Friday, 22 November 2013

Gen Y - is Youth Wasted on the Young?

I was recently reading some research from Hays Recruitment on some research they conducted with 1000 GenY individuals on their attitudes to work, what they are looking for in their boss, technology expectations etc.

It's a good read with the main headlines being:
  • They want a career that allows them to do interesting work
  • Money is important, but so too is flexibility and bonus potential
  • When looking at a potential employer the opportunity to develop is the most crucial factor
  • They value a coaching style of leadership
  • They expect email to be the dominant style of communications for the foreseeable future
I'd recommend reading the full report because there are some interesting nuggets in here. 

However, as I was reading it I confess I kept saying to myself "yep, me too". I want interesting work that will help me grow, rewards beyond cash, and the opportunity to learn from inspirational coaches - however apparently I am 20 years too old to join this club!

While it makes good headlines I'm not a great fan of this approach of lumping any large group together based on an arbitrary segmentation (age, race, star-sign) and saying this is how they think. In fairness I don't think that was really the intention, but that is always the risk - and I would argue that if you removed the age factor from the research you would emerge with broadly similar results. I prefer to take the view that there are people of any age who are curious about the world they live and work in, and those for whom this is not a significant driver. So let's not create artificial differences between groups and generations.

Of course there are many people in senior positions in the workplace who don't think the same way - who believe the pursuit of money is the only measure of success, who only exhibit an autocratic style of leadership, who invest little in helping their staff grow, and who have no interest in considering alternative views to their own. If that describes your boss my advice is simple - find someone else to work for! 

Unfortunately, if you are one of those dinosaur bosses - you're highly unlikely to read this report let alone act upon it...

Friday, 15 November 2013

Remind me - What does marketing actually do?

I love it when you stumble across something you created a few years ago and, upon re-reading, decide that it still holds up.

A few years ago I was part of a small workshop at IBM that was challenged with the question of "What is our strategic vision for demand generation?". Grand terminology that can be translated to "What the **** do you do?". The sentence we came up with was a little dry, but I think it captures pretty well what marketing's role is around demand generation (clearly marketing has other responsibilities beyond DG, but this was the focus here).

This is what we came up with:

"Our purpose is to:

Engage in remarkable conversations...
With the right customer communities...
Through the most relevant method(s)...
Which builds relationships...
And creates value for both parties..."

Let me clarify just a little:

Marketing is about conversations rather than a monologue; those conversations need to be sufficiently interesting (remarkable) such that they make people think, engage, share; we know that the decision making units have grown and so it's essential to engage more broadly in the various communities of influence; What is the most relevant method? Actually it's not for you to say - the relevant method is the vehicle chosen by the client/prospect. Demand generation is not just about today's transaction - it's about a dialogue that builds a deepening relationship and that delivers value to both parties - you are looking for immediate and longer term revenue, and the client is looking to solve a business issue.

I keep coming back to this piece of work as a useful checklist to evaluate whether a set of Demand Generation activities is doing what it needs to do. 

Many thanks to Sarah Chatterton, Tony Whitelaw, Martyn Christian, and several others who made key contributions to this output.

Does this work for you? How would you improve upon it?

Friday, 8 November 2013

Well I guess you COULD automate your marketing....

... But would you really want to?

This was the question I tried to address in a 45 minute webinar for BrightTalk yesterday as part of their Campaign Automation online summit. The proposition was pretty straightforward: before you start to Automate your marketing, you better be pretty clear about what the purpose of your marketing actually is. There's no escape from this - no tool is going to do the thinking  for you (at least, not until IBM's Watson computer joins the marketing team), or make your content interesting and engaging.

Marketing Automation and Marketing Transformation are not the same thing - the first is a component of the second.

