Tag Archives: Big Things

About To-Do Lists, Choices and Big Things

Actually Getting Big Things Done is a series of guests posts on how to make things happen from those who know how to… well… actually get big things done. Today’s post comes from Sven Fechner from Simplicity Bliss. When I first started getting my crap together and gravitated towards OmniFocus it seemed like all roads led to Sven’s site. I’ve picked up more small tricks and sage advice on OmniFocus and GTD than I could ever possibly account for from Sven. In addition to his site, Sven’s also a manager for Cisco System Services and is in the process of writing a book on OmniFocus that will likely arrive around the same time as OmniFocus 2.0 in 2013.

Big goals are primarily big for the person trying to achieve them. For others they may actually look tiny, but for her, who tries to achieve them, they a monstrously big. At first sight unachievable and unattainable.

We trip over the supposedly easiest things turning them into the most difficult ones: Stop smoking, start exercising, spend more time with the kids, write that novel, hike through the Andes, get the promotion. Look at your list of goals. You are more likely to finish a meaningless presentation at work than get around to train for the triathlon you wanted to do before you turn 40.

What Getting Big Things Done Really Is About

The difficult part about getting big things done is rarely the bigness of the thing, it is really about making the required choices. It is also about whom we allow to make these choices in our life. Our boss? Our colleague, spouse or friend? Or ourselves?

It is also not about skills. You can acquire nearly every skill in this world if you work hard enough on yourself. Only in arts the thing called ‘talent’ influences how good you are. But the ‘technical’ skills required to paint, compose or play music, carve stones into statues, perform a dance or a play or even write a novel can be acquired. And sports are no different. It is whether you choose to do it and if you accept the consequences that come with your choice.

The consequences of making a choice is that the we cannot choose everything. It is a decision to do the one thing and not the other. In our world of plenty, multi-tasking and 18-hour-days the concept of choice got lost somewhere and as a direct result of this we are frustrated and disillusioned as we do not get (big) things done.

It looks like always the others are the ones that get big things done, we do not. But the others make a lot of choices, every day: They say ‘no’ to other things to say ‘yes’ that one big one. We do not.

Getting big things done is also not about tools. Life never really is about tools. A better tool does not automatically yield a better result.

  • The best DSLR does not make you a better photographer. Your experience, skills and “eye for compositions” do that. Some of the best images I have seen have been taken with the cheapest and crappiest cameras.
  • A better text editor does not finish your book earlier or makes it any better. In fact you can write and finish your book with the text editor that shipped with your operating system without a problem. You do not think that all great writers have in common that they all use Scrivener or Byword, do you?
  • It’s also not that 27″ display that makes you a better designer and not the $5,000 carbon cycle that makes you a better or faster rider.
  • Reading more books or blog posts like this talking about how to achieve BHAGs does not actually make you achieve them more, faster, better or at all.

Finally it is not the most expensive, featured-rich and best tweaked task management application that magically turns you into a better executer. I would even argue that for the things that really matter to you in life — such as your most important goals — you do not even need any task management application. Actually productivity methodologies and task management application are important if you have to make choices in life. Most of us still need to make them on a regular basis. If you have made a choice for a big thing already likely you do not need any tool support of magnitude anymore.

You believe you need to colour tasks, tag them and assign priorities to them? with all respect, you missed the point. Priorities do not get big things done, choices do. Priorities are something entirely different and like it or not, you do not even have control over them. Like Merlin Mann wrote in his epic 2009 post “Mud Rooms, Red Letters, and Real Priorities“: You don’t make or set priorities, you can only observe them.

Helping Yourself To Make The Choices Required

Now that we have established that big things get done because of the choices we make, let’s get back to how to make these choices, bust some myths around productivity methodologies and establish a new perspective on your endless todo list.

First you need to realize that the choices required to get big things done do not really happen on a level where your todo list tool operates. They are made on a higher level and in your head and heart. David Allen classifies these choices as the 30,000ft Horizon of Focus where you define your mid-term (2–3 years) goals that correspond with your vision of life, which is the 40,000ft Horizon of Focus per GTD.

Once these choices are made what matters most is that your protect them on your operational level, in projects and todos. And that is why you need to create a completely new relationship to your inbox and todo list.

