Friend of David and GTD Times, Ismael Ghalimi is putting on what I’m anticipating will be a very intensive and highly educational seminar tomorrow at the Four Seasons Hotel in Palo Alto – The Extreme Productivity Seminar. There are apparently a couple of tickets still available so if you’re in the area and would like to stretch your productivity skills a little I highly recommend you head on over to Ismael’s site and get the details and reserve yourself a seat.
Ismael also puts on the very highly regarded Office2.0 Event that generally takes place in the autumn – and, as anyone who’s been to that mutli day extravaganza can attest, Ismael puts on a conference like noone else. If an O’Reilly conference is First Class, Ismael’s are “Sleeper” class – if you’ve ever been lucky enough to fly that way you know exactly what I mean.
I’ll be attending the event to cover it for GTD Times, so if you’re there, please introduce yourself to me – that goes double if you’re interested in contributing to GTD Times. See you all tomorrow!
Scott McDaniel and Derek Scruggs from SurveyGizmo discuss the Core Conversation – GTD for Startups: Getting Things Done in the Real World they led at the recent South by Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas. They discuss how they use GTD in the fast paced environment of a startup. Scruggs has a handy tip he uses for his weekly review.
Original coverage here.
A Community Contribution by Michael Sliwinski
Over the years that I’ve been learning and mastering GTD I’ve stumbled across many great individuals who taught me a lot about how to implement GTD in my personal and business life.
Some of them have been exposed to GTD since the day the book was published and have gradually become black belts… and there are others who have never heard of GTD or “Getting Things Done” but if you have a look at the way they work – it’s incredible to see how they follow the book’s advice without ever reading it.I call them: natural born GTDers.
Who are natural born GTDers? To understand that let’s get back to the question: “what is GTD?” To me, GTD is not just a set of methods, it’s more like a set of habits. Powerful habits. n order to be successful in implementing GTD in your life, you’ll need to develop a series of habits:
• habit of putting all of your thoughts into your inbox and not keeping them forever on your mind
• habit of processing your inbox and deciding what to do with each item
• habit of managing projects and putting all of the project-related stuff where it belongs
• habit of “cranking widgets” – getting things done without thinking too much about your system
• habit of weekly review and re-organizing your actions for the next week
• habit of extracting “next actions” from a pile of to-dos in your projects
• habit of not putting everything into your calendar… just the time-specific meetings and actions
…and you’ll discover more of these as you read the book by David Allen.
Now, much to my surprise, they are people who “get” these habits… they have never read the GTD book, never learned any theory about time-management or project-management – they just intuitively know that this is the way to go and they are just doing that every day. They even don’t have any sophisticated systems for this, they use good-old pen and paper, old-school calendars and whatever applications they have pre-installed on their computers. But these tools don’t matter. The key to their success is the fact that they know the “habits” it takes to get things done and are just following these every single day.
The first natural born GTDer – Luis.
Just after I’ve read the GTD book, I started doing business with a guy named Luis who is to this day one of my business partners and a great friend. I remember I was greatly impressed by the concepts from the book by David Allen but what really struck me is that after a week of working with Luis I found out that he is following his daily habits in the same way David Allen describes it. I set down and talked to him about GTD and he was surprised there is such a thing as GTD. When asked about his daily habits, he just said it was so obvious that he never gave too much thought to it.
He just knew he had to make his actions list in the morning (“Next Actions”), he had to revise his projects and tasks every Monday morning (“Weekly Review”), he had to jot down all the stuff there was to do and later make sure to process it and attach it to a particular project (“Inbox processing”) and he had to spend his day with his list to make sure everything he had planned has been done (“cranking widgets”). No rocket science, he said, just a way to get stuff done and move along. He just had his regular habits and mastered them. I didn’t. And what he said there wasn’t all that obvious to me at the time. The same thing happened when I met my future wife and discovered she’d been following similar habits and getting tons of stuff done… and neither has she ever heard of GTD before.
