Genuine Curiosity

Author Dwayne Melancon is always on the lookout for new things to learn. An ecclectic collection of postings on personal productivity, travel, good books, gadgets, leadership & management, and many other things.


Get It Done, by the book

The other day I got my hands on Stever Robbins' book, "Get-It-Done Guy's 9 Steps to Work Less and Do More (Quick & Dirty Tips)," which is a great collection of tips & tricks to be more productive.


When I picked up the book, I was wondering how this aligned with David Allen's "Getting Things Done."  Turns out it's very complementary - GTD is focused mostly on how to collect, capture, and organize the things you want to do so you can pick your activities based on context, energy, importance, etc - you still need that, even with Robbins' book.

So what is Robbins' book about, then?  While it does have some overlap in terms of defining life goals, priorities, and "purpose" stuff, much of Robbins' book deals with tactics to help you free up more time to be productive - how to overcome procrastination, how to get better at saying "no," how to block out distractions so you can focus, and those sorts of things.

Practical and fun to read

Robbins' style is very conversational, making it an easy read.  He also has a lot of quirky stories and memes going on (hint: zombies abound).  In the midst of the quirkiness, there are a lot of sound ideas - and he illustrates them with stories from his life.  For example, there is a section on "baby chunks" which is a strategy to break daunting tasks down into smaller, more manageable pieces.  He discusses how he used this approach in writing his book, and I found it easier to understand the techniques involved because of this concrete example.

Likewise, he illustrates most of his concepts with real stories you can identify with (except for the zombies, of course).

So, you may be wondering, "What are the 9 steps?"  Let me fill you in:

  • Step 1: Live on Purpose, deals with identifying you top-level life priorities;
  • Step 2: Stop Procrastinating, offers tips to get your butt in gear and do the things you're avoiding;
  • Step 3: Conquer Technology, which helps you figure out ways to prevent technology from hijacking your productivity, as well as how to use technology to help you get through your tasks more quickly;
  • Step 4: Beat Distractions to Cultivate Focus, is perhaps my favorite chapter, and it deals with how to establish an environment / habits that will help you focus more (you might also want to look at my post on how to focus in a cubicle environment, if you have trouble focusing on your tasks);
  • Step 5: Stay Organized, which helps you implement systems to support a more organized life;
  • Step 6: Stop Wasting Time, which is mostly about how to identify your leverage points - the 20% that's most important in your 80/20 life;
  • Step 7: Optimize, which has some very interesting tips to help make time-consuming or mundane tasks more efficient, and even "outsource" them to others if you can;
  • Step 8: Build Stronger Relationships, which is about doing the care & feeding of relationships to make your life more meaningful and create a network that can support your efforts when you need help;
  • Step 9: Leverage, which is partially about automating things to give you more power over getting them done, but also a lot about how to use your skills to their best advantage to increase your personal value.  Leverage is also about how you can tap into the strengths of others to move past your own limitations.

In summary, I got a lot out of this book and found it to be very practical.  Through this book, I also discovered the "Get-It-Done Guy's Tips & Tricks" site, which is loaded with great ideas.

If you're looking for a good way to refocus your energy on being more productive, you won't go wrong with this book.

Job Seekers: Are you Defiant?

A couple of months ago, my friend Rajesh Setty sent me a copy of his latest (free!) eBook, "defiant! Practical Tips to Thrive in Tough Times."  I've been a little sloppy in my GTD habits lately, so I just got around to reading it on a flight this morning.  Now, I regret not having read it sooner!defiiant cover

This book is a compilation of wisdom, insights, best practices, and more from Rajesh and 51 other people to help you deal with the economic conditions we're facing, and is particularly relevant if you are out of work, looking for different work, or think you might be out of work soon.

The core question

The core of this book is shifting your mindset and attitude to change how you approach getting the results you desire.  In Rajesh's words, the secret is this:

  • Stop asking, "How can I find the next opportunity?"
  • Start asking, "“How can I become an OPPORTUNITY for someone else?”

Here's his color on the importance of that shift:

If you want to create a REAL opportunity, you need to create a compelling offer for
your prospective employer.

  • Do they see you as another person scrambling for  a seat? If so, then you’ve been defined as someone  who wants to take something scarce (employment)  from them.
  • Do they see you as someone who offers them opportunities? Will your presence in the job create new opportunities, expand possibilities, or solve a current headache that keeps them up at night? If so, you’re giving more value than you’re asking for.

Very good advice.

A roadmap for finding your next gig

This is more than mental Jedi mind tricks, though.  This book takes you through a step-by-step process to get through the process of finding creating your next opportunity.  Everything from getting your mind "right," to dealing with uncertainty, to getting help (the right way), tapping into your network, finding a mentor, and more.