Life has become too rich of options, influences, information streams and too fast paced to retain the concept of completing every task on our list, follow every thought and idea you have or answer every request you get. Most of us have and still are collecting all “stuff” in our inboxes (which is the right thing to do), but what no longer works is that we turn all of them into projects and tasks that we aim and plan to complete. And since you let so much into your system it is also no longer feasible to complete all the tasks on your list for the day, the month or at all.

What really needs to be done is to make choices again and again, every day. What made it to your inbox must not make it to your todo list. What once made it to your todo list must not stay there or must not be completed. Make these micro decisions in accordance with the macro choices. Delete, cancel and drop stuff that does not comply with the choice you made for the big thing(s) that you want to pursue. Do not let that time consuming and meaningless request on your todo list from the start. Review your daily tasks and the corresponding projects critically every day, do a more diligent and more reflective review once a week and kick the stuff out that does not support your big thing.

None of this is really new, but the diligence and intensity with which you need to do it (maybe) is. If you use OmniFocus then having the right perspectives setup helps immensely with making regular choices.

Remember that getting big things done is exclusively about the choices you make.

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Using Failure to Get Big Projects Done

Actually Getting Big Things Done is a series of guests posts on how to make things happen from those who know how to… well… actually get big things done. Today’s post comes from David Sparks of MacSparky.com and the Mac Power Users podcast. As if that wasn’t enough, he’s also a father of two, a full-time lawyer and an up-and-coming publishing magnate. David work has had a major impact on my own productivity. His OmniFocus videos and the first two Mac Power Users workflow episodes with Merlin Mann fundamentally changed the way I use a computer… so yeah… I’m a fan…

I have to admit that when Michael first asked me to write this article, I was a bit leery. What qualifies me to write about “Big Things”? I’ve never been good at it. Indeed, I can publicly admit that I suck at it. The thing is, I’m pretty sure everybody else also sucks at the very challenging task of pounding big rocks. In this fact, I take some solace and can endeavor to share a bit with you, dear reader, not as some certifiable expert but, instead, a fellow traveler with many knocks and bruises from so many prior stumbles, falls, and the occasional ass-over-teakettle wipeout.

My failures greatly outnumber my successes when it comes to arriving at the finish line. To me, the most insightful bit is not my successes, but instead my failures.

As a case in point, I’d like to examine my failed project to become a hot shot Xcode programmer. I first began programming computers in the 70s. I wrote Dr.Pepper and Twinkie induced BASIC like only an obsessed 12-year-old can. I even did 6502 Assembly Code. (Yes, there was a time when the “JMP” command meant something to me.) I made my own text adventure games. I wrote programs to do my math homework (that took 10 times longer to write than simply doing the homework). My best game was a B–17 tail gunner simulation that rendered at something like 2 frames per second and looked a lot better (with hand drawn sprites) in my memory than they ever did in reality. I loved the idea that I could control that screen with that keyboard. Somewhere along the line I got busy and stopped programming but instead found other uses for computers to make my life easier. (Indeed, I’ve built a second career around it.) However, my inner twelve year old is still really pissed off at me for losing my way as a programmer. I’ve got a lot of programming friends and it is easier to learn now than it has ever been before. So why don’t I have any apps built?

I bought all the right books and I’ve made all the necessary pledges and incantations to myself and friends. Yet I’ve never finished an Xcode book and I’ve never really put all the pieces together. Why can’t I finish this? The sky is the limit as to reasons for me to quit something but there are three that I see over and over again.

First is lack of interest. By that description, it may sound like I quit on projects that I don’t like but that isn’t what I mean. Of course I don’t finish projects I don’t like. I don’t even start those. There are projects I like a lot that I don’t finish. By “lack of interest” what I mean is, I usually give up on projects that I don’t absolutely love. This is, coincidentally, the chief reason my Xcode project stalled. I want to do it more than I want to watch TV but not as much as I want play with my kids or write my next Field Guide book. Put simply on the things I love score, this hasn’t made the cut (for now). Sorry 12 year old Dave.

The second reason I often fail at big projects is that somewhere along the way, I realize it wasn’t what I expected. When something goes off the rails, I am merciless. My time is precious. I don’t want to waste a second of it. When I realize a project is no longer right, I stop, re-asses, and often abandon it. Cranking widgets on something “just because” while other opportunities to make something truly special slip by is tragic.

