David Allen: You’re Doing it Wrong

Previously… David Allen is the author of Getting Things Done, easily one of the cleverest books I’ve read, certainly one of the most very useful, but also unfortunately just a bit irritatingly with corporate-speak. I mean, come on. Genuinely tremendous ideas explained in ways that don’t explain and do make you wish you’d never started his book.

Fast Company has a new interview with him which they summarise with this headline: “The father of Getting Things Done: You’re Getting Me All Wrong”. And I just find that so aggravating. Read the actual interview, though, and the worst you can say that he comes across as smug. There’s more about his belief we need six “horizons of focus” and I just gesticulated at Fast Company for letting him say that without following him up with “Eh?”.

Bringing those horizons into balance requires reflection, he says. “If you want to say, ‘Am I focused on the right thing?’ I would say, which one of those conversations has not been matured sufficiently or lined up with the other ones appropriately? Some people need to focus more on their goals. Some people need to stop focusing on their goals and actually get shit done.”

The Father of ‘Getting Things Done’: You’re Getting Me All Wrong – Ciara Byrne, Fast Company (16 June 2015)

If you got through that quote, you got to a good bit. Who could disagree with the need to get shit done? That’s GTD in a nutshell: not the shit, at least not in that way, not the ideas, but the amount you have to get through to find the good bits. It’s just that the good bits are clever and immensely useful. Read the full piece.

Ignore emails that don’t ask you a question

That headline is the entire story. To save yourself time, to save headaches and most of all to save those pointlessly ongoing email conversations, don’t reply unless they ask you something. I don’t know that I’m capable of ignoring email but I learnt that I should try from this interview with a CEO I’d never heard of before.

She’s Kristin Muhlner who runs NewBrand Analytics. Haven’t heard of that either, but.

I love email. I’m probably a rare breed in that regard. I love it because it allows me to work asynchronously and to consume vast amounts of information rapidly across the business. But unless I’m specifically asked a question, I don’t respond. If a CEO responds, everyone thinks they need to respond back, and that kicks up a lot of dust.”

The Many, Many, Many Things You Should Say “No” To At Work – David Zax, Fast Company (1 October 2014)

Read the full piece.

The Successful Failure

That’s me, that is. Official. I’ve been interviewed for the US podcast series The Successful Failure: it’s about how one’s biggest, most calamitous bad times are what teach you the skills to get great days.

I’ve known the series producer and presenter, Gigi Peterkin, for years so she knew to steer me away from my haircut errors but she also got more out of me than I expected. Possibly more than I intended, but let’s not go there.

Instead, let’s go here: this is my episode on The Successful Failure website. Do take a listen to the other episodes and subscribe to it on iTunes.

You could also take a read of Self Distract, my personal blog when I mused about how much detail one can unintentionally give up in interviews.

Weekend read: How Film is Made Today

Just absorbing.

Visiting the Eastman Kodak factory in Rochester, NY was the first visit in my month-long journey. I wanted to document how Kodak film, which starts as an acetate or polyester base and chemicals, reaches the movie theater screen in a digital era. That process today is quite different from 50 years ago when technicians developed camera negatives by hand and editors cut film with scissors. It’s one that blends the physical and the digital mediums. I interviewed Kodak factory workers, filmmakers, negative processing technicians and colorists, toured labs and offices, all the while witnessing firsthand film’s entire course. Even though the process does integrate digital technology today, I found there’s something special about shooting a movie on film, and part of my journey was to discover why that is.

How Motion Picture Film is Made – Ryan Cavataro, Gear Patrol (22 March 2015)

Read the full piece.

Thank you! “Positivity is the Worst Response to a Problem”

Oh, it’s not that bad. You’re just too close to it, you can’t see the upside. Give it a day and you’ll see you were right all along. If you’ve heard things like that or if you’ve said things like that, it’s not helping. So says Fast Company writer Stephanie Vozza and she must be right because she’s saying what I think.

True, she’s saying it better than I am, but.

In math, multiplying a negative by a positive gives you a negative answer. Ever notice the same thing happens in life? When a coworker complains and you try to inject something positive, the outcome is usually more negativity.

“When we hear negativity, our instinct is to try and cheer up the other person,” says Peter Bregman, author of Four Seconds: All the Time You Need to Stop Counter-Productive Habits and Get the Results You Want. “But often it’s the worst thing you can do.”

That’s because listening to negative conversations makes us uncomfortable, and saying something positive in response only serves as a way to make the listener feel better, not the person who is complaining. This reaction doesn’t help the person who is venting because the listener’s comments are perceived as being argumentative.

“You are basically disagreeing with the other person’s feelings,” says Bregman. “You’re saying that they’re wrong; things really aren’t that terrible. This just makes them entrench more deeply in their perspective.”

Why Positivity Is The Worst Response To A Problem – Stephanie Vozza, Fast Company (19 March 2015)

Read the full piece. Mind you, I’m intrigued by the book she refers to, the Four Seconds one. The cynic in me is thinking it might take more than four seconds to read the book, but.

