Behavioral ChangeProductivity & Effectiveness

Master Your Workday Now!

Master Your Workday Now

One-sentence summary of “Master Your Workday Now!”: Generally speaking we get anxious and stressed about work we need to complete at short notice; beyond a certain timeframe– typically a week and a half –tasks become vague, so we view the future beyond that week and a half with calm and serenity; Master Your Workday Now! provides a comprehensive method to better manage tasks within this “work horizon” resulting in a more efficient and peaceful approach to work.

By Michael Linenberger, 342 pages, 2010

Book chronicle and summary of “Master Your Workday Now!”:

Part 1: Take control – manage your workday by addressing emergencies

The author opens up in a similar way to David Allen in GTD by pointing out the stress and problems that arise from a pace of work that is too hectic. However, while David Allen emphasises that it’s the responsibility we give our brains to remember all our tasks, which is a major source of stress, Michael Linenberger says that this stress comes primarily from too fast a work pace. This is a source of frustration because the workload and emails are so important that they becomes blurred, and that we start to neglect things: opportunities, obligations, desired results. And then we regret missing these opportunities and feel guilty for not being committed or productive enough.

The stress and number work hours required just to keep our head above water, seems gradually less worth it which little by little, means we no longer enjoy our work and can even lead to hating it, especially if missing deadlines draws criticism from our colleagues or boss.

Even without the criticism of others, this sense of vagueness scares us, because we’re not sure what we might miss at any moment or even what we should do next. This leads to constant underlying anxiety and we end up saying “I can’t keep pace with my work” or “I’m so behind on things” or “I’ve forgotten something important”. And this constant dread of possibly neglecting something is even worse than actually neglecting it. A promise not met can be corrected, but a constant state of anxiety can rob us of our quality of life.

In the first part of the book the author seeks to provide simple tools to allow us to regulate our work and to really understand what work is actually on our plate, in order to eliminate the fog and the feeling of having lost control.

Michael Linenberger has already written a book on how to use these techniques with Outlook, “Total Workday Control using Microsoft Outlook”, but the ones described in this book can be used with just a sheet of paper and a pencil. Here’s how.

Chapter 2: A quick start to increase your control

Here is a simple way to explore the principles underlying how to master of your workday. With this quick start, you can control your workflow in minutes. Take two sheets of paper and a pen (or download the templates on MasterYourWorkdayNow.com) and then:

  1. At the top and in the middle of the first sheet, write down “Tasks To Do Now”
  2. Just below on the left, write down “Critical Now (to do today)”
  3. About a third of the way down the page, write down on the left, “Opportunities Now (to start this week or next, review every day)”
  4. On the other sheet of paper, at the top in the middle write down “Beyond The Horizon (to be reviewed every week)”

In your hands you now have a basic to-do list for mastering your workday, and it’s on only two pages.

Tasks To Do Now

Critical Now (to do today)

Opportunities Now (to start this week or next, to review every day)

horizon

Beyond The Horizon (to be reviewed every week)

Let’s start using it. Take your lists of things that need doing (including those in your head ) and at the top of the first sheet, put down those tasks that you know need to be completed today. Don’t forget to check your emails in case there is something there that needs you to attention.

In the Opportunities Now section write down the tasks that don’t need to be done today but you’d like to start as quickly as possible. These are the tasks you would like to do today if you had the opportunity to, or soon.

Next, on the Beyond The Horizon page, write down all the tasks that are low priority or you know don’t need to be done for a few weeks or more. This can end up being a long list.