Finally, I often fail at projects not because of something noble like greater love or realization that I’m off track but instead my own personal kryptonite, process obsession. I can spend hours and hours setting up tasks and tweaking whatever geegaw I can lay hands on. It is a sickness and I fall into this trap so often that I have no business whatsoever writing this article.

So there are three really good tips for me. If I want to actually finish a project, it needs to be something I love dearly, it needs to be pointed in the right direction, and I need to avoid getting lost in process when I should be moving the ball forward. You’ve probably got an entirely different hurdle list but until you figure out what exactly is on that list, it is going to be a lot harder for you.

So assuming you’ve got that far, how do you finish? Sadly, I don’t have any special advice here. It is hard. You need to bust rocks and when your back gets sore, care enough to bust some more rocks. Know that the world and your own devious brain will throw up road blocks at every opportunity but also know that you can finish if you just keep at it. Perseverance is the name of the game. Also, don’t be afraid to ship. A lot of people use perfectionism to describe fear.

As a final bit of advice, for those projects that don’t make it to the end, don’t be so hard on yourself. As I wrote earlier, we all suck at this so it just means you are a human. Just put on your big boy pants and try again.

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This Is Not A Blog Post

Actually Getting Big Things Done is a series of guests posts on how to make things happen from those who know how to… well… actually get big things done. Today’s post comes from Yuvi Zalkow. Readers of the site already know my obsession with Yuvi’s work, if you haven’t read the site… I’m obsessed with Yuvi’s work. There’s an honesty and perseverance in his blog, in his videos and in his book that I steal from liberally. Recently, Yuvi decided to stop doing a lot of his current “Big Things” to figure some things out… since I couldn’t go another day without reading his stuff, I begged him to share why he’s abandoned all of us (and by us, I mean me).

The existence of this blog post already discredits me for what I’m about to say. Because I’m not supposed to be blogging for the rest of the year. I also quit checking in on Facebook. I rarely am on Twitter except to tell a dirty joke. I’m also barely reading other people’s blogs — even blogs I greatly admire, like my dear friend Michael Schechter’s blog. I barely am listening to any podcasts. I’m even worse than usual about returning emails. I’ve even quit making my “I’m a Failed Writer” video series. Since October 15, I’ve pretty much dropped out of digital existence.

This is (mostly) temporary.

After the release of my book in August, I hit a pretty severe low. You could blame a lot of things. I was stressed trying to do a million different tasks related to book promotion. And I was trying to keep up with writing and video making. And I was suddenly over-thinking how my listeners and readers and watchers would judge what I produced. To the point of creative paralysis. And, oh yeah, there was that full time day job and that family I go home to every night… Basically I was doing everything really poorly. And I grew to hate my voice — in writing, in video making, in blogging, with family and friends.

So I decided to drop out of the online scene.

Until January 1st. Ish.

My goals are pretty simple: I want to start getting immersed in the writing again. And I want to come up with some cool ideas for a new video series. All while being very present with my family… And not getting fired from my day job.

Writing a book and working on a (poorly animated) video series are big things, things that I may not be able to pull off in even the best circumstances. And so they need some nurturing until they have enough momentum to live alongside other activities. So my assessment was that everything else had to fall away, until I regain the excitement and momentum in these creative areas. Once regained, (I hope) I’ll feel ready to bring back those other aspects of my world in a cautious way, without letting them take me over again.

This adjustment is starting to pay off. I’m pretty excited about my novel again. And I’ve got some really fun ideas for a new video series that I’m toying with. Things aren’t moving as fast as I’d like, but they are moving.

Of course there are costs. My detachment isn’t entirely appreciated by others. I’ve probably burned a few bridges by disappearing and not being very responsive online. I’m obviously not selling many books when I never mention the book anywhere. But the cost of not disappearing seemed even worse. (Since I began this experiment, my level of self-loathing has decreased over 34.73%!)

Next year, as I reintroduce these online things, I’ll better understand how this technique played out. I suspect that some of these online areas are gone for good. Other areas I may return to with a different perspective. But that’s not my concern at this phase. Because I’ve got a damn novel and video series to work on.

So that’s my story as of November 27th. Just please don’t point out the hypocrisy of me writing this blog post about not writing blog posts. My self-loathing levels and therapy costs are not yet stable enough to take in that information.

