Thursday, October 29, 2009

Time is Flying by Too Fast....

I always say this but time is flying by way too fast!!! I can’t believe it is fall already!! We have had so much fun this season already. God has really been working on our hearts lately. Both Dan and I have been studying the book of Leviticus. God’s Word is so rich and full that it would take me a long time to explain all of the insight I am gaining into His love and character by my study in the Old Testament. I have not really been into “studying” the Old Testament before but God has drawn me to this place where I am hungry to know all that I can about Him through His Word. It has been powerful and life changing to say the least. Dan and I have been praying together every morning. Dan has really driven this process and I am so proud of his leadership in this area! God is showing us a lot about His unfailing character, His grace, and His love. He is sharpening us daily and using each other to do it. It has been a season of getting things in order. I am also finally realizing that motherhood is something I have always wanted to do. Many times I have wondered what would I do if I wasn’t a mom or what is my true passion? The answer is that my heart’s desire and passion has been fulfilled in being a wife and a mother. It is challenging at times, but a job that I truly cherish and feel grateful that the Lord has given me this awesome occupation. This job is not to be taken lightly or for granted as it does not come easily for everyone.

I desire in motherhood to be a good steward of what the Lord has provided. With that said, I love reading my friend Stephanie Hillberry’s blog: because she is always talking about stewardship in some capacity. She is very resourceful and talented at putting her hands to what the Lord calls her to do and does not waver. Outwardly her blog is not advertised as “Christian” but you can see Christian concepts and principals throughout her writing. To me, she is a good example of using your time and talents to be a creative and virtuous woman of God. This is what I desire to be as a mom: creative and virtuous, a good steward in raising kids that love God with all of their hearts. To be proactive in budgeting and meal planning so I can be a good steward of what God has provided. God is teaching me a lot in this process of surrendering my life and the lives of my family members fully to Him.

The other thing that the Lord has been allowing me to do as a mom is meet a lot of fellow moms, whether it be through MOPS, at the park, library or play groups. I have had fun spending time and hopefully encouraging other moms in their journey of motherhood. I have thoroughly enjoyed this part of being a mom: a chance to meet people you otherwise would never meet or hang out with. God has a way of creating an instant bond between fellow moms. It has been such a blessing!

My current occupations as a mom of one will be increased to mother of two when Little Man Junior comes Jan 11, 2010. We are anxiously awaiting his arrival. By anxious I mean – We have nothing “ready” and we are very excited! Although we know how to care physically for a newborn there are lots of questions. What will he look like? What will his temperament be like? How we will handle the transition from one to two kids? Will there be enough love and attention for both? With that said I know deep in my heart that all of this will work out and that our family will feel more complete with this new little one. I never thought I could love Alex as much as I do so I know that I will love for this new precious gift just as much!! I can’t wait to see Alex and Little Man Jr. interact and watch them grow together!

Colossians 3:23,24
"Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve."

Friday, October 9, 2009

A Story About Getting Things Done: Part 3

by Dan Frank

In parts one and two I talked about the state of affairs leading up to my introduction to the book “Getting Things Done” by David Allen and the circumstances surrounding my finally diving in and reading it. In this post I will talk about my experience with implementing the processes.

Over the next few days I finished the book. I began to implement a lot of the process and refine those that were already in place and by that Friday I was ready for a full weekend of implementation. The first thing that you do once you have your systems in place is to collect all of the open loops, or “stuff”, in your life. Anything that isn’t where it belongs goes into your inbox (or in pile in my case) and anything that is in your head gets written on a piece of paper and put in the inbox as well. If you take this seriously, which I did, you go through every inch of your world and every corner of your head. Every drawer and shelf, the garage, the closest, the corners of your mind and the depths of your soul; all of it get cleared out. If something is too big to move it is represented by a piece of paper.

Once you have collected all of the “stuff” you begin processing your inbox. Processing consists of picking up each item and not putting it down until you have made a decision about it. Is it actionable? If not it gets tossed, filed for reference or put on the someday/maybe list for future action. If it is actionable and takes less than two minutes you do it right then (this gets a lot of stuff out of the way before it ever makes it into the system). If it will take more than two minutes can it be delegated, and if so you delegate it right then and put it on your waiting for list. If it cannot be delegated and will take more than two minutes it goes into the system. Many of the things in the inbox are more than just an action; a lot of them are projects. GTD defines a project as anything that takes more than a single action to complete. All projects go on a list of their own and every project has to have a next actionable item in the system.

