Saturday, April 26, 2014

Getting Things Done

In this world of work-overload and stressful work environment we would like to find the time to complete all our work and attend to other matters of importance. Many of us complain about having no time to read or write a book, take our family out for a trip, or visit relatives. It seems all our time is taken up with nothing else but work.

Such a situation contributes to the stress level that leads to all kinds of complications to our health and livelihood. What we really need is a stress-free work environment that we can live with, work in, and enjoy for a long time.

An excellent book that has helped me deal with a stressful environment is David Allen’s Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (2001).  I especially like his advice on practicing stress-free productivity everyday of our lives. He speaks about setting aside the time, setting up the space, and getting the tools you need to make your work environment stress free. Allen’s advice is invaluable.

What does Allen mean when he talks about setting aside the time so as to remain productive without worrying too much about the quality of the output.

“I recommend that you create a block of time to initialize this process and prepare a workstation with the appropriate space, furniture, and tools. If your space is properly set up and streamlined it can reduce your unconscious resistance to dealing with your stuff and even make it attractive for you to sit down and crank through your input and your work. An ideal time frame for most people is two whole days, back to back…Implementing the full collection process can take up to six hours or more, and processing and deciding on actions for all the input you’ll want to externalize and capture into your system can easily take another eight hours.”

It sounds crazy considering that for most of us working six to eight hours a day is what we do without asking for more hours. We are expected to attend our workstations at 7.45am and maintain productivity level until 4.06pm, except for the one-hour lunch break. The question to ask is: are we really productive throughout all the minutes and hours we are logged in at our workstation? It would seem the productivity level is only measured with output of how much real work or sustained productive work was done between those hours one is stationed at his/her desk or office. 

In my line of work, for example, as an academic, the most productive of our time at our workstation are times when we are in contact with our students in class, marking assignments, attending to consultations, and working on research papers, reports, book chapters, or articles for publications in journals. In a week it seems most of us are productive only half of the time we are at our workstations. If we were 100 percent productive our students would not be complaining about our performance, attendance, consultations, and delayed return of their marked assignments. Furthermore if 100 percent productivity was achieved most of us with many years of academic life would now have many influential publications in peer reviewed international journals, book chapters in books with international co-authorship or editorship, and of course many new books published under our own names based on our researches and academic discursive endeavors over the years.

Instead many of us complain about not having enough time and funding to do our research or publish any new work. The question is: are we really that busy during that six to eight hours at our workstations in a day? What do we do with our free time, if we have any at all? What happens to all the funding given out to academics for their various researches and attendance at workshops and conferences? Such funding should now produce the publications and generate influential ideas that become part of the discourse in our various disciplinary fields.

The second element is setting up the space, according to Allen: “A functional work space is critical. If you don’t already have a dedicated work-space and in-basket, get them now. That goes for students, homemakers, and retirees, too. Everyone must have a physical locus of control from which to deal with everything else.”

There are few points that we need to consider in creating our work-space (based on Allen’s advice):

First,  “If you go to an office, you’ll still need a space at home. Don’t skimp on work space at home. As you’ll discover through this process, it’s critical that you have at least a satellite home system to the one in your office.”

Second,  “An office space in transit. If you move around much, as a business traveler or just as a person with a mobile life-style, you’ll also want to set up an efficiently organized micro-office-in-transit…Many people lose opportunities to be productive because they’re not equipped to take advantage of the odd moments and windows of time that open up as they move from one place to another, or when they’re in off-site environments.”

Third, “Don’t share space! It is imperative that you have your own work space—or at least your own in-basket and a physical place in which to process paper…You can work virtually everywhere if you have a clean, compact system and know how to process your stuff rapidly and portably. But you’ll still need a ‘home base” with a well-grooved set of tools and sufficient space for all the reference and support material that you’ll want somewhere close at hand when you ‘land’.”

As is the nature of the work I do the scheme proposed above seems to work for me, but this may be different to other people in different work environments.

The important thing is that being productive without stress is the result of exact space management and value-added use of time.

An organized person using such techniques often is able to get more work done with value added results.


  1. YES, off course your thoughts are but still an right working environment can help in overcoming all the abstracts.

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