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To Know Yourself Is To Know What To Do

Actually Getting Big Things Done is a series of guests posts on how to make things happen from those who know how to… well… actually get big things done. Today’s post comes from Justin Lancy of Veritrope. I’ve had the distinct pleasure of getting to know Justin better over the past few months, he is one of the better drinking partners I’ve found here in Brooklyn. The man is damn smart and is a great all-around guy, despite his tendency of calling me out on my crap. If you’re interested in the crossroad of technology and self-improvement, keep an eye on what Justin has planned over at Veritrope in the coming months.

Meaningful Work and the Art of Getting Big Things Done

I like that our theme “Actually Getting Big Things Done” is open to some interpretation: Clearly “big things” could be defined in terms of the size of the work in front of us and, since we’re hanging out together here at A Better Mess, I think it’s safe to assume that we’re all interested in improving the way in which we get things done.

Taking command of that process is important and, when dealing with larger projects, should probably be considered an act of self-defense. But for today, I’d like to define “big things” as “meaningful things” — projects, large and small, which resonate with your values and which connect you to a greater sense of purpose.

I’d also like to suggest that making the time to think through your values before starting a project is actually a critical step towards improving the way that you work overall — and it’s one that’s often overlooked while we’re picking our tools and designing our workflows.

Goals First, Tools Second

Michael and I have talked a lot about “purpose” in our recent emails to one another and over a drink or two at a bar here in Brooklyn. So let me slide over so you can join us in our booth and, if you don’t mind, let me open up that ongoing conversation to you with this idea:

If you define “Actually getting big things done” in terms of purpose, your actions must either:

  • Help you to discover the things that you value, or
  • Help you to cultivate the things that you value.

The first bullet point is about defining what your “big things” are; the second uses that definition to help you decide what to do (and also to measure what “done” means). Formulated this way, the tasks and tools you pick are being driven by your goals — not the other way around.

I’ve done workflow audits as a consultant for years, and I’ve observed how all kinds of people do their work. Believe me when I tell you that I’ve never seen a system which could overcome a lack of personal direction. Imperfect tools used with passion and clear intention are far more effective than perfect tools used without purpose. I’ve come to believe that this “Goals First, Tools Second” sequence is usually the most effective way for my clients to organize their work — especially when they have a drive to create projects which feel meaningful to them.

But what if you’re not yet clear about what your “Big Thing” is?

To Know Yourself Is To Know What To Do

The Ancient Greeks espoused the idea of “Know Thyself” and, interestingly enough, some scholars feel that “Read Yourself” is a better translation of that maxim. Many of them thought your life evoked your character and that learning what your “big things” are involves taking actions which, in essence, reveal you to yourself.

Clearly not every choice you could make is going to do that: If you’ve worked four similar jobs that you’ve hated, I’m guessing that a fifth one isn’t going to add much in the way of self-knowledge. Good projects or tools aren’t picked totally at random, but rather out of some sense of what you already know about yourself. You’ve already eliminated any number of possibilities which you knew wouldn’t work, even if that analysis wasn’t done consciously.

And so if you should find yourself in a situation that feels unfamiliar or stressful, I think you should deliberately make time to observe and to document your reactions. A new, real challenge is often a better teacher than an old, familiar comfort and when you’re feeling stretched to the limit, that’s often when you can see who you really are and what you need to do most clearly. Not only are some great insights about yourself floating to the surface at times like these but, as a bonus, the act of observing yourself in these moments can actually help you reduce your stress.

Philosophers like Heraclitus contend that, at any given moment of our lives, to know yourself is to know what to do. The long-term benefit of self-knowledge is that you make better choices in matters, large and small.

Ethos Anthropos Daimon

One of Heraclitus’s epigrams about that has always intrigued me: “Ethos anthropos daimon”. Roughly translated, it means “Your character is your fate.”

Your character is your fate. Let that sink in for a moment.

It makes me think of Victor Frankl. Frankl was a psychiatrist who, against all odds, survived several Nazi concentration camps and went on to write a book called “Man’s Search For Meaning”. In it, Frankl says that he and the other people who stayed alive were able to make the incredibly difficult day-to-day choices which saved them because they each had a sense of what they valued most deeply in their lives. That answer was different for everyone, of course; What was shared, though, was a process of self-awareness which connected them to something greater than their current suffering.

That’s an incredibly powerful idea, isn’t it? That even in the darkest, most confusing moments of your life, you can find the the right way forward if you’ve built the skill of reflecting upon what really matters to you. I see it as the difference between strategy and tactics: If you embrace Frankl’s perspective, then you accept that it’s much easier to find the right tasks and tools once you’re clear about what they’re being used for.

