Stever Robbins, aka the Get-It-Done Guy, is the creator of a series of popular productivity podcasts, the host of productive “action days” for his online community, and now the author of a new book Get-It-Done Guy’s 9 Steps to Work Less and Do More.
One of Robbins’s distinctive qualities as a productivity expert is his engaging sense of humor and straightforward approach to solving problems. Rather than fill his pages with lengthy theories or case studies about why we procrastinate or fail to set clear goals, Robbins assumes that as human beings we are all prone to make similar kinds of mistakes, and quickly moves on to offering solutions.
His book is, as you would expect from the title, organized into 9 chapters:
- Live on Purpose
- Stop Procrastinating
- Conquer Technology
- Beat Distractions to Cultivate Focus
- Stay Organized
- Stop Wasting Time
- Build Stronger Relationships
Although some of these topics are abstract, like discovering your deeper life purpose, each chapter offers tips and tools for pursuing those questions. Each chapter stands well on its own, so that the book could serve as a dose of motivation when you’re feeling stuck in a particular area, as well as an overall introduction to basic principles of goal setting, time management, organization, and productivity.
Evaluate your use of technology
Of particular interest to many ProfHacker readers would be Robbins’s chapter on technology, in which he describes the result of a one-year evaluation of his work habits when he first began using a PDA. By distinguishing between his use of a digital to-do list (which he jettisoned in favor of paper), calendar (which he kept online despite his dissatisfaction with the results due to a “geek-guy fascination with technology”) and address book (which he liked having digital), Robbins demonstrates how and why you should “hold your technology to standards. Decide why you use the technology you do. Test it out and evaluate it ruthlessly to make sure it’s living up to its promise” (56-7). Robbins suggests that too many of us become enraptured with the idea of what technology could do for us rather than really looking at how it does or does not help us to meet our goals. He is not against technology, as he does recommend specific online tools for certain tasks. But he does encourage us to ask tough questions about the tools we use and to follow through on the answers.
This is a leitmotif throughout Robbins’s book, in which he also recommends the use of analog devices like pen and paper and suggests that we learn to think of the computer as something that should be used and set aside, rather than the focus of all our work time. Robbins offers a number of checklists, planning worksheets, and tracking grids in his book that will appeal to readers who want to gain greater control over their habits, decisions, and actions.
Robbins’s chapter on focus offers a useful distinction between grouping tasks according to content focus or task focus. He suggests that deep, complex projects, like writing a grant proposal, can benefit from long stretches of time spent working on them to keep your brain engaged, even though your time might be spent doing different tasks (writing, collecting supporting documents, revising). When you’re working in task focus, by contrast, you group similar tasks together even if they contribute to different projects (like running all your downtown errands on the same afternoon). Robbins further suggests dividing your week into Focus, Admin, and Spirit days, an arrangement that many academics will find helpful, since you may have “teaching days” and “writing days” or “lab days” already built into your schedule.
Robbins also offers some seemingly drastic measures for dealing with email overload, some engaging ideas for how to organize physical and mental space, and some good tips for thinking about how to combine tasks to leverage your talents. He points out how “multitasking” only makes us feel, rather than be more productive. Reducing procrastination, emptying your inbox, or streamlining your organizational systems is only beneficial if you’re using your newly free time to do the things you truly want to do. Efficiency without selectivity is no gain.
Read the book
This book will appeal to readers looking for some concrete suggestions offered in a humorous, easygoing manner. Although some of these tips aren’t unique to Robbins (and in fact some similar ideas have appeared right here on ProfHacker), this book offers a useful array of suggestions. (Plus a few jokes about zombies!) And if you can’t imagine stepping away from your computer long enough to read a book, then you might at the very least want to check out some excerpts and interviews.
[Cover image of 9 Steps to Work Less and do More by Stever Robbins]