They are natural born GTDers – to them GTD is just obvious. I guess David Allen feels the same way.
Habits are not that “obvious” though. I had to “discover” all of these “obvious” techniques and learn my habits. Really study them, learn, fail and try again. And again. And again. And boy it wasn’t all that easy. These natural born GTDers make it look easy. It’s not. Maintaining good habits is a tedious task. Sometimes we feel too lazy to remember them, we try to talk ourselves out of them or simply unconsciously find ways to avoid them.
We tend to get flooded with lots of information and let ourselves be carried away by the pace of work and accumulate stuff to never find the time for the habits of processing, organizing, reviewing…This is why some of us (me!) need tools to help us. We need the tools to help us remember about our habits and guide us how to perform these habits. We sure will be covering some of there on the GTD Times blog. They range from simple pen and paper, calendars, computer based applications, web-based applications, you name it.
I developed my own web application to help me remember about my habits and boy it helped me a lot – I finally had my projects, to-dos, notes, files… etc. in one system and could easily choose next actions for each day. I’ve initially used it only by myself for more than a year or so… but later decided to show it to the world and now there are thousands of busy professionals from all over the world getting more done thanks to my web application.
Are you a natural-born GTDer?
If you are – congratulations. However, chances are you’re like me so you need a way to develop your habits and a way to keep you on top of them. I’m sure you’ll find the book by David Allen a great read and if you have already read it, find your tools for the job and create a perfect habits-empowering system that will help you get things done and live a happy life. Feel free to post about your system in the comments.
In all of our efforts to be more productive and accomplish more each day, it is sometimes easy to completely forget about why we want to do more or do the same but more efficiently – sometimes it seems, it is all to easy to walk outside on a beautiful, starlit night, and be so lost in thought that we fail to look up at the sky.
This is a shame. After all, if we are so transfixed on doing more that we lose sight of what’s important – including the beauty and majesty of nature, then we’re really missing the whole point of why one would use a system like Getting Things Done in the first place. With this thought in mind, as well as the realization that the night sky may not be all that clear where you happen to live and/or that you may not happen to be all that familiar with the constellations, I wanted to share this amazing new technology that Microsoft is giving to the world. This is the technology that according to one geek source “made Robert Scoble cry”.
(Be patient; this takes a moment to load)
During my commute to the office this morning I sat next to a very executive lady. She was flipping through at least 200 hundred freshly printed pages of paper. From the looks of it, minutes, memos and other valuable material for an upcoming meeting. From the expression on her face I got the impression that she hadn’t prepared for the meeting and that the meeting was not more that 60 minutes away.
I was thinking about my pre-GTD time where I had several tricks to mask being not prepared in a meeting. I wrote dates in the upper right corner of every first page, with my autograph. I sometimes folded the corners to give the impression that I read the whole thing. Watching the lady made me feel a bit embarrassed while thinking back. How foolish a person can become!
How much money is wasted here. The time and effort to write the memos and other stuff. The paper and the time of the meeting that most probably won’t be very effective. “Lets think about it some more and discuss it in the next meeting….”
I have developed some habits in this area to stop this silly practice.
1. If someone asks me to write something I first try to find out what the successful outcome is for the person I need to write that piece for. When I ask someone to write a memo I give a specific outcome for the memo, a problem to solve or a solution to propose.
2. If I haven’t been able to prepare myself or read a piece I just excuse myself upfront and tell I wasn’t able to read it. Most of the time I haven’t been a slacker but there was just too much in my schedule. Or to be honest, it wasn’t worth reading. It is better to just say just that than keep alive a practice that only deliver drawers full of memos, vision documents and project plans that no one will ever pay attention to.
3. If minutes for a meeting are overdone I just stick with an action list. Sometimes minutes are required but if not, most of the time an action list will just do. How can someone call a meeting where you have to speak about 200 hundred pages anyway? Not unless the meeting lasts a couple of days.
