Workshop recap: "Reboot Your Work" by Matthew Cornell

13 Jan 2009 5:00 PM | Anonymous


Matthew Cornell (see his site,, for lots of ideas and tips on personal productivity) presented "Reboot Your Work: Modern Methods for Productivity, Sanity, and Control" on Monday, January 12th.

This was the first full-day workshop in TriUPA’s 2009 professional training series. Nearly 30 TriUPAians from around the Triangle attended. Special thanks to TriUPA’s generous sponsors, who made this workshop (and all of TriUPA’s events!) possible:

  • GSK
  • BlueCross BlueShield
  • Insight
  • Lenovo
  • Capstrat
  • User-View
  • SAS
  • MoreBetterLabs

You can help support our workshops, virtual seminars, World Usability Day celebration, and other events: join TriUPA today!

Key take-aways

Here are some of the key points that I took away from the workshop. Please add your own comments, notes, and questions!

Matt emphasized the importance of systematically processing all new inputs (whether email, voicemail, paper, a conversation, etc.) using a consistent workflow [see Matt's flowchart.pdf]. Regular, thorough processing prevents inputs from piling up, which can cause anxiety and stress. Ideally, it's best to set up minimum number of collection points, then train yourself and others (colleagues, family, etc.) to use them consistently.

Calendars are often overloaded with many types of information. Matt argued it's better to keep calendars as clean as possible, containing only appointments/meetings, as well as reminders of upcoming deadlines, and date-specific actions (such as, "Pick up a cake for Fred's birthday party sometime on Friday"). By keeping our calendars clean and current, we can work with confidence: checking our calendars for "must do today" meetings and actions, then reviewing and working from a defined list of actions.

Strong parallels between personal productivity and user-centered design emerged during the workshop. We can treat the challenge of personal productivity as a design problem at the personal level. Consider thinking of yourself as the end user, and imagine how to design a workflow system to support your needs, tasks, and information flows. Matt provided a set of heuristics and guidelines that can inform this personal design process. A related problem is that we've never been taught how to manage ourselves, so need training in "Workflow 101." By combining better design of our personal systems with education and training, we can achieve huge gains in effectiveness, efficiency, and reduced stress. (And as we learned in the workshop, the CDC estimates that 80% of health problems in the US are stress-related!)

Matt recommends people consider planning each day the night before, so as to have a structure in place before diving into a work environment that's often filled with distractions and interruptions. Since multitasking and constant interruptions dramatically reduce our ability to concentrate and do complex intellectual work, it's essential to build defenses that can protect our focus and attention.

Overall, the workshop helped me "reboot my work" by reflecting on how I manage my inputs, calendar, projects, actions, and review processes. I know from experience that personal systems become stale over time, and it's critical to regularly re-assess and improve them. Thanks to Matt for helping me, and others, begin that crucial work.

Resources mentioned:

Upcoming workshop: Design Research!

Todd Wilkens (design researcher at Adaptive Path) will visit TriUPA on February 20th! Register for his workshop now at:

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