Although I think that I am pretty well organized I find this book very valuable since I have tweaked the way I handle stuff according to this book. To organize my day, week and more I have been using the free version of cloud SW called KanBanFlow: https://kanbanflow.com/ so I tweaked that as well. I find it very useful to organize activities and projects within this KanBan system and to monitor time spent per each activity. Since the app is cloud base I can use it on every device everywhere and everything is nicely synced.
The basic principle of the book is quite straightforward – write down everything you want to do – or might want to do – and keep those lists orderly and accessible. Get everything out of your mind and into this system and clear your mind, which should make you more effective. Also, to become more peaceful and clear, get EVERYTHING off your desk. Unclutter your office, too.
From the book I would highlight the important aspect for every single thing or project to define the next specific single action and our TO DO lists rarely define specifics next actions, typically we write non-specific things, non-actions or maybe even a few actions instead of only one. Apart from setting various lists the author stresses that it’s very important to go through your lists regularly. He also emphasized the need to do regular reviews (weekly or monthly).
The new edition includes electronic devices and digital stuff but since the author is more of a paper guy there are segments where he talks about organizing the papers, magazines and physical boxes that are not that relevant to me. Additionally, some points really feel repetitive hence this book could be shortened, but still a lots of valuable insights can be found here so in case you don’t have time you can read only through this review. Still, I would really suggest that you read the book and to take notes while doing so.
Calendar, though important and recommended by author can effectively manage only a small portion of what you need to be aware of. Also, daily to-do lists and simplified priority coding have proven inadequate in dealing with the volume and variable nature of the average person’s workload so author suggest to use his GTD system. The system can be roughly defined with the main flow-chart:
First we need to transform all the “stuff” that we’ve attracted and accumulated into a clear inventory of meaningful actions, projects, and usable information. Anything that does not belong where it is, the way it is, is an “open loop,” which will be pulling on your attention if it’s not appropriately managed. Almost all of the to-do lists that people use (when people had them at all!) were merely listings of stuff, not inventories of the resultant real work that needed to be done. This
Although many people suggest starting with vision and higher values, the author actually thinks the opposite. His approcas tends to be bottom-up. If you feel out of control with your current actionable commitments, you’ll resist focused planning; an unconscious pushback occurs.
GTD process in-brief:
- Capture what has our attention
- Clarify what each item means and what to do about it
- Organize the results
- Which presents the options we reflect on
- Which we then choose to engage with.
As you proceed in your career, for instance, you’ll probably notice that your best ideas about work will not come to you at work. The ability to leverage that thinking with good collection devices (pen and paper or digital device that are always at hand) is key to staying on top of your world.
What’s the Next Action? This is the critical question for anything you’ve captured; if you answer it appropriately, you’ll have the key substantive thing to organize. The habit of clarifying the next action on projects, no matter what the situation, is fundamental to you staying in relaxed control.
Going through the main flow chart…once you’ve decided on the next action, you have three options:
- Do it: If an action will take less than two minutes, it should be done at the moment it is defined.
- Delegate it. If the action will take longer than two minutes, ask yourself, Am I the right person to do this? If the answer is no, delegate it to the appropriate entity.
- Defer it If the action will take longer than two minutes, and you are the right person to do it, you will have to defer acting on it until later and track it on one or more “Next Actions” lists.
The author defines a project very broadly i.e. as any desired result that can be accomplished within a year that requires more than one action step.
“Daily To-Do” lists shouldn’t be put on the Calendar. This might be heresy to past-century time-management training, which almost universally taught that the daily to-do list is key. Only these three things are what go on the calendar, and nothing else:
- time-specific actions;
- day-specific actions;
- and day-specific information
The way I look at it, the calendar should be sacred territory. If you write something there, it must get done that day or not at all. The only rewriting should be for changed appointments.
Next the authors talks about the importance of the weekly Review which is the time to:
- Gather and process all your stuff.
- Review your system.
- Update your lists.
- Get clean, clear, current, and complete.
The author defines 6 horizons that should be controlled and planned:
- Horizon 5: Purpose and principles (Life) – It never hurts to ask the why question
- Horizon 4: Long-term visions
- Horizon 3: One to two-year goals
- Horizon 2: Areas of focus and accountabilities
- Horizon 1: Current projects; Ground: Current actions
The importance of putting things out of your head and into objective, reviewable formats is like building an “extended mind.” Psychologists have now labeled this and similar processes “distributed cognition.”
