Now to the Getting Part

29 Jul

This is the second part of a series on Getting Things Done. See My Mind Needs a Break for the first of the series.

Now once you’re organized, you can start the daily, weekly, monthly, yearly (“whenever you need to” time frame) review. This is the time when you pick up the next actions that need to be done and get to doing them.

But wait! How do you organize your next action lists so that you can get them done?

David Allen uses the concept of “context” groupings. Basically that means you group them by the context you find yourself in/where you are, what tools you have available or by whom you’re with. So for instance I have a next action folder/list for @computer, @errands, @phone calls, @waiting for, @home, etc. These would be specific for where you find yourself or what tools you have on hand at the moment. Here’s an example of why this works, say that you find yourself sitting in your car a lot waiting to drop your kids off and picking your kids up. Obviously there are only so many things you can do while you sit there and you only have so much time for each “trip”. But given that it’s regular enough, you could plan to read up on new recipes to try, make plans (or even phone calls if you’re stationary) for an upcoming event or even get through a book you’ve meant to read (Audio Books!). So if you have a @in car folder of all the things to do while you’re there, you can just pull that out starting ticking off your tasks. (Although if you really spend a lot of time in your car, I would also recommend your own “caddy” that is basically a car appropriate “office” so you can get done what you might want to do and plan to do in the car.)

You might also have a few other contexts, like @talk to hubby, that aren’t based on where you find yourself but more a “who are you with” category. You can decide which contexts are appropriate to your life. There is no right or wrong answer, just whatever works and whatever grouping seems natural to you.

The idea of context lists is a fairly “simple” concept, while at the same it could be quite revolutionary to you. It was to me. Duh, group things by when they can get done (that is what contexts are at their most basic level) and then when you find yourself there, do the stuff on the list. Because you know, trying to complete a to-do list with 5 totally unrelated tasks easily throws you off and can take you 5 times as long because you’re having to switch gears after each task. (“I got to make a call to X. Then run to the store for B. Then come back and pay bill M. After which I have to make dinner.”)

The only thing about GTD is look, there’s something on your mind, if it happens twice on your mind then you don’t trust your system, so what do you need to do so that you trust it? Hardly anybody is ever disturbed by where they need to be two weeks from Monday at 3:15 in the afternoon because that’s a system they trust called their calendar.

They know it’s in there and they know they’ll look at it at the right time. So all GTD said is, well look, if you want everything off your mind, like not having to keep track of your calendar, just make sure you put it in the same kind of a system that you trust just like your calendar. Meaning you trust that it has all the content it needs and you trust you’ll look at it when you need to see it. That’s all it’s about. So it’s nothing to do with paper or email or where you sit or any of that.

~ excerpt from an Interview of David Allen by Bob Walsh~

OK, everything is in it’s place… but how do I make sure I get to it all?

That’s where we Review. Just like at the end of a semester long class or at the end of an afternoon special (so dating myself with that!) or even a business meeting, we summarize and review. Well this is essentially the same except we do it at the beginning of the week (month, every two weeks, every other day… whenever you’ve determined is the right time frame for you). So once you have everything organized and in it’s place, you set a time to go and review what you have to do. Then set times to do those things in your upcoming week. For example, you might say “On Tuesday, from 10-12 I’ll make all the calls in my @phone call folder/list and from 2-4 I’ll run downtown and get all the errands that need to be done there all off my @errands downtown folder/list. Then Thursday, I’ll hunker down and work on Project X and get through as many next actions as I can.”

In this review time, you will recapture any outstanding tasks, process anything in your inbox (physical inbox or another mini-brain-dump), defer what can be/needs to be deferred, organize your next actions and manage your projects. Some find they also need a mini-review daily or every other day, and this is when they make their day’s “to do list” and match it up with their schedule (especially if you’re one who often gets delegated tasks as the day goes on from many sources). But don’t get overly strict and set in stone about when you’ve next actions must be done. The whole point of Getting Things Done is that it should give you a structure so that you can actually have a clear mind (that isn’t trying to remember everything) and freedom to do those spontaneous things, because you know “Today I HAVE to get done with A, B and C… and the rest I can and will get to another time.”

And then lastly of course, you Do. No matter how much collecting, process, organizing, reviewing you do, this system of getting things done won’t be effective if you don’t do what is on your lists. And yes, you might fall off the GTD wagon a few times (I have), but know you can also restart with a nice brain dump that will leave you feeling uncluttered and free.

That’s what GTD is. If you’re out of control or if you have lost perspective, I guarantee you if you write everything down, get it out of your head. If you take next action decisions and outcome decisions about what all those things mean and you park those in to a trusted place. Which you then review against all the horizon of commitments that you have so that you kind of integrate all that together and then make an intuitive judgment call about what to do, more than likely you will be on.

~ excerpt from an Interview of David Allen by Bob Walsh~

Does this seem like too much work? Not sure if it’s really worth the effort. Wait, there are some definite rewards. So hold on, one more post and then decide if you want to give it a try.

One Response to “Now to the Getting Part”


  1. The Rewards of a Clear Mind « Organizing The Details - August 5, 2010

    […] Aug This is the third part of a series on Getting Things Done. See My Mind Needs a Break and Now to the Getting Part for part 1 & 2 of the […]

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