It’s also a positive feedback loop. Knowing yourself gives you experience at picking projects which cultivates your values which, in turn, helps you pick better tools and techniques. Lather, rinse, repeat.

A Good System Reminds You Of Your Values

And yet I find myself, again and again, forgetting to consider my deeper values and goals before I start picking my tools and make my to-do lists. Maybe you do, too. (Sometimes I feel like the main character in the movie “Memento”, forgetting key discoveries I’ve made about what’s important to me and having to leave myself reminders in the form of guest posts on “A Better Mess”.)

Good systems take into account your forgetting to do the right thing. So if you’re taking the time to set one up, you should use it to remind you of what you value most. Maybe it’s a script which pops open your journaling program at the same time every day so you can document your thoughts about the challenges you’re dealing with. Maybe it’s a recurring appointment to meet up with that friend whose advice you value or a way to keep track of books or interesting articles for when you’re in need of inspiration. And make sure your “systems” don’t just exist inside a computer, either: I have dinner with my wife almost every night and our food/wine/conversation “workflow” has done a lot to bring my goals and purposes into sharper focus!

Ultimately, the worth of any tool or system is measured against how well it can mediate abstract and complicated things into our human needs and experiences. I think if we’re not putting our values and deeper purposes first, it’s likely that we’re building unsustainable ways of working and, if we’re not careful, we’ll end up in a place where we’re serving our tools rather than them serving us.


Okay readers — I’m curious: What are the things that you do to bring your values and deeper drives into focus?

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GTD for the Easily Distracted

Actually Getting Big Things Done is a series of guests posts on how to make things happen from those who know how to… well… actually get big things done. Today’s post comes from Dave Caolo of 52Tiger.net and the Home Work Podcast on 70Decibels. Dave is easily the most sensible “productivity writer” that I read. His advice and insights are always logical, practical and best of all helpful.

I’ve seen many guides, articles and posts full of great advice on getting things done. I’ve even written a few myself. While the recommendations are usually great, they’re often lost on me. Writers make an assumption about the reader that’s not true of me. That is, once you’ve got your time and your tools, the rest falls in to place.

For me, sitting down to work is ridiculously hard.

To say that I’m easily distracted is like saying the sun is kind of warm. Maintaining focus on what I consider mundane tasks (I’ll bet my definition is much broader than yours) is a Herculean effort. Fortunately, I’ve learned several strategies for getting things done when getting things done is the last thing I want to do.

Formalize breaks

I can work for about 25 minutes at a go. After that, my mind wanders. I used to fight that tendency, but now I’ve made it a part of work day. There’s a Mac app I love called Break Time. It’s a simple timer that lives in my Mac’s menu bar. Break Time lets me work for 25 minutes, then initiates a five-minute break. During that time, it greys out all other apps so I couldn’t use them if I wanted to. It forces me to get up and go do something. I love it. If you’re not a Mac user, consider Focus Booster, which runs in any modern browser.

Designate a home for everything

I once saw a bumper sticker that read, “Organized people are just too lazy to search for things.” That’s funny, but the hunt is a major hassle when it’s a daily occurrence. To combat this, I’ve gotten very strict about what goes everywhere. Notebooks in the top drawer of the white cabinet. Keys in the Trout Town, USA mug (Roscoe, New York if you’re wondering). I know this makes me sound like a charter member of the Tidiness Gestapo, but it’s necessary and has significantly boosted my productivity.

Break tasks down into small steps

Many years ago, I worked as a special needs teacher. I had no idea how that experience would affect my own personal productivity. We taught complex skills to our students by breaking them down into many easily-performed tasks. For example, a student learning to ride a bike might begin by simply straddling the seat. That’s it. The next day, he straddles the seat and places on foot on a pedal and he’s done. Eventually, after much time and many small tasks chained together, he can perform the complex task of riding a bike.

Today, I do the same thing with myself. When I started working on this post, the first step was “brainstorm post.” That was all I had to do for the day. Next came, “write outline” and then “review outline.” While “write article” is a daunting task, 15 minutes of brainstorming is not.

Here’s a related tip. Action steps start with a verb. Brainstorm article. Write outline. Call Jane. Charge phone. Invoice Amy. In each example, it’s very clear what needs to be done. “New Hampshire road trip” is a project. “Buy map of New Hampshire” is an action step.

