I recently watched a presentation by Scott Hanselman about scaling yourself and it was enlightening; the key message was that you can’t keep up with everything, and in the presentation, Scott talked about ways of taming the torrent of information and lists of things to do that sometimes leave us feeling ineffective and overwhelmed.

In the presentation, Scott combines ideas from Stephen Covey’s book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People with ideas from David Allen’s system, Getting Things Done, and also Scott’s own life experiences.

In this article, I’ve summarised some of the highlights of Scott’s presentation, reorganised them a little, and added more context with links and quotes. At the end, there’s a link to the entire hour long presentation, which is absolutely worth a watch.

You can’t stay current in everything

This is a key theme to Scott’s presentation. There is more information being created every day than you can manage, but still people think they can keep up.

Some danger signs:

  • Missing deadlines
  • Feeling like a failure
  • Family complaints
  • And the most insidious: “I just need need to work late to catch up”

Hope is not a strategy

You can’t keep up by staying later at the office, or taking your work home with you. The more work that you do, the more work that will come.

There are only two strategies:

  • Effectiveness - doing the right things
  • Efficiency - doing things right

All this information is coming into your life, and this information needs to be “triaged”.

The three-fold nature of work

  • Pre-defined work - work that’s set up ahead of time. Work that you’ve planned to do
  • Work as it appears - work that’s just showing up in your inbox, or by phone or somebody that drops by your desk
  • Defining work - planning work ahead of time, defining the scope of it well, and ensuring that it’s high impact

For most of us, we spend the majority of our day doing “work as it appears”… but we’ve got to stop doing that if we can, or at least cut down massively.

What we really need to focus on is “Defining work”, this is where we can be most effective.

Make an appointment with yourself

When was the last time that you made an appointment with yourself, shut down your computer, turned off your phone, and really thought about the things that you should be working on; the things that will have the greatest impact?

There are four “D’s, and with these, you can form a kind of triage system for work:

  • Do it now
  • Decide when to do it
  • Delegate it
  • Dump it

This is from David Allen’s system, Getting Things Done.

If we overlay it on top of Stephen Covey’s the urgent/important matrix from Stephen Covey’s book, we get this:

If something is:

  • Both urgent and important, you should probably do it right now.
  • Not important but urgent, see if you can delegate it
  • Not important or urgent, then don’t do it
  • Important but not urgent - this is where you want to spend most of your time, and where you can be the most proactive, and prepare for things before they become urgent

Business is a form of laziness

Checking email in the morning is a quick way to get into reactive mode, and time-travel to the afternoon, feeling like you haven’t achieved anything.

Don’t check mail in the morning - only check in the afternoon.

Being busy is a form of laziness - lazy thinking and indiscriminate action - Tim Ferriss

Being creative and making something is the opposite of hanging out - David Rackoff

Because of this, you have to start dropping things.

Don’t put energy into things that you don’t want more of

For many of us, email is a never ending torrent of information. The trouble with replying to email, is that you’ll get more of it.

Email can be split out - an inbox where all emails are equal is a mistake. Prioritise your email by using filters.

Create filters for different categories:

  1. Your boss / team
  2. Emails which have been sent directly to you
  3. Emails where you’ve been “CC’d” - this lower priority is stuff that people want you to know about, but you don’t necessarily need to check every day

Schedule time for email. Consider time-boxing it to an hour in the afternoon.

When answering email, consider what’s important, and remember that you don’t need to answer every single one.

Schedule time in the afternoon to reply to email. Think of it as an “email sprint” if that helps.

Effectiveness via the Rule of Three

Do you have a massive list of things to do, books to read, etc, that’s weighing you down? Stop doing that. Stop creating guilt systems for yourself, and focus on creating success systems.

Consider the rule of three. Write down three outcomes that you want to achieve for the:

  • Day
  • Week
  • Year

On Monday, sit down and think about what a really great week would look like; a week that wouldn’t make you feel guilty.

Then on Friday, look back on your week and reflect.

Want to read more?

Watch Scott’s entire entire presentation here: Scott Hanselman - “It’s not what you read, it’s what you ignore”

The Eisenhower Decision Matrix - Stephen Covey popularised this idea in his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

Thanks for reading!

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