Clarity Call - Untangled Coaching

Getting Things Done

Traditional time management advice suggests that by working harder, smarter, and faster, you will gain control over your life and work, and you will be more successful. However, for most of us the real challenge is not managing time but maintaining focus. Focus is the central theme of David Allen’s best-selling book Getting Things Done. To maximize personal productivity, individuals must learn to focus on exactly what is appropriate and let go of what is irrelevant to a given situation or activity.

Allen’s systematic approach, described below, will help you spend as little mental energy on your work as possible and instead let you focus attention on what’s right in front of you. Much of the stress that people feel—which not only distracts your focus but also drains your energy—isn’t from having too much to do, but rather from not finishing what you’ve started.

Open Loops

At the heart of Allen’s system is identifying the “incompletes” in life, or closing what he calls open loops. Open loops can be anything from everyday tasks like returning a phone call to complex quarterly priorities. Closing an open loop involves identifying and planning the next step that will lead toward completion.
To identify and close open loops, it is necessary to take inventory of all your activities, tasks, and commitments; prioritize them; then do, delegate, or defer them.

Getting and Staying Organized

The reason that many organizational systems fail is that people don’t successfully transform all the stuff they’re trying to organize into tangible actions, easily retrievable reference, or garbage, as appropriate.
Most people’s task lists are merely lists of “stuff,” not inventories of real work to be done. Most people’s files and piles are full of garbage and aren’t designed to easily find what you’re looking for. As such, they are full of open loops that have not yet been translated into specific actions linked to desired outcomes.

Workflow Management

Combine everything that competes for your attention into one organized system that allows you to keep track without forgetting or overlooking anything. Workflow management involves five distinct activities:

Collect :The first step is to collect everything that needs attention. It is essential to get this information out of your head and into a handful of “collection buckets.” There are various types of collection tools, such as a physical in-basket, file folders, Outlook email folders, Outlook calendars, Outlook tasks, and so on. It is important to empty these buckets regularly.

Process : With each item in the collection buckets, you should ask, “What is it?” and decide whether to throw it out, defer it for later action, or act now. If immediate action is required, you need to decide whether to do it yourself or delegate it.

Organize : Create an organizing system that contains buckets for materials and reminders that result from processing all your stuff. Actionable items can go into buckets such as task lists, project action plans, materials for later use, or a calendar. Non-actionable items can go into buckets such as trash, reference, or a Someday/Maybe file.
Also, note that ‘next actions’ should be specific. Don’t write down ‘schedule Litetech’. Write ‘call Litetech at 847.478.9000 to schedule appointment before next Wednesday to set up new computer’. This frees up mental space and saves time when you actually do the ‘next action’ item.

Review :It is essential to be able to efficiently review the big picture of your work (and life) as appropriate. In this step, scan all your projects and defined actions, and make a conscious decision about what to undertake. Some buckets should be reviewed daily. Others can be reviewed weekly. Some, such as your someday/maybe folder could be reviewed quarterly.

Do : We want to make the best choice about what to do at any given point in time based on context, available time and energy, and priority. First consider context. Do you have the location, people, or tools necessary to perform a task? Second, is there sufficient time available to do it now? Third, do you have enough energy for the task? Fourth, reflect on priorities. If the right context, time, and energy are present, what action is most important to take now?
Depending on the above, immediately either do it, discard it, delegate it, or defer it. Discard anything that’s unneeded, immediately complete any actions that can be done within two minutes, delegate to others, or immediately enter reminders of future actions into Outlook.

Flowchart - Untangled Coaching

A Special Note on How to Use Outlook Tasks, Calendars and Notes

Anything you want to do that you’re not doing right now should be entered into Outlook as either a Task or a Calendar appointment. Keep your calendar uncluttered and easy to read. Calendar appointments should be only for things fixed in time, such as a meeting, a phone appointment, or a specific time you’ve carved out to work on a project. Everything else should be a task. If the task is for something you don’t want to be bothered about for a week, set the start time for a week from today at 10:30am (or whenever).

Then when a week from today 10:30am rolls around, follow the Getting Things Done system. What is it? Is it actionable? Should you do it now (like you originally planned)? Or should you reschedule it? If you find that you’ve rescheduled the same thing 3 or 4 times, stop kidding yourself. Either just do it now, or reassess its priority.

If you like, set categories to each of your tasks. This way you can ask Outlook only to give you tasks related to your quarterly goals, or only related to personal items, etc.

Similarly, you can use the Outlook Notes function to set up as many quick reference materials and checklists as you like. It’s handy to have a list of birthdays, things to check before a trip, inspirational words you like to refer to, ‘to do’ lists, etc., all collected together and ready at the click of a mouse.

The Weekly Review

On a regular basis, no less often than weekly, follow these steps:

1. Sort loose papers. Gather all scraps of paper—business cards, receipts, and so on—and put them in a bucket to process.
2. Process notes. Review notebook entries, meeting notes, and any other ideas you may have jotted down. Turn them into appropriate action items, reference items, or reminders, and file accordingly.
3. Enter any new projects, action items, “waiting for” items, and so on.
4. Review recent calendar entries and overdue tasks. Delete completed tasks.
5. Clean up task lists. Check off all completed actions. Look for reminders of further action steps.
6. Review “someday/maybe” lists. Look for any projects that should become active. Delete any “dead” items.
7. Review your vision statement and long-term goals.
8. Learn from your performance last week. What worked exactly the way you hoped, or even better? What didn’t work out the way you hoped (took too long, dropped the ball, stressful, etc.)? Why? What do you want to repeat for next week? What do you want to do differently next week?
9. With your vision and goals and game-filming firmly in mind, one by one, evaluate the status of each project, goal, task, and outcome. Pay special attention to your quarterly priorities. What is the next action item for each? Which next action items do you want to work on next week? Use the 2×2 to schedule these items into your Outlook calendar for an appropriate time.