- If you’re not totally sure what your job is it will always feel overwhelmed
- Lack of time is not the major issue. Things rarely get stuck because of lack of time, they get stuck because the doing of them has not been defined
- You can’t do a project, you can only do the action steps it involves
It’s very easy to get caught up in your GTD system and to forget about the actual doing part.
Decide what to do according to the following four criteria:
– Time Available
– Energy Available
If you’ve tagged your tasks properly you’ll have, for example:
Context: a list of phone calls to make when you’re on the phone, or emails to browse whilst sitting on a train
Time Available: A list of quick jobs to do when you have the odd five minutes
Energy Available: A list of jobs requiring little mental or creative horsepower
Priority: A calendar telling you what you must do today
I find it especially useful to tag the five minute jobs and the low energy jobs. I usually do the five minute jobs when I’ve got a little spare time before teaching a class, the low energy jobs can be fun things to read or enjoy.
Now that you’ve got yourself organised, you need to remind yourself what the jobs are that you need to do.
Review appropriate lists at appropriate times. For example
- Check Calendar at the start of the day
- Look at General Tasks to be done
- When on the phone, look for tasks marked phone
- When in a meeting, look at the tasks for that meeting
Review your whole system once a week.
- Check Calendar for forthcoming events
- Check projects have a Next Action
- Check Next Actions are being performed
- Check Wait list to see if anything needs chasing
- Check Maybe list to see if anything is ready to proceed
- Pause or drop projects that aren’t going ahead
If you’re not up to date at the weekly review you won’t be able to convince yourself that your system is remembering for you. You’ll go back to worrying that you’ve forgotten something.
One mistake I made at the beginning was to try and process and organize as I collected. What I mean by this is I’d try and write jobs under different headings in my GTD file as I was collecting them. This is a mistake. One of the key principles of GTD is you only do one thing at a time. If you’re collecting, you shouldn’t be organizing. Collecting is dealt with in a previous post. Let’s assume you’ve collected, now it’s time to organize.
Organizing involves putting the jobs into the appropriate categories: writing them under the appropriate heading, if you like.
Here are example headings I use for my general GTD file:
- General Tasks
- Dated (Scheduled) Tasks
- Waiting Tasks
- Meeting with Julie
- Meeting with Links
- Meeting with Craig
- View, Watch, Read
- Long Term
The Dated Tasks should go in your calendar.
The Waiting Tasks are those for which I’m awaiting a response. For example, a reply to an email or an answer to a query.
Note how I have separate headings for regular meetings with different people.
The View, Watch, Read heading is for books, video clips, articles I would like to read if I had more time. I look at the things here when I have the odd ten minutes.
The Maybe heading is for things I don’t have time to do at the moment. I review this occasionally, and may get round to them someday.
Long Term tasks are mainly reminders of things that will happen in at least a year’s time: reminders of contract renewals etc.
I also have a reference file and a projects file. These two have a section all to themselves, later on in this tutorial.
Organising is important. It might seem from the above that all you’ve done is simply moved your todo list around, but what you’ve really done is separated out your “inbox”. You’ve separated the reference from the actions, and eliminated the chaff. This is the secret of GTD. It’s simple but effective.
Processing means going through the jobs you’ve collected and getting them into a suitable format. If the job is one which would be quicker to do right away than to process, then do it.
Rules for Processing
- Go through your list of unprocessed tasks
- Process the top item first
- Process one item at a time
- Never put anything back into “in”
The key question when processing is to think what’s the Next Action? Too many jobs don’t get done because people aren’t clear about what the Next Action is. For example, you might want to tidy your office. What’s stopping you doing that? Perhaps you’ve nowhere to put the rubbish. In that case the Next Action is “Get Bin Bags”
Perhaps you need to arrange a meeting. “Arrange a meeting” is not a suitable Next Action. To arrange a meeting you need to find out when people are free. A more suitable Next Action would be “Phone Steve”
Taking a moment to decide the Next Action removes one cause of stress. If you have a job that’s preying on your mind it’s usually because you haven’t decided what the Next Action is.
- You can’t organize what’s incoming, you can only collect it and process it.
- You don’t manage priorities, you have them
Collection is the key to the whole process of GTD.
Collection means writing down everything you have to do, and this means everything.
If you have a good memory, and I do, the temptation is not to bother, but this means that you’re not trusting the system. If the system doesn’t have everything you need to do in it, then you won’t trust it and you’ll go back to worrying that you’re not doing all your tasks.
You also won’t be able to plan properly.
I’m getting more and more in the habit of capturing things I need to do, even jobs I know I’ll do in a short time.
Here are some jobs I’ve captured
- Email Harold about Films
- Watch Epilepsy Video
- Write UCAS reports
- Buy birthday card
- Organise VLE training for September
- Investigate Trello software
I use Emacs org-mode capture to capture my tasks, but that’s just my preference. Evernote is good, but the system works perfectly adequately using pen and paper.
There are five parts to GTD
You should only ever be doing one of these things at any one time: 95% of your time should be spent doing.
The basic principles of GTD are just common sense.
First, collect all the things you have to do and write them down. If your tasks are all recorded you know that they won’t be forgotten. If you know you’re not going to forget things you’ve just removed one cause of stress.
Next, organize your work so that jobs get done at the right time. This stops the feeling that you’re drowning in trivial jobs when should be doing something more important.
Having done that, do the work. If you have all your tasks organized properly you can look up a couple of five minute tasks when you have ten minutes spare, when you have a longer stretch of time you can get down to a more challenging task.
Review your system every so often. Priorities will change, you’ll need to reorganize your work to take this into account.
GTD involves writing down all your jobs. It doesn’t matter whether you do it on paper or use an IT solution such as Evernote or my preferred solution, Emacs. Everything you have to do – making a phone call; sending a birthday card; starting a big project; buying a book to read… write it down.
Here’s a simple introduction to the principles behind GTD.
Is your email inbox full? If so, the reason isn’t what you might expect. It’s not that you’re not processing and deleting them as fast as you might. Modern email systems can hold an indefinite number of emails, there’s no reason to delete anything you don’t want to.
The real reason your inbox is full is because it’s a mixture of different sorts of emails: emails left as a reminder you have a job to do, emails you’ve left there for reference, emails you might need in the future, emails you might read later on. Your inbox is confused because you don’t know which email is which.
Here’s the GTD solution: create some additional folders
- To Read
Go down your inbox, processing each email one at a time. Start at the top and don’t move onto the next email until you’ve processed the current one.
Process the emails as follows
- If you don’t need the email, delete it.
- If it will take less than 2 minutes to deal with, deal with it.
- If you need to keep the email for reference, put it in the email folder called Reference (or in a more suitable folder you’ve already created)
- If it’s something you want to read at leisure. put it in the To Read folder
- If it’s an email list you’ve subscribed to, like a pizza deal or a voucher site, put it in the Bacn folder. Bacn is like spam, except you asked for it. It’s nice to have, but too much is bad for you.
Work your way down the list until you have an empty inbox. Once it’s empty, it will probably stay that way.
It might seem that all you’ve done is move your list elsewhere, but what you’ve really done is separated things out. You’ve separated reference materials from the actions, and eliminated the chaff. That’s GTD, simple but effective.