You can catch the full recording of the webinar below (you may need to register for BrightTalk first)

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

9 Attributes of a Successful Marketing Leader

What are the attributes of a good marketing leader today? I've been giving this a little thought recently - marketing is being asked to contribute more than ever before to the business (a great opportunity), is having to deal with an unprecedented amount of change driven by a number of factors, and strategic choices are having to be made on what to change first and what to ignore. 
So here's my initial thoughts:

  1. Commercial Connectedness. Running events and producing brochures is not enough anymore. We need to demonstrate revenue contribution to the business. That means marketing leaders need to be tightly integrated into the commercial fabric of the business so that they can shape the direction and increase the contribution that their department can make.
  2. Inspiration. Today's marketing department needs to evolve to take account of changes in buyer behaviour and the digital landscape. Leaders need to have a clear vision of where the team is heading that everyone can buy into and contribute towards. 
  3. Operational Focus. Change is exciting and stimulating (most of the time), but you get little credit for it until it's done. Meanwhile if your revenue contribution declines you'll have more "help" than you can handle. So you need to have the operational focus to ensure that you turn all the dials green so that you can get the space to drive the transformations you need.
  4. Digital Savvy. One day soon we'll stop using the term "digital marketing" and just use the word "marketing" again, as the digital element will be inherently integrated into everything we do. As a leader you don't need to have the departmental expert in all things digital, but you absolutely need to know enough to see how the various elements fit together and add value (to the prospect)
  5. Customer Strategy & Advocacy. In the rush to become "modern" I have seen many organisations invest in siloed digital skills at the expense of more tradition strategy skills - planning, targeting, value propositions, etc. The reality is you need both - one of the key roles of a leader is to ensure that the activity of the team comes together to add value from the perspective of the customer/prospect.
  6. Resilience. If you're trying to drive change you need to expect bumps along the journey. A strong vision will go a long way to help keep things in perspective, but you will also need the toughness to pick yourself up and re-engage, and to help others do the same.
  7. Collaboration. You may think you're smart - but clever people surround themselves with smart people. Fostering a culture that celebrates sharing and teaming creates a buzz and confidence that maximises the effectiveness of the whole team
  8. Decisiveness. Don't confuse collaboration with abdication! Your are paid to make choices and to do the right thing. Sometimes you just need to make a decision and stand by it, rather than conduct endless research and discussion.
  9. Perspective. Leading a team is a challenge and a privilege. It's both exhausting and energising. But you need to step away from time to time and, for want of a better word, breathe!
What are your thoughts on this?

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood - Agency & Client Alignment

Clients and Agencies are different animals (excuse the pun)!. In a sense it's a little like Sales and Marketing - they are not used to walking in each others shoes. This general misunderstanding of what clients expect (or hope for) when they meet an agency results in significant opportunities to create additional revenue being left on the table
I am in the unusual position of having spent most of my career client side, but now find myself selling consultancy services to clients. But I've also had the opportunity to work with several marketing agencies and more recently provide them with more of a client-side perspective.

I use the term "Agency" loosely. These days everybody wants to sell to the Marketing department. As well as media agencies, marketing agencies we now find ourselves increasingly in conversations with various shades of technology supplier, all hoping to relieve us of our marketing budgets with promises of astonishing ROIs (always amusing, since most agencies don't even have the visibility of the sales pipeline in order to even measure the ROI!)

Over the years I have had the pleasure of working with some great agencies and some great people within those agencies. Just to be clear - I do mean YOU. However I've also worked with a number of distinctly average people from both great and average agencies. For clarity - yes, I mean THEM! I also used get approached on a very regular basis by agencies wanting to get 30 minutes in my diary to explore how they might be able to help me.

So let me give you a few personal observations on my experiences in dealing with agencies of various shades over the years. If you are client side and can add some further observations, I'd love to hear from you. If you are in an agency, I'd be delighted if you want to get in touch - perhaps I can help...

(BTW - as I write this I am currently updating my iTunes library. That explains some of the headings and pictures)

That's Entertainment

I used to despair when I looked at my calendar for the forthcoming week. I would protect a few hours to get some of my work done, but otherwise my day would be a succession of meetings and reviews with various stakeholders (mostly outside of the marketing function), conference calls, reviews and managing the odd crisis. All very internally focused. I had a 90 minute train commute into the office and that was my only way of keeping on top of my email. Gosh how I miss it all :)

One of the only things that kept me sane and fresh was interactions outside of the company - with clients, at conferences, or with agencies. But time was very limited so the default response to any approach had to be - "sorry I can't make a meeting, but if you want to send me something I'll probably ignore it". 