My inbox during collection.
On Saturday after finishing the book I had big plans for Jess and I both to have a weekend of GTD. We got up early and started collecting everything in our worlds. A lot of stuff went into Jess’ inbox and a lot went into mine. We spent most of the next 8 hours or so collecting open loops and misplaced stuff. We then spent much of that night and a lot of Sunday processing those inboxes. After a long weekend of collecting and processing Jess and I both had just about everything in our world collected and processed into the system and ready for action. In just five short days I had been completely sold on the GTD system and had fully implemented it in my life.

As promised I felt a huge weight lifted. I was able to clearly think about things that needed to be done because I didn’t have to think about what needed to be done. Everything was out of my head and into a simple system that I felt like I could trust. And none too soon either. Over the next week the system was put to the test and enabled me to do what I probably could not have otherwise done.

As I mentioned before, up to this point I was more or less succeeding out of sheer will power and long hours. This process has really made me wonder about peoples different time management systems and how they manage their lives. Before this system I had never really seen a huge need for any sort of formal system to manage my tasks and time. I would pretty much just do what had to get done when it had to get done and throw some heroics in when necessary and that was it. It never even occurred to me that I would need a formal system to manage my time and efforts more efficiently and frankly I am amazed that I made it as long as I did without it.

As I write this I go back and forth wondering first how many people will be saying “I can’t believe he didn’t have a time management system in place, what an amateur” and then wondering how many people will be saying “what does he need a formal system for, can’t he just do his job”. To my discredit I would have been one of the latter had I read this post by someone else six months ago. I would have wondered why someone would need to have a formal system in place to manage their lives. Isn’t that what the brain is for? As it turns out, no; at least not mine.

Jess' inbox after collection.
Ok, so enough rabbit trails. I will try and wrap up the story. We are now at the Monday after implementing the system about two weeks ago. I had just the week before had a conversation with my boss about how I wasn’t sure how I would get everything done in the time I had. I felt like I didn’t have any time during the day between the endless meetings and the on the fly aspects of my job to do the list of fixed tasks that were piling up. So I had my first daily review that Monday morning. I looked at my calendar, looked at my list, identified the priorities, planned my day and started executing tasks. When I went to a meeting and it started 10 minutes late I grabbed the first task on my list for the “At Work Computer” context that would take 10 minute and did that task. If a meeting got canceled I took advantage of that time and grabbed the first task on my list that needed an hour to complete. The first thing I noticed was how much you can get done in 10 minutes or an hour when you don’t have anything else on your mind accept what you are doing, when you’re only thought is getting that task done and you don’t have to worry about or use brain cycles thinking about the other things that have to get done or trying to keep it all straight. That is what the system is for. When I had time I would grab a task. When something came up I wrote it down and when I had a few seconds I would process those new items into the system. I trusted that nothing was getting lost and everything was being presented to me for action when it needed to be done.

By Tuesday that week I was actually ahead of where I had hoped to be. I was able to plan little chunks of time here and there to do things that had to be done within a certain time frame and additional weird chunks of time that came up during the day were used to pull items off the list that didn’t have a specific time constraints but needed to be done as soon as possible. By Wednesday I was actually back to project level planning and was able to get out ahead of some of the situations that were really starting to step on my heels. By Friday I was ready for the weekend and had completed, or felt good about not completing, all of the items that were critical for that week and a lot that were just hanging around causing me stress. I had a plan for moving forward on every one of my 30 or so projects (remember that a project is anything that will take more than on actionable item to complete) and I realized that there actually was enough time in the day to do my job after all.

Now the really interesting thing to me and the ultimate point of this really long story is that this process didn’t lead to my having a bunch of extra time. What it did was allow me to realize that with His help I would be able to do everything that God had put on my plate and not an ounce more or less. As I look at my system now it would be easy to get overwhelmed, especially if all of this stuff was still in my head. Even with all of the efficiency gains (and they have been considerable) I average about 10 hours a day at work and every second has to be used effectively to stay afloat. The point is not that I have less to do, the point is that I can actually do all that I have to do and that I don’t have to worry about what has to be done, I just have to do it.

