Sunday, February 28, 2010

Business Challenge: Insanely Organized


Gasp! I'm not reviewing a creative book! I've been starting to create some Personal Challenges to myself to conquer areas of running a small hobby business more seamlessly. I've been wanting to go about making the challenges so that they are a combination of doing the business side of things in a more fun, engaging, and creative way. For the activities that usually make me want to run screaming for the hills are a challenge for me, I plan to create a challenge to make the activity that I have a hard time with. Bookkeeping is my personal nightmare. It's more about the dull routine than not understanding. Once I dig in and start doing, I'm fine. But...routine is so...well, boring! (This is when all the years of practice at procrastination come in handy.) But, I have some creative projects in mind that I'll share that I think will make it more fun for me to do. Or at least less annoying.

I was going to dive into the Bookkeeping Challenge, but I needed to step back and lay a foundation by getting organized... or as the book I'm reviewing states, "Getting Things Done." Let me just qualify my review by saying that I love organizing things. I could do that for days. I love creating systems, trying out every planner and calendar, playing with Outlook tasks, creating my own databases, using a Palm Pilot, making lists, using Post-It notes. It's the follow-up and maintenance of the lists that lose my interest.

The other thing worth mentioning is that I have a day job as a girl geek project manager. I've been running projects for years without the formal training. (Mr. Allen's definition of a project is something that has more than one action associated with it...a tidbit I totally agree with.) Then gained more formal training which really gave me a set of tools for many situations. The latest method I studied really boiled things back down to simplicity...all the rigorous documentation isn't going to help you if you don't follow through. For some of my projects, the simplest approach of post-it notes and a notebook work best! (More on that in another post.)

I had heard about "Getting Things Done" for a while. It didn't seem like I really needed the book. I've always been very on top of accomplishing my task list. My last year in the US I was on a mega-project, remodeled a house, and planned a move across the world. I did have to amp up my game during that year. Interestingly, the practical suggestions given in this book are exactly how I modified my activities to accomplish the maximum possible. Rigorous task management, ruthless email editing, a folder for everything, all helped me manage through the hurricane that was my life for a year.

My caveat to the book is that his philosophical approach differed from mine. However, his point of view and experiences have also been different. As a time management coach, he has been assisting people who have become overwhelmed with everything they need to accomplish. His practical bottom-up approach makes sense in that context. He criticizes the top-down (life priorities, values, then task priorities) as more amorphous and less tangible. I disagreed with his thoughts as I've lived my life very well with this principled, top-down approach (concepts captured in books like 7 Habits for Highly Successful People by Stephen Covey). I did have to step up my game when I got swamped, but my top-down approach helped me manage my priorities and learn to say no (finally!) when my plate was overflowing.

Aside from the philosophical difference, I found some value in the practical application of his suggestions and tweaked my task management practices. I am finding it is working very well for me. Right now, I'm using a a freemium service called Remember the Milk for managing my tasks and have categorized generally according to Mr. Allen's suggestions, but with some additional folders that meet my particular needs.

So, are you organizationally challenged with Getting Things Done? Take the challenge: read the book and see what you think of implementing his suggestions. I do have some projects/ideas for making the implementation of Getting Things Done more fun.

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