Create a work-only workspace

The father of modern behaviorism, B. F. Skinner, recognized the power of cues on behavior. You might have noticed that you don’t feel like working out until you put on your workout clothes. The same thing can happen with your work environment. Many of us have a home office, even if we have a day job at an office somewhere. Do work in that spot and that spot only. Soon enough the sights, sounds and smells of that room will be cues to start working.

Don’t finish the whole bag after eating one chip

If you’ve ever tried to diet, you might have had the experience of eating a single potato chip, saying “screw it” and then finishing the bag. That’s occurred during my work day several times. “Oh, forget it. I’m not going to get this done today.” Forgive missteps. Oops, you spent 15 minutes watching cat videos. It’s OK. Close the tab and get back to work.

Clearly define what must be done

I can’t adequately stress how important this is. I can really buckle down if I know exactly what I’m supposed to do. Ask for a detailed list or explanation. Follow up with an email or a phone call. Get used to saying things like, “Just to reiterate, I’m supposed to…” Back when I worked for a school, I’d end every meeting I attended with, “OK, my next action steps are…” Honestly, you can’t have too much detail. Get it all and write it down. Then confirm.

Find a reminder system that you trust

This can be anything you like, as long as you trust it. I use Apple’s Reminders app on my iPhone. My iPhone never leaves my side, so I know I’ll have it when the alert sounds. Also, it’s location-based reminders are the greatest thing to happen in the history of things happening. Now I can have a reminder fire off when I leave a location or when I arrive. I used the daylights out of this feature.

Get a move on

Finally, get up and move. It satisfies the urge to fiddle around and is plain good for you. Sitting for hours at a time can have detrimental effects after many years. When your break timer sounds, go putter around. Get a drink, say hi to a co-worker, pet the dog, shoot hoops.

There’s my list. I’m not a professional and about as far from a productivity guru as you’ll ever meet. These simple tasks have helped me get more done, even when I’d rather be doing anything else. Hopefully they’ll help you a bit, too.

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BFD and GTD

Actually Getting Big Things Done is a series of guests posts on how to make things happen from those who know how to… well… actually get big things done. Today’s post comes from C.J. Chilvers of A Lesser Photographer. The depth that C.J. packs into the simplest of concepts boggles the mind. I can’t say in pages what he manages to accomplish in a sentence. In addition to being one of my favorite verbal sparring partners (I love arguing with people who are smarter than I am), I’m continually in awe of what the man makes.

A year ago, I believed I had GTD licked. I had major goals, broken into projects, broken into next actions, all neatly arranged by context. I was working the plan. I was shipping. Then, life intervened.

Early this year, my son was born and there were some complications. That meant spending several weeks in a few different hospitals with my iPhone as my personal and work computer.

A few weeks later, I was given 350 new writing projects at work to complete within the next 9 months (in addition to the usual ad hoc work). These were not articles, but full-blown legally binding digital publications, subject to several levels of approval and government audit.

My system (and my sanity) was not ready for any of this.

I was getting a few hours sleep a day at best. At the same time, afew websites were “borrowing” my work and being rewarded for it (someday I’ll tell that story). In short, my enthusiasm for the whole web thing was waning and the weight of the world felt like it was doing jumping jacks on my head. I needed to take control back.

One of my first responses was to throw every piece of task management software I knew of at the problem. I ran Omnifocus, Things, Reminders and Taskpaper simultaneously in an effort to discover which app’s strengths worked best with this particular blend of stressors.

Each succeeded and failed in its own way. Every app had at least one essential thing missing that I loved about another. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if all the app makers conspired in secret to limit just one crucial feature each to get people like me to try them all.

I even set up a Kickstarter, turning it into a project management tool to weed out projects readers didn’t want. And weed it did.

Of course, I knew all these tools were ultimately a distraction. Maybe I needed a distraction. But even with all those distractions, even as hard as I tried to think about my mounting tasks, the most important tasks still somehow got accomplished.

They got accomplished because they didn’t need management. Taking care of my wife and son were my BFD task. Everything else was really just a someday/maybe item.

I don’t pretend to know what this means about GTD or GTD apps. I just know that 2012 became the year I lived less productively and more purposefully. I want more of less.

