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Getting important things done

By 11 April 2024 No Comments

I like to get things done. One of my mother’s favourite aphorisms “if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well” might having something to do with it. These three books have inspired me to get things done: “The Four Disciplines of Execution” by McChesney, Covey, and Huling (2012), and “Getting Things Done” by David Allen (2015), and “How Big Things Get Done” by Flyvbjerg and Gardner (2023). Each one offers a unique perspective on how to be efficient and effective in both your personal and professional life regardless of the size of the task you are undertaking.

The Four Disciplines of Execution

“The Four Disciplines of Execution” gives you a framework to focus on your most important goals, using a clear and easy-to-follow formula. It’s all about narrowing your focus to a few critical objectives, acting on lead measures, keeping a scoreboard that motivates you, and creating a rhythm of accountability.

Getting Things Done

“Getting Things Done” introduces a method for stress-free productivity. It’s all about capturing what’s on your mind, clarifying what it means, organising it in a way that makes sense, reviewing it regularly, and engaging with it effectively. It’s about turning all the ‘stuff’ in your head into a clear list of meaningful actions, projects, and useful information.

How Big Things Get Done

“How Big Things Get Done” takes a deep dive into the factors that determine the success of projects, no matter how big or small. It’s all about understanding your odds of success (some projects are more risky undertakings than others), planning carefully, starting with your end goal in mind, building from small modular blocks, encouraging teamwork, and being ready to tackle the unknown unknowns beforehand to make sure your project is a success.

Flyvbjerg and Gardner’s global research findings depicted above are striking. On really big projects, with multi-million-pound budgets on average only five out of every thousand projects get things done right: on budget, on time, and delivering the promised benefits. Key lessons can be gleaned from all these projects, and they propose eleven heuristics (rules of thumb) for better project leadership. Read the book for these, they’ll make more sense than a list here. 😉

Putting it all together

When you combine the wisdom from these three books, you get a powerful approach to getting things done. Here’s the gist of it:

  1. Clarify Your Vision: Figure out what success looks like for you. Whether it’s a personal goal or a professional project, having a clear end goal in mind sets the direction for everything that comes after. Know your ‘Why?’. Think from right to left, with your end goal in mind, work backwards to see the steps you need to take to achieve it.
  2. Break Down the Goals: Identify the steps you need to take to reach your vision. This could mean setting Wildly Important Goals (WIGs; Discipline 1 in the second image above – focusing on the few goals that really matter) or breaking your project down into smaller, more manageable parts, ideally with iterating blocks.
  3. Measure What Matters: Figure out which lead measures will drive you towards your goals. Keep track of these metrics, as they’ll guide your progress and keep you motivated.
  4. Plan Thoroughly: Take the time to plan things out. A detailed plan might take longer to create, but it’ll save you time and resources in the long run by helping you identify potential roadblocks early on. Think slow, act fast. Spend time thinking slow, save on costly mistakes later.
  5. Foster Accountability: Regular check-ins and progress updates are super important. They help you stay focused and make sure everyone involved is on the same page.
  6. Adapt and Overcome: Be ready to face the unknown and adjust your plans accordingly. Being flexible and resilient is key to overcoming any challenges that come your way.
  7. Review and Reflect: Make sure to regularly review your progress and the systems you have in place. Reflecting on what’s working and what’s not allows you to continuously improve and learn.

By putting these insights into practice, you can create a solid strategy for execution that can be applied to any endeavour. Dream big. Achieve big. Embrace these principles and turn your aspirations into reality!

How do you put this approach into practice?

Implementing the above principles from the productivity powerhouses “The Four Disciplines of Execution,” “How Big Things Get Done,” and “Getting Things Done” can revolutionise the way you approach your goals. Here are some practical tips to bring these concepts to life:

  1. Set Specific Goals: Define clear, measurable objectives that align with your vision. Use the SMART criteria to ensure goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.
  2. Prioritise Relentlessly: With your goals set, prioritise tasks based on urgency and importance. Learn to say ‘no’ to tasks that don’t align with your objectives.
  3. Schedule Regular Reviews: Set aside time weekly to review your goals, progress, and adjust plans, as necessary. This keeps you on track and responsive to changes.
  4. Use a Trusted System: Organise tasks and information in a transparent system you trust e.g. Microsoft Planner, Trello, Monday.Com etc. This frees your mind from trying to remember everything and ensures everyone is on the same page.
  5. Focus on Lead Measures: Identify actions that will have the most impact on achieving your goals and focus your efforts there. These are your lead measures, and they predict success.
  6. Create a Scoreboard: Visualise your progress with a scoreboard. This could be a simple chart or a more elaborate tracking system, but it should be easy to understand at a glance.
  7. Cultivate a Supportive Environment: Surround yourself with people who support your goals. Having experienced people around you is key to your success. This could mean joining the Master Practitioners Club, hiring/employing an expert, finding a mentor, or collaborating with like-minded peers.
  8. Embrace the Weekly Big Rocks: Each week, identify the most critical tasks — your “big rocks” — and schedule them before anything else. Ensure these are aligned with your WIGs (wildly important goals).
  9. Practice Reflection: Regularly reflect on what’s working and what’s not. Be honest with yourself about your productivity and adjust as needed.
  10. Maintain Flexibility: Be prepared to pivot when unexpected challenges arise. Flexibility allows you to stay committed to your goals, even when the path to achieving them shifts.

By integrating these tips into your daily routine, you can enhance your productivity and ensure that your actions are always driving you towards your most important goals. Remember, it’s not just about being busy; it’s about being productive in the ways that matter most. Join the gang of five (those 5 out of 1,000 projects on budget, on time, on benefit, or better) and thrive 🎯🚀.


How Big Things Get Done – Rotman School of Management

“Ask Why you are doing the project.”


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