Get Stuff Done: Productivity Tips From A Former Green Beret, Your Smartphone, And Beyond

In our tech-packed world, it is the best of times and the worst of times for accomplishing what's on your to-do list. Here's how to do more, and sweat it less.

It’s never been easier in human history to get stuff done. And it’s never been harder to get stuff done.

It’s easier in the sense that we have so much technology to help us get it done. The right software and hardware combination can enable you to create miracles in minutes—including an exact replica of an iconic James Bond car that you can then destroy for fun and profit.

And it’s harder in the sense that we have so much technology to confuse us as well as continually interrupt us. As a society, we have all been touched by a mass epidemic of technological ADD—where we’re so busy checking emails, statuses, and sports scores, not to mention trying to remember if we left the information we desperately need on our tablet, phone, or laptop, that we have no shot at fulfilling Larry the Cable Guy’s mandate to "Git-R-Done."

If you’re having trouble tackling tasks due to any or all of the above, I’d like to mention a couple of experts on the subject that just might be able to help—as well as suggest an innovative piece of technology that can definitely help.

First of all, Larry’s not the only guy who can "Git-R-Done"—Michael Martel actually wrote the book on it, he just spelled it differently. In Get Er Done: The Green Beret Guide to Productivity, Michael, a former Green Beret himself, reveals his secrets to personal productivity—learned in the Special Forces, where, if you didn’t "Get Er Done," you just might be done yourself.

And yet, he believes in doing things backwards. But for a good reason. The concept of Backward Planning, which he discusses in his book, means you set a time and day for the completion of a task—and work backwards to create timing points, or deadlines, to reach specific aspects of the task. For example, say I wanted to get this blog done by 5 p.m. Friday and it was Monday. Tuesday, I might set a goal to decide on a topic for the blog. Wednesday, my goal would be to do the necessary research online. Thursday, I would create the outline and Friday I would do the actual writing.

Now, say that something came up that I knew I would be out all day Thursday—but I still have the goal of outlining the blog by then. Well, then I would double up Wednesday—and do the research and the outline on that day to make sure I met my timing point.

Moving forward, productivity consultant David Allen may not like contractions as much as Larry and Michael—he authored the best-seller Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity—but he has a system so powerful it’s even inspired a cult. In his GTD system, he emphasizes task priorities, and his approach is all about control and perspective.

Basically, he believes most people don’t accomplish "big picture" goals because they’re too caught up in day-to-day tasks. His system advocates grouping together similar tasks to help clarify and prioritize what needs to get done when. In turn, your brain ends up not constantly shifting modes—it’s allowed to continue thinking the way it needs to be thinking because it’s tackling a similar block of tasks one after the other. For example, you might spend a morning knocking off a bunch of quick and easy phone calls you need to make—and then spend the afternoon on a bigger goal, such as creating a new revenue stream or adjusting your overall business plan.

But, again, there’s still the matter of the technological onslaught we face every day, which I mentioned at the beginning of this post. We’re scattered so much between our different devices that it’s hard to keep track of where everything is and what we’ve programmed to do what and when.

That’s why my final piece of productivity advice centers on the free software tool, Evernote. Evernote allows you to put everything in one place—your notes, images, documents, web clips, and audio files—and organize it there. More importantly, you can synch Evernote across all your devices—so you always have the same updated information no matter where you might want to review it.

Yes, like I said, it’s never been easier—and never been harder—to get stuff done. But with the help of these two experts and a program like Evernote, you can hopefully find yourself more on the side of the former, and less on the latter, as you progress through your work week.

[Sweating Man: Everett Collection via Shutterstock]

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5 Comments

  • Guto Hernandes

    I love the idea of Backward Planning, so simple it's intriguing why we don't naturally do it.

  • B-Dub

    Slightly different name for a long-standing approach in business planning.  We called them  set-back schedules and they are used widely in project management along with Gantt charts or timelines et al.

  • Guto Hernandes

    I know it's not the objective of the post, but I'd really like to emphasize how much more productive I got since switching from Evernote to Simplenote (https://simple-note.appspot.co....
    Not only is simplenote's website extremely simple and fast, but it has many apps one can use, like Notational Velocity or nvALT (my preferred, blazing fast to open and search, just write and forget, it saves automatically) for OSX, apps for iOS and Android (which open MUCH FASTER than Evernote's and which work offline!).
    Granted, Simplenote is text only, but what I usually do is write the text and a link for the page or image. Or, if I need to keep the image, I can save it to my GDrive (there's a Chrome extension for that) or dropbox.
    Evernote is just SO heavy in OSX (and it was in Windows when I used it as well), sometimes I had to search for something and it would take so long, now it's 2 seconds.
    And it's free. :)

  • Ethan Hale

    Thanks, I'm always looking to try valuable services to improve my clients or my own business productivity.