Here’s my “Getting Things Done” Secret

Will you be at Pressnomics 3?

I'll be there this year for the third Pressnomics event, and I'm privileged to speak again (my second time).

This year I'll be talking about my “getting things done” secrets. Specifically mine. Not ones you can find in a book or presentation.

And while I'll be covering several different tips, I thought I would share at least one here on my blog, just for you.

It's a trick that helps at home as well as at work.

Learning the lesson

Sadly, most of the productivity lessons I've learned have been thru hardship rather than by simply reading and applying some new piece of knowledge.

I guess that says more about me than the lesson, right?

Anyway, I learned this lesson thru burnout. That feeling where you no longer care about anything and you don't mind if you drop 1000 balls mid-air and you don't care about the consequences because you're so tired and frustrated that everyone can just deal with it!

I was doing too much. Activity. Not accomplishment. Just activity.

And one day I was so tired that I walked away from every role I had and did nothing for four straight months.

It wasn't a fun time. But it was an instrumental time.

We all need margin

What I was doing was packing my days. Every one of my days.

I was working every hour that others were. Then more hours. And meetings after that. Every day.

I was the youngest of my peer group and to keep up with people I felt like I needed to work harder, and more importantly longer.

In the end, I was doing three things at once (none of them helpful):

  • Confusing activity with accomplishments
  • Playing the game by others rules
  • Not leveraging my strengths

After four months, I realized I need to change all of that.

And the single thing I needed in my life to make this happen was margin.

  • Margin means I don't try to fill my calendar with stuff
  • Margin means I keep a lot of available space in my week
  • Margin means that with less available activity time, I need to focus
  • Margin means I should focus on my strengths
  • Margin means I need to collaborate better

As a manager, I need even more margin. Because if people need time with me, I can't say I have an “open door” policy when in fact my days are scheduled full the whole time.

A focus on high gain activities

Here's what I can tell you that I hope will help you as you try to increase margin in your world.

I try to limit the amount of work I do every day where I'm the individual contributor. I know that sounds horrible.

But it's true. Most of my high gain activities involve me mentoring, coaching, or collaborating with others.

If there aren't any recipients of my work, if I'm just producing something for a client or partner, there's a good chance that one of two things could be true:

  • Someone else could do it
  • Someone else could be learning how to do it

In either case, if my days start filling with individual contributor work, I'm likely losing margin and impact (all at once).

Of course this doesn't apply in the same way to everyone.

So share with me, and others, how you go about creating margin in your day.