the first few years

Getting Things Done: Helpful Productivity Tweaks

This piece originally appeared here.

A little while ago I had had the privilege of interviewing productivity guru and author of Getting Things Done (GTD) David Allen.

Getting things done feels amazing! It builds your confidence and momentum, especially when you’re starting a fresh new year. Unfortunately, many of us find that the to-do list is often much longer than the days in which we have to complete them. As you face the bright new year, here are a few productivity tips to get you off to a positive start with good productivity habits!

Brain dump” your to do list then prioritise

Do you start your day by writing a long to-do list? I love lists,  this is step one. Planning your day and your to-dos is a key part of getting things done, and more importantly, getting the right things done.

Your morning “brain dump” gets everything out of your head and onto a sheet of paper or a screen. Once you get it all out of your head, you can look at each task objectively and decide where to schedule them in your week. Creating a prioritised to-do list will help you to manage your time and energy rather than driving blind through a snowstorm of tasks.

Learning how to prioritise: Evaluate the value of each task

You took the time to read this so why not take the time to EVALUATE where you’re putting your energy. One of the best ways to do this is to use a system like the Eisenhower Decision Matrix. This matrix provides four categories under which all your tasks will fall:

Important AND Urgent: Just do it
Important but Not Urgent: Schedule it
Not Important but Urgent: Push Back
Not Important AND Not Urgent: Avoid

Eisenhower decision matrix

eisenhower decision matrix

Does everything feel urgent AND important all the time? This may indicate that you either have too much pressure in your life OR you’re rubbish at prioritising. If you have too much pressure, you need to make some serious changes in your life because you’re on track for a burn-out – just saying.

But… before you make any drastic changes, let’s just do a little experiment together. Sort your to-do list into the four quadrants of the Eisenhower decision matrix. Consider which tasks produce results that you want and start to prioritise these over the Not important items. You may be getting things done quickly, but are you spending all your energy on doing the right things?

Getting things done with deadlines

When a client or your boss ask you to do something, make a habit of asking the question: “When would you like that by?” This will help your client or superior articulate their expectations and help you to prioritise the work. If they’ve asked for 20 things today, you can follow up by asking: “Which of these tasks/projects are most important this week?”.

Creating deadlines helps to manage the other party’s expectations and your own. When you work without clear deadlines, you tend to focus on getting the easiest tasks on your to-do list done, which may feel satisfying, but doesn’t always pay off.

Manage your mood and stress

When you’re happy and calm you are more productive. You work smarter, you think more clearly and you can work for longer. Schedule activities and establish habits in your day that reduce stress and boost your mood. READER BEWARE. These items will always feel like your lowest priority, but if you make them your #1 priority you’ll be better at getting things done.

  • Exercise – I hate exercise. I complain before doing it, while I’m doing it, after I’ve done it. But I know that I’m sharper, happier and more effective when I get it done. Choose an activity (walking, jogging, HIIT, weight training, swimming, etc) you can learn to love and do it. Start with 20mins three times/week and build it up from there.
  • Drink HEAPS of water – I’m talking litres. Start from the minute you wake up and keep sipping until you go to bed. I love coffee, but I limit it to one/day and aim to drink 2.5Litres+ of water/day.
  • Make time for peace – Stare out of the window, breathe deeply, read a good book, pray, stretch, take a stroll. Whatever it looks like for you, make a little space to relax.
  • Choose your meals wisely – Treat your body to good healthy food and it’ll reward you with good vibes.
  • Reflect on your day – Write down your thoughts at the end of each day. Consider what went well in the day and what you would like to do better next time. If something’s bothering you, it should come up in this reflection time. Decide to either let it go or work out a way to resolve the issue and move forward.

Commit to your tools

Do you have about 15 different productivity apps or tools that you’ve “tried out” over the years? Time to quit fooling around and make a commitment. You can become more efficient and effective when you choose just one or two tools for getting things done.

This may take a few days or weeks, but move everything from all your various apps, notepads, pieces of paper into one place. And while you’re at it get your calendar in order. Putting everything in one place will simplify your process and ensure that you don’t miss anything.

Review

Not many people take the time to review how they are performing or how well their tools and systems are working. Schedule time once a month and once a quarter to review how things are going. This is a great time to celebrate your wins and give yourself a pat on the back for what you’ve achieved. It’s also a great time to address those niggling little issues that keep coming up.

If you’ve been getting some negative feedback from others about some area of your work or how you work, make time to consider what the contributing factors might be. Do you need some training or mentoring? Is organisation an issue for you? Could a holiday help? There’s no point in beating yourself up! Approach your challenges with a focus on solutions and you’ll find a way through.

Taking the time to review will ensure that all your hard work is going into the right things.


What about you, do you have any productivity tips for getting things done?

 

Posted by Mathew Green on January 10, 2017  /   Posted in Uncategorized

‘I’m busy, really busy….’

We live in a full world. We rush, we run, we shuffle papers, we attempt to multitask and we are all over-committed. We have a lot on our plates and it can sometimes feel overwhelming trying to keep them all spinning simultaneously. I get it, I truly do. The other day I was on my way home from school and I called into my local shops to pick up something for dinner. When I had decided what to buy I walked to the checkout. There a young man, probably in late teens, served me. I asked him how his day had been and before I had finished my sentence he responded ‘busy, really busy, you have no idea how busy.’ I was taken aback. Nevertheless, I wished him well and proceeded to walk to the car and head home for dinner. As I was driving I couldn’t get his response out of my head ‘busy, really busy….’ I don’t mean to sound archaic or insensitive, but what would a young working casually (I assumed from his school logo that was visible under his nametag) know about being busy? I began to get defensive and thoughts like ‘…what would he know about being BUSY? I’ll give him one day…one day…in a classroom and see how he copes with being really busy!’

