Jul 11 2013

The #1 Key to Productivity: Developing a Bias Towards Action

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My first introduction to the concept of living and working with a bias towards action came when I read the book Rework by the folks over at 37signals.  Rework is a compilation of essays written to be easy-to-read, even if sometimes abrupt.  Early in my career it helped shape my approach to project management.  Being action-oriented has helped me stand out from the crowd and advance rapidly at a variety of companies and roles.

I don’t recall “bias towards action” as a catch-phrase, but the principals in the book are similar.  37signals makes a few products focused on facilitating different aspects of business.  You’ve probably heard of Basecamp (their most popular product) whose purpose is to make it easy to capture and assign action items with milestones and deadlines – an important element in developing a bias toward action.

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Thanks to Scott Belsky of 99U and Behance the dialogue surrounding ”action methods” is really heating up.  But you don’t have to take my word for it.  Just Google “develop a bias toward action” and you’ll see testimonials to this concept in all types of industries.  A bias toward action is rooted in design thinking and has made an impact on museums, fashion, even entertainment.  The core concept is to move yourself past having ideas and boldly into making ideas happen (which happens to be the title of Scott Belsky’s best selling book).

Exceptional Examples of Action Biased Creatives

Developing-a-bias-towards-action-avatarHarveyHarvey Weinstein is rumored to have two assistants follow him around to take copious color-coded notes.  Take a lesson from this prolific movie producer and write things down that matter.  It’s good to have a record of decisions and potential obstacles… but it’s “next steps” that really count.  Remember to record who needs to do what, by when.  Keep your note concise and complete.  Use verbs for action items and remember to assign ownership and deadline.

Developing-a-bias-towards-action-avatarSethSeth Godin, an american marketing guru who popularized the concept of permission marketing (opting-in) in his book Unleashing the Ideavirus, is one of the many contributing authors to Making Things Happen.  He says that all too often people get in their own way, way late in the game. Seth suggests seriously evaluating the validity of your ideas early on.  Once something is in motion, you must follow through and ship it.  Seth even suggests shipping things on-time and on-budget, even if that means shipping them incomplete or imperfect.

Developing-a-bias-towards-action-avatarLeoLeo Babauta, another contributing author brings an interesting perspective to the notion of a bias toward action.  He’s the guy behind Zen Habits a popular blog that promotes simplicity in life.  Check out his blog for some great examples of actions you can take to boost your self confidence, reduce distractions and learn how to start something new.  Don’t just let your ideas stop at the back of a napkin or your moleskin.  If it’s good enough to write down, it’s good enough to vet further and quite possibly to do.

Developing-a-bias-towards-action-avatarAliciaAlicia Keys is another great example of someone who gets things done.  She was recently named Global Creative Director for Blackberry – a company synonymous with productivity.  While this may be surprising to some (seeing as she’s a musician, not a career executive) there’s no arguing that she’s a proven performer and successful collaborator.  There’s actually a great story behind her song Girl on Fire that illustrates her habit of writing things down for later (or creating a backburner folder in Action Method terms) and pouncing on the production process when “the magic” is flying.

How You Can Get In On The Action

NOTE TAKING AND LIST MAKING

Personally, I stick a post-it to my Macbook Air every morning.  Before I open my email, I write down anything that might have come to mind on my ten-minute walk through downtown San Diego on my way to the office.  The things I can easily remember are probably the most important for the day.  As I navigate through morning scrum, and various meetings I log more and strike through Action Items on my post-it, put Backlog Items in Basecamp, and toss reference material into my gmail or google drive.  Before I leave each day, I cross off the items the post-it or enter the items in Basecamp for later processing.  This helps keep me current, every day.

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Get Into The Groove – Make time to be Productive

Note taking is great.  But without action they’re pretty much useless.

