Crucial Skills®

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Getting Things Done

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,

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2 thoughts on “How to Help Someone Be More Organized and Productive”

  1. Gail

    Great article. I like the easy to use prompts for self and others!

  2. New Year's Resolution: Stay Organized! | Box&Co

    […] If they don’t mind being disorganized or have specific mental issues that contribute to their disorganization, but you share a living space, are business partners, etc., tread lightly to avoid offending them. […]

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