After I had returned home, and settled down, I began to be a bit more apathetic about what had happened at the checkout. I realised that when you ask people how their day is going quite often the first response is ‘busy’ or that they are ‘tied.’ It is a response that we can’t help giving, it is automatic and it is a response that is ingrained into our twenty-first-century lives

Now busyness and tiredness in the twenty-first century is a far greater topic than we have time for in this short post, but it did get me thinking. I decided that for  thirty days that I would try an experiment. For thirty days, when someone asked, despite how tired, overwhelmed and stressed out I felt, I would search for other adjectives that ‘busy’ or ‘tired’ to describe my mood and my day. As a result, some interesting things happened:

  1. I had to pause and think about how I was actually feeling – instead of just blurting out how I felt I actually took the time to stop and listen to how I was feeling.
  2. I had to expand my vocabulary further – I had to search deep into my reservoir of language and find more suitable descriptive words like complex, full, challenging and intense.
  3. I felt less tired or stressed the less that I used those words.
  4. I learnt that my the words that I used had a powerful influence on my mood.

The words that you use have a power influence  on your mood, your emotions, and your mental state. I encourage you all to take the Thirty Day Challenge and please let me know  how you go.

Posted by Mathew Green on June 06, 2016  /   Posted in looking after yourself, stress

Small actions, BIG results.

Small actions done consistently every day add up to big outcomes in the long term. A while ago I heard one of my favourite speakers, Robert Fergusson give a presentation titled ‘Mastering the Mundane.’ In his presentation Fergusson spoke convincingly about the importance of attaching significance to the small, seemingly insignificant, things that you do each day. His presentation got me thinking and it has stayed with me for many years. We often don’t see the compounding results, either positive or negative, of small decisions until much later in our lives.

Acts like brushing your teeth, daily exercise, kissing your spouse or being grateful may seem inconsequential but the truth is if you do these consistently they could have more significant outcomes than you can imagine.

Conversely, daily habits and actions that are unproductive can also have negative compounding results over the long haul. If you consistently work late, skip breakfast or neglecting time with your family you may find yourself heading down a road that you did not expect. When I was a student I never serviced my car. I was living out of home, had very little money and I just didn’t really see the point. I would drive my car all over the place, fill it up with the cheapest fuel possible, never change (let alone check) the oil and rarely check the tyres. I just assumed that it would keep going indefinitely. Of course it didn’t. The money that I had ‘saved’ from not servicing the car was quickly surpassed by the price of a new engine. Lesson learned. Small decisions like regularly servicing your car can save you lots later on.

If your health, life and career could be dramatically improved by the ‘small things’ that you decide to do or not do every day what would you do differently? What small things would you change today?

Here are a few small thing that, if done regularly, could have a huge impact on your teaching career:

  • Saying hello to the principal
  • Being courteous to you colleagues
  • Taking a deep breath and smiling before you walk into your classroom
  • Enjoying your lunch break
  • Returning phone calls
  • Building relationships with parents
  • Returning emails
  • Adhering to deadlines
  • Being present in meetings
  • Negotiating yourself out of over commitments
  • Walking slowly across the playground
  • Having a life outside of the classroom

It is so easy to neglect the small things that we (should) do each day. Amidst the busyness and chaos of the start of the school year these things can be easily forgotten. But these small things build up, so decide to build a reservoir of small decisions and do you best to minimise the poorer options.

What other actions would you add?

Posted by Mathew Green on February 04, 2016  /   Posted in Uncategorized

What engages your students?

As a teacher you have a responsibility to find the thing that engages and motivates the children in your class. In my first year on kindergarten I had a particularly challenging child. He was from a country that had been through horrific civil war, and was continuing to work through some of the worst cases of human rights violations that I have ever heard of. The story of his past brought me to tears when I heard it for the first time. His mother had fled their home country while pregnant with my student. On the way to a refugee camp her entire family was murdered, but somehow she managed to escape with her unborn child. The child was born in a refugee camp and I can barely imagine the type of things that he was exposed to in the early years of his life. Somehow he and his mother made it to Australian shores and received refugee status.

When this child arrived at school he, as you would expect, displayed very challenging behaviour. He would punch other students to get his way and he stole items from the school that he liked. The student simply could not appropriately settle into the school environment. I didn’t know how to cope with this child, how to manage his behaviour or how to get him to relate to other students. My supervisor at the time advised me to design an Individual Learning Plan (ILP) for him so that I could find out the things that he would respond to best. After weeks of trying different approaches and behaviour management strategies I began to feel frustrated that I would never find the thing that engaged him.

Then one day we were doing a lesson using instruments and talking about beat and rhythm in songs. Out of nowhere the student began dancing and performing his own responses to music. He smiled for the first time in my class and I learnt that he, just like all of the other students in my class, had talent that was waiting to be discovered.

This story highlights the importance of individualising your lessons and the power in finding the things that motivate and engage each and every student in your class. As an educator you have the responsibility and privilege of creating stimulating and engaging learning environments for your class. Every single student in your class has talents and has the capacity to excel in a number of areas.

Posted by Mathew Green on January 23, 2014  /   Posted in Uncategorized
Whether you’re a casual teacher, permanently employed, working as a support teacher or on a temporary contract with your school, you are directly involved in educating, training and shaping some of the greatest minds that this world is yet to see.
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