To those who read this and remember me in a meeting with those folded corners and nice autographed date stamped memos, I am sorry to have fooled you. And for that matter I am sorry that I was fooling myself!
Republished by permission from the author. Productivity 101 is Fokke’s blog.
Heathervescent is “The Purple Tornado.” A GTD Fanatic and a Marketing Genius, we came across her original video and said; “We’ve got to make sure her stuff gets shared with the community! It’s Great!”
Check out her latest effort, here:
Managing the flood of email messages that most of us need to interact with on a daily basis is a growing challenge. No one’s volume is diminishing. That “beast is out of the barn,” and we’re not going to be able to shove it back in! So, getting a grip on it with a good systematic approach is critical for staying sane. If you are in the small minority of people currently able to maintain less than a screen-full of email most of the time (because your volume is low and/or you process them rapidly and consistently), your system is probably fine as-is. If you regularly have many more than that (hundreds, thousands?) residing in your email in-box, you’re dangerously subject to stress and numbness relative to your digital communication world.
Because of the volume of discrete messages and the speed with which they show up, email seems to be a unique demon, with a life of its own. In essence, however, email is no different than a desktop in-basket or an answering machine – it’s simply a collection box for incoming communication and information that needs to be assessed, processed, and organized as appropriate. And controlling email involves the same challenge as managing your physical in-basket – often too much stuff that we don’t have the time or inclination to process and organize as it comes in. So it easily becomes a swamp of “staged” or “pending” items – glanced at, perhaps even read, but not decided about or effectively organized (I have uncovered as many as 7,000 emails still festering in a client’s in-tray).
The Big Challenge
As email is simply an in-box, it needs to be emptied regularly to be maximally functional. “Empty” does not mean finishing all the work embedded in your emails – it means making decisions about what each one means and organizing it accordingly. The same procedures apply to any in-box – whether it’s the tray on your desk or your answering machine. They should be processing stations, not storage bins.
Because the volume in the computer is much greater than an audio or paper-based “in,” however, getting it to zero seems particularly daunting. But there is no light at the end of the tunnel if you are merely letting things pile up there. It takes less effort to start every day or two from zero in your in-box than it does to maintain “amorphous blobs” of accumulated and unorganized “stuff” that must continually be re-read and re-assessed for what they mean.
We have seen hundreds of unique ways people have come up with to manage their email, and many work just fine – as long as nothing is lost, the inventory does not continue to increase, and someone can easily see the emails they need to take action on. Here are some basic procedures that commonly work for everyone:
Use the DELETE key! The ease with which we trash things from our physical mail doesn’t seem to translate to the computer for many people – perhaps because emails don’t take up much physical space and they are so easily parked somewhere that’s not immediately in our face. They’re taking up psychic space, however, and deleting everything that we don’t really need, as we encounter it, is crucial to managing the flood.
When in doubt, throw it out. If you’ve let emails pile up, purging is the first thing to do. Sometimes it is easier to clean house by clicking the “From” button which will sort them by their source – you can often dump several at a time that way.
File! Use a simple storage system for stuff you want to keep as archives and support information. If you’re a “when in doubt, keep it” person, that’s fine, but don’t have it clogging up your in-basket. Make reference folders in your navigator bar and file those kinds of emails over there. It’s a lot easier to lose track of them among the five hundred or a thousand in your in-box than in a folder you can name. And your Search function
can easily find most anything with a key word. Avoid using nested folders that you have to click open to find the file. One simple alpha-sorted list – by topic, theme, or person – is usually sufficient and easier to deal with on the run. Purge them when you have little windows of time with nothing better to do.
Complete the < 2-minute ones! The infamous two-minute rule is crucial for email management. Anything you can deal with in less than two minutes, if you’re ever going to do it at all, should be done the first time you see it. It takes longer to read it, close it, open it, and read it again than it would to finish it the first time it appears. In a heavy email environment, it would not be unusual to have at least a third of them require less
than two minutes to dispatch.