Entertainment? Perhaps that's not how you want to be seen - but in that case you had better demonstrate that you're merely an interval between meetings.

That Don't Impress Me Much

Most initial agency meetings went down a familiar path: Initial chit-chat, followed by presentation of the agency's credentials deck, followed by a loose "so how could we help you" conversation.

I rarely felt this was a great use of my time. I wanted more than credentials. I'm not silly. I know that you will put, for instance, the Coca-Cola logo in your credentials even all that you did was design an internal email header 10 years ago. I get that - would probably do the same. That's why I'm not impressed. Oh and  by the way - my business is nothing like Coke's, so only focus on relevant client stories.


My recommendation would be to move past all that stuff really quickly. More positive meetings occurred when someone did something that made me realise that this was not just another agency, and made me want to explore further. Think about the following:

  • What make you any different from every other agency I've seen this month? I'm looking to make a quick decision on whether we will ever have another meeting. No matter how affable I may seem - I've not invited you in for a chat.
  • Can you clearly articulate the breadth of your agency's capabilities? I want to have relationships with as few partners as possible. That means I want to see understand what you can do beyond some nice creative. What value can you and your colleageues add to help ease my business pains. Otherwise I think you are just another creative agency, and that you are the only talent there.
  • Have you come to the meeting with a provocative point of view on something I really care about? Do you know what the key challenges are for a business marketing leader today? Have you researched to get a sense of my particular challenges and focus areas? Do you have specific capabilities that could help me address my key challenges? Do you share the passions I do?
  • Will you disagree with me? I don't want an agency full of yes men. That simply means you will do what I want rather than what is right for the customer/market. If all I wanted was resource, I could have secured it much cheaper than talking to you. I want someone who has opinions and real insight - not just telling me what they learned in a 5 minute Google search.
  • Will you educate me? I like to learn about new approaches that I haven't previously considered. Give me a fact or two that I might be able to use into one of  my next meetings. 
  • Can I talk to your clients? I was always keen to engage with other people in a similar position to myself on a peer to peer basis. If you can make some connections for me I have an immediate reason to start building a relationship.
  • What are the next steps? I used to be constantly surprised at how many initial meetings ended with a limp "I'll call you again in a few weeks". What are you going to do next? What do you want me to do next?  

Don't You Forget About Me

Of course the meeting is just the first step. Just as important is the follow up and progress against the key actions - don't let all the hard work to secure that meeting simply fizzle out. 

That's my take on it based on my years in client side marketing leadership roles. If you can demonstrate that you understand my world, have a confident perspective upon it, and can offer me something tangible to progress the discussion - then you are already ahead of the pack.

What's your views on the gap between agencies and clients in those critical first meetings? I would love to hear from you.

Friday, 5 April 2013

ROI - Not Fit to be King!

The marketing profession has become increasingly obsessed with measurement. Nowhere is this more obvious than in many of the discussions we have around Return on Investment (ROI) calculations, which are as frequently used to support poor and lazy decision making as they are for good. 

Don't get me wrong - as a Marketing Scientist I am a great fan of using measurements to improve our marketing performance. And certainly measurement will be a key topic at "Engage Me!" - the forthcoming IDM B2B Marketing Annual Conference. But we need to put an appropriate context around our ROI measures if they are to be useful.

Here are three traps that we frequently fall into around the ROI discussion. By understanding the risks and implications of getting it wrong, perhaps we can use these measurements to help guide us to better decisions.

The ROI of What?

Measuring the ROI of a marketing department over the course of a year seems perfectly logical to me. There  is a set of resources (budget and people) who perform a number of different tasks that collectively should make a difference to the business they are serving. And we can smooth out any discrepancies caused by business that gets closed in the current measurement period that was initiated in the previous period.

