Welcome to part 1 in my series on Organization Systems. To read part 2 in this series on organizational systems, click here. To read other articles about the GTD system and resources to make it work, click here.
The core principles of GTD as developed by David Allen are:
Capture everything that you need to do, track, remember or follow-up on. The general premise is to get it out of your head and in one place – notebook, computer, PDA(mobile phone,) email, voice recorder, whatever works for you. Whichever you use, this collection “bucket” should be emptied (processed) at least once per week.
When processing your “bucket” or collection of tasks, a strict workflow is followed:
•Start at the top.
•Deal with one item at a time.
•Never put anything back into ‘in’(like the email inbox of messages you keep re-reading)
•If an item requires action:
•Do it (if it takes less than two minutes), OR
•Delegate it, OR
•If an item does not require action:
•File it for reference, OR
•Throw it away, OR
•Incubate it for possible action later.
If it takes under two minutes to do something, it should be done immediately. The two-minute rule is a guideline, encompassing roughly the time it would take to formally defer the action.
Allen describes a suggested set of lists which can be used to keep track of items awaiting attention:
•Next actions — For every item that requires attention, decide the next action that can be physically taken on that item. For example, if the item is, “Write project report”, the next action might be, “Email Fred for meeting minutes.” Though there may be many steps required to complete the item, there will always be something that needs to be done first, and this step should be recorded in the next actions list. Preferably, these steps are organized either by the context in which they can be done, such as “office”, “phone”, or “store.”
•Projects — Every open loop in one’s life or work which requires more than one physical action to achieve becomes a project. These projects are tracked and periodically reviewed to make sure that every project has a next action associated with it, and thus can be moved forward.
•Waiting for — When an action has been delegated to someone else, or when one is waiting for some external event before a project can be moved forward, this is tracked in the system and periodically checked to see if action is due, or a reminder needs to be sent.
•Someday/Maybe — Things to be done at some point, but not right now. Examples might be “learn Spanish”, or, “take diving holiday”.
Note: I use categories to organize my tasks instead of context, such as or by categories such as “work,” “finances,” “personal,” “review,” “household,” etc.
A calendar is important for keeping track of appointments and commitments; however, Allen specifically recommends that the calendar be reserved for 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. A filing system must be easy, simple and fun. Even a single piece of paper (or electronic document), if needed for reference, should get its own file if it doesn’t belong in an existing folder. Allen suggests a single, alphabetically organized filing system, in order to make it as quick and easy as possible to store and retrieve the needed information.
The lists of actions and reminders will be of little use if not reviewed regularly (usually weekly). Given the time, energy, and resources available at a particular moment, one must decide the most important task to be done immediately, and do it. If one is inclined to procrastinate, one may end up always doing easy tasks and avoiding difficult ones. To solve this, one can decide to do the actions on the list one by one, in order, just like processing an inbox.
The discipline of GTD requires that all outstanding actions, projects and ‘waiting for’ items are reviewed at least once per week, making sure that any new tasks or upcoming events are entered into one’s system, and that everything is up to date. Allen suggests creating a “tickler file” containing outstanding tasks and projects as a way to refresh one’s memory daily.
Any organizational system is no good if excessive time is spent organizing tasks instead of actually doing them. Allen’s contention is that if one can make it simple, easy, and fun to take the necessary actions, one will be less inclined to procrastinate or become overwhelmed with too many ‘open loops’.
For more information on this productivity system go to www.davidco.com.
To read part 2 in this series on organizational systems, click here.