I finished reading David Allen’s unofficial productivity bible, “Getting Things Done” (GTD) about 2 and a half months ago. Since then I’ve made an asserted effort to implement his suggestions. The fundamental goal was to simply increase my daily rate of productive output.
I found that some of David Allen’s suggestions were instantly applicable, some needed a little tweaking to better suit my needs and others were a bit too rigid and were thus substituted for alternative methods. After 2 months of fine-tuning I’m happy to report that I have implemented a productivity system that works really well.
That’s what this short article is about. A crystal clear, 1 minute read on increasing your productivity by using the slightly modified GTD-based methods that have worked for me. Let’s get to it…
- Create 1 Inbox (Entry Point) for All New Tasks – This should be the only place you record the new things you must get done and the only place you need to reference when you are ready to review them. I use my Outlook inbox as my GTD inbox. This will work well for anyone like me who receives a large quantity of tasks via email. If a task comes in any other format (snail mail, face to face meeting, phone call, etc.), I immediately send myself one email with a descriptive subject and body (more info below) for each new task.
- Create “Work”, “Personal” and “Someday Maybe” Folders – I created 3 subfolders under my main Outlook inbox for this purpose. All work related tasks that must be done will be filed under “Work” and all personal tasks that must be done will be filed under “Personal”. Any less urgent tasks or miscellaneous ideas will be filed under “Someday Maybe” (these are open ended tasks like “learn Spanish”).
- Completely Empty Your Inbox Every Morning – I completely empty my inbox every single morning without failure. This entails deleting any garbage emails, instantly completing the open tasks that take less than 2 minutes to resolve (more info below) and then filing all the remaining tasks into their appropriate subfolders.
- Instantly Complete All 2-Minute (or less) Tasks – This is the most useful GTD method in the whole book. Every time you review new tasks (or new small parts of bigger tasks) ask yourself this question: Will this task take me longer than two minutes to complete if I start on it now? If the answer is no, do it now.
- File All Remaining Tasks with Actionable Labeling – As you’re filing all the tasks that take more than 2 minutes to complete, verify that the subject and description (for me this is placed in the subject line of an email message) of the task is clear and action oriented. It’s easiest to think of this in labeling method as having two distincts parts, the task subject and the next action description. For example, “Design New Website Layout | Meet with the CEO to discuss my design ideas.”
- Set Reminders in Calendar for Time Dependant Tasks – You should place a reminder in your calendar (for me this is the Outlook calendar) for any task with an associated time dependency. For example, a task entitled “Design New Website Layout | Design meeting Monday 10AM”, should also have a reminder entry placed in your calendar for 10AM Monday morning.
- Review Every Open Task a Least Once a Day – Once your inbox is empty, read through all the tasks in your “Work” and “Personal” folders everyday just to review what you have in there. During this quick review process you will be able to remove tasks that have been completed, edit tasks as necessary with additional information and refresh your memory on all the open tasks you have. Note: Only review your “Someday Maybe” folder once a week at a set time.
- Create a Short “Everyday” List for Complex Tasks or Projects – Create a short list of the things you must do everyday to ensure that you remain in control of a specific complex task or project (a group of related tasks). Review this list every morning or whenever you need a quick reminder. This especially helps me get into the groove of managing new, long-term projects that I have not yet fully mastered. An “Everyday” list might look something like this: Project X Everyday – 1. Meet with program managers, 2. Review active status reports, 3. Verify validity of open issues, etc.
Hopefully this 1 minute, GTD-based lesson will set you on the right track and motivate you to implement a similar system in your own life, a system for productively getting things done.
Photo by: Paul Worthington