Can You Say ‘No’?

Here’s a very interesting article by JD Meier.

I was reading this post and something really caught my attention – avoiding a situation if it’s not right for you. I know that being successful is about playing to your strengths and avoiding situations not suited for you – it requires large amounts of personal energy and the results are never as good.

Lately, I have found myself working on a couple of projects that are not in my field of expertise. Most of the time I felt like a fish out of water. For the most part the projects weren’t exciting to me and I wasn’t that happy with the end results.

Sometimes you really can’t avoid doing something you’re not particularly good at, but as long as it is a conscious choice and not something you get pulled into.

The first step should be to understand what are the things you really enjoy doing and what are the things that just drain your energy. This is an introspection that you should do once in a while just to understand if your priorities have changed or not (people change, interests change, goals change, priorities change).

Once you have this understanding, it’s time to pursue those projects that are aligned with your strengths and avoid those that are not suited for you.

A Helpful Advice

A while back, a friend of mine told me about GTD. At first, I was skeptical about the whole thing, but as I have a high regard for his opinions, I decided to investigate this issue some more.

I did some research on the web and ended up borrowing the book for some light reading. I have to admit that I really enjoyed the simple advices and the straightforward, lightweight approach to actionable execution of tasks.

Filtering your inbox is just the first step. To be truly effective you have to make the triage actionable, i.e., you have to understand what action or actions are required to follow up on a given issue (should you address it immediately? Should you delegate it?). This is where GTD or Inbox Zero come in.

These approaches are somewhat common sense, so I think that most people who have already invested some time thinking about these issues have already come up with similar practices. Approaches like GTD and Inbox Zero are still helpful in the sense that they provide integrated, structured frameworks for these common productivity practices.

Filtering Inbox Noise

To me, one of the greatest obstacles to my personal productivity – and a source of work-related stress – is an overflowing inbox.

I get a LOT of work-related mail per day and, if I don’t have a system for reducing the “noise” of my Inbox, it’s easy to start overlooking important mails and wasting time with unimportant issues.

A while ago I decided to really try and have Outlook work for me (as opposed to just with me). So I took some time to think on a few simple heuristics that I could define as Outlook rules to filter my inbox.

Here’s what I came up with:

Inbox is considered “High Priority”, so I the mail I keep in here are mails sent directly to myself (my name/alias is in the “To:” box) that, usually, require my immediate attention.

I keep a second folder named “Medium priority”, where I move all mails where I am in the “Cc:” box. From experience, these are lower priority mails, and I’m just being notified of something that is occurring but someone else is usually taking charge of the situation. I usually scan this folder a few times a day to check if something important has slipped through or if I can/should contribute to some on-going discussion.

I keep a third folder named “Low priority mail”, where everything else is moved to. I can get by with a cursory look over the items in this folder (I do it once or twice a day). Most items in this folder can be safely deleted by the end of the week.

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