But the more "micro" the measurement becomes, the greater the risk of misinterpretation. A campaign may consist of multiple tactics over an extended period of time. My belief is that a campaign really is a series of activities that establish and build relationships that are be nurtured until a some business is generated (and even beyond). In that context, ROI at a campaign level makes sense - because we can take account of all the necessary market conditioning activity as well as the more obvious demand generation work.

But if your definition of a campaign is really only a handful of discrete tactics over a short time period we are getting into dangerous territory. To be meaningful the campaign really needs to be at least as long as the buying cycle. Otherwise you measure the Investment you made in the email campaign, the event and the tele-follow up, but don't get to see the business arising from it. Or else you only measure the return in terms of  lead revenue created - which doesn't really count for much unless those leads progress. I used to get so bored when external telemarketing companies would use this approach to claim that my investments with them had created a 2000% ROI. Sorry guys - it didn't; and bandying numbers like this around my business leaders wouldn't gain me any credibility.

Worst of all is when we try to measure the ROI of a discrete tactic. We all know that buyers never purchase as a result of a single tactic so, (despite the fact the many of our measurement tools oversimplify revenue attribution and lump it all against the last touch), so if we make decisions by looking at the calculations alone without considering the context of the related activities, we risk overinvesting in late-touch activities and undervaluing the importance of the activities earlier in the buying cycle.

There's More than One Return

Of course revenue (and lifetime value) are the ultimate measures of business success from our marketing. But   measuring of the impact of every tactic in revenue terms is fraught with danger - particularly for non-DG activity. If you believe that Marketing is about preparing a marketplace and establishing a favourable selling environment as well as capturing demand, then you'll need to develop a different set of tactic measurements to give you indicators on the effectiveness of your social media, content marketing, advertising, and though leadership activities. Sadly many organisations fail to recognise the value of any marketing tactics that do not have a direct linkage to revenue - and then wonder why their DG is not as effective as they had hoped.

There's More than One Investment

While most of the focus on the Investment side of the equations focuses on financial investment, we should not overlook the impact of the choices we make about where our people invest their time. Creating some content inhouse, or leverage our internal experts in our social media activities, all has costs associated - including the opportunity cost of what they could be doing otherwise. Nothing is free.

So as we all get draw into ROI discussions in our different organisations, let's try to be clear on the following

  1. What is the real scope and purpose of marketing?
  2. What is the story beyond the raw numbers?
  3. What would the client/prospect expect?

Let's not let spreadsheet management overtake our desire to serve our clients better. If you disagree, a happy career awaits you in Finance:)

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic.

Note: This Post first appeared in the IDM Marketing Blog on April 2nd 2013

Saturday, 23 March 2013

8 Steps Towards a Winning Content Marketing Strategy

As marketers, we are unleashing increasing amounts of content into the marketplace. And as consumers we know that we do our best to ignore most of it! So how do we ensure that the content that we produce stands out from the crowd, and does so on a consistent and cost-effective basis?

That was the topic for a B2B Marketing panel discussion at the Paramount in Centre Point at the beginning of this week, sponsored by Waggener Edstrom. Other panellists besides myself were Prelini Chiechi from Lithium Technologies, Sue Pryce of Unipart Logistics and Nic Shaw from Waggener Edstrom.

In a lively debate some common themes emerged that thought were worth sharing:

1. Marketing needs to focus on more than just Demand Generation. In order for our DG activities to be landing on fertile ground, marketing needs to invest in market conditioning activity (aka thought leadership). One of the negative impacts of the current obsession with ROI of everything is that important non-DG activities are overlooked. Unless this can be overcome it will be difficult to make a case for the validity of content marketing activities (other than as a direct component of lead generation programmes)

2. It's Not About You! This was the morning's recurring theme. The value of our content is measured by the recipient - period. Consequently anything we create must have the customer/prospect in mind. We should audit the content we have to determine where it would fit in a buyers' journey, and challenge ourselves on whether it really adds value to the customer or actually really only serves our own agenda.

