Getting Things Done

After a certain point, having the things in your life “handled” and organized makes you feel less like you’re constantly putting out fires. Getting Things Done (GTD) provides systems for effective information work, so (ideally) one doesn’t have to live in a time-scarce mindset. It is based on the idea that one should use the mind to think about things, rather than of things.

2 main principles
(1) Capture all one needs to accomplish somewhere outside the brain.
(2) Discipline oneself to make decisions about these items as they are added to one’s workload

Horizontal Focus
a person is the most productive when the mind is clear and free of “open loops” — the things people commit to do which remain undone and become a drag on the unconscious mind. In addition, one must write down the outcomes they wish to achieve.

Five Stages Of Mastering Workflow:

  1. Collect all the items that remain to be completed
    • These items can be collected with a “mind sweep”, which uncovers anything that may be residing in one’s mental space.
    • There are three “collection success factors”: (1) Every open loop must be in your collection system and out of your head. (2) You must have as few collection buckets as you can get by with. (3) You must empty them regularly.
  2. Process: emptying the bucket
    • Here is a semantic flow chart for an item: What is it? Is it actionable? If not, trash it, put it in a tickler file or put it in a reference file. If so, what’s the next action? The next action is defined as the next physical, visible activity that needs to be engaged in, in order to move the current reality toward completion. Will next action take less than 2 minutes? If yes, do it. If no, delegate it or defer it. If it will take longer than 2 minutes, consider it a project (defined as requiring more than one action step) and put it in your project plans which will be reviewed for actions.
    • There are three guidelines for effective processing: (1) Process the top item first. Resist the urge to pull out the most urgent, fun or interesting item first. (2) Process one item at a time. This focus forces the attention and decision-making needed to get through everything. (3) Never put anything back into “in.”
  3. Organizing lists
    • list types include: projects, project support material, calendared actions and information, Next Actions, Waiting For ___ , reference material, Someday/Maybe
    • don’t prioritize among these lists. Instead, setting priorities is more of an intuitive process that occurs as lists are reviewed.
  4. Reviewing one’s lists
    • The key to sustaining the system is reviewing lists weekly. This process includes whatever is needed to empty one’s head and includes going through the five phases of workflow management. Its recommended to block out a couple of hours early every Friday afternoon for this. Note that leaving items in the “in” box for too long will cause things to creep back into one’s psyche
  5. Do
    • The Four-Criteria Model for Choosing Actions in the Moment uses the criteria of context, time available, energy available, and priority to make decisions.
    • The Threefold Model for Evaluating Daily Work is the idea that during a workday, one engages in one of three activities: doing predefined work, doing work as it shows up, or defining one’s work. The sacrifice of not doing the work you have defined on your lists, because something else came up, can be tolerated only if one knows what she’s not doing. People may blame their stress and lowered effectiveness on surprises when it’s really their lack of defining their work. He calls one’s ability to deal with surprise a competitive edge.
    • The Six-Level Model for Reviewing Your Own Work is presented in terms of altitude:
      • 50,000 + feet: Life
      • 40,000 feet: Three- to five-year visions
      • 30,000 feet: One-to two-year goals
      • 20,000 feet: Areas of responsibility
      • 10,000 feet: Current projects
      • Runway: Current actions
    • Each of these levels should enhance and align with the levels above it. Priorities are driven from the top. However, without a sense of control over current projects and actions, trying to manage oneself from the top down can create frustration. Allen recommends starting at the bottom level, first ensuring all action lists are complete, and then working up the model.

Vertical Focus: The 5 Parts Of Natural Project planning:

  1. Defining purpose and principles
    • In defining purpose, one asks “why?” Answering this question provides the following benefits: it defines success, creates decision-making criteria, aligns resources, motivates, clarifies focus and expands options. Principles create the boundaries of the plan and define the criteria for excellence of behavior.
  2. Outcome visioning
    • A vision provides a picture of the final result. In defining the desired outcome, a process in the brain (the Reticular Activating System) brings to one’s attention those things that match the vision. In addition, you won’t see how to do it until you see yourself doing it. The way to do this is to view the project from beyond the completion date, envision “WILD SUCCESS”, and capture features, aspects, and qualities you imagine in place.
  3. Brainstorming
    • Brainstorming identifies how one gets from here to there through the generation of lots of ideas. Allen recommends writing down these ideas to help generate many new ones that might not have occurred had the brain not been emptied by writing down the original ideas. Writing ideas down also provides an anchor to keep one focused on the topic at hand. This idea of writing to spur thinking has been labeled as “distributed cognition”. Keys to effective brainstorming are: don’t judge, challenge, evaluate, or criticize; go for quantity, not quality; and put analysis and organization in the background.
  4. Organizing
    • The key steps here include: identify the significant pieces; sort by components, sequences and/or priorities; and detail to the required degree.
  5. Identifying next actions
    • A project is sufficiently planned when every Next Action has been decided on every front that can actually be moved on without some other components having to be completed first.

The dark side of a “collaborative culture”
Twenty minutes before the end of a meeting, one should ask, “So what’s the next action here?” to increase clarity. The dark side of a “collaborative culture” where people are too polite to hold others accountable, but says it is impolite to allow people to walk away from discussions unclear. Asking this question is key for knowledge workers to increase their productivity through “operational responsiveness.” Finally, this question presupposes there is the possibility of change and that one can do something to make it happen, which is empowering.

The major component of professional competence for the new millennium:

  • Being able to envision success when how to achieve it is still unclear.
  • Being able to generate lots of ideas, both good and bad, is a critical piece of creative intelligence.
  • Honing and organizing ideas is a necessary mental discipline. Finally, choosing and taking next actions are the essence of productivity.
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