How do you use all this? You’ve probably already worked it out. Here are some tips:

  • Try to put everything in these lists. Having everything in a single place has many benefits, but the main one is that at the end of your day, with a quick glance, you can tell if you can go home or not.
  • Do not overfill the “Critical Now” section. To ensure this, every time you go to add something there, ask yourself “will I stay at work late tonight if this task isn’t completed during normal working hours?”. If the answer is no, do not put this task in the “Critical Now” section.
  • The author’s experience shows that if you place more than 20 tasks in the “Opportunities Now” section, you will not be able to complete them. So as soon as there are more than 20 tasks in this section, put those that have the lowest priority in the “Beyond The Horizon” section.
  • If an “Opportunity Now” task has a deadline, put that date next to the task. But don’t invent an artificial deadline if it doesn’t really exist.
  • You should review the “Beyond The Horizon” list once a week. Michael Linenberger recommends that you schedule an appointment with yourself every Monday morning to review this list. If during this review, you find something that has become important, move it to the first sheet.

So here is the core of Michael Linenberger’s technique. As you can see it’s very simple to put in place. Do it now.

Chapter 3: Why do we lose control?

The author begins this chapter by getting us to ask ourselves this question: “Why do I feel overwhelmed (or even scared) by the amount of work I have to do?”

Most of us will answer “I have too much to do”. According to Michael Linenberger, this is true for some of us, but for the most part, the problem lies more in the way we approach work, rather than the volume of work itself. Perhaps our approach to work is unproductive.

The first part of this book focuses on this question: “How can I better control my workday so that I don’t suffer from the anxiety of being left behind, feeling overwhelmed, and not meeting expectations – those of others as well as my own?”

Anxiety and feeling overwhelmed – being crushed by the sheer volume of work – are the two things that the author wants us to avoid. But, he adds, tension in itself is not something negative. Psychologists have shown that most human beings are accustomed to the status quo and often resist change, even the right kind of change. Feeling some tension can therefore be a sign that you are making a positive change, and once this process is over, the tension will disappear and you can reap the rewards that you’ve sown. Moreover, the deadline tension of the task often pushes us to be very productive just before the deadline, in order to complete it on time. It’s why so many of us do things at the last minute.

So tension can be positive. But a tension that becomes overwhelming becomes stress, and stress should be eradicated.

Often tension and stress both come from a sense of urgency (described in the book “A Sense Of Urgency”also chronicled on this blog). The author believes that a reasonable sense of urgency may be used as an effective management tool for others and ourselves.

But we need pauses and time-outs from time to time – even the best action movies have moments when things slow down. But what differentiates a sense of urgency, which creates positive tension, from one that creates stress? Quite simply, it’s the moment when too many urgent things pile up on each other, day after day, where they become overwhelming instead of stimulating, and where we lose the drive and energy to finish these tasks. We go from feeling like a proud rider on his steed off to conquer his tasks, to an injured soldier who has fallen from his horse but remains hooked in a stirrup as the gallop continues.

This never-ending pileof urgent tasks only creates more stress and also leads to a lack of clarity, which means we can’twork out the real prioritiesthat are on our to-do lists. This means we sometimes tackle the low-priority tasks first just because they are right in front of us, and that’s at the expense of higher-priority tasks. Regarding this type of task,one of the biggest is email management. More and more people spend hours every day managing their emails, and they wonder why they can’t actually do their job.

Is prioritising the best response?

According to Michael Linenberg, this only works if the volume of tasks to be processed isn’t too high. If the task list is too long, you end up with 40 to 140 tasks, all high priority, which will cause high levels of stress and a lack of clarityregarding the real priorities.

Why? Because we often find it difficult to accurately identifythe real priority of a task. For example, we can label tasks as “important” which actually aren’t for us, but are for others. And importance is a very subjective thing: If for example someone tells us a scary story about the dangers of not having adequate home insurance, we can put the task of reviewing and increasing our cover on our important list; then, when we do the review in a less emotional state, we decide it is no longer that important and we put it aside. Although the importance of a task reduces over time, we do not consciously accept this change of priority, and we leave it on the important list.

This and other issues can mean having way too many urgent tasks. And that is why most of us end up doing the tasks that must absolutely be done straight away: compared to the subjectivity of task importance, the fact that it must be done today is much clearer.

Is getting organized the solution?