3. Content = Creation + Curation. Given that we are trying to build a relationship on our prospect's terms, it's essential to think about curating and sharing other people's relevant content Not only does this reduce our workload but it increases the potential value to our readers.

4. Be Interesting. We are looking for the sweetspot at the intersection of the buyer's passions and our expertise. Having done so we can take an authoritative and individual stance - one that is not the same as the rest of the crowd. And when it comes to standing out from the crowd, give some thought to visual design - unless we can grab our reader's attention everything else is wasted.

5. Keep Delivering. We can't treat content as a one off tactic - we are trying to build a relatiionship with the reader and that can only happen if we are persistent in the frequency of your delivery, and consistent in the quality

6. Integrate across all channels. Of course we need to ensure that your content is made available in the delivery channels that the consumer prefers - be that mobile, blogs, video, social, podcasts. But also we need to ensure that the experience we offer in our content is replicated across our functions. What a shame if we produce some outstanding, engaging content only for the experience to be ruined by a an over-aggressive telemarketing follow up - "I see you've looked at our video about the challenges that CMOs face around data, now would you like to buy our fancy database software?"...

7. Listen. Listening and measurement shouldn't just occur at the end of the process - we can use it across the spectrum from initial research onwards. Don't plan too far in advance, since our listening exercises will almost certainly make us want to adjust our plans significantly

8. Skills Gap. Creating compelling content - whether text, video, or other vehicles - is not simple. Above all it requires an understanding of the pressing challenges of the intended reader. It's unlikely that this skill will be found in our most junior staff members, yet it's surprising how often that is exactly the individual we ask to take ownership for these tasks.

I'd love to hear from you about your content marketing challenges - perhaps I can help...

Sunday, 17 March 2013

11 Tips for Getting more productive with email (and work)

Earlier in the week I presented a webinar for B2B Marketing Magazine on the subject of becoming more efficient with email and indeed with work in general. You can find the full slide set here

My talk focused on 3 key areas:

Approach to work. In our hyper-connected world it's so easy to become overwhelmed by stuff and lose control. It's not better time management we need, it's better attention management - we can't do everything and need to have a systematic approach to how we choose to focus our attention.

Email management. Like it or loathe it, much of our business communication centres around email. But an ever growing inbox is a common source of significant stress. Fortunately there are some simple techniques one can use to ensure you maintain control over your email rather than the other way around.

Email alternatives. Much of the problem with our current use of email is that we use it for the wrong things. Task lists, project management, collaboration, broadcast communications, etc are all better handled through other approaches such as collaboration platforms and list managers.

Here's some top tips that I use to maintain control:

  1. Audit how you spend your day. Simply documenting how you spend your day will help you focus on whether you're spending it on the things you should be.
  2. Get yourself a trusted systematic approach to managing your work. I use GTD - others are available. 
  3. Book time in your calendar to get work done. Stop being distracted by other people's priorities. If you have something on your agenda, put it on your agenda!
  4. Disconnect once in a while. Stop surfing and looking for distractions - focus on the single thing you want to accomplish right now.
  5. Go work in a coffee shop. Changing your environment for a while can have a major impact on your productivity
  6. Process your email, don't live in it. Change your relationship with your inbox. You simply go there on your terms to decide what needs to be done with each mail - delete, action, file, read, delegate. Then get out and close it down.
  7. Filter your email. Much of your email you regularly file, delete or forward - so get some help to do this for you automatically.
  8. Turn off notifications. You've go important work to do - you'll get to your email when you're good and ready.
  9. Minimise use of folders. Your email already has a search facility - there's no need to manually file mail in multiple nested folders. It simply creates additional unproductive decisions for you to make.
  10. Write shorter emails. Is it clear what the recipient needs to do? Does the subject line make it clear what's required? You know how your heart sinks when you receive that 2 page email - don't do it to others!
  11. Don't copy the world. Think before using reply all - it will actually make it less likely that anyone will feel ownership if you put multiple recipients. Copying too many people usually indicates that you're probably using the wrong tool

There's plenty of links here that expand on these ideas with tools and helpful videos.

