Do you ever find yourself unable to make a decision about whether or not to move forward on something?

Have you ever asked yourself, "self, why did I waste my time in that way?"

I've done both. Many times.

As I continue to do research in high performance knowledge work and personal knowledge management, I've collected a number of tools and methods to help me make smarter decisions about what to do or not do.

Today, I'd like to share one of those tools with you. I call it my opportunity decision matrix,

When I was in graduate school and trying to run my consulting business and launch a software company and be a loving husband and father to my four daughters, I hit a wall. Something had to give. But what?

My good friend, Michael, gave me some sage advice that helped a lot. He told me to ask myself two simple questions to ask whenever I needed to evaluate options.

Here's how this works:

First define the "opportunity". Perhaps it's "Attend ABC conference". Next, evaluate that opportunity through the lens of two filters: opportunity and timing, like this:

Question #1. Is this the right opportunity?

If it isn't,  stop. Don't waste your time. Done. Decision made. If it is the right opportunity, then, I continue to question #2

Question #2. Is this the right timing?

Many times, I have a right opportunity but bad timing. It makes no sense to proceed unless both the opportunity and timing are right.

I have since expanded into an this 2x2 opportunity decision matrix:
20140218-Opportunity_Decision_Matrix-Eric_Mack.jpg

This matrix has proven extremely valuable to me when I have a lot of hard choices to make and a new one shows up (like, "hey, do you want to fill in the blank.... ?")

For example, at a particularly busy point in my life, I got invited to speak at a conference. It was a great opportunity and I really wanted to go. However, it was not the right timing, so I declined. Having this simple two question matrix really helped me make a hard decision easy.  

The following year I was invited to speak at a different event. I concluded that it was both the right opportunity and  the right timing, so I accepted the invitation and the "Beyond Planning Conference" was born.


Sometimes, when it seems like I have many large or complex decisions to make, It helps me to pull out a sheet of paper and make a 4x4 matrix, like the one above. Then, I list of all of the options on my plate and one by one, and I write them into the appropriate quadrant.

It's usually quite a sobering experience.

Next, I cross off everything in quadrants 3 & 4 and move quadrant 2 items to my "someday/Maybe" list. This leaves me with only my quadrant 1 items, which I do.

By being ruthless in evaluating all of my choices against these two criteria, I can get unstuck quickly and feel good about the choices I make.

How do you make choices? What tools have you found helpful to make decisions? [Guest blog post by Nathan Paul]

David Allen opens his book, Getting Things Don, the Art of Stress Free Productivity, with this statement: “It’s possible for a person to have an overwhelming number of things to do and still function productively with a clear head and a positive sense of relaxed control” (p. 3). I don’t know about you, but my immediate reaction was, “Yes please!”

I’m going to give you a partial summary of the first chapter of Mr. Allen’s book. I’ll try to give you enough of a sense of what this book says and what it can do for you (and has done for me) without giving you all it has to offer (both to respect Mr. Allen’s IP and not get myself sued by him or his publisher).1

What do you want to get done?

Mr. Allen defines “work” as “anything that you want or need to be different than it currently is” (4).

So. Are there weeds in the garden? Are there emails in your inbox? Is your air conditioner broken? Do you need to help your kid decide on a college? How many hundreds of things are there in your life that you need or want to accomplish, do, create, or change? We’re going to take a little look at how to do it all.

This isn’t just a system for your job. It’s for your whole life.

What’s in your way?


Continue Reading: "An introduction to a solid way of getting things done" »

[Guest blog post by Nathan Paul]

The Natural Planning Method is something you’ve been doing your whole life without realizing it. Recently, I’ve been learning to consciously apply it to everything I do — and it’s been a huge relief. In a word, it’s given me a trusted process for dealing with just about anything I need or want to do. Now, instead of dozens of projects flying into my brain at random to tug my attention away from what I’m doing, I can focus on the present, because I know that everything on my to-do list is set to be taken care of. This isn’t anything quasi-mystical, and I’m not going to ask you to buy anything.

The steps

What David Allen (the speaker from the video that was the subject of my last entry) has done is reverse-engineer the process that your brain naturally uses to plan anything:
1. You identify something you want
2. You envision what having it will look and feel like — what will be true once it’s accomplished
3. Everything (information, ideas, actions) associated with getting it floods into your mind
4. You organize those ideas, actions, and info into patterns and steps
5. You determine the very next thing you need to do — and do it

How you’re already doing it


Continue Reading: "The Natural Planning Method: simple, effective, and free for helping you get things done" »

I often receive emails from happy users of the Stand-alone edition of eProductivity that want to use the Integrated edition but need management approval to do so. Many of these folks made the mistake of asking IT first. You have to understand that many IT organizations operate with a "break fix" mentality, meaning that if something breaks they will fix it. If you ask to add a new tool they will often see it first as something else that could break and that they would have to fix rather than exploring the potential benefits to you or the organization.

The solution is to start with leadership, not IT. Then, when leadership sees the value, they can request IT approval. I know this approach works as I have helped countless people around the world do just this.

So, where to start?

I recommend having a conversation (or sending an email to start one) with either to your manager or to the individual in your organization that you think cares most about workplace performance. That could be a manager that is in touch with how his people use their tools to get work done or it could be someone higher up the chain focused on value creation. In any case, it's not IT you want to start with but the people who "get" the value of working smarter.

Then. in a simple format, share your story.

Continue Reading: "How to tell your story in a compelling way to get management support for eProductivity" »

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