. Has to be what is the next action, not about something that will happen, it’s looking at the first email. That’s something you can do. A tax declaration is not something you can do, you can get the paperwork together, but a tax declaration is a project not an action item.

How are you working your to do list? Is it really an action? If you do this, it becomes clear that the the stuff you are procrastinating is the stuff that you aren’t clear on the first step of. If you don’t know what the first step is, you won’t do it.

Other thing is to work on a task for half an hour or one hour. This task may feel like it’s going to take three years, but do them for one hour, just begin, and begin again, and begin again, and at some point it will be done. You can’t do it all in one go.

There is no magic formula. But a lot of it is down to you, it’s discipline. There’s no person or method in the world that can help you get things done, it’ down to you. Discipline is a silly word, so really it’s more Strength and Balance, so strength to do the things you need to do. You won’t have a great day every day. There will be days when you don’t want to do it but you have to do it.

Areas to develop discipline, that you can use to see that you can do things no matter what condition you are in. You can do things every day no matter how much work you have, or what move you’re in.

– meditation, 5 mins in the morning every morning is enough.
– sleep, try getting up at the same time every morning, no matter what. you can go back to sleep, but try waking up at the same time.
– music
– cleaning your room

Distinguish between work and not-work. Might be a time in the day, but important to distinguish.

– build a system
– break down your projects into the first small step, make sure that step is doable
– begin the day by doing one important thing, before checking email or anything else. sometimes that will be enough for the entire day. start the day like that and you will set yourself up for success.
– distinguish work from not work. not just about being more effective in your work, but also about having a life, and to be able to switch off, stop worrying about work when you’re not working. Get this stuff out of your head, your mind will start trusting it that when you come back to the system everything will be there. Even if you’re not into doing more things, the same principles will help you create a better balance between work and private life.

Q: How do you do with IM? With 10 people IMing you all the time?
Martin: You have to have discipline. I switch it off completely if I want to focus.
Stowe: It has to become etiquette that it’s polite to ignore someone if you’re not able or want to respond.

Q: I find it hard to disconnect mentally.
Martin: There’s no hack, it’s just practice. Obviously meditation is an obvious thing, but also shorter work days, and just keep practice. There’s no way to switch off your mind, it doesn’t work that way. That’s why discipline thing is in there, as there’s no other way.

Q: One thing I find is that when I’m working on something and I have to read a link, and end up following a link trail, how do you break that?
Martin: No way to break it, but I use a tool for that, but noticing that you’re doing it is the first step, once you notice what you do, I’d then put the URL into the inbox and later create a task for it, and think about whether I want to go back later. So the moment I notice, I turn it into an inbox item, then it becomes an action. Interests change so fast that most things turn out to be not important the next day.

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