If you’re like most educated technical types, you’ve heard of David Allen’s “Getting
Things Done” (GTD) productivity concepts, but don’t use them.
And I think I know why: 1) you’re too busy to study a whole book on
productivity; 2) it might not work for you anyway; and 3) deep down you really
don’t want to change how you work.
Am I right?
I’ll make a deal with you. I’ll spend the next 60 seconds telling you how to
radically boost your productivity. In exchange, you have to promise to buy the
book “Getting Things Done,” if it works for you. I’m not here to steal from
David Allen, but to introduce him to you. The concepts below were inspired by
GTD, and might be considered blaspheme by GTD fundamentalists — they’re what I
started doing after I read two of his books, and they work for me.
1. Use your e-mail inbox as the point of entry for all tasks
Use Callwave to make
your voice-mail arrive as e-mail, and use Jott to
make it super easy to put random action items into your inbox. Paper mail, oral
instructions from the boss — whatever — send an e-mail to yourself with things to
do — make sure each task has its own e-mail.
2. Categorize your tasks
Use Windows or Mac folders to do this, or Outlook folders, Outlook Tasks or any
other system that works for you (yes, you can set up multiple, custom-labeled
Outlook Task folders). Don’t use more than seven categories. If tasks have
deadlines, add them to your Calendar or set deadlines in the Outlook Tasks area.
Otherwise categories like “Professional,” “Personal” and “Someday” work for me.
(“Someday” is a powerful one — it’s a place to put long-term goals like “get a
3. First thing each day, empty your inbox.
Process every single item in your inbox by either filing it in one of the
category locations you’ve created (more on this below) or completing it, and
never make exceptions to this rule.
4. Label actions with next step.
As you’re filing tasks to do later, make sure the label of the tasks (file name,
subject line or Outlook Task heading) contains two elements:1) Clear, concise
description of the task; and 2) the next step. So a task might be labeled like
this: “Set Up Monthly Budget Meeting | Call Steve For Availability.”
5. Follow the GTD “two-minute rule.”
Every time you read or handle a step or a task (or entire tasks) that might
take less than two minutes, complete it right then and there.
6. Read every task, every day.
Once your inbox is empty, go through each of your task-category folders, and
just read what’s there. While doing this, you’ll be able to delete items that
are no longer valid or that have been completed, “tweak” items with new
information, and generally remind yourself what tasks are pending.
7. Create a “today” folder or list.
This part deviates totally from GTD, but works great for me. I have a short list
of things I have to complete every day (daily tasks like “review week in
calendar” and “clean desk”). I add to that list the most urgent and/or important
items as I’m going through my inbox and task-category folders, I grab items I
really want to complete today, and add them to my list. Then I go through that
list slavishly — doing exactly what it tells me to do, in the order it tells
me. You can also do this with task-files in a folder or in an Outlook Task
folder labeled “Today.”
The concepts above will give you a small taste of GTD, without spending more
than a minute learning. It will relax your mind by getting to-do items out of
your head and into your trusted system; give you 24/7 “situational awareness”;
and will motivate and propel you as you find yourself, yes, actually getting
Also note that it’s not easy to see how these concepts help you until you
actually do it. So try it. If it works, please drop me a note and let me know
how it goes. And don’t forget to add to your task list: Buy and read Getting