Another thing that is critical is your own functional workspace so if you don’t already have a dedicated workspace get them now. Everyone must have a physical locus of control from which to deal with everything else. Don’t Share Space! Let’s assume you’re starting from scratch so the the Basic processing tools (in addition to a desktop workspace) you’ll need:
- Paper-holding trays (at least three)
- A stack of plain letter-size paper
- A pen/pencil
- Post-its (3×3″s)
- Paper clips
- A stapler and staples
- Scotch tape
- Rubber bands
- An automatic labeler
- File folders
- A calendar
- Wastebasket/recycling bins
- Current tools being used for data capture, organizing, and to-do lists, including mobile devices, personal computers, and paper-based planners and notebooks (if any)
Purge Your Files (digital and paper ones) at Least Once a Year! Cleaning house in your files regularly keeps them from going stale and seeming like a black hole. All organizations should establish a “purge day” when nothing is done except purging.
Another great habit is to date everything you handwrite, from Post-it notes for your assistant, to voice mails you transfer onto a pad, to the note you take on a phone call with a client.
After collecting the next step is processing so there are a few basic rules to follow:
- Process the top item first.
- Process one item at a time.
- Never put anything back into “in.”
The cognitive scientists have now proven the reality of “decision fatigue”—that every decision you make, little or big, diminishes a limited amount of your brain power.
It’s not a bad idea to time yourself while you’re becoming familiar with the process. Most people have difficulty estimating how long two minutes actually is, and they greatly underestimate how long certain actions are likely to take. I can personally admit that most of the actions take almost twice as long and this is one of the reasons I can’t get done everything I plan in a day which can be unmotivating. KanBanFlow with its pomodoro timing technique can help here!
There are seven primary types of things (basic categories) that you’ll want to keep track of and manage from an organizational and operational perspective:
- A Projects list
- Project support material
- Calendar actions and information
- Next Actions lists
- A Waiting For list
- Reference material
- A Someday/Maybe list
The Most Common Categories of Action Reminders You’ll probably find that at least a few of the following common list headings for next actions will make sense for you: 1. Calls 2. At Computer 3. Errands 4. At Office (miscellaneous) 5. At Home 6. Anywhere 7. Agendas (for people and meetings) 8. Read/Review
Regarding agendas, invariably you’ll find that many of your next actions need to either occur in a real-time interaction with someone or be brought up in a committee, team, or staff meeting. For this reason it’s good to be prepared by writing propera agendas prior to the meeting.
Regarding “Waiting For” lists it’s for managing the commitments of others before their avoidance creates a crisis. It’s important for this category in particular to include the date that each item is requested for each entry, as well as any agreed-upon due date.
Most people use their e-mail “in” for staging still-undecided actionable things, reference, and even trash, a practice that rapidly numbs the mind: they know they’ve got to reassess everything every time they glance at the screen.
According to the authors suggestion I have reorganized my email structure from several folders to only vendors, clients, internal and @action and @waiting (I do it by putting in Cc my own mail and then drag ‘n drop the sent mail to the @waiting folder).
Again, getting “in” empty doesn’t mean you’ve handled everything. It means that you’ve deleted what you could, filed what you wanted to keep but don’t need to act on, done the less-than-two-minute responses, and moved into your reminder folders all the things you’re waiting for and all your actionable e-mails.
The real value of the Projects list lies in the complete review it can provide (at least once a week), ensuring that you have action steps defined for all of your projects and that nothing is slipping through the cracks. ensuring that at least one current kick-start action for each is in your system.
All projects could be on one big list or on several sub-lists like personal/professional, delegated projects or divided by area of focus: finance, sales, operatons etc. Project support materials are not project actions, and they’re not project reminders. Don’t Use Support Material for Reminding
Someday/Maybes are not throwaway items. They may be some of the most interesting and creative things you’ll ever get involved with. The second thing to deal with in organizing nonactionable items is how to track things that you want to reassess in the future. Activating and maintaining your Someday/Maybe category unleashes the flow of your creative thinking—you have permission to imagine cool things to do without having to commit to doing anything about them yet.
Making lists, ad hoc, as they occur to you, is one of the most powerful yet subtlest and simplest procedures that you can install in your life. Capability and willingness to instantly make a checklist, accessible and used when needed, is a core component of high-performance self-management. Additionally, you’re going to have to learn to say no—faster, and to more things—in order to stay afloat and comfortable.
