5 Ways to Be Effective

What effect do you have on the world?

Do you affect it consistently and positively? Do you affect it efficiently? Do you affect the world at large? How about your small world – your family and your work team? How about the customers that buy the widgets you make?

I know very few (and I don't know them for long) that don't have any desire to have an effect. It's a core desire. It's a healthy desire.

I've composed a list of just 5 (of the enumerable) ways that you might consider to increase your effect on the world.

Number 1. Minimize and refine your scope

Your scope is the definition and extent of what you are committed to doing.

It's critical that you define your scope. If it's not defined then you won't know if you're minimizing it. If you don't minimize it then you won't even be able to fulfill it. If you don't fulfill it then you'll be stressed out and those around you will be disappointed.

Defining and then minimizing your scope is going to take some deliberation on your part. If you haven't spent some time thinking about it, then you won't be ready for the moment when it comes – the moment where someone asks you to adopt an obligation. In fact, some people are so out of tune with their scope that they don't even think before saying yes to commitments – they also don't usually follow through with them. If you have given some good thought to it, however, you will be ready with an appropriate yes or no.

When you're defining your scope, don't think about just one facet of your life such as your job, your family, or your recreational activities, but rather consider the whole of it. Everything that you are obligated (whether by election or not) to do is not only going to take minutes or hours out of your day, but it's going to weigh on your mind while you're trying to sleep.

I'll tell you how I do this practically. I use OneNote to maintain a list of the various roles I play – roles such as human, husband, father, employee, and church member. Within each role, I list the responsibilities it implies. I have a huge, two-column table of these roles and responsibilities that each fulfill the following sentence: As a {role}, I am responsible to {responsibility}.

Here's a sampling…

  • As a human, I am responsible to brush my teeth every morning and evening
  • As a husband, I am responsible to take my wife on dates
  • As a father, I am responsible to spend good time each day engaged with my son
  • As an employee, I am responsible to complete monthly status reports

The list could get indefinitely large, so I try to keep it focused on things that actually take minutes and hours out of my day. This responsibility list is similar to a task list, except the responsibilities are more ongoing and are more proactive than reactive.

Once you have that list, be careful about letting anything be added to it. Saying no to someone when they ask you to take on something that's outside of your scope is not nearly as rude as saying yes and then being overextended and either incapable of fulfilling the role at all or even being less than fully effective at it.

After creating this list for the first time, you may come to realize that you have too many responsibilities, and it might be time to have some conversations with people around you. Think about how you would feel if someone came to you and said "Hey, I'm trying to organize my life and time better and I don't think I've done a great job with responsibility X to you. I would be realistic and opt out of the commitment instead of continuing to disappoint you." In all likelihood, that would be well received and even respected. Don't try saying that to your spouse though. 🙂

Number 2. One task list, one calendar, one file store

If you maintain task lists here and there, you're asking for trouble. Just like a computer system has to do a little bit of busy work to switch from one thread to another, our brains have to do a little work to recollect where all we have things recorded and from which list to retrieve them.

A single task list accessible from your phone, your tablet, and your primary workstation (if that's not your tablet 🙂 is not too much to ask these days. Drop a new OneNote notebook in your SkyDrive and add it on all of your devices. Then create a single, top-level page in the notebook for your tasks. In my opinion, this is better than trying to use a task app because there are fewer controls and restrictions around task entry and maintenance. It's also better than a paper system because it's everywhere at once.

Multiple calendars is normally a very bad idea. These days, however, we can maintain multiple calendars and overlay them to get the one view we need to see our whole week. Each Sunday evening my wife and I sit on the couch and look at the next two weeks. My work calendar, my personal calendar, her calendar, and perhaps a couple more are all visible in one view. That's important.

Also on the topic of calendars… be careful with your reminders. Too many reminders may encourage you to dismiss them and completely lose their intended effect. Only set reminders when needed and avoid the habit of mindlessly dismissing them. If they're trivial enough to dismiss without a thought they are likely trivial enough to have omitted in the first place.

File stores are where I see a lot of people get disorganized. Do you have files on your laptop, your office PC, your media center PC, on a myriad of external hard drives here and there, some in the cloud, and then a Carbonite account that's backing up some subset of all of that? Well, stop it. That's confusing.

Instead, on each device, install the SkyDrive desktop app and configure your libraries so that all of your documents are saved to your SkyDrive. If you have to and if you can, pay for a bit of extra storage on SkyDrive.

