Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Great GTD Collection Effort

OK. So, it's time to get your process moving with GTD collection. The first thing I always do when I process is collect everything together in one place so I can get a picture of what I have to do. The great thing about collection is that it doesn't really require any heavy decision making. You just go get everything and put it in one central location.

gtd-collection

It's easy though to leave stuff out that you need to collect. That's why, I recommend grabbing a yellow legal pad and writing down each and every place you collect from. Then, make a checklist of those spots.

Today, I started getting everything together as part of my GTD Thirty Day challenge. I wanted to make sure that I did the easiest thing first and that was just to start with GTD collection. Here's what I did:

  • Get mail from 11650

  • Get mail from 1508

  • Get mail from 12814

  • Pick a nice spot to put everything

  • Make sure I have a trash can

  • Gather all stuff from the car (my largest inbox)

  • Check glove compartment

  • Check trunk of car

  • Collect all papers from inbox and all supplies from butler's pantry

  • Remove all papers from inbox and supplies from from briefcase

  • Make sure I have all capture tools and put in my inbox

  • Look around house or hotel for loose items


[caption id="attachment_86" align="alignright" width="160"]Collect all of your stuff in one spot. Collect all of your stuff in one spot.[/caption]

This clear the decks approach at least gets everything in one spot. It also cleans up things a bit for me as far as my car, home and office goes. You'll notice, too, that I collected my mail first to make sure I had all paper in my inbox. Right away, this creates some momentum for me to keep going and at this point I have two basic types of stuff--stuff I have to do and stuff I have to put away. And then, I continue my checklist:

  • Separate all supplies and nonactionable stuff

  • Put all actionable stuff in a stack back in the inbox

  • Throw away all trash, shredding as needed

  • Put away all supplies, reference material and other miscellaneous items


This usually leaves me with a large stack of papers that I need to process. I like to then take another step to further whittle down my pile before I start processing by taking the additional set of steps:

  • Sort out all trash and throw it away

  • Sort out all items that need to be shredded and shred them

  • Sort out all things that can be filed

  • File all items that need to be filed

  • Put all papers that require action in my inbox


To me, there are only two parts of this process that can hang you up. The first is putting everything away and the second is filing everything. If things get stuck here with you, I suggest that you handle these two problems by making sure your A-Z reference files are set up efficiently and you make sure that you create spots for everything to go. For example, I have a lot of electronics I carry around that include wires and stuff.

At first, filing and putting stuff away caused me problems, but once I streamlined those, it made it flow much easier. It all goes back to the first thing you need to do is make sure you have all your organizational "buckets" set up. The other thing is that if you have just started GTD, you'll have a lot of collection you need to do. Just slowly get it all in one place, separate all of the urgent stuff, get it in your inbox. Then, work on slowly adding that other stuff to your inbox over time.

I know that when I first started, I had a ton of paper. I'd bet two-thirds of it was just stuff that needed to be trashed, shredded or filed. Getting all of the nonactionable stuff out of your system is easy, but time consuming. And, all that stuff makes it seem like you have so much more to do than you really do.

At the end of your GTD collection run, you should have a stack of things you need to process,  and then be ready to start processing.

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

How To Get Your GTD Voicemail To Zero

Today's post is about how to get your GTD voicemail to zero. I don't know about you, but lately, I've been letting things slide abit within my own system and I wanted to walk you through how I get things going again. So, with my first post, I wanted to start a GTD Thirty Day Challenge that takes you through the steps required to clean up or implement your system. If you haven't read Getting Things Done by David Allen, you should do that right away. And, if you haven't set up all the organizational "buckets" he recommends, you should do that as well. When I get stuck, I start with the easiest thing to get to zero and that is by clearing out my voicemail messages. How do you empty your voicemail? Here is what I suggest when it comes to your voicemail messages. This is a quick way to empty your voicemail box.

