Focus on Outcomes, Not Organization

I had a great breakfast meeting at the Cambridge Marriott with Michael Schrage, a research fellow at MIT yesterday morning. We had never met before and I loved the conversation – his brain was bubbling with ideas that are relevant to many of the things I’m interested in, he challenged some of my thinking, and we had a deep and awesome conversation about open source hardware, makers, and MakerBot.

This morning Raj Bhargava (who recently co-founded two companies I’ve invested in – Yesware and SkedulMe) sent me a blog post by Michael titled Tip for Getting More Organized: Don’t. In it Michael makes the argument that the notion of spending time each day organizing your tasks, the concept of email folders, and the idea of productively organizing yourself is obsolete. The money quote at the end is:

“The essential takeaway is that the new economics of personal productivity mean that the better organized we try to become, the more wasteful and inefficient we become. We’ll likely get more done better if we give less time and thought to organization and greater reflection and care to desired outcomes. Our job today and tomorrow isn’t to organize ourselves better; it’s to get the right technologies that respond to our personal productivity needs. It’s not that we’re becoming too dependent on our technologies to organize us; it’s that we haven’t become dependent enough.”

I couldn’t agree more. I spent almost no time “organizing my tasks.” In fact, I no longer have a task list. I have outcomes I’m going after. They fit within a daily, weekly, quarterly, and annual tempo. The daily and weekly outcomes are dynamic – I have to think about them regularly and they change and shift around (I have new ones each day and new ones each week.) I call these my Daily P1s and my Weekly P1s (which I wrote about recently in a post titled Managing Priorities)- the daily ones are the three things I want to accomplish before I go to sleep; the weekly ones are the three things I want to accomplish each week before Monday morning.

But that’s it. I have a daily schedule that is highly structured (and managed by my assistant) so I don’t have to spend a millisecond thinking about who I need to meet with, where I need to be, or what I need to schedule for later. If you know me, you know that I just “go where my schedule tells me to.” I process all of my email with one touch, I write what I want when I want, and I have a strong conceptual hierarchy for prioritizing high interrupt things. I also stay off the phone unless scheduled – if you spend time with me for a day it’s likely that the only time I’m on the phone is with Amy to say “hi – I love you” or have a pre-scheduled call.

I love the notion of focusing on outcomes rather than organization. For as long as I’ve been an adult, I’ve been hearing about, reading, thinking about, and experimenting with different technology to be “more organized and productive.” I’m an aggressive user of whatever exists and when I reflect on where I’m at in 2012 I definitely feel like I’ve gotten to the place where I’m spending almost all of my time and energy on outcomes and achieving them, not on organizing myself.

If you are someone who spends 30 minutes or more a day “organizing yourself”, I encourage you to step back and think about what you could change and how that might shift you from focusing on organizing to working toward outcomes. It’s liberating.