Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Getting Things Done, by David Allen

The book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress Free Productivity, was suggested to me by my supervisor on Thursday of last week. The way he talked about the book made me immediately curious about what could be so revolutionary about it. It's just a productivity book, eh?

Well, it's the first book on productivity I've read, and it's been an amazing few days. The book introduces a five-step method of "getting things done," one that I'm finding to be extremely helpful.

1. Collect--Put everything, I mean everything, into a physical inbox (electronic in the case of email). The whole point of the system is that you free your brain to do stuff other than remember. So get it all out of your head.
2. Process--Sit down and process everything in the the inbox by asking several questions. Is it an actionable item? If no, then throw it away, file it, or put it aside into a "Someday/Mabye" list. If the item does have an action associated with it, take a couple of seconds to decide the very next physical action required. If the action takes 2-minutes or less, do it. If it will take longer, organize it on one of your lists (step 3)
3. Organize--file non-actionable items, and put action items that will take more than two minutes onto a "Next Action" list, arranged not by topic but by context (i.e., at the computer, online, office, anywhere, home, etc.). There are more lists to be added to that make the system even better, but I won't go into them here.
4. Review--before you go about doing, you have to review. Start with your calendar. If there are items that HAVE to be done that day, do them. Next, move to the "Next Action" list.
5. Do--now, looking at your "Next Action" list, decide based on your context, time, energy, and priorities which item should be done next.

The beauty of the system is that it is "bottom-up." Since everything goes in the inbox, everything makes it in. Therefore, there's no need to worry about trying to remember something. Take two seconds to jot down a note to yourself when something crosses your mind, and drop it in the inbox. It won't be too long until you process the inbox again, and in the meantime you can concentrate on what you're working on.

The three most helpful pieces of wisdom in this book are:
1. Next actions--this is incredibly freeing, taking the time to decide what actually needs to be done next. For example, instead of putting a nebulous "Wedding Gift" on your to-do list, put it in your projects list, and add "Brainstorm gift ideas" into your next actions list. That way you know what you're going to do next, and the brainstorm will spawn another action item like, "Talk to spouse about gift ideas," etc.
2. Two-minute rule--if it takes two minutes or less, do it. Also freeing, this clears away all the clutter so you can focus on the important things. It's also amazing how many household chores take two minutes or less!
3. Inbox--putting everything in my inbox is a great feeling. I know it will be attended to, so I can forget about it and plow ahead in what I'm doing.

So, if you're looking for a way to reorganize your life, pick up Getting Things Done and work yourself through the book. You won't regret it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It sounds like a great system, but I don't think I could keep it up!

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