I came across the mention of the book, Getting Things Done when I was going through an online video on productivity tools. My honest opinion after completing the book is that everyone in the corporate world should go through this book at least once in order to reap some of the benefits. Other than helping to use the productivity tools in an efficient way, the principles and methods mentioned in the book can be incorporated to everything that you have to do in your personal and professional life.

The author of this book, David Allen has been called as one of the world’s most influential thinkers on productivity. The personal productivity system, Getting Things Done (GTD) was developed by him and published in this book. The GTD method rests on the idea of moving all items of interest, relevant information, issues, tasks and projects out of one’s mind by recording them externally and then breaking them into actionable work items with known time limits. This avoids recalling each task intuitively that may result in missing out on certain things.

The book starts off with the problem, i.e., most of the people have too much to handle and not enough time to get it all done. These people are to some degree frustrated and perplexed about how to improve the situation. Neither our standard education, nor the traditional time management models, nor the plethora of organizing tools available has given us a viable means of meeting the new demand for speed, complexity, and changing priority. There is a great need for new methods, technologies, and work habits to help us get on top of our world. When you feel out of control, stressed out, unfocused, bored and stuck, the methodology of GTD will show you how to get back to “mind like water”, with all your resources and faculties functioning at the maximum level.

In the next chapter, the author explains about the core process or five stage method for managing workflow. No matter what the setting, there are five discrete stages that we go through as we deal with our work. In this management of horizontal aspect of our lives, we incorporate everything that has our attention at any time.

Collect things that command Your attention

It is important to know what needs to be collected and how to collect it most effectively so you can process it appropriately. You must be sure that at some point in the near future you will process and review all of it. There are several types of tools that you can use to collect the open loops or incompletes. Tools that can serve as in-basket are the physical ones like the trays that can collect the paper based materials, note taking devices like the paper writing pads, electronic note taking devices like the PDAs, Voice recording devices, Email application. These collection tools should become part of your life style so that you can collect your thought anytime & anywhere.

Process what they mean and what to do about them

The most important question to ask here is what’s the next action? This is the critical question for anything you have collected. If you answer it appropriately, you will have the key substantive thing to organize. The “next action” is the next physical visible activity that you need to engaged in, in order to move the current reality towards completion.

Organize the results

For nonactionable items, the possible categories are trash, incubation tools and reference storage. If no action is needed on something, you toss it, reassess it later, or file it so you can find the topic that you need to refer to at a later time. However for actionable things, you will need a list of projects, storage or files for project plans and materials, a calendar, a list of reminders of next actions, and a list of reminders of things you are waiting for.

Review the result as options for what we choose to do

Its one thing to write down a task and another to actually execute it. You need to be able to review the whole picture of your life and work at appropriate intervals and appropriate levels. After checking your calendar, it is good to turn to “Next actions” list. If you have organized the list by context, they will come into play only when those contexts are available. Everything that might potentially require action must be reviewed on a frequent enough basis to keep your mind from taking back the job of remembering and reminding.

Perform the action

The basic purpose of this workflow management process is to facilitate good choices about what you are doing at any point in time. If you have collected, processed, organized and reviewed all your current commitments, you can galvanize your intuitive judgement with some intelligent and practical thinking about your work and life.

A functional workspace is critical. Be it office or home, everyone must have a dedicated workspace and in-basket to start with. This serves as a physical locus of control from which to deal with everything else. It is imperative that you have your own work space, or at least your own in basket and a physical place in which to process paper. Some of the basic processing tools that you will need are paper holding trays, paper, pen or pencil, post-it, paper clips, binder clips, a stapler & staples, scotch tape, rubber bands, an auto labeler, file folders, a calendar, wastebasket.

The author suggests everyone to maintain their own personal, at hand filing system. The following are the guidelines as suggested by the author to make your filing effective.

  • Keep your general reference files at hand’s reach
  • One Alpha Filing system – Ex: Manila folder system with A-Z and nothing else
  • Have lots of fresh folders to process the in-basket
  • Keep the drawer less than three quarters full always
  • Label your file folders with an Auto Labeler
  • Get high-quality mechanics file cabinet
  • Purge your files at least once a year

In the subsequent chapters, the author goes into the detail of each of the core process starting with collection or getting all your incompletes into one place ,i.e., your in-basket. The first activity is to search your physical environment for anything that doesn’t belong where it is, the way it is and put it into your in-basket. Start your activity with your desk at home/office, drawers, inside the cabinets, floor, walls, furniture etc. Once you have collected all the physical things, you will want to collect anything else that may be residing in your mind that has your attention. In this instance, go for the quantity instead of quality so as to avoid missing out on anything. Often you may just need a walk to unearth something lurking in a corner of your mind. Remember, when something occurs to you, write it on a piece of paper or pad and toss it into your in-basket.

The next chapter is about the processing or the review part. When you have finished processing the in-basket you will have trashed what you don’t need, completed any less than 2minute actions, handed off to others anything that can be delegated, set reminders of actions that require more than 2minutes, identified any larger commitments. The key processing question that needs to be asked when processing each item in the in-basket is “What’s the next action?”. If there is a next action it, that may be either to do it, delegate it or defer it. In case of no actions required for the items, the categories that they fall into will be either trash, incubate or reference.

In the next chapter on organizing, the author writes about the primary types of things that everyone needs to track and manage from an organizational perspective.

  • A Project list
  • Project support material
  • Calendarized actions and information
  • “Next Actions” list
  • A “Waiting For” list
  • Reference material
  • A “Someday/Maybe” list

The above categories must be visually, physically and psychologically separate. If the above categories begin to blend, much of the value of organizing will be lost. The best way as per the author to be reminded of an “as soon as I can” action is by the particular context required for that action ,i.e., either the tool or the location or the person needed to complete it. Like the reminders of actions, you need to set reminders of all the things that you are waiting to get back from or get done by others have to be sorted out too. In this case, “Waiting For” list is the best to use, similar to the “Next actions” reminder list. As per the author, your calendar can be a very handy place to park reminders like the triggers for activating projects, events you might want to participate in, decision catalysts. The timely reminder from outlook calendar will make it sure that you remember your tasks on time.

In the next chapter about review, the author says that if everything is completely collected, processed and organized you will take only a few brief moment to access your system for day to day reminders. Your most frequent review will probably be your daily calendar followed by the list of all the actions you could possibly do in the current context. As per the author, the magic key to sustainability of the whole process is the weekly review. Weekly review is simply whatever you need to do to get your head empty again. It builds in some capturing, reevaluation and reprocessing time to keep you in balance.

When you start to perform any action, the choices can be made based on the criterion of context, time available, energy available and priority.

There is much more to these simple techniques and models than may appear at first glance. Indeed, they offer a systematic method to keep your mind distraction free, ensuring a high level of efficiency and effectiveness in your work. Getting things done, and feeling good about it, means being willing to recognize, acknowledge, and appropriately manage the things that have your consciousness engaged. The author says that your life and work are made up of outcomes and actions. When your operational behavior is grooved to organize everything that comes your way, at all levels, a deep alignment occurs and wondrous things emerge. This results in you becoming highly productive.

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