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GTD Works for Me?

I was a complete GTD novice to the extent that I didn’t know what GTD meant. I had never heard of it and had to Google it to get any appreciation for what it was trying to preach. Why did I bother – well, I have continually struggled to prioritise work both in my work life I had never heard of it and had to Google it to get any appreciation for what it was trying to preach. Why did I bother – well, I have continually struggled to prioritise work both in my work life and in my private life which frustrate(s/d) me to the point that I am constantly searching for systems or tools to help me in my basic goal to get things done. Whilst in practice (ex Big 4), I had a workflow management tool which helped to prioritise tasks and follow an audit methodology however moving to a small VC with the flexibility to do your work in your own way coupled with no requirement to follow set procedures and standards (to the extent required in practice) meant that I was almost floundering in terms of project managing my time. I was used to working hard but there was rarely a time when I had to actively decide which work required prioritisation to determine what would and wouldn’t get done – in practice, it all had to get done…by Friday! Well, now that I had the iPhone, I had the hardware (or at least the next tool in my historical arsenal of hardware following a palm PDA, HP IPAQ, Blackberry, HTC TyTN II to name but a few!) to help me in my goal and now the App store was offering me the software. As the App store opened I perused the productivity section through the innumerable productivity tools such as YouNote (see review http://bit.ly/aeVDf) and DoBot ToDo (I tried both with limited success) and a whole hosts of other for which I read the product info and subsequent reviews and kept happening upon “David Allen‘s GTD Methodology compliant”. Naturally my curiosity was aroused and through various Wikipedia articles and blogs was a little the wiser. The ‘free’ information that was available unfortunately did not really convey the GTD message fully and I was even more enthused about finding out more, although at the time, the thought of reading a book on personal productivity and a time management methodology really did not appeal. Through various internet searches I came across OmniFocus, and watched the tutorial video which further cemented my understanding. Whilst OmniFocus looked interesting my key priority was to address my workflow at work (as mentioned above) rather than at home initially and as a PC user at work, I managed to find an add-in for Outlook. In subsequent posts around this topic I’ll discuss my use of the above mentioned tools (ie. specifically the outlook add-in and OmniFocus) however I want to focus this post on the actual methodology and how I have applied it rather than the details of how the tools help you ‘do it’. The outlook add-in came with a 30 day trial and about a week into the trial I felt as though I would get more out of the trial by actually reading David Allen’s book. What a revelation…whilst I am going to discuss how I have interpreted the methodology with a few basic rules and procedures (see later in the post), I don’t see this as exposing the secret and therefore depriving David Allen of book revenue – why? – because if like me you start to get sucked in by the methodology and start to use it you’ll realise as I did that you just have to read the book to hear the story from the horses mouth. I highly recommend it – buy it from Amazon. Through using the outlook add in and reading David Allen’s book, I have come up with the follow overview of what GTD is and how I have interpreted it. GTD in ‘My’ Nutshell ‘Collect’ things to do in a central location (it may be more than one for hard copy and soft copy to do’s) collectively called ‘The Inbox’ ie. through email inbox, notes intray, phonecalls on memo notes in an intray, internal memos in an intray etc. Process your ‘Inbox’ to empty no more than 3 times a day but at least once a day. Processing doesn’t mean doing it just means deciding what you need to do with whatever’s in your inbox. Go through your inbox sequentially. When you process something it has 6 possible processes:

  1. Do it if its going to take you less than 2 minutes
  2. Delegate (give it to someone else to do, but don’t forget to create an action or calendar event to follow up to ensure its been done)
  3. