Focus on a book per month during 2013

I have been a proponent of reading 52 books per year since 2007. I have done my work, (54 and counting in 2012). But for 2013, I am going to try something different. I am setting my goal of 52 books, but 12 of those are going to be for deep analysis and slower reading. Let me explain.
During each month I will pick a book, and read it slowly, practice the principles, (maybe read it more than once) during each month I am going to focus into this book as a topic of study. There are so many great books that it is impossible to read and learn from all of them, but I am going to pick 12 and read them in detail learning from them as much as possible.
That doesn’t mean I am not going to read the other 40 to reach 52, it only means that I am going to really try to focus during this year. I believe this will set the tone, the thinking and the ideas that I will have over those months, but also I believe that I am going to be able to learn more from each of those books, also.
Interesting in the journey, I will be posting the book of the month, and if you are interested will be more than happy to share my insights also.
In a way, I am going to follow Bruce Lee advice, only I am not going to read the book 10,000 times, but in a way that most wouldn’t.

“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”
– Bruce Lee

Working on MY iPad: Using Guide Access on the iPad or iPhone as Focus Tool

With the introduction of iOS 6 Apple add a feature to their iPads and iPhones that had been an incredible aid to me. It’s called Guide Access and most people ignore their existence and power.
Apple defines this feature for people with vision, hearing, learning, and mobility disabilities, but honestly, people that need more focus can use this app to their advantage. Basically you can limit your iOS device to one app and as a bonus, you can disable the Home button and Siri. In other words unless I type a password, there is no iOS access for me. That it is a great idea!
First you need to go to Settings, then click in General, then Accessibility and finally click Guide Access. (That it is cleverly classified as Learning)
After you activate you just set a passcode, open the application you are going to work on (Byword most of the time for me) and hit the Home button 3 times.
You will then be able to disable touch, hardware buttons and/or motion. I don’t mess with any of those, I just need Guide Access to keep me long enough in Byword to get into the writer mood. Then press Start and begin the writing work.

Every time that my distracted brain try to exit, I get a reminder that “Guide Access” is enable. If you hit the Home Button three times, you will be prompt to enter the passcode you set before, but all those actions are more than enough to stop me from distracting and force myself back to task.
Do I need to use this feature for write every day? No, but I used much more than what I am going to admit in writing. It is the beginning of the writing session what it is hard for me, a soon as I get into the words, I can stay… but those first ten to fifteen minutes are a challenge many days.
For the people that like numbers, output had been increased in more than 30% since I begin using this trick. This wouldn’t stop me for go to other applications, but will help me to stay in focus. In productivity most of the time, if works for a two year old, will work for ourselves.

Your Task list is failing. This is why.

It is irrelevant if you believe in GTD or not. If you use Omnifocus, Nozbe, Things or you write your tasks on your arm. The reality is that your task list is failing you and had failed you for years. In part it is because we don’t know how to say NO. In part is that we are simply trying to decided over a huge number of options. In most cases the confusion is the abundance of the second and a lot of the first one.
As years past by, my tasks increased at a ridiculous speed, in my GTD System there are more and more projects, tasks and time seems to be less and less.
I had mention on my book “25 Tips for Productivity” how my daily list works, but I have never talk about what I called my Master List.
My Master List had all those projects and tasks that I hope to accomplish. Most likely is like the list of Projects and Tasks that you have. The difference is that you work from that list and hope to finish it. For me, the Master List is the base where everything begin, but I apply one more filter. From the Master List to the Working List.
My Master List had all those active projects and all those pending tasks (next actions) per context, as per David Allen wrote in his GTD Book. The problem of this, is that the number of next actions are simply impossible to digest, is like trying to drink water from a firetruck hose… I prefer water from a filter, with a glass, in manageable quantities. For that, I process my Master List, on a smaller list, my Working List.
Every Morning I review my projects and next actions and mark those that should go to the Working List. This allow me that instead of 60 next actions, maybe they had five. The five that I consider relevant. Is from this smaller list that I pick the 3 most important.
Honestly I don’t have a criteria for how many tasks goes to the Working List, if after I add them to the list I think they are too many, I simply reduce them. The objective is to clear this list in two or three days.
It is a mathematical problem, if we have an average of 100 projects and each one had 1 next action we had 100 actions. In reality we have in average two actions per project plus all those that requiere one action that most likely don’t have a project per se. Buy Milk? Bread? My list is over 600 of them.
My calculation and experience said that a complete GTD System had more or less between 200 to 500 next actions.
Here comes the problem, doesn’t matter how you split this, the number is always more than what you can digest… more than what we can do to feel successful… therefore we can’t conquest that feeling of success. In many cases we just quit the system.
Now imagine that maintaining your system as it is, you work on a list from your Master List to work on the next day or two; a Working List.
Imagine the following number of pending actions:
Master List
@Home (45)
@Computer (60)
@Errands (30)
@Agendas (25)
@Calls (20)
@Work (80)
A total of 260 opportunities. In my case, that’s something complex to digest. Now imagine that from the Master List you select those that will produce a mayor impact in the short term and make a second list, based on your Master List; a Working list.
Working List
@Home (8)
@Computer (10)
@Errands (30)
@Agendas (25)
@Calls (20)
@Work (20)
Now I have 113 opportunities. But note that I didn’t eliminate opportunities from Agendas, Errands or Calls. In my reduction plan, I kept the elements that include Calls, Agendas and Errands because they can be done. But let’s see the reduction on the other contexts.
@Home: From 45 to 8.
@Computer From 60 to 10.
@Work From 80 to 20.
In other words, from 185 opportunities to 38… A huge difference. I am not implying that we aren’t going to finish the other tasks, but imagine for a moment the feeling if success if you finish those 20 @Work Tasks or the 38 of the three lists.
Not only that, imagine that you for any reason had 20 free minutes. From where do you think you have a better chance to pick an appropriate next action, from a list of 20 or from one of 80?
Like any other Tip for Productivity, the key is not forget theMaster List. In my case, I CAN’T add anything to the Working List. Tasks must be added to the Master List.
Be able to see my lists, per contexts, but knowing that there is a smaller number of next actions, had allowed me to move faster and more accurately. In any moment I am denying the importance of the other next actions on the Master List, I am just trying to focus into an smaller area to be more productive and effective, get smaller but more often victories, you know feel that I win this game more often.
If your Task List is failing you, what are you doing so you can make it effective again?

The Do Not Need List

This is the Chapter 24 of my Amazon Best Selling Book 25 Tips for Productivity, that it is for sale in Paper and ebook. Until the end of december the ebook is exclusively on Amazon Kindle, and will be available in Apple iBookStore, Barnes and Noble, Sony & Kobo on 2013. This Chapter is sponsored to you by Nozbe & Productive Magazine!

The Do Not Need List

This is a much more recent item in my arsenal of tricks. When I began reading about minimalism, I started to understand that a more minimalist lifestyle was a good complement for productivity. By having less stuff, I spend less time maintaining and taking care of stuff. This means I have more time to enjoy the activities that I like and that call my attention. However, people practicing minimalism often aim to levels of reduction that far exceed what I’m comfortable with. Like Colin Wright who lives with only 51 items, or Tammy Strobel and her 72 things or Nina Yau who claims to need only 47 possessions. Without a doubt, there are things that I want to have and many more that I want to enjoy, and that number surpasses Tammy Strobel’s 72 possessions (and honestly, by a lot).
Without aiming for extremes, I am attracted to the idea of reducing the number of my possessions, especially to eliminate all those things that I don’t use, that don’t work, or whose only purpose is to take up space. I want my possessions to be useful stuff. Essayist Patrick Rhone doesn’t speak of minimalism, but instead about ‘enough.’ It was when I discovered Patrick’s writing that I recognized what it was I was looking for. I want what I need, but not the excess. When I tried to understand what having enough means to me, I began to consider those things that I don’t need, that even when they call my attention and I’m able to buy them, they aren’t going to improve my life. Once I understood what I really wanted, I felt much more freedom of let go all those things that I’m not using .
The a perfect example of a “Do Not Need” item on my list is the 27 inch Apple monitor. It is simply beautiful and each time that I see it, I imagine how beautiful will look on my desk (ok, maybe on the desk I dream of having, since the one I have is a temporary one that I’ve had for the last five years or so). When I think about owning this Apple monitor, I imagine the incredible feeling I’d have when I was working on it, and all that I would be able to do see on that huge expanse. But honestly I don’t need it, and in the end, I think it would be a cause for distraction. A monitor that big, without a doubt, would allow me to get distracted without me noticing it how distracted I am. I have learned that my monitors need to be small, because it’s hard to see more than one application at the time.
I have an incredible weakness for suitcases, bags, backpacks, books, pens, electronics, accessories of all kinds, and more. The Do Not Need List contains more than fifty items. From clothes to electronics everything in between including a convertible that I’ve dreamed about for years. Once in a while, I consider that car again, but in my notes is the reason why don’t need a convertible, including that I had one and didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I was going to. I was uncomfortable in it when was too hot and uncomfortable in it when was too cold. Also, I didn’t like being that close to the ground. As part of that same explanation, I remind myself how much I enjoyed my Jeep Wrangler, so if I ever do need a convertible, that should be the model.
The objective of the Do Not Need list, is to help me to reach that place of having enough. It is not that I can’t use one more shirt, or one more pair of shoes or a pen or a new notebook. Is simply that I don’t need it; I have all the shirts I need, and the shoes that use and are comfortable (the most important prerequisite for a shoe in my opinion: they need to be comfortable). I have a pen that I love how it writes and white paper on which to write my ideas. I don’t need more than one pen, nor do I want a different notebook, in this department I have enough. (Yes, Pens are on the list.)
As I said before, my objective isn’t to be a minimalist, but to have enough, and even if that is a state that changes and evolves, I understand that when I have fewer possessions my attention is less fragmented and the higher chance I have to make something useful, which is, at the end of the day, the reason why I want to be more productive. Many of the items on my Do Not Need list are things I think about constantly, and are things that I would love to have, just to have them. That is because in some part of my mind, I’ve convinced myself that these will do me good, make my life easier or help me to enjoy something much more. But when I considered it more deeply, I understood that the item is not something I really need and that many of these are whims from a time in which I believed that things (especially an abundance of them) were going to make me happy.
Here are a few of the items on my Do Not Need list:
– 27 inch Apple monitor
– iPhone 4S (My iPhone 4 is perfectly serviceable)
– iPad2 (if I get a new one, it will be a newer model)
– Cheap t-Shirts
– New TV for the house
– The printed versions of my books
Today, these are the things are on my list because in this moment I only need to have enough and I understand that none of these will make me happier or a better person. Having these things may disrupt the equilibrium that I am trying to create, that of having enough.

If your are engaged with your life the concept of time changed

” If you are appropriatelly engaged with your life, you don’t need more time. If you are not, more time time won’t help.”
David Allen

A soon as I put that quote in Twitter my great friend Tara Rodden Robinson reply showing that she was in disagreement, specifically with the fact that you are “appropriately engaged” will not remove the pressure of time. I am in completely agreement with her that will not remove the pressure of time, but will change it. A soon as you begin directing your actions toward what you are appropriately engaged the pressure of time doesn’t cease to exist, but in my opinion that will imply that you will use time better.
Many people dream with be able to do this or that. I wanted to be a writer when I was fourteen, but because of circumstances outside of this post wasn’t until some years ago that I appropriatelly engaged that objective. Once I made that compromise, I was able to publish two novels, one productivity book, translate one of my novels and the productivity book that goes out for sale next week in spanish.
Without any doubt, I continue having time pressures (maybe even more) that before I made engaged with my goal, but equally, and without a doubt I manage these ones much better. Previously to the moment that I decided to be a writer, I never had time to write, that time never show in the calendar, or my lists. I was always thinking that if I would had more time I was going to be able to do it. The reality from the current perspective is that if I would had been able to had thirty sis hours days I would had write exactly the same I was writing: nothing.
The time never show up until you engage with the goal. That is the reason the garage is never organized, but there is always chance for another round of 9 holes in golf. Once the compromise exist, the time pressure change, exist, but it is the lack of time, it is the moment you begin to be productive. As I said before and I mention on my book 25 Tips for Productivity: “Productivity and efficiency can’t be found looking for hours to save, but in eliminating wasted minutes”
Once you are engaged, you discover that isn’t the lack of time, but that you are not using it appropriately. At least I believe that.