Organize emails that require action and follow-up! If you’ve deleted, filed, and finished your < two- minute emails, you’re left with only two kinds: (1) those that require more than two minutes to deal with and (2) those that represent something you’re waiting on from others. A simple and quick way to get control is to create two more folders in your navigator bar – “Action” and “Waiting For” and file them accordingly. These folders should be visually distinct from your reference folders and should sit at the top of your folder list, which can be accomplished by making them all caps with a prefix punctuation like the @ symbol or a hyphen (whichever will sort the folders to the top).
If you’ve deleted, filed, finished, or sorted your emails into action-reminding folders, you’re left with an empty in-basket. Now, at least, it will be much easier to review and evaluate a more complete inventory of your work at hand; and you’ll find it’s a lot easier to focus – on email or on anything else.
The On-Going Challenge
You must consistently review actionable emails. Once you get your in-basket to zero, it will feel fantastic. But you can’t ignore the batch of ACTION emails you’ve organized. The problem with computers as reminder tools is the out-of-sight-out-of-mind syndrome. If you’re not reviewing them regularly enough, they will start to on your psyche, creating even more avoidance and bad feelings. People leave emails in their in-basket to begin
with for the same reason they pile things on their desk, thinking, “If it’s in front of me, I won’t lose or forget it.”
Of course that seemingly practical habit of visual cuing is undermined by the volume and ambiguity of what’s in the piles. They create numbness instead of clarity. It’s much easier to assess your workload with actionable emails organized in one place. But it requires the good habit of checking on them regularly to feel OK about what you’re ot doing with them at the moment.
All this takes time and mental energy. Pretending that you can get email under control without dedicating the necessary personal resources to do it leads to frustration and stress. These best practices help make the process as efficient as possible, but the freedom that comes from having them under control is still not free. Just as people have learned to accept commute time as dues they pay to live and work where they’d prefer, you must integrate the time and energy to deal with email into your life and work style.
As personal management software has continued to evolve, in both the standard desktop as well as the myriads of creative small applications and add-ins, the possibilities for variations in how to manage email abound. They can be coded, colored, and automatically filed. They can be sorted by prioritized senders. They can be deferred for retrieval at later times. They can be transferred and melded into task and to-do management functions in other parts of the software.
If you set up and begin to get used to a simple folder system for actionable emails, you might find some specialized sub-categories useful. “Read/Review” can be a folder for FYI-type emails (though printed versions of long ones are easier to manage than on screen). “To Print” can be useful if you are not at a printer regularly. Some people find that taking the time to edit the subject lines of their own stored emails to reflect the specific action they need to take is useful.
But no matter how you tweak it or how cool the unique features and good tricks are that you might explore and even integrate as consistent functions into your personal system, the core principles of good workflow management must be followed to foster relaxed control of the beast:
Keep actionable and non-actionable emails in separate places. It’s too complex and stressful for your brain to constantly have to re-sort it every time it looks at it. A system works much better than your psyche for that. Emails filed in reference folders that still represent things to do produce anxiety; and email in the in-basket that is only needed for retrievable information will fog up your focus. Because most people don’t have a good action-reminder system per se, they are trying to make their reference folders a system for remembering what to do, and that never really works. If reference and action reminders are separate things, it allows much more freedom and ease with keeping as much reference material as you want – it simply becomes a library.
Keep it clean. Residue seems to self-generate but it doesn’t self-destruct! Delete what you can to begin with, and purge your reference files regularly, as things get out of date and lose their value to you. Keep them reviewed. As with any action-reminder system, if you don’t review and reassess the reminders of actions you might need to be taking, your mind will take back the job; and it doesn’t do that job very well. You’ll then avoid looking at your system and not really trust anything you’re doing because of the hidden greements with yourself you’ve neglected to re-negotiate.
