Ever feel like your brain has gone to take a nap, but you’re supposed to be doing something… something that for the life of you you can’t remember. If this is you then it’s time to unclutter your brain and regain some focus. But how do you do that when you’re juggling projects at work (or school), errands to run, calenders (yes, plural, because a “family” calendar really counts as at least 4), events to rsvp to, hobbies you’ve been meaning to get to (so you can de-stress, right, but which of course you need to buy a couple more items and do a couple more things before you can even start) and don’t even get me started on that to do list that never seems to dwindle. Before you know it, you’re exhausted from even thinking about it and you really do need to take a nap!
Well that’s when it’s time for a mind dump. Welcome to the Getting Things Done (GTD) method by David Allen. Now I have to admit straight off, I’m not a strict follower of the GTD method. I think the philosophy and the structure are great, but the full implemented strategy doesn’t really fit my lifestyle or current “work” load. So instead I have been using a modified GTD method for about a year now and that’s ok.
There’s still very few people, even people that you think do GTD are really, really, really doing GTD. Meaning truly nothing on their mind. Truly nothing is in their head. They’ve learned that the brain is not the place to hold that. And it’s externalized. It takes a couple of years for most people to really, really, really begin to integrate that …”
~ excerpt from an Interview of David Allen by Bob Walsh ~
Following even the basic principles of Getting it Done has taken quite a bit of brain baggage off (and surprisingly, guilt too) in trying to remember things and feeling bad when they never get checked off my to do list. Because the important things get done and the other things that I “want to remember someday” are still there to peruse but not taking up valuable brain space. Did I mention I also like the fact that there are “boxes” to hold everything and lists to keep track of what has been done and what needs to be done? Since I’m the kind of person that loves to check mark a task done and cross over a list item, this system is so me!
Of course if you want to jump headfirst into the full GTD system, I would go to your local library and borrow the book (I’m all for going the frugal route). Read it and think about it. (For a “cliff notes” version of the book or so you don’t have to take your own notes, see the MineZone Wiki). It’ll take some time setting up a system that works for you, and you’ll need to be ready to take a total overhaul of how you keep track of things now, but you’ll be amazed how much it really gives your mind a break.
So what is Getting Things Done?
Surprise! Getting Thins Done is basically a systematic way to get all the things you need to do (no matter if they’re work, home or a personal item) done. It’s about looking at all the projects (anything with more than one step) you have open in your life and working out the next actions and then having a support system to help you get to those next actions.
The 5 stages of the GTD system are
Collect simply means to gather up all those items that demand our attention (small, big, work, personal, anything). For concrete items (papers, mail, e-mail) you want to create one spot where you can collect that stuff. For more abstract items (ideas, things you have to do) David Allen recommends a brain dump. A brain dump is basically what it sounds like. Taking everything you’re trying to remember and writing it all down. This might take several pages of paper, but it’s the first step to getting things out of your head and into a system (that isn’t your short and long term memory).
Next you take everything you collected and Process it. This means decide “Is there an action needed for this item?”
If No, then throw it away or file it for when you do need it. David Allen says use a “Someday/Maybe” folder, 43 “Tickler” folders and a Reference folder. The “Someday” folder is for things you want may want to do. The Tickler folders are the places to put those “Oh I’ll need to do that on x day in x month” (31 Day folders for each day of the current month & 12 Month folders for each month of the year – in which you move tomorrow’s day folder to the front, so you can see what you have for that day. Keep doing that every day along with divying out everything from the current month folder into the appropriate day folders at the beginning of the month, and voila every day of the year is “covered” ). And a Reference folder which is for, you guessed it, reference.
If the answer to “Is it actionable?” is Yes, then you either Do It (yes, right now! No time like the present), Delegate It, or Defer It. The item also might be part of a larger project, then you’d group all the items for that project together, plan out what the outcome you’re going for and plan accordingly by making “next action” steps. If you’re deferring it that means you’re planning in your calendar (or tickler file) to do it another day OR you’re putting it in your “next action” lists. And voila you’ve Organized everything.
Now a couple tips or “heed my warnings”. First, if you’re doing this process for the first time, it could take hours or even days (depending on how much you have). Try to do it as big of chunks as you can. Second tip, when you’ve collected your humongous stack (be it papers or a list the size of short novels), go through each piece from the top down. DO NOT try to go through and pick items to work on, you’ll never get through the stack. The goal is to process everything and organize it. Then later you’ll actually review the items in detail later and get to getting. Lastly don’t try to skip ahead and organize while you collect, because you’ll get sidetracked organizing (at least I would) and you won’t collect everything and then you’ve basically have derailed yourself before you’ve even started. (Actually it’s a general rule for organizing… don’t plan to organize until you know fully what you have and what you need to organize.)
So, ready to start collecting and do a little mind dumping? You do that and I’ll be back to explain the rest of the GTD method and give you some examples of how it’s changed lives.
Keep posted for the next articles in this series – “Now to the Getting Part” and “The Rewards of a Clear Mind”.