More importantly, there are a bunch of proven tips from a bunch of folks with experience we can all learn from. Perhaps most important is that this book will help you create a plan.  And not just any plan - your plan.

As I mentioned, if you're looking for a new job or expect to find yourself doing so, you owe it to yourself to really study a copy of Rajesh Setty's free eBook, defiant!

Amazon Prime Just Got Even Better

OK, so I know I’m doing two Amazon-related posts in a row (the Kindle price drop was just before this one).  But I just got an email from Amazon that made me happy – they are improving their already-awesome Amazon Prime shipping features.  In case you weren’t already aware, Amazon Prime is an annual, fee-based program that gives you automatic upgrades to free 2nd-Day Air shipping for any Prime-eligible item.

The big news is that they have improved Prime so that items ordered on Thursday will be delivered on Saturday now, instead of Monday.  Gotta love it – here is the blurb I got:


Why is Prime handy?

Other than just wanting things ASAP, I like Prime for a couple of key reasons:

  1. I often order presents for friends and relatives in other states.  I love being able to order something knowing it will show up 2 days after I place the order – it makes the gift seem even more special or important, and it gives me the freedom to wait until almost the last minute before ordering. 
    • This is especially valuable around Christmas, when I can order things until December 22nd and they’ll still arrive on Christmas Eve. Note that this even helps if you’re going to your relatives’ house – you can ship the gift (pre-wrapped by Amazon, if you wish) and not have to worry about trying to carry it on or putting it in your checked luggage.
  2. Sometimes I ‘need’ a gadget before a trip, and I only realize it at the last minute.  Because of Prime, I can order a couple of days before I leave and still get it in time (in some of these cases, I’ll buck up for Overnight shipping for an extra $3.99 – very handy when you need it.

Amazon Prime costs $79 per year (averaging to a bit more than 6 bucks a month), and I know it saves me much more than that every year. Not sure if it's for you? Give it a try - they'll let you take a test drive for 30 days - just click here if you want to take an Amazon Prime free trial.

Kindle Going Global And Getting Cheaper

If you haven’t heard yet, Amazon has just announced a couple of exciting things about their Kindle Reader:

They’ve dropped the price (hooray!) and the Kindle will now be available in two versions which differ by the wireless technology with which they are equipped: 

This is very good news on both counts.  As you know from my previous reviews of the Kindle, I love it and use it whether I’m traveling or not.  In fact, I read a couple of books on my flight back from Amsterdam this week (and I’d have loved to have had the international wireless version of the Kindle whilst in Europe).

So, if you’ve been procrastinating on your Kindle purchase, that procrastination may actually have helped you this time.  And I suspect more people may now get a Kindle for Christmas this year.

KindleOne note:  The links above are for the “original size” Kindle, not the larger Kindle DX.  I had my hands on one of the bigger Kindle DX’s and I just couldn’t travel with a device that large.  I’m glad I bought the smaller one.

Category sprawl and GTD

I’m in the process of doing a “reset” on my GTD system.  Basically, I ripped out all of my categories, printed out all my list and deleted them, and am starting from scratch.

Why? I found that I let my lists turn into “junk drawers” which meant that I was a) afraid to open some of them, and b) couldn’t find anything useful when I did force myself to open them.

One of the culprits was what I call “category sprawl,” which meant that I created so many granular categories for my tasks, and so many goofy ‘contexts’ that my lists really weren’t all that useful any more.

Basically, I acted like I was “special” and made a bunch of changes to the recommended GTD method.  It was fun for a while but turned out to be not such a great idea.  And now I’m paying the price.

Preventing the sprawl – my strategy

outlookcategories I’ve taken a number of steps to try to get back into a clean place with GTD:

  1. I have reverted to the recommended, default contexts as recommended by David Allen (those shown in the screen grab at right). [Note:  I am about to add one additional category called @ONLINE but will try not to add any more].
  2. I turned of automatic categorization in ClearContext so that I have to manually assign categories to tasks.  (This wasn’t an issue for the GTD Outlook Add-In)
  3. I am “forcing” all of my next actions to fit into one of these categories.

There are (obviously) a lot of other tweaks I’m doing to my process, like getting back into the discipline of truly identifying physical next actions, moving all projects I’m not actively working on to SOMEDAY/MAYBE, and more.

If you’re a GTD person and you find yourself with category sprawl, this kind of a clean-slate approach might help.  Let me know if this resonates with you, or if you’ve got any best practices for a GTD reset.