Perhaps there is a way to organise our workload so that the right task priorities become more apparent? In which case, if we could organise ourselves better, our stress would decrease, right?

Not necessarily. According to some, like the authors of “A Perfect Mess”, the money and time that we spend trying to be more organised is mostly a waste. Michael Linenberg partially agrees with this, but thinks that beyond the overall efficiency gains that these methods are supposed to deliver, it is the actual feeling of being more organised that is important, simply because this feeling can lead to working more efficiently. However, he does agree that often the time and money required to get more organised is not worth the efficiencies gains, and this is probably why most people soon drop an over-complicated organisation system.

So, what do we do? Use this sense of urgency to our advantage and as the basis of our organisational system.

Chapter 4: what is your current workday like?

What makes us anxious at work? Why do we care about certain tasks and not others? Why do we prioritise some work, whilst putting off other more important tasks?

multitasking

The answer to this is partly psychological, and that’s why the author uses the concept of the “mind map”. Mind maps are mental representations of reality that often do not accurately represent reality, or can even be completely false. A classic example is the portrayal of the solar system that almost everyone believed, in the middle ages: man thought that the sun revolved around the earth which was also believed to be the centre of the universe, completely wrong of course as we know.

We use dozens, even hundreds of mental models of our work, which represent how we interpret various aspects of our work. Of all these models, Michael Linenberg has found one particular mind map that has important influence over how we understand urgency. Basically, this model defines why we perform tasks inefficiently at work.

Let’s examine this mental model. In an out of control workday there are typically two harsh realities:

  1. As a busy professional, realistically you cannot do everything. You’ll think about and be entrusted with a lot more tasks, meetings and emails than you could reasonably look after.
  2. Although you know that it is your most important goals and results that should guide your daily activities, it’s often the urgency that determines what you will do every day.

On a busy workday we tend to focus first on emergencies, then onto urgent things to that need doing quickly, then less urgent things, etc. In the midst of these tasks there are meetings, interruptions and distractions. Generally speaking, our concentration is based on time and urgency, and there is one aspect of this mental model that emerges above all: the author calls it The NowWork Horizon.

To understand what this is, think about the following: If someone – be it your boss or an important customer – tries to insert a half-day task into your busy schedule, without giving you permission to remove something else, and asks you to finish the task by the next day, you would probably say “no, I’m too busy at the moment”. However, and even with the same pace of work, if this task had to be completed for example within two months (and it was worth your while finishing it) you would probably say “OK”.

Somewhere between now and two months from now there is a date after which you will stop being too busy, as far as you can see anyway.

To get a better idea of this period of time after which most people do not feel that busy, Michael Linenberg consulted hundreds of groups over the years. He asked people to raise their hands if they were OK with two months. Almost all hands went up, and almost all stay in the air for a month, and then also for two weeks. However, almost all of them are lowered for a week.

So somewhere between one and two weeks is the threshold where we stop worrying about work. The author calls this concept The Now Work Horizon, or The Now Horizon for short.

The Current Horizon sets out whichtasks you consider when you look at your list of things to do now. Most busy people feel anxious and stressed when they think of their workload within the boundaries of the horizon. However when they think about things beyond this horizon limit they relax, even if there is no planned change to their workload. But unless your work is seasonal, you won’t actually be less busy: you just think you will be. It’s a classic mental model where the mental image does not tally with reality.

For most of the people that Michael Linenberg talked to, the Current Horizon usually ends at 1.5 weeks, but it varies depending on business sector and people’s age. Take a minute now to consider what your Now Horizon is, and keepit in mind as you continue to read.

Think about what horizon means. If you imagine yourself at the beach, looking at the ocean, the horizon is the line beyond which you cannot see any further, because of the curvature of the Earth.

Similarly, your Now Horizon is the time limit beyond which, mentally, you cannot clearly seeyour future workload, and suddenly this work becomes less worrisome. On the contrary, the closer a task is to you time-wise, the more precise it is and the more urgent it becomes.

Let’s convert this mental model to another one that many people use for work: the treadmill of the conveyor belt. Factory employees typically work by a conveyor belt on which physical objects are brought to them. Their work speed is controlled by the speed of the belt. A company’s clerical workforce does not have a physical conveyor belt, but they often describe their work and themselves as being on such a treadmill: they run on the spot and manage tasks and requests that turn up, as best as they can.

Here is a useful mental model. Imagine that someone is on the left of a treadmill that stretches over a long distance to the right. He walks to the right-hand side of the treadmill at a speed that means he’s walking at a standstill. The tasks and meetings of the day that he has to attend, start to bombard him. Right in front of him are the tasks to be completed immediately, and when he does, he stacks them in a mental pile called “Accumulated Accomplishments ”

For most of the people that Michael Linenberg talked about, the current horizon usually ends at 1.5 a week, but it varies depending on the business sectors and the age of the people. Take a minute now to consider what your current horizon is and keep it in mind while you continue to read.

Think about what horizon means. If you imagine yourself at the beach, looking at the ocean, the horizon is the line beyond which you can not see further, because of the curvature of the Earth.

Similarly, your current horizon is the time limit beyond which you can mentally no longer see your future work clearly, and suddenly this work becomes less annoying. A contrario, the more a task is close to you in the time scale, the more precise it is and the more urgent it becomes.

Let’s convert this mental model into another that many people have when they work: that of working at the chain on a treadmill. Factory employees typically work near a treadmill on which physical objects are brought to them. Their working speed is controlled by the speed of the treadmill. The Office’s intellectual workers do not have a physical treadmill, but they often describe their work and themselves as being on such a treadmill: they run on the spot and manage as they can the tasks and requests that arrive.

Here is a useful mental model. Imagine that someone is on the left of a treadmill that stretches over a long distance to the right. He walks to the right side of the treadmill at a speed that makes him take over. Arrives at him the tasks of the day and the meetings to which he must participate. The things that are right in front of him are the tasks to be accomplished immediately, while he accomplishes them, he stacks them in a mental pile “accumulation of tasks carried out”.

efficient

In this model, getting too busy is related to the pace of work. If tasks arrive at the same frequency as you complete them, you feel good. If the rhythm accelerates and you cannot increase your own task completion rhythm, they will pile up and some will fall off the treadmillinto a large basket called “Missed Opportunities”, without you dealing with them.

stress

This is a very stressful experience because you feel guilty about tasks you haven’t addressed, as well as worrying about missed opportunities and not being able to cope with all the tasks on the horizon.

However, overwhelmed or not, with either of these models, you think that beyond the Now Horizon you will be able to relax because you do not worry about future tasks, as you can’t see them. Obviously in reality these tasks do exist: like a wave on the ocean, the period of time we have to relax keeps rolling in and is always a week and a half away. But it’s not a bad way to look at things as it allows us to surf the wave of immediate workload. If we make sure that the tasks we review daily stay within the Now Horizon, and that we control the number of tasks we place on this list, we will be able to control the stress and anxiety around our work.

Chapter 5: the power of Emergency Zones

 If you don’tadequatelymanage your concentration at work, it’s easy to start thinking “everything is on fire, I have to extinguish the flames”. This has probably happened to you before: you are very busy for the whole day, the end of the day approaches and you’ve been trying to do everything like a superhuman. Your pace of work is so fast, everything becomes an emergency; even minor emails put you in “action” mode. You’ve lost your sense of reason regarding real emergencies – if there are any – and you try to go as fast as possible, thinking that speed is the only answer.

Actually, although you may think that your superhuman speed is necessary and effective, by and large it isn’t. In his book Crazy Busy, Dr. Edward M. Hallowell points out that people like this may develop Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), which feels like one’s brain has burst into a thousand different thoughts. In fact it’s not just a feeling –attention is scattered across myriad subjects and the brain’s processing capacity plummets.