Checklists… Friend or Foe?

I began doing and using extensive checklists around 2004, after I read David’s Allen famous book. No question that the book was a big influence into the creation of those, and to this day, I consider those checklists a great friend and an ally. But I am aware that many people consider them more of a foe than a friend, and it is more for those people that these lines are written.
It is really interesting that we spend hours taking measures to control our environment, projects and tasks; only then to find endless ways to disrupt them. It is exactly the second part on that last sentence the reason I work with Checklists. I spend hours, creating system, tracking projects and tasks, maintaining a complete system, but my ability to disrupt them is incredible.
Checklists allow me to keep at bay the distractions, elements and sometimes feelings and stress while I am then able to focus on the task on hand. I have for example a checklist in case I get in a car accident. Trust me that I hope never again use that one, but it was really useful, when it happened, no emotions, just following steps.
I have another checklist for when we are living home in a trip. I don’t know how your household works, but in ours the last ten minutes before leaving are a little crazy. They were also as I grow up. I remember my parents turning the car around because they didn’t remember if they turn off this or that. I have a before we leave checklist, after I push everyone to the car I pull my lists and go trough it quickly, no feelings, no stress, no worry, no problem.
I understand that many people cringe on the idea of the control that those lists can produce, it is that same people that believe that it is this kind of control what will kill their spontaneity and creativity, but in my experience it is exactly the opposite, it is this kind of lists what allow me to keep my calm and free mental space in order to be creative and spontaneous.
Without a doubt for me, Checklists are a friend… and I have a lot of those friends!

25 Tips for Productivity

The book you hold in your hands was conceived while talking to a couple of friends who were struggling with productivity and writing. I wanted to share with them the tricks and tips that I have used over the years, that have made a big impact in my life and the life of those that have applied them.
I wrote this book hoping that you, the reader, might learn a thing or two (maybe twenty-five) that will help you excel in the game of life. I hope you find a gem in these pages, I hope one of these tips will help you in some significant way. If you do give this book to someone that you think will benefit from these tips, they may be forever grateful.
This book was a way for me to pay forward, to those that have helped me over the years improve my game, some of you are mentioned in this book, others, whose influence was just as strong are not mentioned by name, but to you all I am equally grateful.

Available on…

GTD, Productivity and Parenting: Keeping Promises

As parents we are busy. We are running left and right, managing work, meetings, deadlines, cooking food, and much more. As if all that isn’t enough, we need to do the hard job of “Educate” our children. Educate kids is hard work, or at least it is for me.
My dad was a great dad when I grow up, he work really hard and provide for us all that he consider important and much more. Sadly he wasn’t great at keeping promises. He was always busy. What I remember (maybe in an unfair way) is that promises always had a hidden clause. There was always a way to use the escape clause. The fact is that what I remember is that he wasn’t great at keeping promises. It may be an unfair childhood memory, but it is the one at had; other than that he was great dad and provide for us. He is generous and much, much more.
But the fact is that I remember many of those promises that where broke, that had that secret clause, the escape clause that I never understood. Eventually I lose hope, and stop expecting and assuming that those promises where ever going to happen. That had bring really nice unexpected surprises when they do. My dad was busy, I don’t know how many hours he work on his business but I will guess 90 or 100 hours per week. I am guessing that because he was tired, overworked and most likely exhausted didn’t remember of have the energy to make those promises a reality. It is a memory that I have, that it is not pleasant. As I grow up, I always said that I was going to be extra careful keeping promises to my kids.
When my wife and I got pregnant, I worry over this again, I wasn’t sure how to do it. Some promises are little things, like “You are not allowed to use your scissors until Sunday because you cut your socks” or “If your room is not picked up on Saturday Morning there is no Mickey Mouse Club on the TV” or “we will play Legos tomorrow afternoon” easy promises to forgot and break. We don’t do it because we meant to, but because we have grown up problems that for some reason make us forget. The problem with this is that as “Play Lego” may not seen as important as “Send sales agreement”, for our kids it is the most important thing in the world. How we expect that they share their big problems during their teenage years if we don’t consider their toddler problems important enough?
This is when I decided to stop and think on how to keep those promises, at least have them present in the day to day to be able to renegotiate. Only a promise renegotiate to the excess count as a broken one. I made two distinctions. One are time sensitive events, like: “We will Play Lego tomorrow” or “Next Week we can come to the Park” or “I will call your best friend parents to plan a play date”. Those things enter into my GTD system.
– “We will Play Lego tomorrow”: will make his way to the calendar as an tentative event.
– “Next Week we can come to the Park” & “I will call your best friend parents to plan a will play date”: will get into my inbox for planing or re-negotiation.
Where do you place the reminder that you told her that she could not play with scissors until Sunday because she cut her socks? Into the system of course. I have a context called @TO BE AWARE OF: and it is used as a reminder of stuff that I need to be aware. I don’t want my calendar clutter with “No TV tomorrow” or “Can use scissors until Sunday” or any of those reminders, but a particular context do wonders. I check them often enough to be reminded and more importantly to be able to keep my promises.
These are things that compared to the things we must handle, are minuscule, almost irrelevant, but for our kids meant the world, and more importantly are this little agreements the ones that they will use as examples to make his future decisions. As good examples, or as examples to avoid. The choice is yours as a parent, if you want to be the example or the counter example.
 

