Recently, I thought through how I truly prioritize work. Beyond the mental “is this hot?” exercise, what really makes something rise to the top of the list and get done? Admittedly, I thought about it more than I would on a day-to-day basis, and that is partly why the GTD framework recommends a weekly review – you get a chance to step back from the work and plan/prioritize.
Here is what my framework looks like for prioritization of the limitless requests for my time and energy:
  1. The first criteria is always doing the right thing, remember?
    Ask yourself, “is this the right thing to do?” If not, the priority is pretty clear.
  2. Urgent/Important grid
    I love this one. This concept is from Steven Covey’s excellent book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People*. As a former IT guy, I find myself comfortable in the top-right corner of the grid, fighting fires. This is stressful though, and doesn’t allow you time to get to your high value-add projects and goals. Try to work on important things before they become urgent. Oh, and stop working on things that aren’t important. Yes, stop it!
    Urgent/Important Grid
  3. Value to the customer or stakeholder
    This is clear some of the time, and other times, you may want to do a fuller stakeholder map to understand who will be impacted/affected by your work.
  4. Manager’s expectations – what does your manager expect of you…yes, this can override some of the others.
  5. Deadlines – they work, even when self-imposed. Put it on your calendar.
  6. Time and energy required for next action vs. current personal state – this is a GTD principle, and you need to know yourself. If I do my best creative work at 9pm, I shouldn’t save the mindless report I need to pull together until then. I know a lot of peak creative hours are spent processing email, and it takes discipline to schedule your work around your work methodologies and preferences.

Obviously, you can’t just ignore deadlines and claim you were working on next year’s big project! Clearly communicate when deadlines will be missed, set expectations long before the deadlines hit if possible. Any factors I missed? Too many?

* Amazon affiliate link

Shower Thinking

Forget whistling while you work, hit the showers! Several years ago now, I heard Tim Sanders speak on productivity and creativity. One point that stuck with me was that a chemical is released when you shower called DHEA that actually helps you think better. Haven’t some of your best ideas come while in the shower? This happens to me a lot. I often think to myself “I should capture that somehow!”

A Michigan company called AquaNotes has tried to capitalize on this concept with a water-proof notepad for those shower ideas! A little nerdy, but interesting…


Rest and exercise are other great times to recharge the brain and generate good ideas. A good friend of mine keeps a notepad by his bed to capture ideas he often wakes up to in the middle of the night. Michael Hyatt and several others have argued the value of taking naps in the middle the day. I haven’t implemented this due to my tendency to take 2-hour naps vs. the recommended 20-30 minutes.

With all these great places to think, what should all that desk/cube time be used for?

Use Gmail plugins to increase productivity

Intro/disclaimer: Gmail is the best email platform available today, hands down. I am under the assumption you already use Gmail, and these tools will just make you a little quicker while you work. If you haven’t been using Gmail, don’t tell anyone – just sign up, it’s free. You can thank me later. If you are stuck using Outlook or Lotus Notes, there are some ways to make your life less miserable, but you won’t find them here.


ActiveInbox Logo

This plugin rocks! It provides power tools in the familiar Gmail environment to power through your email and keep track of actionable items. The underlying concept uses Gmail’s labels as a tagging system for your email, so you can get that inbox down to zero, and not worry about forgetting anything!

I love the review bar at the top that allows me to quickly review the emails I have marked as actionable, as well as the ones I am waiting on responses from others.

ActiveInbox Review Bar

This video shows all of the cool features ActiveInbox provides:

Boomerang for Gmail

Boomerang's Send Later FeatureBoomerang does some incredible things like send an email later [see screenshot]. I mainly use this so I don’t look crazy emailing at 2am, or so it hits my boss’s inbox at just the right time. I use it to return emails to my inbox at a certain time, so I get a timely reminder when something I need to work on something. I often use the “Only if nobody replies” to make sure others’ respond in a timely manner as well. Once I hit send, it is off my mind!