Managing tasks using the three Emergency Zonestaught in this book – Critical Now, Opportunities Now and Beyond The Horizon– can help stabilise the imbalances of a chaotic day. As we’ve already seen, it’s the tasks in the Critical Now area that will focus most of our attention. It’s advisable to review the Opportunities Now once or twice a day to “fill the blanks” in your day, and to ensure that tasks haven’t become urgent and need putting in Critical Now. Everything in Beyond The Horizon doesn’taffect youimmediately, and you only need to review this list once a week.

Once you’ve started using this system, you’ll find it very refreshing and relaxing that everything you need to worry about is on a very small list (under 25 items). It’s an incredibly liberating feeling. This will dramatically reduce the stress of your workday, and greatly increase the chances of you getting home at a reasonable time.

Besides, beyond the importance what is on your to-do list, it is equally liberating to know that there is nothing urgent on that list. By having a list you trust and that you can scan at a glance, you eliminate the stress induced by the sharks that are outside your field of vision and that could attack you – the urgent tasks you would have forgotten.

Chapter 6: Mastering your Emergency Zones

In Chapter 2, the author provided a brief overview of the system used to master your workday. Here he goes into further detail.

The Critical Now zone

This section is only for tasks that absolutely must be completed today. Look at it early in the morning, check the Opportunities Now list that some tasks haven’t become urgent and move them to Critical Now. You regularly review this list, at least every 3 to 4 hours, or even every hour, to make sure that you complete all the tasks on this list as soon as possible.

Working time

Try as best you can to complete these tasks as soon as possible, skipping, for example, tasks with lesserpriorities such as meetings, so that at the end of the day all your priority tasks are completed. Doing this means you can relax, and if you choose to work late it will be to move forward instead of being held hostage by your diary. So by glancing at your Critical Now list, you can say to yourself “if I finish this I can go to the gym” or “I can develop that new idea I’ve had”, etc.

And when you complete these tasks early, you feel like you’re ahead of the game, which is a great feeling. This completely changes your attitude to work and greatly reduces stress levels. In addition, by creating this list early in the morning and managing it throughout the day, you’ll easily see if your Critical Now list won’t be completed that day;if that’s the case you’ll more easily be able to organise the postponement of some tasks by telling everyone who may be involved in them thatthey be a little late.

The most important thing is to use the Critical Now zone properly. It is very easy to insert tasks there merely because you’re enthusiastic about them. But this zone is only for urgent tasks that need to be completed today. Every time you put in a task, ask yourself: “will I end up working late tonight to finish this task if I haven’t finishedby the end of my normal working day?” If the answer is no, don’t put it in the Critical Now zone. Place it on the Opportunities Now list.

Set up a Target Now zone

One of the reasons that users of this method fill up the Critical Now zone with too many tasks is that they confuse tasks that absolutely have be done today with ones that “are important to me”. For example, if one of your friends recommends an article for you to read about productivity that he raves about, you might be so excited that you’re going to place this reading task on the Critical Now list. This is a mistake, because this doesn’t absolutelyhave to be completed today. Instead, you can use an optional area called “Target Now”.

The “Target Now” area is therefore an optional area that is used to identify a task that you would like to complete today, either because it will help you on a particular project or because you’re very enthusiastic about it. These are essentially your most important Opportunities Now tasks, and they could become the very first to go onto the Critical Now list.

Tasks To Do Now

Critical Now (to do today)

Opportunities Now (to start this week or next, to review every day)

Target Now (I’d like to finish these today)

Model with optional Target Nowlist

Deadlines

Do I need to assign deadlines for tasks? According to the author, if a task does not have a deadline, don’t give it an artificial one. It can be tempting, because all task management software suggests it, and it seems so much more proactive, but according to Michael Linenberg it’s just an attempt to trick your mind – and you’re not so easily deceived. Using this technique is the same as someone who sets their watch 10 minutes fast because they’re always late: it worksat first, but he soon adaptsknowing that his watch is lying to him – and he will start to arrive late again.

