Getting Things Done QA

How to Help Someone Be More Organized and Productive

Dear Justin,

I am loving the impact of Getting Things Done® (GTD®) on my professional life. Not only am I getting things done, but I have a vision of where I want my work to take me. At work, I feel productive, energized, and excited about the next action items I can knock out. But when I get home, I find that there is little respect or teamwork for having organized and clarified my home stuff. My partner doesn’t see the same value in the two-minute threshold or tracking errand lists. It feels like I get home from work and crash into a wall of resistance. My question is: How do you get partners on board?

Frustrated Clarifier

Dear Frustrated,

Your question is excellent because it applies any time you adopt a new habit and hope others will adopt the habit as well. Try these tips at home or work.

1. Check Your Motive. Why do you want your partner to adopt these practices? Is it for their benefit or yours? The tough thing about motives is that they drive our behavior. So, if you are trying to get your partner to change ONLY because it will make your life easier, they will probably see that and not receive your feedback. Instead, ask yourself what’s in it for them. Do you care about that outcome as much as the outcome in store for you?

2. Do Something or Don’t. Do you really want to try to change your partner’s habits? If so, what’s the next action you’ll take? If not, what’s the next action you’ll take to complete the tasks you want done? This may not seem like the most inspiring advice, but I find that next-action thinking is most powerful when people or things around you are not changing. When you adopt “what’s the next action?” as a framework for addressing challenges, you free yourself from any potential victim stories or a helpless mentality. You become more proactive and are far less likely to be perceived as a complainer and get met with resistance.

3. Keep Stepping Up Your Own Game. The more disorganized and scattered the people in your life are, the more you should work your own system—so you know what’s yours and what’s theirs. Otherwise, their disorganization might creep into your affairs. I am not suggesting that you pick up the slack for others, but rather that you establish clear boundaries. When you manage your agreements and responsibilities well it tends to rub off on others. David Allen says, “GTD moves through osmosis from team member to team member. Imagine the subliminal message that is communicated when a colleague says, ‘Yeah, I’ll get back to you about that,’ and they see you make a note in your Waiting-For list. You can even carefully say, ‘Hang on, let me capture that.’ So, the more put-together you are, the more people get their act together when they start to engage with you.”

4. Communicate Your Intentions Without Adding Pressure. It’s helpful to communicate what you’re doing. “Hey, I just learned some new stuff. Here are the habits I’m trying to develop. I think they will help me to be better at ______; they will also help me be a better contributor to our family. Could you help me out by dropping tasks that are my responsibility in this basket?” Don’t just explain, demonstrate, too. And be transparent about your own limitations. “You know, I’m not great at remembering stuff, so I’m using tools to capture all my to-dos.”

5. Start Small and Be Flexible. If you are trying to get others on board, you might be tempted to introduce the entire GTD model. Don’t start there. Start with one GTD skill. Work on it together and let them see the benefit on their own, over time.

For example, my wife has never attended a GTD class (I don’t require it for my relationships to continue!). But she sees my habits, and she hears me talk about the skills I use. We had a conversation a while back about how to better capture errands we need to run, items we need to pick up, and activities we’ve committed to. I shared with her my preferred habits and tools, and she didn’t seem all that interested. I then asked her, “What would be the perfect tool for you?” She proceeded to buy a fancy chalkboard to hang on the wall in the kitchen. The board has a calendar and space for an errands list. She loves the way it looks and works, and because she loves the tool, she uses it. And we have a simple process for syncing calendars: on the first of each month, my calendar app alerts me to write important family to-dos on the kitchen chalkboard.

Best of luck,

Crucial Conversations QA

What To Do When a Conversation Fails

Dear Candace,

I work at a church, and sometimes the members cause drama. Recently we received from a parent two angry emails about our children’s ministry. This parent has a reputation for getting angry, but she’s rooted in the church so probably isn’t going away. For a long time, I deliberated whether it was worth asking her to offer feedback in less emotionally charged ways, then I scheduled a meeting. I explained that I am open to feedback but asked that she give it more constructively. She didn’t respond as I’d hoped, saying, “I needed you to know how angry I was,” and “I’m sorry if I offended you, but I was just being real.” The conversation ended without resolution, but I want to make progress to prevent future blowups. What should I do?

Confused Clergy

Dear Confused,

Let me share just a few tips that can help you get a fruitful conversation going.

Look Behind the Curtain of Action

When someone lashes out, it’s often because fear is lurking behind the curtain of their actions. Consider what your church member might be afraid of and how you might address her concern before it appears on stage.

