If organization were a sport, David Allen would be an Olympic gold medalist.
This weekend I finished reading Getting Things Done, and it has inspired me to write this blog post amidst piles of my junk all over my office floor.
I took everything out of my desk, placed it on the floor. I am starting anew, using Allen’s simple, elegant and common sense approach to organize my work and my life.
“Get everything out of your head. Make decisions about actions required
on stuff when it shows up — not when it blows up. Organize reminders of
your projects and the next actions on them in appropriate categories.
Keep your system current, complete, and reviewed sufficiently to trust
your intuitive choices about what you’re doing (and not doing) at any
time.” -David Allen
Wikipedia sums up his Getting Things Done process in the following way:
Capture everything that you need to track or remember or act on in
what Allen calls a ‘bucket’: either a physical inbox, email inbox, tape
recorder, notebook, PDA, or any combination of these. Get everything
out of your head and into your collection device, ready for processing.
All buckets should be processed to empty at least once per week.
Unlike other Time Management
authors, David Allen doesn’t suggest any preferred collection method,
leaving it to the choice of the practitioner. The one thing he does
insist is the importance of emptying the "buckets" regularly.
Consequently, any storage space that is inspected regularly is
acceptable to GTD.
When you process your inbox, follow a strict workflow:
- Start at the top.
- Deal with one item at a time.
- Never put anything back into ‘in’.
- If an item requires action:
- do it (if it takes less than two minutes),
- delegate it, or
- defer it.
- If not,
- file it for reference,
- throw it away, or
- incubate it for possible action later.
Regarding the 2-minute Rule: If it would take less than 2 minutes to
do something, just do it right away. Two minutes is a guideline,
roughly the time it would take to defer the action formally.
Allen describes a suggested set of lists which you can use to keep track of items awaiting attention:
- Next actions – For every item requiring your attention,
decide what is the next action that you can physically take on it. For
example, if the item is ‘Write project report’, the next action might
be ‘Email Fred for meeting minutes’, or ‘Call Jim to ask about report
requirements’, or something similar. Though there may be many steps and
actions required to complete the item, there will always be something
that you need to do first, and this should be recorded in the
next actions list. Preferably, these are organized by the context in
which they can be done, such as ‘in the office’, ‘by the phone’, or ‘at
- Projects – every ‘open loop’ in your life or work which
requires more than one physical action to achieve becomes a ‘project’.
These are tracked and periodically reviewed to make sure that every
project has a next action associated with it and can thus be moved
- Waiting for – when you have delegated an action to someone
else or are waiting for some external event before you can move a
project forward, this must be tracked in your system and periodically
checked to see if action is due or a reminder needs to be sent.
- Someday/Maybe – things that you want to do at some point, but not right now. Examples might be ‘learn Chinese’, or ‘take diving holiday’.
A calendar is also important for keeping track of your appointments
and commitments; however, Allen specifically recommends that the
calendar be reserved for what he terms the ‘hard landscape’: things
which absolutely have to be done by a particular deadline, or meetings
and appointments which are fixed in time and place. ‘To-do’ items
should be reserved for the next action lists.
A final key organizing component of GTD is the filing system. Getting Things Done
says that a filing system, if it is to be used, must be easy, simple
and fun. Even a single piece of paper, if you need it for reference,
should get its own file if it doesn’t belong in a folder you already
have. Allen’s suggestion is that you keep a single, alphabetically
organized filing system, in order to make it as quick and easy as
possible to store and retrieve the information you need.
Users of Google’s Gmail online email service can also use labels to create ‘To-Do’ lists and projects as explained in Bryan Murdaugh’s "Getting Things Done with Gmail"
whitepaper. It keeps many of the same concepts of GTD but implements
them into online email. For Gmail users who use the Firefox web
browser, the "GTDInbox Add-on" may serve them well as it brings the GTD interface into Gmail in a clean and easily usable way.
The lists of actions and reminders will be of little use if you
don’t review them at least daily, or whenever you have time available.
Given the time, energy and resources that you have at that particular
moment, decide what is the most important thing for you to be doing
right now, and do it. If you are inclined to procrastinate,
you may end up always doing the easy tasks and avoiding the difficult
ones. To solve this, you can decide to do the actions of the list one
by one, following their order, just like you process your inbox.
At least weekly, the discipline of GTD requires that you review all
your outstanding actions, projects and ‘waiting for’ items, making sure
that any new tasks or forthcoming events are entered into your system,
and that everything is up to date. Allen suggests the creation of a "tickler file" in order to help refresh your memory each week with your outstanding tasks and projects.
Any organizational system is no good if you spend all your time
organizing your tasks instead of actually doing them! David Allen’s
contention is that if you can make it simple, easy, and fun to take the
actions that you need to take, you will be less inclined to
procrastinate or become overwhelmed with too many ‘open loops’.