That whirlwind of activity is precisely what makes the Weekly Review so valuable. It builds in some capturing, reevaluation, and reprocessing time to keep you in balance. For weekly review author recommends that you block out two hours early in the afternoon of your last workday because events of the week are still fresh, you can still reach people at work and it’s great to clear your mental deck before weekend.
From a practical standpoint, here is the three-part drill that can get you there:
- Get clear: Getting clear will ensure that all your collected stuff is processed
- Get current: Getting current will ensure that all your orienting “maps” or lists are reviewed and up-to-date
- Get creative: The creative part happens to some degree automatically, as you get clear and current
Trying to create goals before you have confidence that you can keep your everyday world under control will often undermine your motivation and energy rather than enhance them. Only afterwards you can make the “big picture” reviews where you review larger outcomes, long-term goals and visions and principles that drive and prioritize your decisions.
A significant change in goal setting is the value of staying immensely flexible and informal about goal setting and in the software world it’s called “agile programming”: Have a vision, do your best to imagine what it might look like, get cranking on producing something as a viably marketable first iteration, and then “dynamically steer,” maturing both your vision as well as how to implement it, based on real feedback from your real world.
How do you decide what to do at any given point? Remember that you make your action choices based on the following four criteria, in order:
- Time available
- Energy available
As I explained earlier, during the course of the workday, at any point in time, you’ll be engaged in one of three types of activities:
- Doing predefined work
- Doing work as it shows up
- Defining your work
It is often easier to get wrapped up in the urgent demands of the moment than to deal with your in-tray, e-mail, and the rest of your open loops.
Research has now proven that you can’t actually multitask, i.e. put conscious focused attention on more than one thing at a time; and if you are trying to, it denigrates your performance considerably
Additionally, the most important thing to deal with is whatever is most on your mind. The fact that you think it shouldn’t be on your mind is irrelevant. It’s there, and it’s there for a reason.
If you aren’t writing anything down, or inputting into a digital device, it’s extremely difficult to stay focused on anything for more than a few minutes, especially if you’re by yourself. But when you utilize physical tools to keep your thinking anchored and saved, you can stay engaged constructively for hours. Author suggest that the value of smartphones and the like is for the execution of the results of thinking—not for generating creative thought!
Your mind is designed to have ideas, based upon pattern detection, but it isn’t designed to remember much of anything! Uncompleted tasks take up room in the mind, which then limits clarity and focus. Baumeister (psychologist) has proven that completion of such items is not required to relieve that burden on the psyche. What is needed is a trusted plan that ensures forward engagement will happen.
To conclude and summarize you should:
- Avoid next-action decision making on “stuff to do”
- Fully utilize the “Waiting For” category, such that every expected deliverable from others is inventoried and reviewed for follow-up in adequate timing
- Use agenda lists to capture and manage communications with others
- Keep a simple, easily accessible filing and reference system
- Keep the calendar as pure “hard landscape” without undermining its trustworthiness with extraneous inputs
- Do weekly reviews to keep one’s system functional and current
Quotes and excerpts from the book
You can’t organize what’s incoming—you can only capture it and process it.
Suffice it to say that something automatic and extraordinary happens in your mind when you create and focus on a clear picture of what you want.
Not being aware of all you have to do is much like having a credit card for which you don’t know the balance or the limit—it’s a lot easier to be careless with your commitments
You shouldn’t group the documents by the type but by the type of action needed.
The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small, manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one. —Mark Twain
Let our advance worrying become our advance thinking and planning. —Winston Churchill
Your best thoughts about work won’t happen while you’re at work.
When you demonstrate to yourself and to others an increasing ability to get things done “in the trenches,” you probably won’t stay in the same trench for very long.
“There are only two problems in life: (1) you know what you want, and you don’t know how to get it; and/or (2) you don’t know what you want.” If that’s true (and I think it is) then there are only two solutions: Make it up. Make it happen.
An idealist believes that the short run doesn’t count. A cynic believes the long run doesn’t matter. A realist believes that what is done or left undone in the short run determines the long run. —Sydney J. Harris
Challenging the purpose of anything you may be doing is healthy and mature. Being comfortable making up visions of success, before the methods are clear, is a phenomenal trait to strengthen.
To recap this is a very good and useful book even if you are an organized person, but if you are not that organized this book is a must read. The book is a bit longer because there are parts where the author is explaining the benefits of getting organized (you can skip these) and also parts where he is repeating himself to stress the importance (external brain, weekly review etc.)
To conclude the message of the book is that you should for every single thing that you think you should do define the next specific, single action step needed to accomplish it and that just do it.