Friday, June 24, 2011

Getting Things Done

It’s easy to support the argument that Project Management is mostly about productivity and getting things done, right? What is not so easy to do is to actually be productive. In order to do that you have to at least (i) know where your headed (ii) have some process to get you going and (iii) check and reinforce if where you’re headed is still where you want to be.
This article is about David Allen’s Getting Things Done which is basically a process to get you going. And it works for me so it might work for you as well.

First things first
Any process such as Getting Things Done can work for your. Or not. If you have a good process but you don’t know where you’re headed you’ll just get nowhere faster. Although this article is about this particular process, I can’t stress enough the need for the other 2 points mentioned before.
Next, a process is a process. It may work for you or not. But you can always adapt things so they work for you. And you will always get some of the key issues identified and addressed and so you will have something to gain from it.

The overall idea
Getting Things Done is a 5 step process:
  1. Collect: Get all the stuff off your mind and into one place.
  2. Process: Decide what to do with your stuff, is there actually something you can do about it? Do it right away if it’s really fast.
  3. Organize: Associate dates to tasks, are they urgent?
  4. Review: Get an overview of what you need to do, is it too much to do for that week? Can you do more?
  5. Do: Take the time to do the things you have to do.
Simple, right? Now take a look at the process as represented below. You have these 5 steps in there but it offers you a graphical view of the procedure: what to first and what to do next. And see? You also get projects on this process! The thing is a project in Getting Things Done is something you have to do that requires more than one action, there’s no need for a Project Charter for these GTD projects, OK? Same word but a different meaning.
Your objective in this step is to get all your “stuff” in one place. Stuff also has a special meaning in Getting Things Done: stuff in anything you have pending, it can be physical, like a magazine that has an article you really want to read, or not, like updating your shopping list. Now, the ideal thing is for you to get all your stuff in one place but actually you won’t be able to do it because some stuff is in your mind (and you can write a post-it note) and some stuff is a physical object (like a company presentation’s hardcopy). In my case, I have 4 inboxes for my stuff:
- my email inbox
- an inbox in a software I use (ThinkingRock) that implements Getting Things Done
- a physical inbox at my office
- a physical inbox at my home
So what's the advantage of getting all your stuff in one place? Well, if you know where all your stuff is, you can get your mind free enough to dedicate your attention to what you’re doing. You won’t need to worry again about forgetting something and you won’t need to keep making an effort to remember what you have to do.

The objective is to give a destination to your stuff that is already collected. The destination can be just one of the following:
  • To Do: There’s an action you can take
  • References: It’s just something you want to keep for later retrieval, like a password or an article
  • Someday: It’s something you might want to do or that you’ll need to do in the future, but not now 
  • Trash: Or, it’s trash and you throw it away
There is no other destiny to give to your stuff so you have to be sure on your criteria to classify it. To illustrate this I’m going to share with you how I deal with my email. I have no emails on my inbox at least once a day as I process my email at least once a day (in fact I usually process my email on every chance I get).
  1. If there’s something I should do about an email I label it with the categories that make sense for it and move it to a “To Do” folder - unless it takes under 2 minutes to take this action, in which case I do it immediately. This not just moving the emails to another folder (I could have a rule on my email to do that) - it makes me think about what to do next, what is the next action I want to take.
  2. If it’s something that requires no action from me but that I want to be able to retrieve it later on (like an email confirming the registration on some site), I label it and put it on a “References” folder.
  3. If it’s something that I don’t want to take an action now (like something that has no importance whatsoever to me) I put it on a “Someday” folder.
  4. On any other case, I just move the email to my trash bin (in fact, I have a folder named “Archive” that works as my trash bin).
So at end what will you get? A free mind and an empty inbox. In my case, this gives me the ability to choose what to do next because there’s no obvious pressure - not even an email in my inbox!

The objective now is to plan your work. You have a list of actions to do and a certain time available. What is more urgent? What has a target date you have to meet? What is more important to you? What is there to do that can be done anytime? If you answer all these questions you’ll be able to:
  • Delegate the task
  • Schedule it to some date
  • Put in on a “Next actions” list
If you do this, you’ll get your work for the day (or week or whatever suits you) planned.
Just one thing about urgent and important tasks. If you map urgent and important on a graph such as the one below, you should, in general, focus first on the urgent and important (I quadrant). Then you should focus on the not urgent but important actions (II quadrant). Only after these you should worry about the urgent but unimportant actions (III quadrant). These are the first candidates to delegate. And discard every single time you can the not urgent and unimportant actions (IV quadrant).

Now remember talking about headings on the beginning of this article? If you don’t know what’s important to you and what you really value you’ll get a major headache trying to sort out the importance of every single task you have. And worst than that, if don’t know what’s important for you, you’ll get the other things that you really don’t care about done first! This doesn’t look like a smart thing to do, does it? Like Alice In Wonderland, if you don’t know where you’re going any road will get you there...

The objective is to make sure everything is aligned to your headings. In short, your values are not static and so you should keep checking if what was important to you last month is still important. Sometimes you get an opportunity that dramatically changes everything. If you noticed, you only worry about one task at a time. So if something comes up that changes other tasks, this is the place worry about that. It's also time to check what's on your "Someday" folder. Maybe it's time to take some of those actions.
One thing I don’t remember reading about that happens to me quite often is that I get some duplicate actions. Suppose that someone told me about this book I should read and I put it in my “Someday” folder. 3 months later I read in a magazine an article about it and then I put it again in my “Someday” folder because I didn’t remember it was already there. When you put things in a folder you don’t check for duplicates, you just put it there. So this is when I de-duplicate my actions.
So the benefit of doing this review is to keep you on track of what’s important to you.

This is what you wanted to on the first place, right? So just do it!
The advantage of this all this extra work is that:
  • Now you can do things without the stress of all the other things that are pending and the risk of forgetting something
  • You are sure you’re doing first the most important things to you
  • You can have an overview of what’s on your hands any time you want

Need more on Getting Things Done?
This is a quick overview of Getting Things Done. If I got you interested enough and you're looking for more I'd recommend you David Allen's book, Getting Things Done. If you want to get ahead fast, you can check this PDF flyer by Scott Moehring, it's much more complete than this article so it should trigger in you the need to find out more about Getting Things Done anyway.
I'm no Getting Things Done expert but I've been using it for some 4 years or so. Because of this, this article is a hands-on approach on Getting Things Done, not an in-depth guide. I hope you can make good use of it and become more productive. By all means get back to me if there's something in this article that needs some further explanation.

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