From large-scale enterprise efficiency to small-scale personal effectiveness, the art of productivity follows a surprisingly consistent pattern. There are countless nuances in the daily practice of productivity, but this article will focus simply on explaining the overarching concepts and why ignoring these concepts prevents people and companies from reaching their goals. So, without further ado, the D3 Framework – Discover. Decide. Do.
The first step to getting things done is knowing what to do. This follows a process of collection, organization and sharing, with each phase containing its own set of details. And while the goal of this first step is to discover a certain course of action, it should be noted upfront that the word itself carries little significance. The word could have easily been called “Think” or “Choose” since this step also involves thinking about all available options, and choosing the right one. As such, the measure of success in this first step hinges not on simply discovering a solution, but rather on the effectiveness of that solution.
Discovering the right solution starts with gathering data. More accurately speaking, this phase refers to the general inward flow of information to help determine the proper course of action. Common activities include information gathering, brainstorming, and user research, with a focus on gaining a deeper understanding of the problem or situation. Theoretically, with more data available, not only are there more alternatives to choose from, but there is also a higher probability that the best alternative will be chosen. However, spending too much time collecting data can lead to the false sense that progress has been made, when in fact nothing meaningful has been accomplished. Thus, mastering this first phase is a matter of balancing utopia myopia against analysis paralysis.
The next part of Discover is processing the information at hand to reveal the proper course of action. Even though this is where the core of discovery happens, the organization phase is unfortunately also the most difficult to specify because inspiration does not occur as a direct result of any particular set of actions. Sometimes, finding insight is a matter of adding structure and hierarchy through the use of headers, subheaders, formatting, bulletpoints, and tables. Other times, making the right connection takes on the form of meta-data like tags, colors, points, rankings, or comments. To further complicate the situation, people’s minds can structure the same information in multiple ways, including top-down (i.e. lists or outlines), left-right (i.e. mindmaps or spreadsheets), and freeform (i.e. sketches or graphics). Ultimately, discerning the signal through the noise requires an amalgamation of random actions with no one right path to innovation.
The final piece of this step is sharing what has been discovered. In particular, this phase refers to the overall outward flow of information so that action can be taken on the insights uncovered. Depending on the nature of the situation, this information is meant to inform either individual actions or group activity. In the case of personal productivity, the best tools should allow a user to retrieve their thoughts quickly and painlessly. Methods for making the data easily accessible include predictive search, advanced filters, and pro-active reminders. On the other hand, in the case of group productivity, the best tools should allow a user to present their thoughts clearly and effortlessly to other people. Attributes should include a clean interface, minimal delays in response time, and broad adoption of the medium.
At this point, there should now be a basic idea of what needs to be accomplished in order to reach the goal. Ideally, the most effective idea will have been chosen out of all available options, but realistically, this might not be possible because of the countless unknown variables. However, if no option is chosen, then no progress can be made. So almost as important as picking the most effective idea is just picking any idea and moving forward, knowing there’s usually an opportunity to revisit the question if necessary. In the end, decisive action is the only way towards real productivity.
After figuring out what to do, the next step is deciding how to do it. This is a matter of properly allocating the resources of Time, Talent, Treasure, and Tools to create the most efficient plan possible.
Time refers to deciding on what exactly needs to be done, when it needs to be done, and in what order. It is what most people have in mind when they think of “planning”. When establishing this schedule, it is important to be genuine about how long any certain activity will take. Every once in awhile, people make the mistake of overestimating their abilities and thus failing to allocate enough time to thoroughly complete a given task. More often than not though, people are unrealistic about scheduling because they totally forget about the moments of time that pass by in between tasks. This transition time includes physically traveling to the next activity, but also includes mentally preparing for the next activity, an act commonly referred to as context-switching. As a result, the most efficient schedules aren’t the packed ones with activities stacked one right after the other, but instead are the realistic ones with adequate spacing between each task.
Talent refers to deciding on how other people play a role in accomplishing the goal. Understanding how to delegate work is most applicable in a business setting, where analysts and associates represent the talent ultimately executing on the plan set forth by upper management. However, personal productivity can also utilize talent in the form of friends and family. In both these cases, talent must be efficiently organized in a way that minimizes friction and maximizes impact. Additionally, since utilizing this resource inherently requires the cooperation other people, properly allocating talent means garnering the buy-in of everyone involved. At an office, this role is typically filled by a project manager who is also responsible for clearing roadblocks, making sure employees have access to the proper tools, and clarifying any ambiguities in the plan.
Treasure refers to deciding on how money and other monetary assets are spent. An important distinction worth clarifying is that Treasure only covers the raising of funds necessary to complete the task at hand, and does not constitute the general acquisition of funds, which is a goal unto itself. The most common use of treasure is to buy more of the other three resources. Another use of treasure is to invest it, whereby money is allocated for spending at some future date. In rare cases, purely having the money allows a person to participate in activities from which they would otherwise be excluded. Similar to estimating the time required to complete a task, estimating the cost required to complete a task should also be performed in an extremely conservative manner.
Tools refer to deciding what appliances and applications are to be used in reaching the goal. When choosing a tool, one should consider its learning curve, its long-term usefulness and its total cost of ownership. Furthermore, while it can be tempting to pick a tool that’s familiar, it is important to let the task dictate the instrument, and not the other way around. As the saying goes, “When all you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail.” Although most options are adequate for getting the job done, there is a certain level of efficiency that comes with choosing the right tool for the job.
