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					Getting Things Done

A surprisingly interesting system for managing your time effectively
July 30, 2010
                  Who Is This Presentation For?

   Are you in control of your time?

   In your business and personal life, are you on top of your goals and commitments?

   Do you know what you should be doing at any given point in time?

   Are you completely relaxed about managing your time?

If all of the above are true, congratulations! You don’t need to be here.

                           Work Is Losing Its Edges
   GTD defines work as anything that you want or need to be different than it currently is

   Work used to be self-evident; milk cows, plow fields, etc.
        You knew when you were done

   As farming and manufacturing jobs are replaced with knowledge work, edges are vanishing
        When are the wireframe designs perfect and you can stop working on them?
        Should you be studying a new technology in your spare time to advance your career?
        Should you go to the gym on Sunday morning or make slides for a Lab49 seminar?
        Should you fix the kitchen faucet or update your personal web site?

   The distinction is blurring between business and personal work

   Jobs are constantly changing, and professionals are more free agents than ever before
        Little seems clear for very long, in terms of what our work is, and how to do it well
        We process huge amounts of information, and generate large volumes of ideas and commitments

                           The Problem and the Goal

   The problem:
        The amorphous blog of never-ending work fills up our brain and uses our CPU and RAM

        Many professionals have low-grade, constant anxiety
           •    Trying to remember everything that has to be done
           •    Worrying about the things that are not getting done

        Too much distraction at the day-to-day level to undertake bigger projects and goals

   The goal:
        Imagine if your personal management situation were totally under control

        What if you could dedicate 100% of your attention to the task at hand without distraction?

        Many of you know what that relaxed mental state is like
           •    e.g. when you’re playing sports, or a musical instrument, or cooking, or whatever

The goal is to bring that relaxed state of effectiveness to your work life.

                      The Reader’s Digest Version

1. Have an organized system for keeping track of all of your work, outside of your brain
        Must be a comprehensive, trusted organizational system to capture everything you want to do

        Keyword is everything; work and personal, high and low priority, short and long term, etc.

2. Have a well-defined system for choosing your next action
        At any given time, what should you do next?

        Consult the data in your organized system, choose the next action, and do it

        Then update the organized system, and repeat

Has anyone figured out the operating system analogy yet?

                    What’s Wrong With To-Do Lists?

   Typical problem is that it’s full of items that are not actionable
        You haven’t clarified the desired outcome

        You haven’t decided the next step

        You haven’t put reminders into a system that you trust

        Therefore they will contribute to your background stress, and not move forward

   Exercise 1: Are there any problems with this to-do list?
        Buy milk

        Create web site

        Plan vacation

        Clean house

        Learn Silverlight

     Understanding Projects versus Next Actions
   Determine the next action for a project typically takes about two minutes

   Exercise 2: Think about the project or situation that is most on your mind at this moment
         What bugs you, distracts you, interests you, or otherwise consumes CPU cycles?
         Take two minutes right now to decide the exact next thing that needs to be done
         e.g. if the project is “create web site” what would you do next?
            •     Pick a domain name?
            •     Research hosting providers?

   Exercise 3:
         Let’s pick the next actions for the other items on the previous slide
            •     Plan vacation
            •     Learn Silverlight

   The gist of the GTD system is:
     1.   Don’t confuse projects and next actions
     2.   Spend most of your time working on next actions
     3.   Periodically (every 1-2 days) scan your projects to determine new next actions
     4.   Periodically (once/week) update your list of projects

                            The Big Picture


              What is it?


                 Is it             No

              Yes                                                       Reference
                                        Needs to be broken
        What’s the next action?          down Into actions

               Is it < 2                                             • Plan
              minutes?                                               • Capture
                                                                     • Review for next actions
  Yes                             No

Do it                              Delegate it                               Defer it

                                       Waiting               Next Actions                   Calendar
                                Implementing the System
   Implementing these ideas requires the ability to categorize tasks
        Outlook + BlackBerry works very well
            •   Use Outlook task categories (not folders)
            •   Ctrl-Shift-K is your friend

        For the Apple-inclined:
            •   OmniFocus
            •   Toodledo
            •   Things
            •   The Hit List

        Wireless syncing with categories is a must

   Initial minimum list of categories:
        +Inbox
        Someday/Maybe
        Reference
        Projects
        Waiting
        Next Actions

                                            Exercise Four

   Initial state – let’s GTD!                                            Stuff

        +Inbox
           •   Plan Lab49 outing
           •   Line up a speaking engagement                           What is it?

           •   Set up system for tracking personal finances                                                            Trash

           •   Other ideas?                                                             No
                                                                        Actionble?                                 Someday/Maybe

        Someday/Maybe
                                                                          Yes                                        Reference

        Reference                                                     Next action?
                                                                                       Needs to be broken
                                                                                        down Into actions

        Projects                                                                                                     Projects

                                                                         Is it < 2                                   • Plan
        Waiting                                                        minutes?                                     • Capture
                                                                                                                     • Review for next actions
                                                                 Yes                  No
        Next Actions
                                                              Do it                   Delegate it                      Defer it

                                                                                       Waiting              Next Actions              Calendar

                                         Next Action Contexts

   If you are out doing errands, why should you be thinking about computer-related tasks?

   If you are in the office, why should you be thinking about fixing a home plumbing problem?