Know your limits by setting them

Today I started around 7am, I’m going to write until about 4pm, then I’ve various errands I need to do and I’ll cook at maybe 6:30pm. That’s nice.


This is new. It’s new for me or at least it’s fairly new since I lost my biggest single client as a freelance writer. Wait – I’ve just looked that up: it was three years ago next month. Unbelievable. Is that really right? Only three? Feels like a decade. It seemed like such a bad day at the time but, wow, I wish it had happened sooner.

Anyway, having a big regular client gives you structure in two ways, doesn’t it? There is the time you have agreed or are contracted to work with them. That stops you doing anything else, gloriously it also removes the churning as you think constantly about what is the best thing you could be doing right now. What can you do this minute that will help you? Nothing. You’re committed, you’re contracted. Stop churning, get working.

This type of contract also defines the rest of your time: it is the bits when you’re not working for them and so therefore must get all your other work done. What is the best thing to do at this minute? Work.

When that contract goes and you’re suddenly doing much more irregular and many, many, many more jobs all at once, the structure of your working life changes. I’d say for the better: I have come to adore jumping from one job to another, switching tasks a dozen times a day. Do note that I say switching: I will always and forever do one thing and then do the other, I will not attempt multitasking. I’ve learnt that much at least.

However, switching and jumping plus irregular and many, many, many more jobs does rather mean that you can be always working. I like this. I like this a lot.

But I have felt overwhelmed this year and when I’m being close to nasty about how good or bad my work is, I can’t help but note that longer days do not get better results.

So yesterday I tried laying out one hour on this, one hour on that, plus not checking emails until the top of the hour. This is all stuff I advocated in my book The Blank Screen and it is all stuff that I have learnt to do, that I have regularly done. But somehow doing it again in the midst of feeling under water, it helped even more.

I’m trying it again today. It means I know what I’m doing for the next several hours and I know when I’m stopping. Which means that for once I can tell you I will be having a very good time tonight relaxing with a copy of Pride and Prejudice.

I’m actually looking forward to that. The evening is now a thing to look forward to instead of just a different set of numbers on the clock.

Happy for me, isn’t it? But I hope you can do this too. Right up to re-reading P&P, though get your own copy. Obviously.

Jony Ive interview

The Financial Times has an interesting interview and profile of Jony Ive, chief designer at Apple, the company that today announced details of its Watch. Ive is credited with the Watch and, says the FT, with getting Apple to its current incredible financial worth:

In great part, that valuation rests on the shoulders of a 48-year-old Englishman. Yet as he lopes towards me down the corridor, in his comfortable suede shoes, bright-blue trousers and baggy, long-sleeved yellow top, his kindly features creased up in a welcoming grin, those broad shoulders seem remarkably unbowed.

Ive is arguably the most influential designer in the world, and yet he does that slightly disingenuous self-effacement thing characteristic of confident people who say they are just part of a team. There is a gentleness about him. He talks quietly and articulately in an accent unaffected by two decades in America. Even when he describes those who copy Apple as little better than thieves, it is with a smile and softness of tone that suggests he would far rather the unpleasant subject had never been brought up.

The man behind the Apple Watch – Nick Foulkes, Financial Times (6 March 2015

Read the full piece.

More on doing fewer things at once

This may be the thing you need to know most: stop with the multitasking. It is bad. It is rubbish. Here’s someone with a psychology background agreeing with me:

One thing at a time — For many years the psychology research has shown that people can only attend to one task at a time. Let me be even more specific. The research shows that people can attend to only one cognitive task at a time. You can only be thinking about one thing at a time. You can only be conducting one mental activity at a time. So you can be talking or you can be reading. You can be reading or you can be typing. You can be listening or you can be reading. One thing at a time.

We fool ourselves — We are pretty good at switching back and forth quickly, so we THINK we are actually multi-tasking, but in reality we are not.

The one exception — The only exception that the research has uncovered is that if you are doing a physical task that you have done very very often and you are very good at, then you can do that physical task while you are doing a mental task. So if you are an adult and you have learned to walk then you can walk and talk at the same time.

The True Cost Of Multi-Tasking – Susan Weinschenk Ph.D, Psychology Today (18 September 2012)

That last bit about physical tasks was new to me but I think we all need reminding of the problems of multitasking. As ever, read the full piece.

Fitness and Productivity. Oh Dear God.

We all know that sluggish feeling in the morning. Your body is moving but your mind hasn’t switched on yet. Imagine the impact on your day if you had a dose of endorphins before your morning meetings?

Exercising first thing is daunting, it’s tough, but it truly sets you up for a wonderfully effective day. It gives you a positive, fresh outlook and a real head start. Adding exercise to your day means your productivity will increase because you arrive to work energised, focused and more organised than before. You will be able to think more clearly, your energy levels will be higher throughout the day, you will be less stressed, more creative and better prepared.

Just think about it – you’ve done a workout, had breakfast and are up and at ‘em, feeling amazing – and all before 9am!

Positive Fitness and Productivity – Liz Costigan, ClaireBurge.com (undated

She’s not wrong. I know. I know. Read the full piece for a lot more. Then break it all to me softly.