Be good at the keyboard. We would be remiss in not reminding you of one of the most important factors in email management – how fast you type and how facile you are with shortcut keys and codes. Not only is poor typing speed inefficient, it creates a resistance to engage with email that undermines all the best intentions to get on top of it. If you’re not up to at least fifty words per minute, getting there with a good typing tutor could make a world of difference.
We recommend using the simplest approach you can get by with, adhering to these basic best practices, especially if you’re somewhat starting from scratch in getting this area under control. If you are relatively sophisticated in your email management already, and setting up more complex procedures for yourself has actually made it simpler, that’s terrific. The challenge though is to keep it current, complete, and consistent – and not requiring more time and thought than is worth the payoff you may get. Your process has to be so basic and almost automatic that you will maintain it even when you don’t feel like doing it.
Email, like any powerful tool, can be a blessing or a curse. And if the tool goes with the job, you need to invest in whatever it takes to use it wisely and safely. It is a huge productivity enhancer, but when it gets away from you, it’s a severe occupational hazard.
One of the perplexing things I run across in presenting GTD classes is people who want to defend their lack of system as taking less time and effort than the “work” it would take to maintain a system (GTD or otherwise). There are books out now about how organizing is a waste of time because it takes too much time. I do agree, to a point, that spending too much time organizing can be ineffective, but ANY system–and even lack of one–takes work and time. Why not go for the path of least resistance?
Leaving things undecided and stacked in amorphous blobs of stuff–because it would take too much time to decide a next action and put it in a trusted place–is a guarantee to have to reassess, reprocess and redecide what that thing means. I don’t get it. With so many people complaining that they are too busy to maintain things like action lists, how can they afford to NOT have one? If it’s coming in to you, you’re going to handle it at some point. Why not handle it with as little effort as possible when it first shows up?
Believe me, if I could get away with not managing lists and be as effective, I would do it in a heartbeat. Over the years I’ve tried to cut corners in whatever way I can so that the maintenance of all this doesn’t outweigh the benefit of doing. I’m inherently lazy. I don’t maintain lists because I love spending the time doing that. I maintain the lists because it’s faster and easier for me than not having any system at all.
If I can decide my action on an email when it first shows up, organize it in a place other than In, and put that action reminder in a place I know I’ll see, that’s about 10 times faster for me than leaving it undecided, and having it snap at my ankles every time I look at my Inbox–clamoring for my attention with the 200 other actions I also need to handle.
Why do people resist having a system? I’m curious to hear from the GTD community on this one.
For a long time I resisted trying out David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” approach to productivity. Sure, I recognized how efficient its practitioners were. After all my best friend was Marc Orchant – an acknowledged expert in the practice of Getting Things Done so I saw first hand on a daily basis just how productive and efficient he was with his “note taker wallet”, weekly reviews and traveling folders.
Marc never pressured me to try GTD and quite honestly, I didn’t believe I needed to. While I readily acknowledged it was a superior way to manage one’s time and maintain control over one’s life and schedule I kept telling Marc (and myself) that I didn’t need such a system. After all I have – I said – a photographic memory. I don’t have to worry about remembering where stuff is – I just do. Wherever I leave something I can recall exactly where it is.
This is true. If I pack a box in 2002 I can remember that there’s a broken remote control from Adelphia Cable in that box and that while the remote is broken, the batteries in it are still likely to work. I’ve tried to explain what it’s like to have a memory like this to a few people in this way: it’s a little like having a closet that has infinite storage and perfect internal organization, only it’s a closet that never lets anything you put into it back out.
In other words, if you don’t like how something looks, you’d better avoid looking at it because you’ll be able to recall that image in all its upsetting detail most likely for the majority of your life. In other words, I don’t go see many horror movies.
Of course just because I can remember where stuff is easily doesn’t mean it’s a reasonable system and in fact, in hindsight it is not only unreasonable, it’s ridiculous. For example, with no organizational structure at all, what happens when someone moves something? What happens when the maids do you a favor and straighten up your desk or the stacks of paper you have on the floor around your chair? What happens when someone goes through your desk drawer looking for a pen?