Friday, 1 February 2013

The ROI of Brand Advertising - the warm up before the big match

I was delighted today to read a release from my ex-employer that they have just signed a 5 year deal with the Rugby Football Union (RFU) to be their official Analytics Partner. Among other things, this extends the types of data-rich viewer experience that has been pioneered on the website with IBM Slamtracker to the Rugby Fan (via IBM TryTracker). It will be fascinating to see how the insights translate into the arena of Rugby. First chance for us all to see it will be on the opening Six Nations games this weekend via the RFU website.

I have to declare an interest. Having been at the centre of the IBM Rugby World Cup sponsorship with ITV  in 2011 it's very gratifying to see the conversations started on the back of that campaign turning into significant strategic business. Of course, there's been some outstanding engagement from the sales teams since then, and certainly the transfer of Ian Ritchie from the All England Tennis Club to be the RFU's CEO last year won't have done any harm. 

As a marketer the challenge with any significant brand campaign is always getting past the ROI hurdle. However forward thinking marketers know that there is always a balance to be struck between building a favourable selling environment (aka making a market) and capturing the demand from that market. While we often like to think that Demand Generation is all that matters, that simply is not the case - or perhaps more accurately we should view our branding activities as the warmup to the actual match. And we all know the risks of starting the game without some limbering up. 

So did the advertising campaign deliver a decent ROI. Today, 16 months after the campaign finished, I think we can say unreservedly that it did. However, as Adam Sharp of CleverTouch  remarked a while back - if your average sales cycle is longer than your campaign length, measuring the ROI is always going to be a challenge.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Surviving 2013 - Part 2. The Tools!

Following from my last post I wanted to share with you the setup I use for getting work done. Of course it's based on GTD and follows a couple of principles:

  • I don't DO email, I PROCESS it. The two are quite different - the purpose of processing email is to clarify whether it contains something to do, something to be filed, or something to bin.
  • There are many more sources of potential tasks beyond email (eg meetings, phone calls, and even  my own occasional ideas!). I want a system to gather them all together
  • The email inbox is like a toddler - it wants constant attention, and continually distracts you from what you want to be doing. Sometimes harsh medicine is called for - leave it alone for a while! Seriously I am the world's worst person for constantly checking to see if new email has come in to distract me. Consequently keeping my email inbox and my workflow system separated from each other helps keep me focussed
At the core of my system are two tools:

Toodledo. This handles my Workflow Management. It is not quite a "pure" GTD system, but comes close enough for my purposes. I manage my day from here, and ensure that tasks arising from email and all other sources are passed into my Toodledo Inbox, from where they can be classified into one of several GTD-style lists (eg Actions, Someday/Maybe, Waiting, etc) and a context applied (I tend to use only 3 - @work, @home, @errands).

Evernote. This is my Reference Store of stuff that I may want to refer to again at some point in the future. I use this for things to read, clips from the web, scanned documents, meeting notes, business receipts, recipes, etc)

Around these two I deploy a number of tools to help things get into my workflow from either a PC or iPad/iPhone. It's taken quite a lot of research and trial/error to get to this point, so I'm happy to share this all with you in the hope that your journey might be quicker. Do let me know how you get on.

More details, as well as links to a number of tools and resources are contained in the slideshare below.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

7 Work Survival Tips for 2013

"I'm terrible at todo lists. I write things down in a notebook but nothing ever happens with my notes..."
"When I'm juggling lots of things at work I  sleep badly..."
"I have hundreds of emails in my inbox. I've no real idea of what lies in there, but if it's important they'll come back..."
"I have my best ideas in the most inconvenient places, at the most inconvenient times..."
"I spend too much energy thinking about today's challenge and have little energy left to think about the things that really matter to me..."
"When work is really busy I forget to pick up the milk..."

