Question: I have been implementing GTD for approximately three years. I read Getting Things Done and Making It All Work, and have gained a lot of respect for you, and the enormous sphere of knowledge and wisdom that you have shared with the World.
As an architect, I run a design-oriented architectural practice, along with several job roles, and consistently attempt to balance work and a family life. Over the years, I have found that organizing next action items by context is difficult for me to implement for the following reasons:
1. I tend to be very intuitive and think about next action items by project in lieu of context. Once I disconnect the next action from a project, it seems to lose some relevance and importance.
2. The knowledge worker is now mobilizing the tools of his trade; his “office” is redefined and flexible to temporarily become the location that he is inspired to work in. The knowledge worker is part of the mobile workforce; therefore, next action items organized by contexts, such as: @ work, @ home, @ computer, @ iPhone are becoming more and more interrelated, and less segregated.
I agree with your theory in regard to deciding what next action item to accomplish by the energy level you have at the moment, or the time available. I am also familiar with the work of Tony Schwartz on The Energy Project. Have you given much thought to redefining contexts, organizing by project, and if so what do you recommend? What if you organize next action items by energy level, such as: @ high energy level, @ medium energy level, or @ low energy level?
Any wisdom or advice to share? I am very interested in your response.
David’s Answer: Great questions. In truth, the only reason to organize by context is for streamlining decisions about your focus. In other words, it doesn’t make sense to keep having to consider options that are impossible. If something has to be done at your house, why include it in your options when you’re not at your house? But context, to your point, could mean ANY context – time required, energy required, type of activity, etc. There are times when I need to segment some of my At Computer stuff into a Creative Writing category, because I have to be in a certain frame of mind and location to do that kind of work. Before I go on a big trip, I create a “have to do before the trip” context. I had a CTO once who had an At BrainDead context, for those kinds of tasks to do, when he was toast. Etc. Etc.
Whatever works. Just doesn’t make a lot of sense to NOT be able to see something you could be doing (if you only had actions you could see when you opened up project notes); nor does it make sense to have to sort through options when they’re not an option. Otherwise it’s all fair game.
Two Key Priority Questions
One of the first things to do to trust your priority decisions is to make sure you’ve got a current inventory of everything you’ve said “yes” to. Turn over every rock. Look everywhere you’ve allowed input in—especially your head—and make decisions about what each one of those things means and what you want to do about it. If you’re like most people, that will leave you with a pretty healthy (and long) list of things to do. When it comes time to choose what to do, you will first be limited by your context, time available, and current resources. Good chance though, that will still leave you wondering, “Which one should I choose?” This is where priority comes in.
There are two key questions I have found to be enormously helpful with priorities. Ask yourself:
Try asking yourself those questions next time you’re staring at your list and deciding how to best invest your time and attention.
Kelly Forrister is a Senior Coach & Presenter with the David Allen Company.
Question: I understand that the premise of getting things done is to make decisions on things when they show up, rather then when they blow up. Using this methodology allows you to make decisions and get things done far earlier than waiting to make a decision. But isn’t there some benefit in waiting for the last minute? Suppose I identified that I needed new tires. If I used the GTD method, there is no doubt that I would get my tires earlier, but how would I know that if I had waited, I wouldn’t have, for example, found a coupon and gotten a better deal? If I make decisions when things show up, how can I be confident that those decisions wouldn’t be better had I waited for a few days or weeks?
Answer from Coach James Stevenson: I agree that there are times when acting quickly might not be the best course of action. Your example of buying tires now instead of waiting for the Sunday paper or looking online for sales and coupons could cause me to spend more money than necessary (NOT the optimum outcome!). In reality there are many times in life when acting quickly would not serve us well.