  • Make a list of voicemail boxes

  • Make a list of steps to check your voicemail

  • Have a capture tool and pen handy

  • Have your calls list handy

  • Have a way to delegate

  • Review your voicemail personal options

  • Review your voicemail greetings

  • Make a checklist of steps you take to process your voicemail to zero


[caption id="attachment_60" align="alignright" width="160"]GTD Voicemail GTD Voicemail[/caption]

Make A List Of Your Voicemail Boxes I always recommend to people when I talk to them about GTD that you start with the front end of your system and that is with your inboxes. The easiest inboxes to empty are not your paper inboxes, they are your digital inboxes. Probably the easiest of your digital inboxes to empty to zero are your voicemail boxes. That's why I start with them. The first thing that I would do is make a list of all of your voicemail boxes. Here's mine:

  • Voicemail 8582

  • Voicemail 9693

  • Voicemail 6328

  • Voicemail 3775

  • Voicemail 6116


In my case, you can see that I have five voicemail boxes. I've listed them by just the last four numbers of the phone number. After I make my list, I then reorder my voicemail boxes in the order of easiest to hardest to get to zero. While all voicemail inboxes are basically the same, there's more work involved in some messages I get on say my work voicemail as opposed to my personal voicemail. I would them reorder my inboxes in the following manner:

  • Voicemail 6116

  • Voicemail 3775

  • Voicemail 6328

  • Voicemail 8582

  • Voicemail 9693


[caption id="attachment_62" align="alignright" width="160"]Getting Things Done Tools Getting Things Done Tools[/caption]

Make A Checklist Of Steps You Take To Process Your Voicemail To Zero After that, I would then think about the steps I need to take to empty my voicemail boxes to zero. I know I used to check my voicemail message and a lot of times what I would do is save the message on my voicemail for later. Get into the habit of making sure that once you listen to the message that you write it down. When you get done checking your voicemail boxes they should all say you have no messages at this time. The first thing that I know I need is a capture tool. In my case I use a spiral-bound 3 x 5 index card capture tool. I will also need a pen to write down my messages. So, in making my checklist of steps I need to take in order check my messages, my first order of business would be to grab a pen and my capture tool. Here's my checklist of steps to empty my voicemail:

  • Get my pen

  • Get my capture tool

  • Go to computer

  • Check voicemail

  • Write down message

  • Delete message

  • Repeat for the next voicemail

  • Open google

  • Open email

  • Open basecamp

  • Return calls

  • Check unknown numbers in google

  • Put any calls I can't return now on my calls list in the format RET: Caller Phone Number RE: Subject

  • Delegate items

  • Do any items I can do now and if not put them on the appropriate next action list.

  • Tear out and shred cards

  • Clear the voicemail alert on the phone if necessary


Personally, I like to process the actions in my voicemail when I receive them. You basically have two choices. One, process all the actions from your voicemail now when you download them, or two, throw them in your inbox for later. The latter works fine if you are emptying out your paper inbox each day. If not, for now, I would opt for method one for sure. Once I've downloaded all my voicemail messages, I then return the calls or delegate the things I can and process the things I can do. Once I decided what to do with the message, I cross it off as done in my capture tool. When I am finished, I tear the index cards out and shred them because of the personal information they contain, but you could choose to keep them as a record.

Voicemail Zero: Putting It All Together


Today, I just caught up my voice mail. I had about 20 messages. The messages were categorized as follows:

  • Blank messages

  • Sales calls

  • Wrong #'s

  • Informational

  • Things I need to do or delegate

  • Return calls for more information


[caption id="attachment_64" align="alignright" width="150"]I check unknown numbers as part of my GTD voicemail process. I check unknown numbers as part of my GTD voicemail process.[/caption]

I then went through my checklist for each voicemail. I checked any unknown numbers in google, forwarded some information to my wife via email, delegated some items to my assistant and returned a couple of phone calls for more information and then delegated a couple of more things to my assistant. When I was done, all of my voicemail boxes were zeroed out and all of the tasks were complete or delegated. I recommend that you check your voicemail twice a day at the same time each day following a similar checklist. A checklist streamlines your processing because it eliminates the need to think about the next step and what we are actually doing is building a daily review checklist to follow. Because voicemail is one of the easiest things to do, I think that it makes sense to put it at the front of the list of inboxes to empty. While it's a small victory, accomplishing something when you are overwhelmed or behind in your tasks, creates a mental victory and momentum to accomplish more things. Now, that I have my voicemail to zero, I will process it each day so that it doesn't get behind anymore.