Any of these sound familiar? If so, please read on. I was in the same place a while ago. I'd struggled for years with writing todo lists on scraps of paper, in special books, or even capturing the lists digitally. Then I stumbled across an approach called Getting Things Done (often called simply GTD) developed by David Allen and examined in his book. This approach has helped become more productive in my work, but has also had several unexpected consequences - it has reduced my stress levels, helped me sleep better, and perhaps even helped me become a slightly better husband/father. Perhaps it can help you too..

I'm constantly surprised at how few people are aware of GTD as there is nothing else I've come across that helps me deal with the multitude of things that occupy one's phsyche. Personally I think this is something that should be taught at school as it is a life skill that most of us could do with learning and practicing from an early age. Perhaps everyone else is simply more organised than I am...

GTD Workflow. Taken from

The core workflow  of GTD is very straightforward, and is summarised well  in this page from Toodledo. It starts with collecting all the things that occupy your attention (aka "Stuff") into a single collection point.
Then there is a step to decide what to do with each piece of stuff - is it a task that needs to be actioned, or can it be binned, filed away for later reference, or stored for consideration at some point in the future? The tasks themselves will then need to separated into tasks that will take only a couple of minutes to complete (in which  case, just get on and do them rather than have them clog up your system) and tasks that you choose to do next, or at a specific time in the future, or tasks that need something else to happen first before you can execute (eg waiting for a colleague to provide some information).
Of course, sooner or later you have to get on and perform some work - GTD doesn't magic any of this away for you! There is one final aspect that is the glue that holds the GTD approach together. This is termed the weekly review - a review of all your various lists to ensure it is fresh and that nothing is falling through the cracks, and to identify any changing priorities.

I've been a student of GTD for 4 or 5 years now at different levels of depth. One of the good things is that you can apply the methodology in as straightforward or sophisticated way as you want/need, and it is totally independent of the technology that you choose to use - indeed it can be implemented in paper if that is your preferred tool (it isn't mine!).

I'll cover my specific GTD setup in a future post, but as with so many things, the technology is not the most important thing - and is very much a personal choice. It's the method that's important - and even that needs to be able to be tuned to the way that works best for you.

Through may study and practice of GTD there are a number of things I've learned that I'd like to pass on to you - if it encourages you to explore just a little more, then please let me know.

1. You've got to have a system

You've got to have a system - as Harry Hill used to say. When you have a single system that you trust that can be used to manage the workflow of all you stuff (both home and work related) then it becomes a close friend that you can depend upon. Note that I say it can be used for home-related activities as well as work. I had never considered "Fix the bedroom blind" as a todo list item or "Grow Vegetables" as a project, but they are. And through the concept of contexts, GTD allows me to keep all of my activities in one workflow, while having the ability to only present to me the activities that are relevant to the context or mode that I am in - be that in the office, at home, out shopping etc. Curiously some of the greatest benefits have been at home where it has allowed me to increase the odds of completing the necessary chores and maintenance tasks around the home.

One challenge with ideas is that they don't all occur when you have a pad and pencil in front of you. One of the core principles of GTD is to collect all your stuff into a single collection point. So part of the answer here is to always have a piece of paper at hand wherever you are. Thus I have small notepads in my suits, by my bed, in my car etc. Increasingly these are being replaced by technology (usually my iPhone/iPad so that I can input directly into my system. But the approach of capturing the idea into your system so that you can forget about it is immensely powerful and a major stressbuster.

2. Processing and Doing are Not the Same

For many of us, the major source of potential tasks is our email. Many of us our email inbox as a todo list. I believe this is a mistake for 3 reasons:

  1. Not ALL your tasks come via email
  2. You spend too much time being distracted by the latest incoming mail, rather than taking control of what YOU wish to accomplish
  3. You are missing the joyful feeling that comes from having an empty email inbox
I have now learned to separate Processing from Doing. When I am processing email I simply ask myself whether there is an action required this mail, or whether it should be filed/binned. Only if the item can be completed in a minute or two will I actually do it. That way I can process my email very quickly and get out of my inbox quickly. Again - it helps me feel in control.

