Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Getting things done

This spring I bought a book called Få det gjort! - Svart bälte i vardagseffektivitet/Getting Things Done - The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen. I have now found that this book seems to be part of a "movement" on the Internet (try googling GTD or Getting Things Done...) and a short summary of the book (and the action management method) is presented here on Wikipedia.

I started reading the book during my vacation but gave up after the first couple of chapters. It involved way too much thinking about work to be a good vacation book. When I started working again 2½ weeks ago, I took the book to the office. See, I'm always in need of organizaton. I'm not proud of it, but I have to admit to being a sloppy person when it comes to keeping track of my possessions and things I have to do. When I get involved in projects I usually drown in loose ends before we're even halfway through it. My desk disappears under piles of documents I have to file, folders I have to read, notes I've written and such.

It's funny how logical I can be in some aspects of my life and at the same time be as disorganized as I am... And it's funny how I am a perfectionist when it comes to my output at work and at the same time am the worst organizer there is. One would think I'd be very organized as to help myself producing "perfect output"...

Anyways, I brought the book to work. And I've read it while sitting at my desk. I decided that the timing was perfect as almost all of my colleagues are on vacation and most of my projects are moving slowly at the moment. I also thought I could read it (and work it) in my office as my work performance will benefit from me getting more organized. And if I can get my stress-levels down ('cause being this disorganized really stresses me out when I know I have a thousand things to do but can't organize myself (or the project) enough to actually do any of it), I will feel much better and perform better. Simple logic, isn't it?

(And if you're worried - my boss came back from his vacation this week and I told him all about what I had been up to after coming back from my own vacation. His response was positive and he immediately told me to go ahead and order whatever tools I needed for my office to keep this going. He even mentioned new furniture... Should I worry that he wants me to spend money on getting more organized?)

I've read through the book properly once while taking notes. I've skimmed through and re-read more than three quarters of it. More than one time. I get the general idea. I get the concepts. Now I'm working on getting it to work for me. I have started the "gathering process" and have my desk completely full of documents, folders, blue prints, note books and whatever. I'm writing down any loose ends I can think of on seperate pieces of paper. So far I have a stack of 117 of these pieces of paper with anything from "email S" to "clothes behind door" to "build model of M" to "start saving for my pension" on them. (The majority of loose ends that I've written down are work-related but a few personal ones have slipped through as well... When I've organized my work life I think I'll try and battle the loose ends at home as well.)

Next step is to go through each and every thing on my desk and decide what to do with it. This is the step called "processing". I'm looking forward to it!!!

I'll keep you posted on how I'm doing with this system. It's a lot to take in but at the same time it's very basic and logical. It's a way of freeing up space from your memory (read: declutter your brain) and making you more efficient. By focusing on different kinds of "lists" with reminders(could be things like a list on paper, a box or portfolio with documents in or a calender) and the concept of "next action" one makes sure that one always knows what to do today and next. It's not about random "to do"-lists but a broken down system of lists.

I'll give you an example of an ordinary "to-do"-list.

  1. Call Anna
  2. Email John when Amy gets back to me on the party details
  3. Arrange a trip to Canada

Call Anna... Well, whatabout? If you only had a couple of minutes to grab something off of your to-do-list this one might slip through to the next day and the next day if you by looking at the written task can't figure out exactly what to talk to her about.

And "email John when Amy gets back to me" isn't really an action to do, is it? The proper action would be "wait for Amy". So this goes in the "Waiting for"-folder or on the "Waiting for"-list until Amy has reported back and you can take the next action (which is "email John about the party").

Looking at this you'll see that "arrange a trip to Canada" actually involves a lot of different actions (investigate flight schedules and prices, book tickets and hotels, make sure friends are available for a visit, ask for days of at work, make sure the cats are taken care of while you're gone, renew passport, buy a new suitcase, decide on what knitting projects to bring and so on) which makes it difficult to have on a list of things you have to do. Where are you supposed to start? Isn't it possible that the task you've written down will make you feel overwhelmed and therefore keep being pushed to the future? If you only have half an hour, would you start this to cross it off? Probably not as the project would take you longer than half an hour. However, if you had a list of the proper actions you'd have to take in order to fulfill the project "arrange a trip to Canada" you'd probably get more done as you in half an hour could cross off "ask for days off at work" and "investigate flight schedules"... You'd know you had the time to do these individual tasks. So... Put "arrange a trip to Canada" on a "Project"-list and break it down into actions before putting the first action on a "Next action"-list. And that is the list to work with!

Does it make sense?

There are parts of this book I haven't read in depth yet (like the ones on his 6 different levels of focus or the natural planning method for projects) but I might get back to them. It seems this is a book one can read many times and find new things in everytime. And I'm sure some parts will get clearer as I get into actually working more with the GTD-method.

A description of GTD from David Allen:

"Get everything out of your head. Make decisions about actions required on stuff when it shows up - not when it blows up. Organize reminders of your projects and the next actions on them in appropriate categories. Keep your system current, complete, and reviewed sufficiently to trust your intuitive choices about what you're doing (and not doing) at any time. "

Any thoughts on this?


Anonymous said...

Interesting's important to make your workspace comfortable. In my experience, daily maintenance is key...when organizing my desk, I'd rather spend 10 minutes each day than an hour at the end of the week.


P.S. Can't wait to hear about your plans for Canada! :)

dannielo said...

For implementing GTD you might try out this new web-based application:

You can use it to manage your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, schedules and a calendar.
A mobile version and iCal are available too.

Hope you like it.