Other Phone And Voicemail Tips



  • Check your voicemail greetings to make sure they sound great. While funny voicemail greetings might be appropriate for personal use they probably wouldn't for business voicemail. Make sure you are careful with those. A voicemail greeting should also be quick and to the point. If you are going to be out of the office, indicate when you will return and alternate contacts during that period of time

  • Check your voicemail setttings to make sure you are familiar with them all. For example, my voicemail has an expert mode that expedites the instructions

  • Ask the phone company for a nonpublished number and do not give that number to anyone

  • Get a voicemail service that goes straight to voicemail and give that number to everyone you deal with that deals with your personal information. This would include banks, doctors, insurance companies, etc. I do this for my small business as well.

  • Make it a best practice to return all voicemails the same day or within 24 hours. If you can't complete the request, let the caller know what the hold up is and let them know what is going on.

  • Some people use services that forward voicemail to email. I do not use them, but would consider it if it was the actual voicemail message and not converted voicemail to text for fear of accuracy problems.

  • Review each phone number that you have and ask if you really need it and if it can't be streamlined into another line.


A Voicemail Video


I also took the time to walk through this post with a video about how I work through getting how to process your voicemail to zero. You can view it below and learn to empty your inbox now.

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Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Belts Of The Black Belt Project

People who first stumble upon the Black Belt Project might mistake this site as a "martial arts" resource because it uses the term black belt.

Here, I've adopted the term "black belt" and retained it's popular meaning of being a master. The addition of the word "project" means a series of steps to reach a goal and brings me to the heart of the meaning of the Black Belt Project which is:

Master of a series of steps to reach a goal. The goal? To be the master of our own lives.

Because the term black belt is so closely tied to the martial arts, it seemed only natural to adopt the belt system for students of life mastery to define and divide this site into areas of study.

Over the years, I've contemplated how to define these belts and the more I think about and put what I think into action, the clearer picture I have of these areas.

I'm sure that as we move forward, I'll refine my thinking and more clarity will come.

My first task then was to develop specific categories, or belts, and assign them colors. What you will read below is how I chose the colors I did and a descriptions of each of the areas this site will focus on.

In researching colors I found that colors have definitions and the different types of martial arts use different belts, I couldn't match the colors up in a way that matched up to any of those definitions in a way that made sense here for our purposes.

So for reference, here was my thinking of why I chose the colors and the descriptions of each of the belts follows that.

I kept the white belt as a beginning student and the black as the master but in between, I had specific reasons for choosing the colors. The red, yellow and blue are what are called subtractive primary colors. Artists use a palette of red, yellow and blue to create secondary colors like purple (red and blue), green (blue and yellow) and orange (red and yellow).

Since primary colors aren't made by mixing other colors to obtain them, I used them to name the first three colored belts. The red, yellow and blue belts are for areas that are really up to you as an individual to master without involving others. Concepts like mental strength, self-discipline and developing good habits are really activities you do alone and in that way are a lot like primary colors.

The secondary colors of purple, green and orange are mixed from the primary colors and the belts represented by those colors often have other people involved like family and coworkers so I felt this symbolism made sense to use secondary colors for those areas.

The other thing I wanted to do was have the belts build on each other. If you can't get motivated, then you probably aren't taking care of yourself. Taking better care of yourself gives you confidence to get things done because you likely have more energy. And it's hard to enjoy life to it's fullest if you can't pay your bills. So there is some sequencing as to how they were ordered.