Having said that, the Processing step within the GTD methodology is about deciding what needs to be done as opposed to actually doing it (unless it falls in the “2-minute rule”). It is the difference between Defining versus Doing. (See the article that I wrote for GTD Connect on that subject.) In keeping with the example of needing new tires, your Next Action may very well be “research great deals on new tires for my car.” For me, that Next Action would land on my @Computer list since I would be searching online for those deals. In other words, my true Next Action is not buying new tires, but finding the best deal on a new set of tires. Interestingly, once I found a great deal on new tires, my new next action would still not be “buy new tires,” but it would be scheduling time on my calendar to take my car to the shop for new tires…but that’s just me!
I hope you see that GTD encourages you to do the executive thinking up front and get clear on the very next thing you would actually do. And, as you point out, it isn’t always to jump in to action.
Bottom line is that your thinking is right on target.
James Stevenson presents GTD seminars and does one-on-one coaching for the David Allen Company.
It’s natural to want to create a system for priority coding (like “A, B, C” or the flagging feature that’s showing up in a lot of software programs) to tell you the most important things to do. But it’s a short-term insurance policy that won’t give you the trust you need when the time comes to take action.
All the best,
DAVID’S FOOD FOR THOUGHT
LEAPING FROM HOPE TO TRUST
Every decision we make about what action to take at any point in time is an intuitive risk. I have twenty minutes before my next meeting—should I call Bob, work on chapter eight, or go get Susan’s opinion on the new software?
The over-simplicity of “A, B, C” or “high, medium, low” priorities or daily to-do lists can never really answer that question sufficiently for any of us. No matter how organized we get, how squeaky-clean our systems and our processes are, or how current our strategic and tactical planning is, we have to ultimately trust our hunches about the best thing for us to do at 10:43am or 3:22pm today. It’s true that we can utilize those prioritizing frameworks to good advantage, from time to time, to help us focus constructively. But to the degree they potentially limit our options unnecessarily and constrict spontaneous, creative thinking that is dynamic to the moment, they do us a disservice.
This excerpt is from the most recent issue of David’s “Productive Living” newsletter. It’s free and sent about every 4 weeks. You’ll find essays from David Allen, thought-provoking quotes, and productivity tips you can use every day.
How did your weekly review go last week? Could you use some support to get that practice onto cruise control?
The Guided GTD Weekly Review webinar is just what you need. It’s a 75-minute “working webinar” where you will be led step-by-step through what David Allen calls the “critical success factor” for GTD. Get a taste of Getting Clear (processing inboxes to zero), Getting Current (reviewing Project, Next Action, and Waiting For lists), and Getting Creative (being creative & courageous).
The webinar is this Thursday, April 25, from 10:00-11:15am Pacific time. Click here for more information and to register. At $49, it’s a great investment in your current and future productivity. Imagine how great next weekend will be after you’ve done a full weekly review this week.
Have you heard others talk about inbox zero but thought it was out of your reach?
Most people are not getting their email inboxes to zero on a regular basis, for one or more of these three reasons.
1. They don’t know how to process their email.
2. They don’t know where to put processed email, i.e. how to organize it.
3. They don’t create the time to process their email to zero.
The GTD Managing Email webinar on April 18 addresses all three of these reasons. This webinar will share the best practices of managing email and getting your inbox to zero on a regular basis. The focus will include strategies for dealing with backlog email, structuring email to support action management, the GTD models for processing and organizing email, and storing reference information.
Yes, you can achieve inbox zero!
Chip Joyce, an Account Executive with the David Allen Company, took this photo of his home office. His comment about the photo was, “I’m violating a GTD best practice: something’s on my desk that’s not reference, equipment, decoration, or supplies.”
Our friends at Think Visual developed this cool visual harvest of a recent GTD Weekly Review webinar. It really captures the creative fun you can have while getting your weekly review productivity boost.
Click on Start Prezi in the center of the screen. When it starts in a couple seconds, you can advance the slides manually by clicking on the arrow, or choose Autoplay from the lower-right. You’ll see it zoom into each step, and you may still want to click the full screen option. Enjoy!