Likewise, if you are constantly using false deadlines to trick your mind, you will start to miss one, then two, then four, and so on, and you’ll then get used to it to the point where you may miss tasks with real deadlines.

The Opportunities Now zone

As we’ve seen, the harsh reality is that we will always have more to do than what we can actually do. Although he’s his own boss, it’s even true for Michael Linenberg, because he’s always thinking about more things than he can actually act on.

This is why it’s important to put no more than 20 tasks on your Opportunities Nowlist.  If you have more than that on this list, you will never check it and you’ll miss important tasks. Also you could find its size demoralizing. If you exceed 20 tasks, put the smaller priority ones on the Beyond The Horizon list.

In fact placing tasks on the Beyond The Horizon list means there are 4 possibilities for each of them:

  1. Act on
  2. Delete
  3. Delegate
  4. Postpone

Review your Opportunities Now list every day, if not more than that, and perform one of these 4 choices for each task (you can postpone a task by leaving it in the Opportunities Now list rather than placing it in Beyond The Horizon).

Why we tend to perform low-priority tasks first

The first reason is that we tend to addresssomething at the very moment it presents itself, and that means we see only what is right in front of us rather than what the priority is. The second reason is that we tend to perform tasks that are quick to finish, because we like the sense of satisfaction that comes from completing a task. Unfortunately, the most important tasks are long-term ones, and we may be tempted to postpone them just to feel this satisfaction emotion more often. 

Chapter 7: Managing tasks at another level

Before getting an effective task management system in place, many people try to use their diary to track and process their tasks, sometimes by scheduling time in their diary to complete them. According to the author this is far from ideal, because a diary is designed to manage appointments and meetings, not tasks. In fact, placing a task in one’s diary is the same as setting an appointment with oneself, often on a random basis; this means you’re pretty much guaranteed to ignore or change the task as a result of other priorities or ideas that crop up in the meantime.

Managing tasks

This implies that you have to constantly reschedule your tasks, which is cumbersome and inconvenient, and will ultimately mean you ignore the tasks that are in your calendar. In addition, scheduling time for tasks is generally inefficient because one cannot accurately estimate how much time will be required, which tends to lead to incomplete tasks. Lastly, the best time to tackle a task may vary over the course of a day, and one can’t usually tell, with any precision, when to best diarise the task.

This is why it’s important to place your tasks on the master list provided by the author. But how do you write down these tasks? Michael Linenberg recommends the “next action” approach inGTD, i.e. examine your tasks and ask yourself “what is the next action I have to take for this task?”You then write down all the tasks in your list as “next action” tasks, using a verb to properly define the action itself. Therefore, you should not just use names for tasks, such as “François’ proposal” or “notes review “. Instead, use “reply to Francois’ proposal” and “review notes and choose next actions”. And be specific: do not place tasks on your list that are too big or vague.

Ad hoc tasks and Operational tasks

However, not all tasks should be placed on your list. The author distinguishes between ad hoc tasks and operational tasks. Ad hoc tasks are the tasks we’ve been talking about from the start, and operational tasks are repetitive ones within your company’s operation, which are managed more efficiently using a specialised system. For example if your job is to process hundreds of invoices a day, best not to put them on your task list! For these types of repetitive high-volume tasks, the system suggested by the author will not work: a specialised and automated system must be used.

Significant Results (RES)

The author therefore recommends that you place only clearly defined ad hoc tasks on your task list. But how does one address the most important tasks that need to be broken down into smaller tasks? The author calls these itemsthat are larger than thetasks themselves, Significant Results or RES, which are things you are currently working on, for example in between meetings, or less tangible accomplishments that you want to see completed as quickly as possible, such as “ensuring a clear and organized workspace”. You don’t often get time to do this, but plan to address it as soon as you can, or it may be a big task that needs to be broken down into smaller tasks.

