Have you ever asked yourself, "self, why did I waste my time in that way?"
I've done both. Many times.
As I continue to do research in high performance knowledge work and personal knowledge management, I've collected a number of tools and methods to help me make smarter decisions about what to do or not do.
Today, I'd like to share one of those tools with you. I call it my opportunity decision matrix,
When I was in graduate school and trying to run my consulting business and launch a software company and be a loving husband and father to my four daughters, I hit a wall. Something had to give. But what?
My good friend, Michael, gave me some sage advice that helped a lot. He told me to ask myself two simple questions to ask whenever I needed to evaluate options.
Here's how this works:
First define the "opportunity". Perhaps it's "Attend ABC conference". Next, evaluate that opportunity through the lens of two filters: opportunity and timing, like this:
Question #1. Is this the right opportunity?
If it isn't, stop. Don't waste your time. Done. Decision made. If it is the right opportunity, then, I continue to question #2
Question #2. Is this the right timing?
Many times, I have a right opportunity but bad timing. It makes no sense to proceed unless both the opportunity and timing are right.
I have since expanded into an this 2x2 opportunity decision matrix:
This matrix has proven extremely valuable to me when I have a lot of hard choices to make and a new one shows up (like, "hey, do you want to fill in the blank.... ?")
For example, at a particularly busy point in my life, I got invited to speak at a conference. It was a great opportunity and I really wanted to go. However, it was not the right timing, so I declined. Having this simple two question matrix really helped me make a hard decision easy.
The following year I was invited to speak at a different event. I concluded that it was both the right opportunity and the right timing, so I accepted the invitation and the "Beyond Planning Conference" was born.
Sometimes, when it seems like I have many large or complex decisions to make, It helps me to pull out a sheet of paper and make a 4x4 matrix, like the one above. Then, I list of all of the options on my plate and one by one, and I write them into the appropriate quadrant.
It's usually quite a sobering experience.
Next, I cross off everything in quadrants 3 & 4 and move quadrant 2 items to my "someday/Maybe" list. This leaves me with only my quadrant 1 items, which I do.
By being ruthless in evaluating all of my choices against these two criteria, I can get unstuck quickly and feel good about the choices I make.
How do you make choices? What tools have you found helpful to make decisions?
David Allen opens his book, Getting Things Don, the Art of Stress Free Productivity, with this statement: “It’s possible for a person to have an overwhelming number of things to do and still function productively with a clear head and a positive sense of relaxed control” (p. 3). I don’t know about you, but my immediate reaction was, “Yes please!”
I’m going to give you a partial summary of the first chapter of Mr. Allen’s book. I’ll try to give you enough of a sense of what this book says and what it can do for you (and has done for me) without giving you all it has to offer (both to respect Mr. Allen’s IP and not get myself sued by him or his publisher).1
What do you want to get done?
Mr. Allen defines “work” as “anything that you want or need to be different than it currently is” (4).
So. Are there weeds in the garden? Are there emails in your inbox? Is your air conditioner broken? Do you need to help your kid decide on a college? How many hundreds of things are there in your life that you need or want to accomplish, do, create, or change? We’re going to take a little look at how to do it all.
This isn’t just a system for your job. It’s for your whole life.
What’s in your way?
The Natural Planning Method is something you’ve been doing your whole life without realizing it. Recently, I’ve been learning to consciously apply it to everything I do — and it’s been a huge relief. In a word, it’s given me a trusted process for dealing with just about anything I need or want to do. Now, instead of dozens of projects flying into my brain at random to tug my attention away from what I’m doing, I can focus on the present, because I know that everything on my to-do list is set to be taken care of. This isn’t anything quasi-mystical, and I’m not going to ask you to buy anything.
What David Allen (the speaker from the video that was the subject of my last entry) has done is reverse-engineer the process that your brain naturally uses to plan anything:
1. You identify something you want
2. You envision what having it will look and feel like — what will be true once it’s accomplished
3. Everything (information, ideas, actions) associated with getting it floods into your mind
4. You organize those ideas, actions, and info into patterns and steps
5. You determine the very next thing you need to do — and do it
How you’re already doing it
When I hear the words “productivity guru,” I picture a bald, fit, bespectacled man with a goatee and a flashy suit giving a jargon-heavy presentation to a group of executives (who are pretending to understand what he’s saying) on the subject of how to cram 100 hours of work into a mere 50-hour work week — and, more importantly, how to get their employees to do the same. His constant calendar-checking, emailing, and texting do nothing to interrupt his flow of sophisticated corp-speak.
I definitely do not picture a guy like David Allen speaking intelligibly about concepts I can understand and that get me excited about learning to get things done. The fact that my expectations were utterly confounded is the reason I recommend this video.
I'd like to introduce you to Nathan Paul, a friend of mine whose current blog title is "Aspiring pro writer and non-homeless person". Nathan is a recent graduate of The Master's College where I have the privilege of teaching as an adjunct professor in the business program. (I've also taught an introduction to robotics course as well). I've been mentoring Nathan and sharing with him topics and information I wish I had learned when I was his age. I've put together a list of topics and we are working through them together. I've encouraged Nathan to write about these topics and even to post some of them on his blog so that others may benefit as well.
Many of the topics we are exploring together have to to with personal effectiveness and life management. Nathan has given me permission to share some of these posts here on this blog.
I'm sure you will find Nathan's posts inspiring and thought provoking. If you want to read more, I encourage you to visit his blog, Nathan the Paul.