In Making it all Work, the long awaited follow up to the national best seller, Getting Things Done, author David Allen brings a whole new level of depth and clarity to the already wildly popular GTD model. As he puts it, “what I teach is actually not a system but a systematic approach.” (Making it All Work, page 17)
And what an approach it is. In Making it all Work, Allen goes beyond the “how to’s” of the GTD model and illustrates that the true value of the GTD model exists on both a micro and a macro level. Those who get the most out of the book(s) do so because they’re able to marry the hands-on, tactile processing element (Capture, Clarify, Organize, Reflect, Engage) with the planning side (the 6 horizons of focus).
Because this book offers so much insight, and because it is so cleanly split into two focuses of thought, we will focus on the Control (processing) section of the book this week, and follow up with Perspective (planning) next week. And, if you haven’t done so already, we highly recommend reading the article on Getting Things Done.
So, without any further ado, we give you the The Big Idea of CONTROL.
Keep the Gears Greased and Turning
"...more often than not, it seems that people are having thoughts, though not really thinking about what they’re thinking about – at least not in an effective way that resolves, advances, or manages the content."
The Getting Things Done model works because it does what it says: it gets things done. Well, rather, you get things done by following the approach recommended by Allen. The reason the approach works so well is primarily because it keeps you focused on progress; on identifying and then completing the steps necessary to scratch the project off your list. It keeps your mind on the task, rather than just about the task.
You really do need to read the book (or spend a weekend with someone who has) to get the full effect of the GTD approach. Having said that, the following are a couple quick things to keep in mind on a daily basis that can make a noticeable improvement:
Make It All Actionable
"But what are you going to do with the letter?"
The premise of the first two stages of Allen’s GTD model is pretty straight forward. (1) collect, into one place, everything that’s not in its permanent home, then (2) decide what to do with that “stuff”, one item at a time. Easy enough, in theory. Sometimes though, certain items can be a bit tricky. Allen uses the example of a thank you letter. Recently I came across a box of old Christmas cards I’d received. And while your mind may naturally disengage, you need to train yourself to make a decision on these things.
What are you going to do with this thing?
Here’s a list of suggested actionable roles your stuff can take:
- File it
- Forward it (share it)
- Reply to it
- Follow up with a phone call
- Put it in your tickler for a pleasant surprise later
- Trash it
Feel free to add to the list, nothing is finite. HOWEVER (big caveat here) make sure that whatever you do with it, you do it intentionally and with a goal of progress or permanence. Either identify the next step for the thing, or put it in it’s home forever (filed or trashed).
Make Everyone Special
"Many people have several of these lists [agendas], one dedicated to each of the key individuals with whom they interact and one for each upcoming meeting."
This is a brilliant addition to the GTD model that I picked up in Making It All Work: take a collection of file folders and label them with the names of the people you speak with regularly. Keep them close at hand, and keep a full sheet of lined paper in the folder for each scheduled call you have with that individual. As an idea pops into your head of something you’d like to speak to them about, write it down. Even if you have the luxury of calling them right now, write it down instead (emergencies not withstanding). Not only does this allow you (and the person you would have been interrupting) to stay focused on your current task at hand, it also naturally creates an agenda for the next, regularly scheduled call.
For me, the biggest advantage has been the incredible reduction in time and mental energy needed to prepare for the call. 10 minutes before we’re scheduled to talk, I simply take out my folder and review the appropriate sheet. It’s such an easy thing to do, and yet can have a huge impact. I highly recommend it.
Progress or permanence; that’s the mantra for peace of mind and high productivity. Everything around you should either be in its home, or moving closer to one. Identify the next action, and set up little systems to make the path that much easier for yourself. Allen’s model for Control is brilliant in its simplicity. Next week we tackle Perspective. Until then, have a great week – here’s to forward momentum.