You can encourage her to open up by sharing your good intentions at the beginning of your next conversation. This “good intention” shouldn’t be to change her (so she can give feedback more constructively), but to find mutual purpose and get results.

So, consider the ultimate result you are looking for. “I’d like to find a way for us to operate more as a team to create the best children’s ministry.” Or “I’d like to explore ways we can express feedback and disagreement—in a way where you feel heard and in a way the recipient can hear it—so we can continue to improve our children’s ministry.”

My favorite quote in Crucial Conversations captures this idea: “People don’t get defensive about what you’re saying. They get defensive because of why they think you are saying it.”

If you don’t share your good intentions up front, the other person is left to guess. Don’t give them the opportunity to guess wrong.

Build Team Trust

Given that this member gets angry with other members (and I’m guessing they in turn get angry with her), you may want to address trust and respect with your whole team.

Quaker peace activist Gene Knudson Hoffman said, “An enemy is one whose story we have not heard.” While you may not be enemies, the point is the more we know about someone, the harder it is to dislike them—or send them angry emails.

Consider holding a meeting with several key members that work together. Acknowledge where trust could be stronger. Then, actively create space to build trust. Consider having each person share something personal—a challenge they overcame in their youth, for example. Such challenges often reveal windows into who people are as adults. Go first and model vulnerability. If the first person shares something surfacy, others will likely follow their lead.

To recap, look behind others’ actions to identify and remove potential fear. Stay focused on the ultimate goal and communicate it. And continue to build trust with your entire team. As we say in Crucial Conversations: “People can’t hear your content unless they trust your intent.” Address fear and build trust and you’ll have much less drama when new issues arise.

May your efforts going forward yield a new result.

Crucial Conversations QA

How to Talk with Your Manager About a Promotion

Dear Steve,

What do you say to your manager in order to move from a level two to a level three? How do you talk about career advancement and convince them you are ready for the next step?

Moving On Up

Dear Moving,

Oh, yes. The “level-up” conversation. You want to show that you’re serious about moving upward in the organization. It will likely take significant work on your part to make this happen.

First of all, you need to understand that your manager is always evaluating your performance against certain criteria—sometimes explicitly and sometimes implicitly. So, start by doing your homework. Show your boss that you’re serious by taking the initiative to do some research before you talk with him or her about your goal. Many organizations have written job descriptions and success criteria for different roles. Find out what your organization has in place, and make sure to research both your current position as well as the position you hope to gain. Existing KPIs or other similar measures can be useful to get a better picture of role criteria. You may also want to talk to the person who has the role you aspire to—especially when no formal document exists.

Once you’ve collected this information, evaluate yourself against both your role and the new role. Assessing your current performance will help you determine whether you can present a good case for promotion to your manager. Assessing yourself against the expectations of the role you seek will give you a sense of your potential.

Next, arrange to have an exploratory conversation with your boss. With your pre-work in hand, outline what you were able to find and ask your boss to identify any additional criteria you may have missed. Make sure to discuss where you are currently meeting those criteria and where you are falling short (this is where having done an honest self-assessment will come in handy). As you listen, take notes and continue to invite your boss’s feedback until he or she doesn’t have anything else to add.

You may find as a result of this exploration that you meet enough of the criteria to warrant a promotion. If that’s the case, it’s time for an open, direct conversation with your boss about moving into the new role, or a conversation about why you aren’t being considered for the role. If you have to navigate this latter discussion, make sure you spend as much time inquiring about your boss’s perspective as you do advocating your own.

If done well, this exploratory conversation should give you a pretty clear picture of what it will take to move to the next level. Next, you’ll need to do the work to demonstrate that you are ready for the promotion. And as you start into that work, I’ve found it helpful to convey intentions. Let me explain.

One of my favorite sayings is “It’s hard to talk your way out of a situation you behaved your way into.” When there is incongruity between what you say and what you do, people start to question your ability and integrity. The good news is that the contrapositive is true: it’s relatively easy to behave your way out of a situation you talked yourself into.

What I mean is this: when you align your actions with your words, you convey a sense of reliability and trust. So, the most effective thing you can do once you have the criteria for promotion is to let your boss know what you intend to do, and then do it.

Remember to break your plan into small, actionable segments so it’s doable. And make sure that each of those segments has a direct, explicit connection to your overall goals and objectives.

While following this process doesn’t guarantee the promotion you seek, it does provide a framework you can use to surface less obvious performance criteria, create a reasonable action plan, and build a reputation as a person who delivers.

Good luck. I hope your next correspondence is under a new title.