Within each belt are numerous areas of study. Taking care of yourself has several. You need to eat right, exercise, groom and get enough rest for example. Because of that I expect this site to be quite deep in each category after some time developing it.

Even so, while the foundation of every student will be the white belt - getting motivated. Sometimes you and I will work on several areas at one time and there will also be some overlap.

I also might bounce back and forth between content for belts as my life takes me there.

Though out this journey, my goal is to be your guide and lead by example. I'm going to practice what I teach. To not only tell you how to master you life, but also show you specific strategies that you can apply to your own life. So, rather than be like a lot of the fluff that I read that doesn't really lead to either lasting change or life mastery, I'm hoping you will see practical application in my methods because I will be doing them too and sharing my results with you.

The road of life can be tough and I'm sure there will be some roadblocks. But that's the challenge I hope to prepare you for to find a way through.

So, in the spirit of using belts as a system of levels to master your life, here are the belts, their colors and the descriptions.

Motivation: The White Belt


Every student of life mastery should start here. The white belt is the foundation for all of the rest of the belts below. I start every student here because people often struggle getting moving or maintaining momentum in their lives to push them to reach their full potential. As a white belt you will learn how to get started, how to get motivated to get moving, how to visualize what you want, how to build mental strength and how to break bad habits. The main tools of a white belt are a checklist, a mental strength bar and the use of thirty day challenges.

Improvement: The Red Belt


Once you've gotten moving and understand how we are going to measure excellence and mental strength, our first order of business is to get you taking better care of yourself. Eating right, getting exercise, grooming, sleep habits and even what you wear are some of the subjects that we will study. When you feel good about yourself and have confidence, it's a lot easier to get things done and accomplish what you set out to do.

Productivity: The Yellow Belt


A good system for getting things done is important. Once you know and trust the system you put in place to manage all of the things you have to do, it clears the mind to accomplish even more. Many of us have some digging out to do if we have neglected our control systems for some time. Our goal will be to not only get things done, but get them done in the best order and in the shortest amount of time so we can have more free time to do what we want.

Vision: The Blue Belt


The Thinking belt is all about getting your mind into thinking mode. You'll discover that when you get in shape and you get organized, your mind will start to clear and you will be able to start getting a clearer picture of exactly what it is you want out of life. Planning for goals, how to relax, relieving stress and spirituality are some of the areas that the blue belt will address.

Relationships: The Purple Belt


This belt will discuss your family, your friends and your interpersonal interactions with others. Dealing with others is complex but how we deal with others and the way they deal with us is important to a more fulfilling life. Better connections with others help you find ways to achieve what you set out to do as well. Often, people will show up in your life with important skills and traits you might be looking for based on the vision you've developed.

Money: The Green Belt


Most of us have to earn a living to pay the bills. This belt is all about making money. Whether you do it from a job, a career or your own business, you have to pay your bills and you have to find a way to make enough money to live the life you visualize. Once you have the money, you have to know where and how to spend it wisely. Once you know how to make money, then you can work on creating independence in your life.

Indepenence: The Cyan Belt


One of my key desires is to just wake up and do what I want to do. Working everyday has it's benefits and is rewarding but after awhile, it's time to let the money we make do the work for us so we don't have to. Investing so that we can live the life we want off of our investments is true freedom. Independence is something that many people discuss but few people realize.

Wealth: The Black Belt


A black belt has mastered their life when they can sit back and enjoy the best that life has to offer. Once we expect excellence from ourselves and then deliver it, it's time to expect excellence in the finer things in life from all of the products we use, the places we go and the fun we have.

Those 8 areas are the belts of the Black Belt Project. As you and I move forward, I'll refine the definitions and add links to the supporting pages that each belt will have.
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Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Dojo Kun - Training Rules



I made a list of rules to guide your training here at the Black Belt Project. I call this set of rules the Dojo Kun. These rules will help you get the most out of your own personal training.