Working on MY iPad: Carry all your reference, papers and everything else too in Evernote

We all have carried more paper than what we actually need to carry. We all had hold paper in our lives for longer that we need. Even the best people at processing paper, keep some stuff that honestly could be put in other formats, so you don’t need anymore to carry it.
When I discover that most people had enough with a copy or even an email version of most documents, I decided to find a different way of carrying all that information. I need it a way to file those documents, and carrying in them with me, without carrying a piece of paper. That will provide me easy access, but no bulk or weight. The Answer: Evernote.
We where traveling recently to a close city and my wife lost one of her contacts. We drove to a LensCrafters to get a new pair. In order to help her they need to see their prescription. She got hers on a different store, and I knew they will be able to call, and get the information. Instead of that, I just search on my Evernote, and voila, show to the person helping us, he ask for an email to attach to the file and 15 minutes later we where back into out trip. All that because I have get in the habit of scan papers that come our way that I think I may need (even some that I hope I will never need)
Evernote had the advantage of the OCR (Optical Character Recognition) that make find documents really easy, even if your abilities of filing are poor. The camera of the iPad and the iPhone are good enough to get a quality image that Evernote can apply their OCR so it can be perfectly useful.
The problem like anything is that if you just dump stuff instead of being something useful you have the risk to convert it in something that it is going to be useless again. So in my opinion you need some kind of methodology in order to survive.
This the the current formula that I have. It is far from perfect, but it works great for me and saves me hours and more importantly it is simple enough I think.
My Current Folders:
Tax Receipts (Current Year): My accountant don’t require originals, so I take pictures of receipt that will be relevant and just forward by email when the Tax time arrives.
Wife: This is things that are related to my wife. Eyes Prescriptions, insurance cards, and many more stuff.
Daughter: same as the wife, b-day invitations, doctor and medicine instructions while current and stuff that it is related to her.
Personal: same as my wife and my daughter, stuff that will be relevant.
Business: stuff that it is reference to my business.
Guarantees and Service Agreements
Current Projects: I have a folder per current relevant project
Old reference file: Since Evernote doesn’t limit me (for now) I don’t delete anything from there, I am sure eventually I will, but until now, there had been no need.
As you can see there is a not so clear distinction of how to do with short term storage and long term.
As of today my long term strategy is simple (or more like a Swiss cheese) until Evernote doesn’t ask my to delete items everything will be there. It’s not perfect, but it is one of those things that until keep working I will not be thinking on improving it.
Regarding the short term strategy, that it is a little bit more complex. Tax receipts, Daughter, Wife, my personal files, business, guarantees and current projects, are in their file, after they become obsolete, I just simply move to the “Old Reference File”. Usually at the beginning of the new year, you will see two folders for Taxes, because as you may imagine I begin accumulating tax stuff around the first of the year, when I may or may not finish with last year returns.
The system is simple, if I ever need the originals, I can go into my file system and look for it. It is something so unusual, that the evernote file cabinet do almost everything I need and more.