Zaana popped up on Twitter earlier today and asked Ross and I what our approach was to keeping track of the things that we had done. It’s a good question. How do you keep track of the stuff you’ve achieved along your journey so you’re aware of the good job you’re doing?
Now, I don’t keep a ‘done list’ like the one outlined in this article. I think that would be a valuable thing, but I’ve not done it before. So, instead, let me share a few things I do that help me stay positive about the things I’ve been able to make happen and the things I’m working on making happen now.
1. Getting Things Done to remove the small tasks from your mind
I’m a big fan of the Getting Things Done methodology. Ross and I have both written about this before, as have many others. This video of David Allen, the GTD guy, at the Do Lectures is also excellent for this.
We’re a fan of the method, because it speak directly to being able to remove the worry from your mind by keeping it somewhere else. Don’t worry too much about the idea of a ‘to do’ or ‘done’ list – it’s the approach that matters.
Do you have an inbox full of unread emails? That awkward feeling that you’ve forgotten something? It all stems from trying to keep everything in your head, which directly impacts how you approach each and every day. If I could recommend any one thing for the prospective knowledge worker to begin learning and working towards, it’s understanding the principles of Inbox 0 and GTD.
It’s hard to feel good about what you’ve done, if there’s an impending feeling you’ve still got many things to do.
2. The big things come from the small things.
Understanding GTD is important, because it’s through feeling confidant that you’re across most things that you can allow your mind to focus on the bigger picture. I’ve found this myself recently.
I went on leave for 5 days to watch Rose swim to Rottnest Island. In doing so, my email pilled up and I had a large amount of things to catch up on when I got back. I’m not alone in this – I’m sure you’ve come back from a hiatus to find a big pile of stuff to catch up on. It has probably taken me a good 3 weeks to get back to place where I’m in control of my inbox again. There is a lag affect here that takes time to work through your system.
The same applies to anything that you are making happen. You can kick off the process but it won’t be ‘done’ until a time after that. This is why GTD is so important. It’s hard to look back and reflect on anything you’ve done if you’re not aware of when you have time to look back. If you’ve always got a full inbox and tasks spilling out of various notebooks then you’ll always feel under the pump to organise it all.
Intuitively, we might think the opposite is true. That by taking time out to organise everything from the largest idea possible down, we’ll feel better. In my example above, had I taken this approach, I would have left many of those emails unread and begun working on the largest possible projects that had come up recently. I might have gone to the whiteboard and re-strategised my approach and reshuffled things.
Instead, I just answered my emails as best I could and begun catching up. And funnily enough, now that I’ve removed many of those smaller issues from my brain and feel comfortable I’m across the things I need to be, I can (and have) done many of the things above such as reorganising how I’m approaching some large projects at the moment.
3. Keep it simple and talk about the things you’ve done – not the big things you’re going to do.
The other big tip is best said by Ben Chestnut from Mailchimp. The best way to reflect on the things you’ve done is to have them active in your day and to grow your approach with them.
Ben says that at Mailchimp nobody walks around saying “I’ve got this great idea, can you help me with it?” Instead, they walk around saying “I’ve done this thing, can you help me do more with it?”
There’s a very big difference there, and it’s substantial. I’m a big talker and love discussing macro ideas, but I’ve realized lately that these actually just stress me out. I begin subconsciously pilling tasks onto my to-do list which I know will be very hard to do. I have no desire to do them, because I’m drawn not by the small tasks, but by the big dream at the end of it.
Instead of dreaming big with your colleagues and fellow students, share instead what you’ve just completed. Which, in a way, brings me to my final point and the main topic of this post.
4. Reflect with people what you’ve done
It might be that you’ve just hit Inbox 0. You might have just finished a paper and handed it in. Tell someone about it. Show them. Ask them what they think they might be able to add to it, or what they think you should do next.
I don’t keep a ‘done’ list but I do often debrief with people stuff that has just happened.
Whenever we organised a Trampoline, Pat, Melina, Aida and I used to make time to chat with each other the day after to discuss the things that worked well and those that didn’t work well. We would discuss the excitement of the day and how we felt seeing it all come alive. Tick! Done!
Ross and I do the same with many of the things we do, too. It might have been a blog post we’ve just done or a meeting that we just had together. We’ll grab a coffee and debrief what we did. Did we tick any boxes? Sometimes, unknowingly, you have. Tick! Look at what we did then!
At the fourth Trampoline, Melina asked the audience at the start of the day to put their hands up if they hadn’t been to a Trampoline before. About 60% of the audience did. We didn’t plan on asking this question, it was just one of those things that hit Mel at the time and it seemed to make sense. We were blown away by it. In our debrief the next day we discuss how we had managed to keep the event diverse and a good mix of new people flowing through it. Tick! That’s something we had done!
Ross was saying recently that people in the Defense Forces that he had recently spoken to were quite unimpressed with the lack of retrospectives and debriefs that take place in the world of work, as well as training. If you go into battle or war, it’s a requirement that you debrief with your team afterwards to discuss what happened and what went well. We do this all the time at Yammer, but in others roles I’ve had before it’s been something that didn’t happen enough.
In conclusion: Talk about the things you’ve done, not the tasks you haven’t
We can get consumed by the flowing list of tasks that still need to happen (see point 1) or worse, the tasks that people want to dream up with you (see point 2). Focus on keeping your ideas simple enough that you can do them (point 3) and then, go and grab a coffee and someone to talk to and walk them through what you’ve just done (point 4). You’ll find it much more positive and inspiring, and a great way to figure out what to do with that success next.