I truly believe that the very week in question was the potential tipping point in my new role at work and in some ways the direction of my life. Had God not been so faithful as to use the preceding weeks and months to slowly prepare me for, and then with perfect timing lead me to, a life changing book I would have sunk during that week. Many of the most important and high visibility tasks to this point in my career would have slipped. At least one major potential disaster would not have been avoided and a lot of the trust and credibility I have built over the last three years would have been greatly diminished.

And ultimately even that really isn’t the point of the system. The potential that really excites me now is that I will have more time to spend with my family without worrying about what I should be doing or the stresses of my job. The other extremely exciting thing to me is that as I turn more and more over to God and trust more and more in Him a force multiplier will be applied to all of this. He is the one that is leading me through this journey and He is the one that makes it all possible. As thankful as I am to David Allen for putting this system together it is just God’s wisdom and there is more of that available to us than we can even dream if we only ask Him.

I still have a lot to learn and I will continue to refine the system over time. I fully expect to see the same efficiency gains and stress reductions over the next six months that I have seen within the past three weeks. The system does not rely on technology but technology can really simplify things if used correctly and will definitely help with the concept of putting the information you need in front of you when you need it. I had a lot of the pieces of that puzzle in place but have just over the last few days gotten it tuned to the point that I have my entire life (work, office, mobile) synced up and accessible wherever I am.

One of the keys to the system is the review process. Daily reviews for making sure those things that need to get done area accounted for and planning for how to get them done. Weekly reviews to make sure that you are tracking all of your projects and that they each have a next actionable item assigned so that they are moving forward and in the right direction. Then bi-weekly or monthly reviews to help keep sight of your higher level goals and make sure that all of your projects are leading you towards those. I am still in the process of figuring out the best time to do each of those and trying to make sure the time is allocated for them. It is definitely an important piece of the puzzle. When I make the time to do the reviews, especially the weekly review, I can tell a big difference in my efficiency and stress level.

I fully intend to continue implementing the system and refining the process. I will report back in a couple of months on where I am and whether it has been as life changing as I suspect. In the mean time I would recommend that anyone who is struggling with keeping all of the “Stuff” in your life straight check out the book. That and read your bible!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

A Story About Getting Things Done: Part 2

by Dan Frank

Previously I mentioned the meltdown that was impending while I was in DC kicking off a new project. It was not long after I returned from that trip that it occurred. I won’t go into the details but it involved me behaving like a jerk and treating people badly. It wasn’t your traditional meltdown and at the time it didn’t even seem like that big of a deal but things could easily have gone much worse than they did. Luckily when I got home that night Jess was able to listen to me vent and when she heard my story she told me that I needed to go send an email and apologize. I knew before she even said it that she was right and I wrote a few difficult emails that night. I had a couple of hard conversations the next day and things quickly returned to normal.

I spent a lot of time praying and reflecting on things over the next day or two and if I had to point to a moment in time that really started to turn things around for me that was it. My apologies were accepted and most of the wounds healed quickly. It was a really humbling experience for me and opened my eyes to a lot of things in my heart. Luckily I get to live with my best friend and a truly wise woman who helped me to work through some of the issues I was dealing with. God had used this incident, which really got my attention, to point out the severity of the situation and prepare me for the change he was about to introduce in my life. At that point the stage was set. The perfect storm for the change that was about to take place in my life was brewing. I would have to write another three thousand words to communicate my mindset three weeks ago (which I won’t do since I will be lucky for anyone to read the words I have already written). A lot had happened the week of my meltdown and God was doing a lot in my heart. There were the major adjustments he was making to my attitude but there were also little ideas and realizations that would become the pieces to a bigger puzzle I would begin to solve over the next three weeks.

All of this brings us back to Wednesday night the week of my meltdown. I just got the GTD book by David Allen and started reading it that night. As I began to read the book every word rang true inside me. Many of the things God had been revealing to me about my life and just general truths were right there on the pages I was reading. I should note at this point that the book “Getting Things Done” is not a Christian book. I don’t know David Allen’s religious beliefs and they are certainly not stated in this book. It didn’t stop every word of it from ringing true. God’s wisdom can be found all over by believers and non believers alike. Truth is truth no matter who speaks it and there is a lot of simple truth in this book.