RES are not goals: the author deals with those in the second part of his book. He doesn’t like the word “project” for them, because it suggests a much larger task. RES are just big tasks. You can say “This week, my main target in between meetings will be to complete the quarterly report” or “this week I want to make significant progress in setting up my new archiving system”.

It is very satisfying to complete important RES items over the course of a week. The author therefore recommends listingand tracking them. But how? Putting them in Opportunities Now doesn’t seem appropriate, even less so in Critical Now. The author therefore recommends creating a zone dedicated to RES items at the top of your task list.

resultatssignificatifs

Significant Results (to be completed this week)

Chapter 8: Mastering you emails

Learning how to use email effectively is essential for success in the modern world, because email is the primary source of distractions and interruptions, and research shows that every interruption is costly to productivity, because it always takes a while to get completely immersed in a task.

The author agrees with the consensus of productivity specialists who recommend processing emails in batches, at very specific times of the day. Above all you need to disable automatic notifications of new emails if you use email software like Outlook or Thunderbird, and schedule specific times during the day to read emails (Tim Ferris, author of The 4 Hour Week recommends doing this no more than twice a day). But Michael Linenberg adds that the main problem is not reading emails, but how we act as a result. It’s the time we take to do something that an email requires, that can destroy our day. This is because we do not have aninstinctiveyet effective way to prioritise the actions contained in emails: we generally deal with them as we read them.

The solution is to not act immediately after reading such emails, unless it’s urgent: instead, place the tasks in question in your tasks list, and continue to read or scan the emails in your inbox, adding the actions to your list as you go along.

Treating email addiction

Even if you adopt a healthy and efficient email management system, you can still be addicted to emails and wastelots of time. Email addiction is a huge problem these days, you only need to look at how many office workers spend half their day processing emails, or the number of BlackBerry users who constantly consult their device during discussions or meetings.

How do you know if you’re an email addict? If you stop working 20 times a day to check your emails, then you’re probably addicted, and you’reinterrupting your workday far too much. This is even truer if you can’t be without your BlackBerry and look at it all the time, including in meetings.

How do you detoxify? The basic concept is simple: reduce the frequency and time spent looking at emails. Start by asking yourself “When I constantly consult my emails what am I actually looking for? What am I running after?”.

According to Michael Linenberg the addicted are looking for one of these three things when they check their inbox:

1. Updates from friends, colleagues or information sources.

If this is what you’re seeking, chances are you’re bored with what you’re working on. You are probably looking for something else to focus on, or to slow down in order toget some perspective. Or you may want to stay constantly “up-to-date” at the office, because information is power.

In both cases your productivity takes a big hit as a result of engaging in these distractions. To stop this, you have to replace this habit of constantly seeking new information,with a healthier one that getsthe same result. The best is to check your emails less often, including deleting the automatic notification of new emails: you can stay informed even if you check your inbox less frequently.

If boredom is the reason for this behaviour, try to find something stimulating related to the project you’re working on. And most importantly, don’t let your BlackBerry become your master. You wouldn’t give a hammer or spanner the power to decide when it should be used. Don’t give this power to your phone or PDA. Define time slots and set limits on its usage.

2. Small, easy jobs they can finish quickly, in order to feel the pleasure of acompleted task.

Completing small tasks for instant gratification is particularly tempting when we’reworking on a heavy task that will take a long time to complete.

Instead of instantly completing tasks in emails, follow the advice at the beginning of this chapter and add them to your task list. This removes the source of your behaviour (the quest for instant gratification) and reduces your desire to check emails.

3. Urgent problems that arise, which require solving very quickly.

Companies that use email to manage emergencies have got it wrong according to Michael Linenberg. They turn their employees into under-productive slaves, forcing them to continually interrupt their work in order to read new emails. If this is the case in your company you should do everything possible to stop it, for yourself at least. Explain the situation to your boss and colleagues, by saying that you want to increase your productivity and that you’re not going to consult your emails more than twice a day and that for any emergencies they should call or come to see you.