Our office is full of distractions like flying helicopters, skateboarding creatives, and chocolate labradors.  I’ve trained myself to ignore all of that when I’m in “work mode” which often involves headphones to shield me from office banter.  Sometimes I even book meetings for just myself so that I have access to a whiteboard, and a physical wall between me and the rest of the world.    Make time for yourself to be productive – but not more than 90 minutes at a time.

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I try to squeeze in general tasks like email processing or miscellaneous research adhoc between meetings.  But for more serious tasks like planning user engagement strategies, or crafting performance-boosting recommendations, I block off windows of productive time.  This helps me prepare properly and be as productive as possible.  Usually I grab a conference room, or spread out on the couch with all the pertinent information available to me.  For me, printed materials are helpful because I use the margins to make lists, doodle, or diagram.

Make The Most of Your Productive Time

If you’re already taking notes, and have reserved “don’t interrupt me” time… you’re doing great.  Follow this last tip to do even better.

At the very beginning of your work sessions, set an objective.  Then spend a few minutes outlining the items/tasks required to reach that objective.  Now work through a quick schedule – figure out how long can you spend on each point, and still reserve time to confirm next steps at the end.  You can use this same technique to create agendas to conduct productive and purposeful meetings that finish on time.

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Don’t let the momentum stop.  Continually assess your progress.  Whether it’s a product launch, a homemade afghan, or even a vintage car… your ideas are best enjoyed when they transcend into reality.  Develop a bias towards action and make your ideas happen.

What Does Your Action Method Look Like?

NFL Hall of Famer Bill Parcells used to keep a sign posted in the locker room that read “Blame Nobody.  Expect Nothing.  Do Something.”   Next time you find yourself in analysis paralysis, pause for a minute and ask yourself what value your continued analysis will really add.  Break free from the mundane – get motivated – be inspired.  Make it happen.

Sometimes you have to try something, over and over.  That’s OK.  Practice really does make perfect.  Did you know Thomas Edison tried 2000’s types of materials before settling on carbon as the filament for his light bulb?

Whether you’re a scientist, designer, or marketing strategist… Write things down (maybe in your Action Book).  Make time for yourself to be productive.  And then, make the most productive use possible of your time.  Go on, develop a bias toward action… I dare ya.

Use this post as a reference as you become biased towards action.  Share your own personal techniques in the comments – we can all learn from each other.

About the Author:

I'm Brent Summers, a marketing strategist who is passionate about data and design. With a background in project management and business analysis I strive to produce measurable results and help improve performance - of our design and our team. I'm most active on twitter, but you can also find me on LinkedIn and Google+.

Leave a Response

6 Responses

  1. Jul 11 2013
    Jeffrey Samorano

    Great post!! Very inspiring. Thank you!

    • Jul 11 2013
      Brent Summers

      Thanks Jeffrey, glad to hear the positive feedback. Hopefully there are a couple of nuggets of wisdom you can apply to your own process. I’d love to hear back from you after you’ve tried a couple of things ;-)

  2. Jul 12 2013
    Catherine

    Thank you so much for this . am writing two books and doing an online course. I needed this.

    • Jul 16 2013
      Brent Summers

      Catherine, congrats on rising to the challenge(s)!

      Check back every week for tips on how to squeeze just a bit more productivity out of your week.

  3. Pingback: Number One Key to Productivity | Cogswell College Blog

  4. Aug 28 2013
    Eric

    Great post!

    Because of the technical and strategic nature of my duties I need to have long stretches of intense concentration – I started blocking 90 minute ‘productivity sprints’ followed by 20 minute, periscope up ‘regroups’ bookended by 30 minute ‘organization’ periods, and capped off with a 20 min follow-up wind down that helps prepare for the next day. (This schedule is, of course, peppered with meetings, calls, and other necessary human interaction and grub)

    I love the idea of writing things down as a precursor to any electronic interaction – almost in stream of consciousness – while the mind is fresh and still optimistic in it’s charge.

    Now if I could only read my own handwriting…