So I am reading the book and everything is making sense. I know what he is going to say before he says it and I have one “ah ha” moment after another as my thoughts are made more and more clear and my actions and feelings relating to work and stress in general all start to make sense. At this point I was starting to get that excited feeling that you get right before you realize the thing that is too good to be true is too good to be true. Very much like the feeling I got when the doctor told me that I had hypothyroidism and that symptoms of that disease were weight gain, fatigue (both mental and physical), headaches and a variety of the other issues that plague me because I eat too much, don’t get enough sleep, manage my stress poorly and don’t trust God. Needless to say the Levothyroxine didn’t solve any of those problems.

I started to get a sinking sensation. I started to worry that this guy clearly saw the truth of my situation and had figured out a good way to communicate the whole problem but probably wouldn’t have any real answers. I am sure that if I actually had any readers they would be saying something like “I have been practicing these techniques for 30 years since I read such and such a book back in the 70’s”. And if I had actual readers I would say that they were probably right. I am not saying that this is the first and only guy in the history of the world to make sense on the subject of time management and the effects on our subconscious of holding too much information in our heads, but he is the first guy I have heard say it.

Anyway, something kept me hoping that this guy was going to have some answers and not just be another self helper that ends the book trying to sell you his 12 month course on getting rich in your underwear. So I read on.

Jess getting into "Getting Things Done".
The book is broken up into three main parts. Part one is an overview of the problems along with the solutions that he proposes solve them. Part two walks you through the practices in more detail and helps to get your systems set up and begin processing your world. Finally step three talks about the finer points of the system and how to maximize its effectiveness. I finished part one the first night and at that point I knew this was going to change my life.

I have to believe that a lot of why I found the book to be so profound was that a lot of the very simple concepts that were being communicated were things that God was really bringing to my attention around that time. Also, while the concepts are very simple, its how he puts them together that really shines a light on things. The concepts are so simple in fact that numerous times throughout the book from the first page to the last he talks about how you already know how to do everything you will need to do to implement the system. There is a lot of common sense and many basic tasks that you already do, and probably do quite well, which make up a system that is much more than the sum of its parts.

I won’t get into the specifics of the system in this story, if you are interested in finding out more just get the book from your local library, it will explain the concepts much better than I could. It is important to note however that the main purpose of the entire system is to get as much OUT of your head a possible and INTO systems that you trust and that you will maintain. The theory being that your mind can be described as a computer, there is RAM (or random access memory) that holds information that is readily needed for processing and problem solving but which is volatile and finite. There is the display or desktop which puts the information in front of the user and brings it to focus, and there is the storage that holds the information that is not currently being used but needs to be kept around as a resource for later work.

I will not be able to do the author justice but the point is that your brain’s RAM is not a good place to store information (since it is volatile and finite). Furthermore your brain is not well designed to bring things to your remembrance at the most opportune times when things are stored in your more permanent subconscious. Any time you have more than one thing in your RAM you are by nature wasting that space since you cannot truly be doing more than one thing at any given moment in time. The main function of GTD is to reliably store information and put it in front of you at precisely the time it is needed while keeping any other distractions (no matter how important) out of your focus and out of your head until it needs to be dealt with.

Now in some ways I am oversimplifying the system but the fundamental purpose really is that simple. Get as much out of your head and into a system that you can trust to put it in front of you when it is needed as possible and then work the system to make it as efficient as possible. And here is where the real magic happened for me. Your subconscious holds on to things that you told it you should be doing forever. If you tell yourself at some point that you should be doing something and never put that information in a place where your mind trusts that you will find it, your subconscious will hold on to that information and think that you should be doing that thing every minute of every day even when you don’t remember that you ever thought you should be doing it. Since it is impossible to be doing all of those things, or even more than one of them at a time, your subconscious is always going to think you are not doing things that you should be doing and you are going to end up with a sense of stress and discontentment that you can’t put your finger on.

I can’t tell you how much sense that made to me. It explained why I was getting frustrated with people and things and not being able to really figure out why. It explained why I wasn’t really able to tell anyone the multitude of things I just had to get done and why I felt that 24 hours in a day wasn’t nearly enough but I couldn’t make a list longer than a dozen items to explain what I needed to do. It explained why I was constantly tired and why even when I had more to do than I could even bring myself to remember I often couldn’t think of a single thing I should be doing when I sat down to do get stuff done. It explained why even when I was doing something that I thought to be important and that had clear direction I felt like I should probably be doing ten other things instead. It explained a lot. I couldn’t wait to get everything out of my head. Just the idea that it would be possible to get everything out of my head was freeing.

