How to get things done

By: Mick Dickinson

Date: 2 December 2010

Do you ever feel overwhelmed by to-do lists, project plans and looming calendar events? I know I do. Over the years I've tried many ways to manage my time, yet occasionally I still feel a 'temporary paralysis', simply because I have too much to do. So I was intrigued to hear about Think Productive, a new service for start-ups and new businesses.

The guys behind Think Productive have developed a series of workshops intended to help people manage the complexity and stress of today's time-poor work environment. And for people setting up or running a new business, being productive is crucial.

I met Lee Cottier, who runs the workshops, and asked him for a little background. "People face a barrage of information at work," he replied. "There are so many choices, actions and priorities. Making the right decisions isn't easy, especially if you are a start-up business owner who must do everything yourself. We've got so many technologies and networks to deal with. It's not surprising people get locked into a kind of choice paralysis."

But what about traditional time-management programmes? "They haven't caught up, so they're not fit for purpose. Think Productive knows this and instead offers a practical solution for people who want to do the right things with their time."

Making the right decisions is not easy when you're under pressure. We get distracted. We procrastinate.

Think Productive recognises that these challenges can become a real strain and lead to unhappiness... and even illness. With one in five employees off work with stress each year, any practical solution to 'information overload' is welcome.

I asked Lee to explain a little more about the workshops. "People come into our sessions with a 'to-do' list mentality. They visualise a great pile of work to get through. That's quite a demoralising place to be, even if you try to prioritise those piles.

"Our workshops talk more about a workflow. There's a fixed amount of processing the brain can do in any working week. So we offer a framework to make it the best possible use of that brain power. The workflow we demonstrate promises and delivers a better way of dealing with work pressure. It's not all talk. We give people the tools to make it happen and apply them in the workshops."

In an effort to get on top of my own 'to-do' lists, I recently attended Lee's 'How to Get Things Done' workshop. Participants included a number of freelancers, CEOs, senior sales managers and people running small businesses. We were all there because we had too much on our plates and wanted to control the chaos of overlapping priorities.

The early part of the session was conceptual and put a context around the need for a new approach to productivity. I was interested to hear people talk about domestic or personal time-management challenges alongside a desire to improve productivity in the workplace.

Lee explains why workflow is more powerful than 'to-do' lists. "There are many list-management tools available, from online to-do lists to good old-fashioned pen and paper. But when your list has 50 items, each with different priorities and deadlines, it becomes largely meaningless and unusable. That's why we show people a practical workflow method. It's about managing attention, brainpower and focus. And it helps you get stuff done."

I have just begun to implement Lee's workflow system and can already see how it organises and defines my work. I feel more in control of my workload. I'm less stressed out. I know there is a proven system underpinning my work – in the office and at home.

Mick Dickinson, BuzzedUp