By Tamara McLendon —
My role in our company is to manage three things: People, Productivity, and Profit. In the past, I’ve thought of that middle item – productivity – as short-hand for performance, usually tackled by addressing issues of throughput, workflow, and infrastructure. Big picture, corporate productivity.
In my own life, however, I treat productivity as a big picture personal issue. I don’t have defined edges around my work and personal lives. Stress or overwhelm in my family leads to stress or overwhelm in my work, and vice versa. When I can see the whole picture of my work and personal obligations and goals, I can make good choices about what my priorities are, and feel comfortable in the knowledge that I’m doing exactly what I should be doing in this moment, whether it’s working on a new marketing plan, checking in with a new employee, or leaving early to take the kids to a matinee.
I started making progress toward that goal of clarity more than a decade ago, by implementing the methods detailed in David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done. It’s a best seller for good reasons. It’s an easy, interesting read, and you can get started trying out the ideas from the first few pages.
GTD (a common acronym for the book, and one I plan to get embroidered on a trucker hat to wear when I’m doing my Weekly Review) encourages readers to use their brains for having ideas, being strategic, and taking action on our priorities in the moment; not for reminding us of things we need to do. I don’t need to remember that I want talk to our management team about staffing when I’m in the grocery store, and I don’t want to remember that I need batteries when I’m in that management meeting. GTD showed me how to capture and process my “inputs”, to deliver the right to-dos at the right time when I can actually take action on them, and to reflect on whether I’m on target in the short, medium, and long term, for my business and family goals.
I know it’s working for me because a colleague and mentor I respect greatly, who is known for being on the ball and always following through, told me that she could always depend on me for doing what I said I’d do, without reminding or cajoling. She could ask me to do something and, if I said I’d do it, she could trust that I’d get it done.
Even one of my kids recently told me, while en route from one appointment to another, stopping to run errands that had been mapped out along the way, “You’re very action-oriented.” It got a big laugh, and he’s not wrong.
So if GTD helped me so much, I finally realized, surely it could also help everyone on staff. I’m not unique. We all have family commitments that bump up against work hours. We bring work home or stay late when we’re disorganized and need the extra time to catch up. Undoneness interferes equally in the functionality of our lives and our work. Why was I treating this as strictly a business issue, when everyone brings their whole selves to work every day?
I had this realization last year – that we’ve been focusing too tightly on just one aspect of productivity – and this year we’re putting it into practice in our team. We’re talking about productivity in our whole lives, not just during work hours. We’re talking about how to put some structure around our obligations – no matter whether they’re personal or occupational – and using that structure to get the right things done, at the right time.
But what does this look like in practice?
Group Training and Coaching
Step one was to figure out the best way to share the information. I could have just gotten copies of the book for everyone, told them to read it, and simply expect that it would speak to everyone the same way it spoke to me.
I actually did try that at first. I’d been having conversations with one of our employees during a particularly heavy volume month about their efforts to streamline their workflow. I sent them a copy of the book, and maybe they read it, but I didn’t have a way to follow up, or help them implement it.
Then I found the right approach. I had budgeted for some group training in the coming year, so I set aside some of that money to get myself certified to deliver GTD training within our organization. It wasn’t cheap, and I got the sense that it’s mostly for in-house trainers at much larger companies, but I was all in.
Another option would have been to hire VitalSmarts, the company that provides certifications, to do a group training for us, either online or at our headquarters. I opted to get certified instead because I’m such a fan of the system, and because I’d rather spend money on an investment that’ll pay off over time than a recurring expense.
We then held several GTD training sessions with our teams, a subset of the staff each day to avoid coverage issues. We talked about the basics, and the training package gave me a good presentation format to use. We diverged from it to talk about how we could incorporate it into ConnectWise, our MSP practice management system.
We talked about our personal obligations and goals – like kids’ sports teams, household repairs, and serious hobbies. We talked about the challenges in our specific workflow, like escalations between Support Desk and Service Desk, and how we could help each other by sending inputs that were pre-clarified.
After the sessions, I followed up with each employee to help them continue to evolve their systems and stick with it. We problem-solved and shared successes. We asked everyone to set aside an hour per week to do a Weekly Review, which is when they “reboot” their systems, check progress on projects, consider priorities, and start fresh with renewed clarity. They’re encouraged to include personal goals and projects in this review, even though it’s on company time, because we are so clear that it’s all one, big ecosystem.
As we hire, which we’re doing often these days, we batch up new employees and rerun the training, inviting their direct managers to join in. The manager gets a refresher, can set expectations for behavior with their new team members, and can enjoy the luxury of a few hours away from the crush of incoming tickets to forge these new relationships.
We’re seeing good results with this training and coaching combination. The entire team is using the shared language of GTD – capturing Next Actions, getting their inboxes to empty, etc. We’ve even started a channel in Slack, our instant messaging system, to talk specifically about GTD successes and challenges. We have a mutually shared expectation that we follow through and follow up. New employees are getting a good dose of this culture where Getting Things Done is a considered a basic competency.
Coming in Part 2
I have more to say at about how we embed GTD into our processes, but that’ll wait for Part 2, which I’ll post in two weeks. In the meantime, I highly recommend that you read the book and visit the website for a greater understanding of what GTD is about and what it can do for you and your team.
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