Thursday, December 06, 2007

how i get things done

This week I'm writing two posts on productivity. This is the second post. The other has already been written.

There is a productivity philosophy called GTD, or "Getting Things Done". Lifehacker is particularly fond of this philosphy. The core concept is this: We have thoughts all day long of things that we need to do but we can't possibly remember them all. To increase efficiency we need to get these "things" out of our mind and recorded so we can concentrate on what actually needs to get done. GTD refines this process of gathering and capturing information by grouping tasks according to context. If you're overwhelmed with the sheer amount of stuff you have to do every day, you very well may want to give this a thought.

Well, I drank the kool-aid, and have been practicing "my version" of this GTD for a couple months now (everyone has their own personal way they implement GTD). I've gotten my system down pretty well now, so I thought I'd share it. Jon has drank a similar flavor of cool-aid, so if you're interested in reading his thoughts on the subject, check them out here.

So, for purposes of posterity this is my method of how I get things done:

The core of GTD relies on your ability to capture every task you have to do, whether it's big or small, regardless of where you are. It's important that you have as few "capture" points as you can possibly get away with - personally I have three.
  • Digital Capture - This is my email inbox, and I include both my work email and my personal email in this process. As an additional digital capture device I've got my cell phone which I can use to text myself action items directly to my email - helpful when I'm truly on the go.

  • Analog Capture - Aside from the fact that my company is too cheap to buy me a laptop, I need a capture device that I can take with me to meetings, for hallway conversations, and in the car, etc. This is where the handy-dandy Moleskine journal comes into play. I opted for the graph paper version because I'm particularly a fan of symetry and this aids in that endeavor (which in itself may warrant another post... hmm).
With my capture devices I am assured that whenever a task comes to mind that I need to remember I simply write it down.

Next I need to process all of these action items, and there are plenty. I get well in excess of 250 emails per day at work, and this paired with the fact that Outlook is a terrible way to manage tasks made me open to any other project management system that would help me organize.

Enter - an online task/project management system. It's web-based, it's simple and intuitive, and it's free... perfect! Todoist has really changed my life, and has made task management a reality. Since I spend 80% of my time in front of a computer, Todoist really makes sense as my central hub for processing everything I need to do.

As action items come up I determine how long it will take me to do them. If it will take less than 2 minutes, then I do it immediately. Otherwise I enter the item into Todoist. As I'm sent emails and receive phone calls, I log all of my action items into Todoist. If I'm in a meeting and come back to my desk with action items in my Moleskine journal, into Todoist they go.

Todoist allows me to quickly define deadlines, create projects with subtasks, set priorities, and add recurring tasks, all with very quick and simple keyboard shortcuts. It also allows for quick queries of items due today, due in the next seven days, overdue, etc. A web nerd's dream.

To manage all of the tasks hanging out in Todoist I need to be wary of my organization and deadline setting. I have several buckets that I drop tasks into as items are added - Work, Personal, My Website, Long Term. I'm very careful about where things go when they're dropped in.

I'm also careful about my deadline setting. Not every task is as important as the other. In general I do not assign a due date to action items unless it is a priority project or there is an actual defined deadline for the task when it is given to me.

If I am selective about the deadlines I set, I'm not overwhelmed on any one day with tons of projects coming due at the same time. Also, by refraining from setting deadlines I relieve myself of the subconscious burden of living under the pressure of getting so many things done... I focus on today's tasks and then move on.

The oft neglected but so very important part of GTD. Once every few days (and at least once a week) I go through the outstanding task list in Todoist. I make sure that all of the tasks I have are still relevant, and as I review I set deadlines for new projects that need to be completed within the next week. At this point I also make sure my email inbox is clean, and that things are filed and archived away. I used to be a stickler about saving every email I get... but lets face it, like tasks, not every email is as important as the other, so I've become a huge fan of the 'delete' button.

Some other key tools that have become very useful in this whole GTD implementation...

  • I rely on iGoogle more than ever, with my bookmarks, blog feeds, email, and calendar all within one click.

  • Google Calendar has been great, and has been implemented into my iGoogle page. Very good for keeping track of meetings, events, and other activities that occur outside of the 8:30-5:30 workday.
  • Jott is a service I'm liking more and more which allows you the ability to call a number, speak a message, and it will transcribe it for you and send the message to your email. Great for capturing information when you're on the run and don't have time to write something down - for instance, driving in the car in busy traffic and some epic thought crosses your mind.

  • Outlook has the funtionality of essentially post-dating emails... write an email now, press 'Send', but have it delivered later. Say I have an email I need to send to a group of people, but it doesn't need to be sent until four days from now... If I can just write the email now and be done with it and press 'Send', I can tell Outlook to send it in four days. Gets the action off my plate, and I don't have to stress about it in four days. Works for me.

So there you go. That's how I'm getting things done these days. Maybe this was helpful for you, or just further evidence that I am turning into the biggest nerd the world has ever put forth. Ah well.....

1 comment:

Melissa said...

shut up. you. actually deleting emails? no way! i dont believe it!