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?

Joy to the World, and Peace on Earth

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013
I'm about to sit down and watch one of my favorite Christmas movies, The Nativity Story. It reminded me of this Christmas card from Kathy Mullen Mack's card collection...

ChristmasNativity1995.jpg

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room
And heaven and nature sing.

"Joy to the World, the Lord is Come" by Isaac Watts, 1674-1748

Photo from Mack Family Christmas Card, 1995 (more)

IBM is listening... Thanks Alistair

Sunday, October 27th, 2013
I've just returned from my second IBM Leadership Alliance Conference in Boston.  

20130825-IBMLeadershipAlliance.jpg
The IBM Leadership Alliance (formerly known as the "Lotus Leadership Alliance/LOLA") is a small invitation-only event in which IBM Collaboration leadership share what's happening in their world and engage the aforementioned groups in intimate discussion about topics of interest. By creating an environment in which we can hear from and communicate with key players (without the big stage and teleprompters!) we can learn from one another. It was a rich experience. Much of this, will no doubt influence the products and announcements at the next public Connect conference.

In this day when "social" business is promoted -- and often confused to mean social tools only -- it's nice to see that IBM's Collaboration division really gets the value of "social" as in connecting with your ecosystem in order to share, learn, and do smarter business. A quick word of thanks to Alistair Rennie and his team for creating and hosting an environment rich for knowledge sharing.

While I am not at  liberty to share what was presented or discussed at the conference I think it is appropriate to point out one of the many ways that IBM communicates with key people in its ecosystem, including customers, developers and business partners to name a few.

Before you ask, there is nothing further that I can share. It's an invitation only event and we are asked to not share the contents of what was presented. I do not know who invited me or what got me on the list, but I'm thankful for the opportunity to participate.

Overall, it was a worthwhile trip for me. My hope is that the information that I learned and the experience that I was able to share in conversation will have an impact on how we all do business.

Thank you IBM.

3D Printer Father’s Day Pop-up Card

Sunday, June 16th, 2013
6-16-2013 3D Printer Father's Day Pop-up CardAll of my daughters delight in making hand made cards. Wendy especially likes to design and engineer hand made pop-up cards. This year, Wendy surprised me with a 3D Printer pop-up card to commemorate my homebuilt RepStrap 3D printer that has been sitting on our kitchen table for the past several months.

Click on the images to see the card and compare it to the actual printer.

6-16-2013 3D Printer Father's Day Pop-up Card - Daddy's RepStrap 6-16-2013 3D Printer Father's Day Pop-up Card Inside

Eric’s RepStrap 3D Printer Trainer

Thursday, April 18th, 2013
I saw my first 3D printer almost 8 years ago and I blogged about it calling it "The Ultimate PC Accessory". In the years since, I've watched with excitement as the prices for assembled machines tumbled and as the build-it-yourself self-replicating "RepRap" movement led by  Adrian Bowyer emerged.

What excites me about this, aside from the possibilities of robotics and additive manufacturing, is the grass roots nature of the 3D printing community. It reminds me of my early start with home built computers.

A few months ago, I got to play with a MakerBot at a client's office. I was hooked. So, I set out to build myself a "3D Printer Trainer" using whatever parts I had on hand; this is referred to as building a "RepStrap".
Eric's RepStrap 3D Printer In Progress 4-17-2013
I began to build my RepStrap 3D printer from scratch using as few purchased components as possible -- no specific plans or kits, just inspiration from many creative people and designs on the internet. Many of the parts are overkill or the wrong size but the RepStrap concept gives me the freedom to do that. I'm not too concerned about precision or build volume right now.  I just want it to move on my command.

Once the hardware is complete, I intend to use it to teach myself the entire 3D printing workflow and tool chain -- from concept to design to configuration to print. Then, when I have some actual experience under my belt -- and more time -- I will take it all apart and start fresh with a new and improved design. I have only had a few hours each week to invest in this project but you can see that it is already starting to take shape.

Continue Reading "Eric's RepStrap 3D Printer Trainer" »

While some know of David Allen by his book or seminars, I've had the good fortune to get to know David personally and be coached by him. I worked for David for many years and in that time, he has become a friend, mentor and colleague. I know his approach to personal productivity works and I can testify that he practices what he preaches about productivity.

At its core, his message is not a difficult one. It goes like this: 1) Get things off your mind, 2) Make a list of your outcomes and actions, 3) Organize these appropriately, 4) Review your lists, and 5) Make informed choices about what to do (or not do). Putting these things into practice and making them a habit takes some effort. (David and I even collaborated on cool software that makes this easy for users of IBM collaboration solutions.)

Like an iceberg, there's more below the surface and there's a lot of deep thinking that has gone into how to communicate the power that comes from these principles. Long before this approach became known around the world as his "Getting Things Done" (GTD) methodology David was teaching and refining the same model with clients. I've been listening to David's presentations on productivity and getting things done for 20 years (I even coproduced his first GTD cassette album which tells you how long ago that was). Yet, I never tire of hearing David speak. In fact, each time I listen I pick up something new that I can apply in my own life.

While the essence of GTD hasn't changed substantially, David's presentation continues to be refined with an emphasis on clarity, application and motivation. I'm continually amazed at the clarity that David brings to his message of what it takes to get things done and this TEDx presentation is no exception. Even if you are familiar with or practice the GTD approach, you'll be inspired by David's recent presentation at Claremont College.


FedEx delivered the new iPad today; however, it's still in the shrink wrap. I've promised myself that I would get my eProductivity inboxes processed before I played with the new tablet. (Which is why I'm blogging, right?)

The last time I was in this situation was almost 7 years ago when I was getting ready to unbox my first tablet pc. I eventually did the unboxing the next day and recorded a podcast. We had a lot of fun with that, back when Tablet PCs were 7 pounds and would run for 3 hours (maybe) on a charge.

Now, in the "Post PC era" as Apple calls it, a tablet is light and thin and dare I say "simply amaaaazing". Anyway, time to tidy up here and get ready for the unboxing with a friend who also purchased a new iPad. My focus with the iPad will be on integration with Lotus Notes and other productivity apps as tools for GTD and high performance knowledge work. I look forward to this next adventure.