   Context-based categories (convention – precede with @):
         Next Actions

         @Errands
             •   Buy milk

         @Home
             •   Fix kitchen faucet

         @Lab
             •   Customize settings on desk phone

         @Remote (office)
             •   Review GTD presentation

         @Transit
             •   Skim HTML5 book

         @Agendas
             •   Parents – what are we doing for the family reunion this year?
             •   Practice Head – ask for study recommendations

                            How to Use the Calendar
   Your calendar is not a garbage can to store tasks that you think “should be done that day”
        Many people are tempted to plan work by distributing tasks onto their calendar – don’t do that

        Disagree with the Franklin Covey concept of putting tasks on your calendar and pushing them forward

   Your calendar should be used exclusively for hard constraints
        Scheduled meetings

        Scheduled conference calls

        Items that must absolutely be done on a particular day

        If the time is not constrained, don’t specify it (e.g. use Outlook “all day event” checkbox)

   This creates a clear discipline
        If it’s on your calendar, it’s mandatory

        If you have a free moment, go to your Next Actions list

   If you try to plan your day using the calendar, you’ll stop looking at the Next Actions list
        You will stop trusting the system and it will fall apart

                                      How to Use Email

   Don’t use email as your to-do list

   Try to clean out your email box, or at least tag everything as read
        So that the unread messages count is meaningful

   If the email implies a next action, create one on the spot

   e.g. for Outlook
        Ctrl-A, Ctrl-C, Ctrl-Shift-K , Ctrl-V

        Or even better, draft the email to the Tasks header on the left

   For Mac people I’m sure there’s some mouse-oriented carpal-tunnel inducing equivalent

                                        Managing Action
   Top down approach doesn’t really work
        Intellectually you ought to work from the top down
        Personal/corporate missions, then objectives, then implementation details
        But this doesn’t fit with rapidly changing environments with constant distractions

   GTD approach is bottom up
        At 3:22 on Wednesday, how do you decide what to do?
        Filter by context
           •   Are you on the subway? Reply to emails, review documents, etc.
           •   Context-based task categories make this easier; filter your list, then pick a task

        Filter by time available
           •   Do you have only 15 minutes before a meeting? Do something quick

        Filter by energy available
           •   Are you mentally tired? Do your Clicktime sheets

        Filter by priority
           •   If you have some open space, pick whatever is most important

                                      Project Planning
   Determining next actions for each project

   GTD philosophy is to use “natural planning”
         Which means in essence, don’t stress about it, just plan it like you would a dinner party

   Natural planning can be thought of in five steps
     1.   Define purpose and principles (Why are you doing this? What are you trying to accomplish?)
     2.   Envision the outcome (Intimate dinner party? Or a big party with a DJ?))
     3.   Brainstorm (What time should we go? What do we feel like eating? Any new places we want to try?)
     4.   Organize (Let’s see if the restaurant is open. Let’s check in with some friends about dates.)
     5.   Identify next actions (This part is easy by this stage.)

   Unnatural planning (sound familiar?)
         “We need to have a dinner party! Who’s got some good ideas?”
         “Let’s start by writing an outline for our dinner party.”
         “Let’s agree on a mission for our dinner party.”

   This is the most important part of GTD from the perspective of clearing your head

   Gather 100% of the incompletes
        Physical in-basket

        Paper-based note-taking devices

        Electronic note-taking devices

        Voice-recording devices

        E-mail

        +Inbox category

   Add freely to Projects and Someday/Maybe categories – use triggers to get ideas
        Professional: Incomplete projects, commitments to others, financial, administration, supplies, office, etc.

        Personal: Home, hobbies, skills, creative expression, clothes, gear, trips to take, organizations to join, etc.

        Review loose papers, notes, calendar items, projects, etc.

        Empty your head – try to think of everything

        Be creative and courageous

                                Organizational Refinements
   Keep a list of priorities at different levels, and review quarterly or even annually
         Priorities 1 – Life

         Priorities 2 – 3-5 year vision

         Priorities 3 – 1-2 year goals

         Priorities 4 – areas of responsibility

         Projects (conceptually equivalent to “Priorities 5”)

   Project subcategories (job-specific), e.g.
         Projects – General

         Projects – Client

         Projects – Sales

   Reference subcategories
         Reference – General

         Reference – People

         Reference – Recommendations

         Reference – Study

   Ad hoc lists

                                       Weekly Review

   This is so critical that you must establish good habits, environments, and tools

   Recommendation is to block out two hours a week for this (e.g. Friday from 4-6 PM?)

   Review tasks
        Collect all new items (focus on completeness first)

        Review projects for next actions and create those tasks

        Tidy up the system (delete tasks that are completed or irrelevant, refactor as required)

   If you skip this, the system will break down very quickly
        The failure mode is that you’ll start feeling stress again

        You will realize that your brain is wasting cycles trying to keep track of what needs to be done

        That’s a symptom that you’ve stopped trusting your GTD system and it’s time for a review

                         Timetable of Activities

Frequency            Activity

Throughout the day   Work on contextual next actions (use “managing action” to decide what to do)

Every 1-2 days       Review projects, update next actions (use “natural project planning”)

Once/week            Complete collection, update projects and next actions, clean up system

Quarterly            Review areas of responsibility, 1-2 year goals

Annually             Review higher level goals (3-5 year vision, life)


The bible:

   Getting Things Done
   The Art of Stress-Free Productivity
   David Allen

The software: Doesn’t really matter, as long as you can categorize tasks.