Once asked for his telephone number, Einstein looked it up in the directory. He replied to the curious requester that why should he waste his brain in storing something when he can easily retrieve it when required.
This is the essence of Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology – which I and million others use to organize our lives.
GTD is not a productivity tool. It is a methodology to manage stuff entering in our lives and how we manage it.
Most of what we call organizing consists of creating to-do lists and reminders. We are typically creating these artifacts with no process to manage and use them. The result is often “we forgot”, “it fell through the cracks” or “I never got around to doing it”. There is stress, inefficiency and lost opportunities.
Our brain is for processing, not storing stuff. We cannot depend on our memory to generate reminders or organize large information. At best, we can hold a few items in our brain at anytime. Enter a new input and an existing item may drop off. Our psyche cannot be our system.
GTD externalizes everything from our head but the actual thinking and execution. This external system – electronic or paper based or combination of both – guides us what and when to do something. Just like we put a meeting on our calendar or set the alarm clock, we need to delegate the management of work to an external system.
GTD workflow has 5 stages:
Collect is promptly capturing all stuff that is entering our lives – emails, queries, letters, ideas – in an external medium (a paper, in-basket or an electronic list). Key is to simply collect stuff – not evaluate what to do about it.
Process is where you figure out what to do about the collected stuff. You triage it – your email inbox, in-basket or that list – and decide what to do about each item. You can do it immediately, delegate it, defer it or simply file or delete it. Key is to evaluate and decide what to do – and not actually do it. All to-do items decided are specific “Next Actions” which are saved with context (e.g. to be done outdoors, in office, on phone etc.)
Organize is where you organize the processed stuff . You can store it for future reference or mark it as “Someday” or “Waiting For”. Someday means you may want to get to it sometime later. Waiting for indicates you are awaiting input from others. Key is for the organization system – your cabinet or electronic structure – to be efficiently accessible.
Review is weekly reviewing stuff you have in your system, ensuring that you are on track and adjust if required. For example, you go through the “Someday” and “Waiting for” list to see if you need to take some action on them now (e.g. schedule the item or send a reminder). The Review is essentially an “inspect, evaluate and adapt” process.
Do is the actual execution of next actions. It does not always have to be the highest priority item but is driven by our situation. For example, if we are outdoors with no internet, we can do the outdoor errands. If we are online, we can attend to our reading list on web. If we are in office, we can talk to our manager directly.
Any stuff entering our lives – from the smallest task to the biggest project – should go through these stages.
For example, an email we receive goes into our inbox (captured). We read it to decide what to do about it (process) e.g. reply it right away. We can archive or tag it for future (organize). A later look (review) may result in possible sending of a reminder (do).
GTD can manage the complex world of a knowledge worker, with multiple and frequent inputs, most of them needing further analysis. It lets the knowledge worker do what he does best – use his brain – and let the system take care of the workflow. It creates an efficient external system to make the knowledge worker effective. I am sure Drucker would have liked it.
GTD is tool agnostic – it lets its followers work out their own ways to execute it. In the next couple of posts, I will talk about how I personally manage my GTD workflow.