Today’s society is characterised by complexity and change. We gather and process an incessant stream of potentially relevant information. How can we as so-called knowledge workers organise such heavily information-dependent work?
Getting Things Done (GTD) is an action management method created by David Allen, and described in his book of the same name. GTD rests on the principle that a person needs to move tasks out of the mind by recording them externally.
That way, the mind is freed from the job of remembering everything that needs to be done, and can concentrate on actually performing those tasks.
The GTD method
GTD is a simple and flexible method for managing your day-to-day tasks or activities, to maximise personal productivity. The main principle is to get everything that is nagging you out of your mind and into a trusted external memory (file system).
Organised people will certainly already use calendars, to-do lists, note-taking devices, and other tools. What GTD adds, however, is a method for using those tools systematically together.
Allen distinguishes five basic stages in our work:
- We collect things that command our attention
- We process what they mean and what to do with them
- We organise the results
- We review these
- We do
The first phase is to collect everything that catches your attention as potentially relevant to your activities, whatever its subject, importance or degree of urgency. Collection tools include the physical in-basket, paper-based and electronic note-taking devices, voice-recording devices and email. There are three “collection success factors”:
- Every open loop must be in your collection system and out of your head
- You must have as few collection buckets as you can get by with
- You must empty them regularly
In the Process stage, the bucket is emptied. Allen describes this as the most critical improvement for almost all the people he’s worked with. He outlines this process in great detail, complete with a flowchart. It asks:
- What is it? Is it actionable?
- If not, trash it, put it in a tickler file or put it in a reference file.
- If so, what’s the next action? The next action is defined as the next physical, visible activity that needs to be engaged in, in order to move the current reality toward completion.
- Will next action take less than two minutes?
- If yes, do it.
- If no, delegate it or defer it.
- If it will take longer than two minutes, consider it a project (defined as requiring more than one action step) and put it in your project plans which will be reviewed for actions.
In the Organise stage, Allen describes eight categories of reminders and materials: trash, incubation tools, reference storage, list of projects, storage or files for project plans and materials, a calendar, a list of reminders of next actions, and a list of reminders of things you’re waiting for. Allen says a Review of all one’s lists, preferably weekly, is critical for success.
Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-free Productivity, by David Allen, is published by Piatkus Books.