Getting Things Done: Update

Chris Sells pinged me today to ask about GTD. Actually, it was kind of funny... he sent me an email with the subject line “You've done this, what can you tell me?“ And the body was a link. That's it. When I first saw the subject line I thought it was spam, or even <gasp> porn spam. Chris sure does know how to pique your interest with a headline, doesn't he? Heh. Anyway, I've been meaning to post an update, so thanks Chris, for the questions!

I'm impressed with the GTD system, but as a practical matter it doesn't give me more time in my day to do the work. Once I figure out how to clear away some of the meetings for focused work time, I'm thinking it will be a leap forward. The biggest “aha” for me was learning to think about the next action every time I touch something. I used to leave stuff in my email inbox that I "needed to deal with." Of course it quickly got out of control, and it was totally overwhelming because it was just "stuff". Now, whether it's replying to an email or a project task I'm doing, I think “What's the next thing I need to do?” as I finish it - on the email: do I need to create a waiting for task (which the addin makes incredibly easy) with a reminder in two days or do I need to delete the original, and on the project task: is it make a call to someone or prepare for a meeting? Storing the next action makes it easy to deal with things in context, for example 1:1 agenda items. Or phone calls. The task list that got created from all the email that I cleaned out of my inbox is long, but it's not as unapproachable as my old inbox was, because I know what the next action that I need to perform on every single one of the tasks is. The decision tree for next actions really makes sense to me, and I'm deleting a lot more than I used to. The set-up cost for this is high, but in my opinion, worth it. Someone who didn't have the mess that I did when I started would have an easier time of it.

The other “aha's” are personal, I think (Chris asked about “aha's“)... The ease of mind that it's given me to have a clean desk and office. The realization that, for me, a pile of "stuff to do" is an invitation to procrastinate. The confirmation that I have way too many meetings. And the “Hey, there's a light at the end of the tunnel!” That kind of stuff.

Here's what has changed, even without there being more time:

  • I know what I'm not doing, where before I had this amorphous worry that I was missing important things (and I was). When I do have time to do work (rather than just check mail between meetings, or add action items after meetings), I can make choices based on the entirety of what I have to do. It's a long list at this point, though.
  • I'm on top of 1:1's, both agenda items and follow-up, much more than I was before.
  • Using "Waiting for" tasks is really helping me stay on top of follow up that I have to do.
  • I haven't collected any paper on my desk since I cleaned it off. A clean desk is a nice benefit that I didn't expect - I feel like I have more breathing room. (But I haven't been through all the junk that was on my desk, bookcase and floor yet, either. It's sitting on the floor in my office still. I also rearranged my office after I gathered all the junk up, it's much nicer now - you can see in the window again!)
  • I empty my email inbox, or very close to it, every day. 
  • And because of that, I've gotten better at responding to mail that only needs a quick response. 

So, I need to schedule some blocks of time to finish going through the papers and to make a dent on the important stuff on my task list. I think I also need to talk a hard look at whether I absolutely must do everything on my task list. Maybe the "Next Action" on some of it is Delete ;-) I also need to re-read the chapter on projects, I think I'm missing something there. And I need to get in the daily review habit.


For me, the book and Outlook add-in were absolutely worth it, even if I don't make any more progress than I have already (and I expect to make more!) I understand from Tommy, though, that some of the add-in functionality doesn't work if you use Word as your email editor.