Here is the list of training rules:

  • Decide to become a Black Belt Set the standard high for your life. No matter where you start, you can create any life you want.

  • Ask "how" questions Only ask yourself how you can do something because your mind will come up with an answer. Eliminate why questions because questions that begin with why often help you make excuses.

  • Talk about what you have done not what you plan to do I'm sure you know someone who is all talk. Don't let that be you. Let your results do the talking and keep your plans to yourself.

  • Define the perfect day in your life Decide what your days should look like if you did what your mind thought you could do.

  • Commit to get everything you want to do out of your head and into written or digital actionable lists Clearly define what done looks like for everything you need to do into written step-by-step instructions.

  • Carry your lists everywhere Make your lists portable so they are with you to refer to at all times.

  • Establish what your mental strength is once a week Know how many tasks you are currently able to complete without fail each and every day.

  • Focus on doing at least what you are mentally strong enough to do each day Do at least the number of tasks you know you mentally can do for sure. If you reach your mental strength bar for the day, that day is a success. Anything above that is a bonus.

  • Use progressive resistance to improve your mental strength each week Every week, add a small number of tasks that you must complete each day.

  • Only concern yourself with your own mental strength and not the mental strength of others Only you know your potential. Compare where you are with your own mental strength and make your sole focus to improve it each week. As long as you are building mental strength, you are on the right track.

  • Update and refine your actionable lists Break down your lists to achieve certain goals. Break down tasks into equal sizes so it takes the same amount of mental strength to do each task on your list. Include every single step you take on your lists. Organize and order your lists into the most efficient set of steps.

  • Use thirty day challenges Get rid of bad habits and instill new ones by using 30 day challenges.

  • Continually seek improvement As you progress, the perfect day will be achievable and you'll see it with greater clarity. Ask yourself how to make it even better and repeat the process over and over until you can't see places to improve upon it.


If you have any questions about the Dojo Kun, or the Black Belt Project, don't hesitate to contact the Virtual Sensei.
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Friday, May 1, 2009

What Is The Black Belt Project?



The Black Belt Project teaches you how to master one small part of your life and then incrementally expand that mastery throughout everything you do. The ultimate outcome of the Black Belt Project is to master everything you do and become a complete master of your life.

What makes the Black Belt Project unique is that instead of me just telling you what steps you need to take to achieve total mastery - or, as I call it, become a black belt - I actually do the steps I teach. I then share my results with you so that you can see that my strategies do indeed work and have the confidence they will work for you in your own life.

Starting my Black Belt Project from scratch, I'll show you:

  • Black Belt Project Insider You'll see what my own personal black belt project looks like. I will share with you through blog posts, podcasts, videos and even an iTunes series exactly where I start, the steps I take and what level of black belt I am at the moment.

  • The Belts of my Black Belt Project I call each of area of focus in my life a "belt". I have created eight belts that start at a white belt project and continue through to the black belt project.

  • How I break the bad habits that are hurting me I show you how I break the bad habits that hold me back and how you can break bad habits too.

  • How I get everything out of my head and into checklists I show you how I get everything I need to do out of my head and into a system of checklists.

  • How I improve my checklists Once I have everything out of my head and into my checklists, I look for ways to improve my checklists so that they are totally complete, in the best order possible and that I can work through them faster.

  • My mental strength training program I show you how I use my checklists to implement a mental strength training program that gets me doing what I need to do through a strategy of progressive resistance.

  • How I measure how much of my life is at a "black belt" level I show you how I determine what level of my life is at black belt at any moment in time.

  • How I approach excellence and raise the bar I show you how I set a higher standard of what I expect from myself to push me to be the best I can be have the best life I can imagine.


That's a basic outline of what the Black Belt Project is all about.

To get started on your own Black Belt Project or just to follow along with my progress, scroll down a little bit, put your email address in the box and click the button to start. Or use the one in the sidebar.

That'll get you on my email list so I can keep you up to date.
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