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Big Sacrifices Lead To Big Things

Actually Getting Big Things Done is a series of guests posts on how to make things happen from those who know how to… well… actually get big things done. Today’s post comes from Gini Dietrich of Spin Sucks and Arment Dietrich. Gini does it all. No, seriously, she really does it all; it’s actually kind of freaky. My esteem for who Gini is and what she has already accomplished knows no bounds. I feel lucky to continue to learn from her and fortunate to call Gini a friend.

In the fifth edition of The Three Things, Michael Schechter (who I shall call Shrek from here on out), recommended Execute, a book written in a week (well, actually eight days) by Drew Wilson and Josh Long.

The idea being, of course, that you can get big things done when you set your mind to it and really focus.

So, during this National Novel Writing Month, Shrek and I both are embarking on writing something more than a few thousand words in order to achieve individual goals. Mine is to finally write a novel and his is to make a dent on a larger writing project.

This isn’t my first book. Earlier this year, the book I co-authored with Geoff LivingstonMarketing in the Round – came out and he and I both spent the summer on the road promoting it. It is, however, my first fiction and my first solo book so we’ll see how it goes.

As Shrek began to prepare for his month of writing, you’ll notice he asked some friends to help him out with the blog around getting big things done.

Growing a Business from the Road

The question he asked me was, “How have you run your business this year, while you’ve been on the road promoting your book?”

Let me tell you, it was not easy. I was on the road for 25 straight weeks. I missed my bed. I missed my family. I missed my bike. I missed my friends. I missed my social life. I missed my team.

But I also knew it was coming so I prepared early in the year to be away for six months. In fact, now that I’ve been home for three weeks, I find myself looking for things to do around 3 p.m. every day because I’m so accustomed to doing my work in half days while the other half is spent on stage, speaking.

The Back Story

Seven years ago, I opened the doors at Arment Dietrich. I had no idea what I was doing. The only thing I knew was I was really good at communications and I knew there had to be a better way of doing things (measuring results, namely) than the way I’d been taught in the big, global PR firm world.

The first couple of years I was lucky. People were hiring PR firms left and right. Banks were loaning money. People wanted to work for the next big company. We all worked really hard doing client service and we grew in spite of no process, no procedures, and a leader who knew nothing about running a business.

But then the Great Recession hit and, though I didn’t know it at the time, I was about to embark on the most expensive business lesson one could have… in the School of Hard Knocks, which cost more than any Ivy League education.

During that extremely expensive and painful education, I sat back and looked at what it was I was doing. Did I really want to grow a business? Was I ready to take on additional risk? Or should I just call it quits and find myself a cushy SVP job at a global firm with a guaranteed paycheck and benefits?

I always knew, if I couldn’t get the business back off the ground, I could always get that cushy job. So I looked at what needed to happen in order to get things going again.

In order to grow at the level I knew we could (181 percent growth this year!), I knew I had to lay the foundation. And that meant getting out there and doing things differently. No longer could we rely on word-of-mouth and referrals to gain new business.

Laying the Foundation

We began to blog. I got on Twitter and painstakingly grew my following one person at a time. Then we added Facebook and LinkedIn and Google+ and YouTube and Pinterest and Instagram. All in order to promote not only the business, but Spin Sucks, which has a very lofty vision of being the resource for professional development for PR and marketing pros.

I went out on the speaking circuit and then Geoff and I wrote the book, which increased the speaking opportunities by nearly six times.

And all of that created our brand, developed our thought leadership, and increased our credibility.

Suddenly Fortune 20 companies began calling us to work with them, to create specific workshops for their employees, or to coach them on integrating social into their larger marketing mix.

Getting Big Things Done

But it hasn’t been easy. We set a financial goal for 2012, which we are (as of this writing) $4,700 away from reaching. My job is business development and, while the speaking and traveling has provided the opportunity to build relationships with potential clients, it hasn’t afforded me the time to follow-up on those opportunities.

Until now.

We closed about a third of our annual business in October. All from people I met on the road. And we’re going into 2013 with more revenue signed than we’ll do in all of 2012. While we had 181 percent growth this year (and we’re not finished), we’ll triple our 2011 revenue in 2013.

All because of the combined power of blogging, a published book, speaking, and targeted follow-up.

Next year I’ve promised myself I’ll spend only 12 weeks on the road. We’re incorporating marketing automation to help with follow-up from the speaking engagements. Growth won’t wait until I’m home and at my desk.

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