All posts by Justin Hale

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,

Getting Things Done QA

How to Help Your Boss Be More Productive

Dear Justin,

I have teammates (and even my manager, at times) who are inefficient and often unproductive. This is causing issues for me because I end up picking up the slack. I’m not perfect, but I’d like them to more effectively manage their workload. How can I handle this?

Tired of Picking Up the Slack

Dear Tired,

Work on yourself first. Most of us think we are more effective and productive than we really are. Truth is, we could all benefit from working on ourselves first. So, to influence your teammate’s productivity habits, be the best YOU can be. Great productivity skills can be osmotic. Even if you are the only person practicing them, they will affect every intersection with others. For example, when you track commitments you make, when you capture incoming requests, when you hold others accountable to their commitments, because you hold yourself accountable—your team will notice, and work will improve.

Keep an airtight agenda list. Never let your own mismanagement encumber a one-on-one meeting with a boss or colleague. Keep an “agenda” list for anyone you meet with often. For example, you might have a list called “@Rajiv” because Rajiv is your boss, and this is a list of things you want to talk with him about when you next meet. This ensures you have at least some of the agenda taken care of with your list, and you can discuss matters that concern you both.

Push back on agenda-less meetings. If you’re invited to a meeting with no plan, no agenda, no details—respectfully push back. Put some responsibility on the meeting organizer to give you more detail. You don’t have to decline right away or even tentatively accept, just respond to the invite with a quick question: “Thanks for sending this to me. Can you send me the outline or agenda for the meeting? I want to be sure I understand the expectations, as well as my role.”

Finally, have the crucial conversation. There are really two parts to this: (1) Make your teammates aware of your concern, and (2) get dialogue going so you can work together to improve the situation. Let’s say you want to address this concern head-on with your manager. In your next one-on-one meeting, you might approach the conversation using this model:

  • Explain your good intent. Explain why you care about the productivity practices and share your intent for having the conversation. Get your heart in the right place and think about what you want for them, your relationship, yourself. Share that.
  • Share the facts. Then share the facts of what you’ve seen happening. Stick with only what you have observed, not your interpretation of what you’ve observed. For example, there’s a big difference between “You didn’t have the report ready by the deadline” versus “You obviously don’t care about your job.”
  • Clarify your story. Then share why the facts matter to you. Is there a concern you have? Is there an impact to you or the team that you want your manager to be aware of? Share some of the natural consequences, of these productivity habits, that have you concerned.
  • Ask for their view. Now ask how they see it, seek their input. They might see the situation differently. If you don’t ask with sincerity, it will come off like a lecture and you might kill the safety in the room. So, genuinely seek their viewpoint after sharing yours—without accusations—and you’re likely to get an open dialogue going.

Take one thing I’ve shared and give it a shot. And by the way, I share these tips daily in a short video series called “One Productive Minute.” These might be great to share with your team to help them on these habits.

Good Luck,

Getting Things Done QA

How to Apply New Skills

Dear Justin,

I have attended many courses that make use of skill models, including the VitalSmarts courses. Crucial Conversations, for example, provides a model that outlines what to do before, during, and after a crucial conversation. In Getting Things Done, I learned multiple steps for how to take control of my workflow, from capturing ideas to completing projects. But do I need to follow these models from A to Z? How much of a model does one need to follow in order to see results?

Curious GTD-er

Dear Curious,

This is an excellent question. Everyone reading this struggles to acquire and apply new skills and learn new behaviors. When you’re done reading this article, ironically enough, you’ll struggle to apply what I share. I won’t go into the detailed nature of becoming an expert (10,000 hours of deliberate practice), rather I will share a few ideas for improving your ability to retain and apply what you learn—whether from a two-day class, an online course, a book, a TED talk, or a cooking show. And in the spirit of my message, I encourage you to pick just one suggestion and try it.

The Easy Answer

You know the saying: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” But what if you are full after a few bites? Ask yourself, “Do I need to use this whole model to benefit?” You might want to later on, but first focus on applying the skill or skills that will help you handle the challenges you’re dealing with today, this week. In my experience, you probably don’t need the whole model and you probably wouldn’t use it even if you could. Look at your current situation. Which of the skills you have learned would have the greatest impact if you used it consistently for the next month? Work on that one skill and nothing else. Go all in. Some experts estimate you really only need about twenty hours of deliberate practice to become proficient at something (see The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything Fast).

Break It Down Even Smaller

You don’t DO the crucial conversations model; you do small actions. You don’t do at the model level and you don’t do at the principle level; you do at the skill and behavior level. So when you learn a new skill, whether from a course, book, or article, stop and ask yourself, “What is the next micro-action I must take to apply this new skill?” Maybe you learned the ins and outs of apologies and you decide the smallest next action you could take is to call your spouse at the next break and apologize for being short this morning on your way out the door.

Create Disfluency

A few months back, I was working with author Charles Duhigg. He said that in order to learn in today’s world of abundant information we need to create disfluency. Disfluency is the idea of making a task more difficult in order to absorb it. In order to learn (change behavior, thinking, or perspective), you have to assimilate information slowly. Disfluency is the process of intentionally assimilating information slowly and tediously. That could mean taking handwritten notes about something you read or sharing a sixty-second summary to someone else or preparing a short presentation on it for your next team meeting. When you struggle or work to understand or apply new concepts or skills, you tend to absorb them. How can you apply disfluency in your life? Let’s try it now. Go to a coworker or call your spouse right now and tell them in thirty seconds what you’ve learned from this article. Seriously, try it.

Practice > Learning

I once worked with Ethna Reid, one of the world’s experts on teacher behaviors that drive measurable improvements in student learning. She used to tell me that when you’re designing any learning experience, there should be a 2:1 ratio of practice/application to learning. This should be the same for you and I. It’s fun to say we read a whole book on how to influence others. It’s far more interesting to actually be able to influence. Dr. Stephen Krashen at USC says that learning is valuable only if it enables you to plan, edit, and correct yourself while practicing. If it doesn’t do that, then you should only practice.

Let me know in the comment section what you do to retain new skills.

Best of luck,

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