And as with so many things in my life God had brought all of this together with perfect timing. Within the next week and a half I would see the GTD system turn what would have been a complete disaster into one of the greatest times of growth in my professional as well as personal life. I had just gotten back from my DC trip the week before. I had more to do than ever. I had half of the development team depending on me for direction, I had to get multiple projects off the ground, and I had to wrap up a hand full more. The stress of the situation was definitely manifesting its self in my life even though I was relatively blind to it myself. If it hadn’t been for my melt down the previous week I probably wouldn’t really have seen the severity of the situation even when it was staring me right in the face. The truth of the matter is that I wouldn’t fully realize the importance of that week and the full severity of the situation until it was past.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Story About Getting Things Done: Part 1

by Dan Frank

About a month ago a friend of mine introduced me briefly to the personal time management system “Getting Things Done” (known from here on as GTD). I noticed a flowchart on his monitor and thinking it was something related to work I asked him about it. It turned out to be the GTD flow diagram he was using as a background for his desktop. We had a brief conversation about what GTD was, he mentioned that I should get the book by David Allen (the creator of GTD), and then I more or less forgot about it for a week.

Then about three weeks ago I had a strong urge to go get the book. I had decided to go ahead and order it when Jess mentioned that I should check the library. I hopped on line, did a search and about an hour later (it would have been quicker but Alex loves the library) I had the book in my hands. From that moment on there has been a whirlwind of change in my life in many ways but to really tell the story I have to go back about a year.

I had just come off of a project at work that had been my first real start to finish effort that I was fully responsible for since starting with the company. After that project ended successfully I was given the reigns of one of the most high profile projects in the company at that time. I was about six months in and things were going well but the sister project to mine was having some major struggles. We had just hired a new Director of Software Development (my boss) and he was looking for solutions. To make a long story short, when things hit critical mass with the struggling project I was asked to take over that effort as well. Immediately things got more hectic and as I tried to turn things around on the new project I found myself working longer hours and struggling more and more with keeping it all straight. I was able to patch it all together and get things on the right path and over the next eight months or so I was able to keep my head above water.

Then about 4 months ago I was given yet more responsibility and in the span of about three weeks my workload, which was already stretching my limits, more or less doubled as I was given responsibility for more development efforts related to my current projects and then shortly thereafter responsibility for a little more than half of the entire development efforts of the company. I knew at the time that it was going to mean a lot more work and I had no idea where I was going to find the additional time to do the job but I knew that my leadership would support me and that this was too good an opportunity to pass up.

Over the next couple of months I was able to keep things heading in the right direction by sheer force of will and long hours. Things were definitely starting to slip though. I was wrapping up a year and a half project with five or six pieces that I was directly responsible for, we were kicking off 4 more projects and my responsibilities were growing into areas where I had little or no experience. At that point an adjustment had to be made and through a lot of prayer and advice from key people (not the least of whom was Jess) I was starting to understand my new job and how to get it done. There was a lot more delegating and even some saying no. Things were getting better in some areas but all the while there was this sense of impending doom that would grip me from time to time and the only real reasoning I could give for it was that “I had too much to do”. The problem was that when I would try and articulate the “too much to do” to people around me it didn’t really flow out like I expected. Whenever I tried to put into words the work load I felt like I was under I would only be able to remember a handful of the tasks on my plate and it would be a different handful with each conversation. I had various buckets of items that needed doing and I had a lot of stuff in my head but when I would sit down to get things done its seemed overwhelming and unclear. I would attack the first thing that looked doable and all the while have a black cloud over my head that what I was doing, while important, was not what I should be doing.

So this brings us up to about a month ago when my friend mentioned GTD to me. At that time I was starting to melt down but I hadn’t fully realized it yet. The next week I had a trip to DC to kick off one of my new projects. At the same time there was a project going on that was spiraling out of control and frustrations (and tempers) were flaring all around the office. Before leaving for the trip things had really come to a head and while I was away they only got worse. While I was enjoying the sites of our nation’s capital and kicking off an exciting new project the makings of my meltdown were brewing back home.