The Power of Cranking Widgets

Note: This is another of my articles published on the GTDtimes blog and this one actually made it to Evan Carmichael's list of top 10 articles of GTDtimes list at #9.
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I’ve read the book “Getting Things Done – the Art of Stress-free productivity” many, many times. I actually own the English, Polish and German copy of the book… and I’m buying the Spanish one now. Every time I’m reading the book in different language, I keep discovering new things, new “hidden gems” and re-discovering techniques I thought I mastered already. It’s like reading the book from different perspective each time (because the translators tend to take a little different approach each time). One of these hidden gems is the concept of what David Allen calls: “Cranking Widgets”. The concept is simple – according to David – one of the healthiest jobs psychologically is the one where you show up at work and you see three things: • A bunch of un-cranked widgets • A widget-cranking machine • A bucket to put the cranked widget Isn’t your job now tad simpler? All you have to do is just take the un-cranked widget, put it into a widget-cranking machine and later put the cranked widget into its bucket. Why is the concept simple? It’s because all the “thinking” has been done for you. All you have to do now is just to do the job and go home. At home your mind will be free – you won’t be thinking about your job and about your widgets… and you’ll have all the energy to do something else, spend time with your family, do sports, whatever you wish… isn’t that great? Converting our office work into a “cranking widgets” job This is the key of Getting Things Done. If we want to master the GTD techniques, we should learn to convert our tasks into a series of widgets to crank. We should actually think about them as “widgets”. Of course, our “widgets” will be a little more complicated that the ones shown in the example above, but still, they will be only widgets. How to convert your actions into widgets which are simple to crank? There are three main rules to keep in mind: 1. Each Action must be “actionable” and must represent a small step. How many times we catch ourselves putting actions on our to-do lists like “prepare dinner” or “prepare power-point presentation” or “check all the systems settings”, where all of these actions are actually projects which should be split down into small, very small actionable items. In our “prepare power-point presentation” example, we can divide this into: • Gather data to show in the presentation • Prepare pie-charts with representing data • Prepare a structure of the presentation • Prepare presentation template • Add first slides as a presentation structure • Add data and pie-charts • Fine-tune the layout of the presentation • Add animations and other effects… • Etc. Get the picture? Each of these steps is a small actionable “widget” to crank and once you have this list, all seems very logical. What seemed like a tedious project is now a series of simple widgets to crank. 2. Choose “Next Actions” of as many projects as you can and try to move them forward. This is one of the rewarding thing that happens to you when you practice GTD on your daily basis. Just choose a next action of each of your projects and put them all into your “next actions” list. Start cranking these “next actions” and by the end of the day you’ll feel simply great. Completion. You’ve moved each of the projects forward! Although they were small steps, yet you’ve progressed in so many of your projects and you’ll feel like you’re the king of the world. I live in my “next actions” list every day and I know how rewarding it is to see your “next actions” list done and completed. 3. Try to avoid binding your actions to time. Don’t be a slave of your calendar. With Outlook or other calendars we tend to plan our day with a minute-to-minute schedule. Like I’m going to call Ted at 12:14 and I’m going to “Gather data for my presentation” at 12:18 until 12:47 when I’ll be replying to the email to my boss… etc. You get the picture. Then all of the sudden, Ted’s line is busy, gathering data for presentation takes longer than 30 minutes and your boss has already phoned you and you don’t need to write him any email… your nice structure is gone forever and you feel frustrated and unproductive. David Allen repeats several times that your calendar is a sacred place and you should put only appointments there. Or any other time-related stuff for that matter. Something that happens on this particular date and time, or will not happen at all. Other stuff can be done at any time. Once you have your widgets ready, you can crank them at any time you wish. You can change the order of them or choose to skip some and do the others, depending on your contexts. It’s all up to you. Don’t be a slave of your calendar, focus on flexibility when cranking your widgets. You can convert your sophisticated office work into a simple “cranking widgets” job. It’s easier than you think , it’s very rewarding and you feel like you’ve done so much when you master the “cranking widgets” method. I’m still learning this but the more I succeed the better I feel about it. What tools to use to create your “widgets” list and “next action” lists? Any to-do list will do. A sheet of paper will do actually. I’m using my Nozbe web application as it gives me the ability to easily mark with a “star” a next action in each of my projects and later see all my “next actions” in one list. I can even reorder my next actions list too while I’m completing them. I actually spend my day looking at this list in Nozbe and I’m trying to crank as many widgets as I can. How do you crank your widgets? Let me know in the comments!

Posted on Monday, May 5, 2008