Your Brain as a Success Coach for Getting Things Done

Question: When you identify important projects, do you clearly define the successful outcome?
Do you clearly describe, either in the project title or description what success, even “wild success” will look like?

If you are not doing this, you are missing out on perhaps the most powerful productivity tool available to help you accomplish your goals and dreams: your brain.  In fact, if you don’t regularly do this, you’re leaving your brain in park when it could be driving you to accomplish wild success.

Visualizing the Successful Outcome
Many years ago, David Allen shared with me that one of the first things he did when planning his first book, the best-selling, Getting Things Done, was to write the Wall Street Journal review of his book, first. He wrote the book review as he would like it to appear in print, even before writing the first chapters of his book. For many years I’ve written my projects in the past tense — as if they were “done” and I found that helped me to “see” done as the objective.  I thought that David’s example of writing a formal review of his book project was very clever and a powerful visualization tool, so I made note of it.
My Personal Application
When I set out to develop my eProductivity software, I followed David’s recommendation and wrote my own review. I determined to summarize the product in two sentences, one from the perspective of the Notes community since eProductivity is built on Lotus Notes; the other from the GTD community because eProductivity embodies many of the principles that I learned from David’s book.

For the Lotus Notes community, the most concise review I could come up with (after many iterations and variations) was this:  “eProductivity: The Ultimate Personal Productivity Tool for Lotus Notes.” This eventually became the marketing tag line and company mission. It is my hope that I have accomplished this and that people in the Notes community who evaluate eProductivity will tell us that we have accomplished this objective.

For the GTD community I came up with a slight variation: “eProductivity: The Ultimate GTD Implementation Tool for Lotus Notes.” For those aspects of the product that were specifically designed with the GTD methodology in mind this was my driving measure. As I worked on eProductivity I would regularly refer back to my “review”.  Not only did this help keep me motivated but it also helped me fix in my mind the final product and how it would work, how people would use, and how it would improve their ability to get things done.  For me, like for David, creating the review helped me to visualize exactly what done looked like.

Do you know what “done” looks like?

If you don’t know how “done’ looks for a particular task, not only will you be incapable of  knowing when you are done, you will also miss out on the ready help available to you from your most valuable and trusted resource — your brain.

How does this work?
In my experience, writing my project definitions in terms of their outcome creates a cognitive dissonance between what I have defined as done and the present reality. As a result, whenever I read that project statement (or in my case, look at the product logo and tag line) my brain has to subconsciously decide if it agrees with the statement. If it does, great. I’m done. If not, it usually identifies one or more things that I need to do to make the statement true.

A Built-in Personal Success Coach
It’s quite easy to enlist your brain to define the next actions you must take toward success: all you have to do is craft a clearly defined outcome statement and read it. Immediately, your brain will decide if it is true or not. It may say, “Self, well done.” Or, it may say, “Self, that statement’s not entirely true because this is not done yet.” If so, simply capture what has your attention on to an appropriate list and act on it. Shortly, you will be completing actions that are in alignment with your successful outcome and you will be accomplishing your goals.

This exercise of beginning with the end result in mind has been a powerful tool for me — a productivity tool, even — to help me in the decision making process. Whenever I had a decision to make about this project — whether it was in design, architecture, features, programming, or budget — I would ask myself “what decision can I make that will bring me closer to the two outcome statements I defined? There were times in prior years when I simply wanted to wrap up the current feature set and put the product out there, however, it did not meet my criteria for my successful outcome. So, we waited, and persisted, and continued working, learning, and refining until we are where we are at today.

I encourage you to think about creating one or more successful outcome statements for each of your major projects.

If you decide to try this, post a comment and let me know how your brain worked out as your personal success coach.

I think you will be amazed at the result.

Update: If you would like to see the result of my project, eProductivity, I invite you to watch the overview video

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  1. Excellent post. Writing the “review” of a project is a powerful idea. You get to sense the impact of the result before fleshing out the details, which is often the natural sequence of how we’re motivated to take action: we get enthused about a new idea, then jump straight into it.

    But sometimes the lack of detail can be paralyzing. By creating a mock review, we can trick our brain into working backwards from the outcome into more specific levels of vision.

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