3. Adieu to Due Dates

Most convention action list methodologies assign a due date to every action. The trouble with this is that you spend an inordinate amount of time resetting due dates. As Douglas Adams said "I love deadlines. I like like wooshing sound they make as they fly by!" 

In reality most things in your todo list that are "overdue" really aren't. They are merely a result of you imposing unreaslistic expectations on yourself regarding what you might achieve in a day - and of not taking account of your energy levels, how long tasks will actually take, unscheduled interruptions etc. Of course some things have a clear deadline (Christmas is always December 25th) but otherwise don't bother. It frees you up to celebrate what you've achieved rather than beat yourself up about what you havent't. 

4. Keep things Moving with Projects

The GTD definition of a project is simple - anything that requires more than one step to be completed. I have always struggled with use of projects as opposed to actions, but finally think I am making progress. For me I've slightly revised my definition to be anything that I can usefully ask myself the question "What's the next action?". A useful tip I've learned is to define the project title in terms of the end state or goal. Therefore projects become "Secure a contract with client X", "Achieve 100 visitors a day to my website", "Provide vegetables for every month of the year". Projects can be as tight or lofty as you wish :- New Year Resolutions, Ambitions, Habits you wish to kick/develop - all these can be viable project candidates.

5. Get Yourself an Elephant

An Elephant never forgets -it turns out there is a lot of truth in the old saying. But if you find that carrying an elephant around with you is a little inconvenient, then perhaps opt for a computer. Whatever you do, don't rely on your brain. Don't get me wrong, the human brain is a fantastic thing that we understand next to nothing about (BTW - read David Eagleman's Incognito if you want a cracking read on how little we know about brain function). But if we task it with trying to remember multiple different things it struggles. Studies show that it has difficulty beyond two tasks, so why give yourself that stress.

There's no getting away from it - computers are great at remembering things. And as we increasingly adopt Cloud-based applications, it becomes easy to access the things we need from a smartphone in your pocket. Thats's why I increasingly rely on computers to store stuff I need to remember and to do - so another worry is dealt with. At the very least - it's a good backup strategy for your brain!

6. Get Out of Your Inbox

Have you noticed that declaring how many unread emails you have seems to have become a chestbeating macho exercise these days? If it somehow empowers you to display how out of control you are, then I'm pleased for you. For me it has always been a potential cause of stress. And when I look at my inbox and see nothing there I feel lighter and more carefree!

The secret is simple. Be clear about what your inbox is and isn't. It is not a workstack - it's simply a collection of potential attention-grabbers. Email is not work - although it may include work. It may also include junk, information to be stored, etc. It needs to be processed - not lived in. I find if I stay stuck in my email inbox for extended periods it's like asking to have your focus distracted from the work that you want to be doing. So turn off your new email alerts, and process your email no more than a couple of times a day - then get back to work.

While on the subject of email, let me tell you what I've learned about mail folders. I've learned not to bother. Rather than file things in multiple email folders, I now tend to store anything I might want to refer to in the future within a single folder/archive. Most email clients (I happen to use GMail these days) have good search capabilities that are quicker at finding stuff than I am by rooting through individual folders.

7. Get Ready for the weekend with a Weekly Review

Any machine needs regular maintenance. In GTD this is the function of the weekly review. It's a simple, structured meeting with myself where I clean up my system - glance over what I've achieved, what I want to accomplish in the next few days, reclassify items that have become more/less important for me, identify a few new things to get done, etc. Personally I like to do this at the end of the week on a Friday afternoon so that I can clear my head for the weekend and know that I'll be ready to pick things up again on Monday.

I have also discovered that when I'm feeling out of control it's often because I have skipped a weekly review. It's always an hour well spent that leaves me feeling more relaxed.

I hope this article has stimulated you to explore the Getting Things Done approach and to experiment with it. It's not for everyone - it assumes that you want to get a llittle more control back into your life, and it seems to me that not everybody puts a priority on that.

But what will you do with the time and energy that you wrestle back? More work or something else? Now there is an interesting question...