By the end of this step, there should exist a specific and actionable strategy of what needs to be done. Although there might be a lack of faith in the freshly conceived arrangement, it is once again absolutely critical to commit to the plan and to continue moving forward. It is altogether likely that a first attempt will not result in the most optimal plan, but as long as each cycle produces honest and constructive feedback, then real progress is being made. It would be horrible at this point to back-track on resource allocation decisions, or worse yet, to second guess whether the chosen path was the right one to begin with. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once noted, “An ounce of action is worth a ton of theory.” In other words, in order to get anything done, at a certain point somebody needs to just start doing it.
The final step in the art of productivity is to just start taking action. The attention turns to the execution of the plan, with success determined by the key drivers of motivation, discipline, and perseverance. Generally speaking, these drivers represent the three distinct stages of starting, following through, and finishing the task at hand. In reality though, having the stages blur together is actually a good sign because it suggests the individual is no longer worried about process and is instead focused solely on getting things done.
Despite having a clear idea of what needs to be done and how to do it, some plans still fall through due to a lack of motivation. To be clear, there are no silver bullets to producing motivation, but there are a number of techniques worth mentioning. On the enterprise level, the most straightforward method for motivating employees is to set an example. If a manager starts to display a clear bias towards action, then over time others will follow suit. Another method of motivation is to reward the doers. In addition to giving employees a direct incentive to produce results, there are now also more clear examples of desired behavior. A third way to motivate employees is to show a true understanding of the realities of the business. It’s one thing to pay lip service to the fact that everyone is on the same team, and quite another to genuinely mean it. This honesty manifests itself in clear and detailed action plans that can only be created by managers who are close enough to the front lines to understand what employees truly have to deal with on a daily basis. In the end, the best way to increase motivation is getting employee approval on strategy rather than forcing it down through decrees from upper management. Within reason, include the feedback of everyone who will eventually execute the strategy. Even better, get them to believe that it was their idea in the first place!
On the individual level, getting oneself to start engaging in a certain action is a psychological battle best characterized by BJ Fogg’s Behavior Model. According to this theory, three elements must converge at the same moment for a behavior to occur: Motivation, Ability, and Trigger. Specifically, the model breaks down these pieces into smaller subcomponents that define the whole. For motivation, the three Core Motivators are pleasure/pain, hope/fear, and social acceptance/rejection. Within ability, the six Simplicity Factors are time, money, physical effort, brain cycles, social deviance, and non-routine. Finally, the three types of Triggers are facilitator, spark and signal. Although the model provides a lot of details to absorb, this is when the effort put forth in Discover and Decide really start to shine because they respectively help explain the passion behind a certain action and simplify how to implement that action.
Moving on to the follow-through of a plan, the main reason for failure is a lack of discipline. Achieving discipline is a simple matter of eliminating all distractions, but the difficulty of doing so is practically the definition of “it’s easier said than done.” External disturbances make up the first category of distractions and are composed of the usual suspects, such as phone and email. To deal with these, start by creating a workspace void of games, gadgets, and any other gizmos that might divert attention from the task. Turn off email notifications, stop checking news feed updates, and make sure other people know that this part of the schedule is blocked off for work. Remember that a clear desk makes for a clear mind. The second category of distractions are more personal in nature, and include items such as certain a TV show that can’t be missed, a certain game that needs just five more minutes to level up, or a certain piece of gossip that must be discussed. Since these distractions don’t necessarily apply to everyone, they will vary from one individual to another. The best way to deal with them is preempt these distractions before they occur. It requires an honest assessment of the self to find all the non-essential activities that make up a day. The final category of distractions are mental in nature and manifest themselves as random thoughts that stray into the mind. This is the rare use-case where other models, namely GTD and Action Method, will occasionally apply. If some other important, non-urgent task arises, don’t do it. Instead, make a note of it and come back later. If the mind is starting to second guess the plan of action, don’t let it win. Instead, have faith in the previous efforts and push onward. If an interesting line of thought pops up, don’t follow it. This is no longer the time to explore or discover new options. Don’t think. Just do.
Finally, some plans are never completed due to a lack of perseverance. The most common cause of this issue is the perfectionist mindset where one believes that whatever is being worked on can’t be finished because it just isn’t good enough yet. When this happens though, there is a tendency to unconsciously ignore other deadlines, causing more stress overall. The countermeasure is to evaluate the total performance of a day by realizing that when one blindly pursues a single activity, other responsibilities will suffer. The second cause of not completing an activity is the unfounded belief that wrapping up current work closes off other options. The corrective measure is to realize that exactly the opposite is true: only by releasing the work into the wild can one start to gather legitimate feedback about the viability of solution. The third cause of not finishing is the fear of submitting the work to criticism. The remedy here is to reframe the conversation by realizing that judgment of your work is not equivalent to judgement of you as a person.
When reaching the end of this step, the result should be clear – either the work was done or it wasn’t. Afterwards, it may be entirely appropriate to take a retrospective look at the situation, collect feedback to inform the next cycle, and continue to iterate. One might even take a break or find some other way to recuperate. Until the job is done though, nothing else matters.
In conclusion, the key to getting anything done, in work or in play, is to Discover. Decide. Do. The best way to apply this knowledge is using it to determine where within the framework a task stops making progress. Identifying and then overcoming this obstacle is turning point of accomplishing any major goal or mission. Finally, keep in mind that reaching ambitions isn’t supposed to be easy. Anything worth doing requires relentless dedication and tenacity. So don’t let difficulty become a discouragement. Don’t give yourself an option for failure. Don’t save anything for the swim back. There is only forward.