I’ll tell you what happens – the chaos that you have preserved an image of in your mind is now not the same chaos that exists in your workspace. This entirely new chaos is no longer recognizable as the place where you put your mail or your remote control or your wallet or anything else. Your…or really, I should say “My” and own up to the failing… yes, my chaos is now not a place where I can miraculously pull just the document I’m seeking from exactly where in the stacks and piles I remembered leaving it because it isn’t there anymore. It has been…uhh…relocated…and without any kind of system to help you reference just where it might have wandered off to you have no choice but to go through all the crap – it was stuff just a second ago but now that it’s an unfamiliar disorganized mess that differs from the disorganized mess I was familiar with it really has become a big pile of crap.
You see where I am going with this?
Finally, I have awakened to the realization that just because I can remember where I dump all my junk doesn’t mean that I should use that gift as my organizational system.
On the contrary, kind of like the waiter that takes your orders without writing anything down to show how brilliant he is (if he’s so brilliant, why is he a waiter in the first place? (no offense to waiters, I’m just making a point here), but then manages to screw up every single order because he got them all wrong, I was needlessly complicating my life and by default the lives of those around me by arrogantly insisting that systems were for people that couldn’t remember where they put stuff.
Of course I didn’t mention the sixty seven times that Marc had to wait for me because I was late – mostly because I wasn’t organized as well as I could have been…The truth isn’t always pretty, but being able to recognize the truth and accept it for what it is, if not a road to redemption is at least a road to self improvement.
When Marc gave me a copy of David Allen’s “Getting Things Done”, I read the book cover to cover and saw the elegance and intelligence of the principles therein. However, I simply wasn’t ready to take the steps necessary to put myself on the path to being a more productive and less stressed person.
In fact, it wasn’t until several months after Marc passed away that I was invited to attend a David Allen GTD Roadmap Seminar in Westlake, California. About two hours into the seminar something clicked. As a professional athlete I was used to a very systematized approach to training; from setting long term goals, seasonal goals, short term objectives and self assessment I was able to craft a training and racing strategy that would allow me to improve upon my weaknesses, maintain or increase my strengths, and basically prepare myself for the races that I had determined where the ones I wanted to be able to race in peak form.
GTD had many similarities with this periodized approach to sports and I realized that by applying those principals in my life I could focus on improving those aspects of my professional self that were weaknesses without sacrificing the strengths. Marc had asked me more than once what I would do with all the mental energy that was tied up remembering where things are. I used to chuckle and tell him that it took no energy- that I just remembered.
It wasn’t a lie. At least not an intentional one, but now, as I begin to put David’s program into action I can see that I only thought it didn’t take any energy. As things in my life become ever more structured and organized, not only are my pens a lot easier to find, when someone looks for them it doesn’t end up costing me half a day while I reshuffle the mental index I used to carry around to re-learn where everything now was dumped.
For me, the process and the battle has just begun. I still have lots of my old habits. I still tend to stack stuff up and I’m too cavalier about making notes and getting things into my inbox and from there to wherever they need to go next. I’m still figuring out what I can purge and what I need to file and I’ve got a ways to go before my projects and my goals are perfectly aligned and correctly prioritized. I have a long way to go.
But that said, I have a lot less of a ways to go than I did before I woke up and realized how much more I could actually get done if I spent just a little more time doing and a little less time explaining why I didn’t need to.
As one of the editors of the GTD Times, it will be my pleasure to share my progression from GTD newbie to GTD not-so-newbie to someone that practices GTD with sufficient proficiency that it has become second nature. While I don’t know that I’ll ever achieve the GTD Black Belt status of my friend Marc, I can thank him for opening my eyes to the fact that there was a better approach to being productive than the one I’d selected for myself and a I can hope that somewhere, Marc is chuckling knowing that he was right all along just like he usually was.