If you're like me, however, all of the data that makes up your digital life and past don't fit in SkyDrive (unless you're willing to pay for the 500GB option). So here's the solution…

On one PC (perhaps your office PC at home or even a NAS drive if you'd prefer) store the whole shebang – the entire superset of files you own. Back that one PC up to Carbonite (or whatever online backup service you prefer). On that PC, keep the files that don't need to be available on other PCs in the normal document storage locations (c:\users\{profile name}\documents, c:\users\{profile name}\pictures, etc) and the rest in the SkyDrive folders (c:\users\{profile name}\SkyDrive\documents, etc.).

With this system, you can easily log in to that one PC and move a file from the SkyDrive location to the regular document store to effectively archive it and determine that it will no longer be copied to the cloud and synced to your other PCs.

Number 3. Collaborate

Don't go it alone. You can be more personally effective if you incorporate diverse perspectives from other people. It sounds like the contents of a course you might take starting a new job, but it's also true – diversity is an asset.

One thing you can do practically to co-labor with someone is to run your task list and calendar by them. Ask them to listen to you explain what it is you are trying to accomplish (generally speaking) and then show them your list and your calendar and ask them if it looks like it lines up. You're sure to get some wonderful and useful perspective on what you're spending your hours on.

When they're done talking, add some of their considerations to the task list itself. For example…

  • Consider implementing a consistent wake up time
  • Consider finding a Meetup where I can find others that are doing similar things
  • Consider cutting the one-on-one meetings out to spread my effectiveness

Notice, that they are perhaps all considerations at first. You can decide if and when you want to implement them as you have time.

In your collaboration, don't neglect the face to face.

It's tempting in this digital world to believe that we can do everything in front of a terminal. We can't.

Sure we can order groceries and find freelance work and buy stocks and transfer money and sell houses and start businesses. We can do all of that with just screen and keyboard. But the really important things in life still happen in the context of relationships. Don't forget to spend time on the phone or better yet over coffee getting real work done.

How many people do you know that spend all of their time in front of their heartless computer terminal and get incredibly good at things, but are all but incapable of applying their work to the real work because they aren't in touch with the real world? Don't be that guy.

Number 4. Keep your balance

A healthy investment portfolio has a little of this and a little of that. Concentration might be good for a swing trade when you see a trend that's going to happen in a day or two, but if you want your portfolio to cross the oceans of time and weather all of the storms along the way, you're better off diversifying it.

Likewise, if you spend all of your time doing one kind of software development, taking one kind of photograph, executing the same phase of a business deal, or adding the same adding the same door handle to the same door on the same factory floor, you're going to type cast yourself. You're also, if you're anything like me, going to bore yourself to insanity. Learn something altogether new. I'm not just talking Visual Basic developers learning Erlang. I'm talking about Visual Basic developers learning Portuguese. I'm talking about librarians earning their Class A skydiving certificate. I'm talking about stay-at-home moms taking a welding class at the local community college.

In days of old (very old), man couldn't afford to be a specialist. He had to be a hunter, a farmer, Mr. Fixit, dad, and everything else.

I am a big believer in a theory that I call general inspiration. By that I mean that an author can go to a symphony and be inspired in his book writing. Likewise, a flamenco guitarist can inspire me to draw. If this theory is true (which is likely considering I devised it :), then all of the ventures you take from whatever your definition of normal is are less likely to distract and more likely to enhance it.

Number 5. Clean

It sounds like a mere matter of preference, but I submit that if you clean and organize your home, your car, your workstation – if you clean and organize your life, you'll be more effective.

Everything we do from dawn to dusk is about organization.

The guy that restores old cars – he is essentially organizing the parts to work and look good.

The guy that writes software – he is putting bits in a certain order so they are sensible and add value.

All of the tangible things around us want to default to their most base and chaotic state. We spend our 4 score on earth just trying to make sense of some of it. For some of our organizing, we get paid, but for much of it, we're not. We are just designed to put things in right order.

So spend some time going through that stack of papers on your desk (that quite frankly, you're never even going to look at anyway, right?).

Pull all the shirts out of the closet that are destined to collect dust, depart fashion, and finally visit Goodwill.

Consolidate all of your external hard drives and old DVD-ROM disks and finally make sense out of all of the data in your life. If it doesn't belong in your life any more than hold down Shift when you hit Delete. If it does, then by all means, put it in the right place!

Make a list of all of the things you and your spouse have been meaning to talk about and carve out time to talk about them. Maintaining your marriage is infinitely more important than maintaining your Blueray collection.

By doing all of these things, you may seem to be stealing time from your primary function. You'll likely find, however, invigorated and inspired to execute all the more effectively.

Skip to main content