A client recently asked us for our best practices around email communications, to share with their globally dispersed teams. They had learned the keys to getting inbox zero, but their productivity was stymied by the sheer volume of unproductive emails being sent around the company. These tips were born out of the shared practices we use here at the David Allen Company with our own staff, and I wanted to share them with the GTD community.
1. Appropriate Use — Match the message to the best medium. Recognize when email is not the best method of communicating. There are times when a face-to-face meeting is better than a string of unclear or sensitive emails going back and forth. Just because the topic started on email, doesn’t mean it should stay on email. On the flip side, are there meetings being held that could be more efficiently be done over email if you trusted people were getting to inbox zero on a regular basis? (See David Allen’s article on Getting Email Under Control for great tips on that.)
2. To: vs. Cc: – Be discerning about your use of To: vs. Cc:. Why? Ever receive an email where it’s unclear who has the action because everyone is in the “To:” field? We designate the To: field for who has the action (could be multiple people). Cc: is simply for their information–with no expectation that they will take action on the email, other than receive it. Personally, I find I am much more conscious about what I am asking for, and from whom, when I clearly delineate between who has action and who just needs to receive the information. And, I appreciate when that distinction is made for me in return. I’m still processing the email to get to inbox zero, but it’s very clear to me that no action is expected of me in return.
3. Subject Lines — Use clear subject lines that clearly describe the topic. I bet you’ve had times when you’ve done an emergency scan of your email (particularly on your mobile device) and appreciated having clear subject lines (versus the proverbial “checking in” or “update”). Also, don’t be afraid to change subject lines if the topic has changed and you want to make the it clearer what the email string is about. While it might have initially started as “checking in,” now it’s moved into the “Q3 budget”–change the subject line to reflect that.
Another spin on effective subject lines is to use code to indicate the end of a message, when appropriate. This kind of kind of code, such as “EOM,” can be useful for those times when you just need to send a quick bit of information back to someone and it can be done through the email subject line. For example, for short responses such as acknowledging with “thanks” or “I’m on it.” simply append your subject line with “EOM” after your text, to indicate “end of message.” What that means to the person receiving it is that everything that need to know is in the subject line and they can process it based on what they are seeing in the subject line, without even opening the email. For example: “Re: I posted Q2 spreadsheets to the database. –THANKS! GOT IT. EOM”
4. Reply to All — Resist the urge to simply click reply to all, if not everyone needs to receive your reply. Many clients tell us that their staff seem to use the Reply to All function because it’s quick and easy–not because it’s productive. On the flip side, if you’re sending emails to your designated groups, pause to consider if everyone in that group (and subsequent replies to all) really need to be receiving that email. Are their roles in the company relevant to the information? If you’re not sure, ask them. I bet they will appreciate being asked about what they are getting to help with their own email management. Another tip to avoid the Reply to All cycle is to use the Bcc: field for all recipients, when appropriate. That way only the sender will receive the replies.
5. Response Times — What are your agreed upon response times for internal and external communications? If that’s never been made explicit, there’s a good chance those who think it’s “asap” are feeling resentful about the ones who think it’s “when I can get to it” and think they are breaking an agreement. And the “when I can get to it” folks get annoyed by the “asap” folks who ask them in the hallway, “Did you get my email?”
At the David Allen Company, we have a standard to reply within two business days to all internal communications. And, it’s important to note that responding doesn’t mean completing the action. It may just be a simple acknowledgment of “I’m on it” so the other person can relax about it. Two business days is our standard that works for us. You may find you need a shorter or longer time period in your organization. The key here is not about the time, but having an agreement that’s explicit so that everyone is clear about the rules to play by.
I hope these best practices have been useful for you. I encourage you to take these ideas back to your team and organization. Get some healthy debates going about them! Adapt them to make them more your own.
Kelly Forrister is a Senior Coach & Presenter with the David Allen Company.