3 Even Better Techniques for Getting Things Done
For anyone who has spent any amount of time with me, you’ve probably figured out that I keep my schedule pretty full. My daughters are now 16 and 18, and I don’t remember being bored before they came into this world, but part of me wonders if I must’ve been. I’ve joked about that from time to time, but the truth is I’ve always done better with time when it’s pretty scheduled and when I’ve got a lot going on.
Over the years, I’ve learned to create spaces for myself to unwind, create spaces to relax, create spaces in my calendar for doing nothing or for the creative process, but most of the time, my schedule is pretty packed.
It may not come as a surprise to most to learn that I took on a pretty hefty task this semester where I’ll be teaching my first college class ever. I can’t wait to share some of the learnings that have come from this experience, from the preparation, from the discussions, from the things the students bring to the table, and the things I can’t even predict yet.
Today, though, in particular, I want to focus on getting things done. Many of us, in our January effort, put together a rock-solid plan for 2022. To help us execute it well, we may even have written goals for ourselves. Calendars and planners everywhere have been updated and filled out (well, OK, at least purchased and opened).
But plans and goals don't realize themselves. So I offer three different techniques for getting things done this January and beyond for you to add to your toolkit this year.
1 - Get better at the OODA loop.
The analogy comes from the world of fighter pilots, and the acronym stands for Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. How much time in 2021 was wasted in lengthy decision-making? An analyst at heart, I still also believe that we can fall victims of analysis paralysis if we’re not careful.
The idea behind the OODA loop, as I saw presented by Juliane Gallina in her Ted talk on the entrepreneurial mindset, is that the process for decision making and action-taking needs to be a process that is so clear in our heads that we can move quickly from one step to the next.
Observe - pay attention, see what’s going on.
Orient - consider what you’ve observed – the information or other inputs you have access to – and use it to determine which direction we want to be headed based on the information that’s available. It’s like aligning yourself with a compass and heading in the right direction.
Decide - this is the act of deciding where our priorities are and what aligns with what we’re trying to accomplish this year, either personally or professionally, and how we can best use our time.
Act - none of the other three steps matter if we don’t get to act. Remember the old LinkedIn post with the five frogs sitting on a log? Four decide to jump off. How many are left? The truth is all five are still there because deciding to act and acting are two very different things.
2 - Fail faster; fail smarter.
The second way to get more done this year is to fail smarter. I remember hearing a keynote speaker present at a project management conference years ago where he shared the idea of failing faster. He was recovering from a life-altering injury, and he talked about learning new skills every day like getting dressed and eating breakfast; the simplest of chores had become daunting new tasks for him in his new physical state. His message was fail faster; put yourself out there; try something and fail, and then pick yourself back up again and try something else. It’s the action step followed by the OODA loop all over again.
The same presenter who shared information about the OODA loop also talked about failing smarter. In her focus on the entrepreneurial mindset she recommended deciding on your own ratio of how many things you’re working on that you’re OK with being experiments that might fail. Google uses 70:20:10: 70% of your time is working on core business, 20% is working on projects that relate to core business and 10% is working on projects not related to core business – something totally different that might not succeed. She mentioned other leaders she knew who viewed one-third of the work they’re doing every year as an experiment they were willing to fail.
Here’s what I think is interesting about the concepts of failing smarter and failing faster: it’s about being aware that you can’t win them all. Being aware that some things simply won’t work. If we go into a percentage of our workday or workweek or work month knowing that some percentage of it is not going to work, won’t that speed up the grieving process when it doesn’t? Won’t that make it easier to recover and move on and reset? Won’t it make it easier to even sell big scary ideas?
3 - Laser Focus on 5.
The third tip is from a Warren Buffett story. Legend has it that he advised someone in his inner circle on how to be truly successful. He told them to write down 25 things that you want to accomplish: 25 things that are important to you; 25 things that are top of mind for you. Then identify the top five. Then get familiar with the other 20 and relentlessly excise them from your thought process. These 20 other items are distractions.
We think they’re interesting, and we think they’re fun, and we think they’re important, but every minute that we spend on those 20 items is preventing us from focusing on the five most important things.
So what does practical application look like this January day?
For the OODA loop, try one of these:
1 - Find someone else who is willing to stay accountable to this process with you. A colleague, an advisor, etc.
2 - Schedule time on your calendar for the appropriate steps of the loop. For some of us, a simple “OODA” reminder will be enough. Others might need 15 minutes here to observe, 15 minutes there to orient, 15 minutes there to decide, and 15 minutes somewhere else to act, but the idea is to make a repeatable process that you can monitor and improve.
For failing faster and smarter, try one of these:
1 - Take a look at your goals for 2022. Haven’t written them? Sounds like you’ve got yourself a starting line, friend! Are there any goals that you are not 100% certain how to achieve? If so, allocate some portion of your time to experimenting, trying, learning, stretching yourself. We’re going out on a limb. Be prepared that not all of these will succeed, and enjoy the process!
2 – You could even take this one step further and find a platform to share your journey with others! Many of us are trying to tackle similar problems, and your experiences and experiments might be useful for someone else in their own growth.
For ensuring laser focus, try one of these:
1 - Make one more pass through your list of goals. Make sure that there is an appropriate balance of things that will ensure your all-around well-being and growth. How are your goals serving you in the following realms: professional, spiritual, physical, emotional, social, financial wellness? Make sure that you’ve got goals that align with your priorities. And then, maybe it’s not five and twenty, maybe it's more like two and ten, but look at the things that you are currently spending your time on to make sure that you're only focused on the top few. If they don’t align directly with your top priorities, let them go.
How about you - how will you apply any of these three tips to getting things done even better? Join the conversation on social media or in the comments below!