The free version has been sufficient, and when I run out of my monthly quota, I get a very forgiving “Give me one more message!” option which I use liberally. Thanks, Boomerang!

Gmail Labs and Standard Features

These are not technically plugins, but I have enabled a few Labs features under Gmail’s settings that make it an even more powerful email system.

  • Send and Archive: this saves me a click and a few precious seconds for every email I reply to!
  • Insert images: next to drag and drop attachments (which Gmail now has in Chrome), this was the last feature that I cared about from my Outlook days – I don’t even look back now.
  • Use keyboard shortcuts: these are must-use to maximize your email processing efficiency (G, then I to go to inbox. E to archive. \ to begin typing a search)! Like Michael Hyatt points out in Yes, You Can Stay on Top of Email, using the keyboard is much more efficient than switching back and forth to a mouse or trackpad. To see all the available shortcuts, just type a ? in Gmail.
  • Undo Send: I can move so fast through Gmail now, sometimes an “Oops” button is helpful. 🙂
  • Archive, don’t delete: that trash can icon should just be removed from Gmail. The Gmail search is crazy powerful, and I can find any message in seconds by searching. Again, off my mind, in my searchable email system.

How do you make your email work for you, and keep it from becoming overwhelming?

Podcasts I love

Podcast Icon
Image by Colleen AF Venable

“Growth is what separates living things from dying things,” say Blanchard and Miller. “Growth brings energy, vitality, life, and challenge. Without growth, we’re just going through the motions.”

Our brains need to be fed to grow, which then enables us to lead. Books are by far the best way to do this, and I will cover my love of audiobooks in another post. Podcasts are a little more digestible (and free!), so they often fill my commute/exercise time with brain food!

  • APM Marketplace – a weekday podcast that does thorough coverage of the economy and how it impacts me. I also get my dose of liberal in with this one. 😉
  • This is Your Life by Michael Hyatt – it has been fun watching Michael build his platform after stepping down as CEO of Thomas Nelson. He always covers topics that interest me: leadership, productivity, and social media in this podcast. It is a bit repetitive if you read his blog, but I don’t typically.
  • The Dave Ramsey Show – my personal finance hero, and a straight-shooter. His baby steps have gotten our family out of debt and on the road to financial peace. Here I get my dose of conservative. 🙂
  • HBR Ideacast – I love this business/leadership podcast! It is forward-thinking and ultra-relevant to business and work.
  • Wall Street Journal This Morning – this one used to be my daily news podcast, but I rarely have time for more than one daily podcast anymore, so I grab this one when I need some filler. Good news coverage, a little right of center.
  • The EntreLeadership Podcast – Dave Ramsey’s new book and movement, and I’m a sucker for good leadership material.
  • iTunes U – I’ve tried to get into the wealth of free educational content available from various universities, but it rarely sticks…just no time for watching video, I guess.

I often find mine through iTunes “top ten” lists – what ones am I missing out on? Are there other apps worth making the switch to (like Stitcher instead of using iTunes)?

Discovering GTD

Inbox Zero

This post comes WAY back from the archives of a blog I tried to start in 2007, but it is still relevant to my day-to-day task and inbox management even today!

This is the video that kicked off my GTD implementation, as I was looking for a way to deal with my email overload. It is Merlin Mann presenting his Inbox Zero concept at a Google Tech Talk. Check it out when you have a free hour, or better yet, make a free hour to watch it. The return in productivity you get will be well worth the time spent.

The past few weeks I have been listing to the audiobook version of David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” and reading / watching Merlin Mann, of 43 Folders & Inbox Zero.

My productivity has gone up. My stress has gone down. My desk and files is organized, and my computer is getting there. My e-mail inboxes and my paper inbasket are empty, and my head is clear (not empty).

As I watched/listened, I kept thinking “I can’t believe no one taught me this in college.”