Book critique of “Master Your Workday Now!” :

This book is absolutely awesome. If you’re a follower of GTD or ZTD, you’ll already be aware of the author’s original approach, its simplicity and its power.

Because unlike GTD, which is a cumbersome and complex system to put in place – I don’t know anyone who has applied it as is, everyone ends up adapting it in order to use it – the system in Master Your Workday Nowis extremely easy to use, and very quick to put in place. You can use the system basics from Chapter 2 in just a few minutes – that are very easy to maintain – I’ve been using it for 2 weeks already, with incredible ease.

Furthermore, I find that the distinction the author makes between tasks and projects that are below our Now Horizon and those that are beyond it, is absolutely brilliant and original, and it is extraordinarily effective because it works with our natural behaviour: placing all the tasks that beyond this horizon in the “Beyond The Horizon” list is extremely easy and liberating. And being able to quickly glance at all the important tasks of the day provides an incredible sense of mastery and serenity.

No more stress from questions like “what do I have to do today?” or “have I forgotten anything?”; now you can easily control your workload while really freeing up your mind. Compared to GTD, we lose task contextualisation, but this greatly simplifies the system and I have definitelynot missed this in the past two weeks since applying this method. Nothing prevents you from adding contexts to the system, for example by making contextual sub-lists in Opportunities Now.

GTD

I have been trying to apply GTD for almost a year and a half now, and I have come up against many hurdles whilst trying to apply the full system. The two minute rule and a clear and tidy office have become routines for me, but I have been struggling for a while to find appropriatesoftware for GTD that I like. I finally settled on Toodledo which sync’s with TODO on the iPhone – and having used it for several weeks I went back to a simpler to-do list system – a simple text file on my desktop listing the tasks of the day – with just the longer-term tasks in Toodledo. So I wasn’t satisfied with GTD, and I was frustrated by not finding a satisfactory system after a year and a half.

Master Your Workday Now completely changed this, and what is incredible compared to GTD is that, after only two weeks, I now have a reliable and comprehensive task management system, which I fully trust and from which I get a tremendous feeling relief and serenity. This is a huge improvement over GTD, which requires so much more time and effort to master – often about half the time is needed.

I didn’t chronicle the second part of the book because I believe that, if the first part sparked your interest you can easily earn the €15 price tag by applying what is taught in part 1. The rest addresses the other two parts of Michael Linenberg’s system :

  • Part 2: Create Your Workday Now – create your results using Now Goals and Goal Activation
  • Part 3: Connect Your Workday Now – connect your work with who you really are

These two parts represent the two highest levels of what Michael Linenberg calls “mastering the workday pyramid”:

pyramidedes3niveaux

These two parts address an area that is sadly lacking in GTD – although David Allen does address it in his Making It All Work book– that is, connecting your daily tasks with your life goals and who you really are: by using GTD as a control tool you can become very good at something you don’t like.

And these two parts are just as excellent as the first, and the solutions the author suggests are just as original, tangible and simple to apply: real contentment, to be used without restraint.

This book is therefore a must-read. It is undoubtedly destined to become a classic (it has only just been published), and you’ll experience a before and after Master Your Workday Now! in your life. Although it does not replace it entirely, it is superior to GTD on so many levels that I now use it as my work and productivity reference system. At €15 this book is one of the best investments of your life 🙂.

Strong Points:

  • Simple, powerful and easy to maintain productivity system
  • Simply written and easy to read
  • Much easier to apply than GTD
  • Implement it in just a few minutes
  • Fills the gap of one of the GTD shortcomings by linking your to-do tasks with your life goals and your personality

Weak Point :

  • The connection between the upper two levels and the first level of control could be stronger

My rating : clip_image004clip_image006clip_image004clip_image004clip_image004

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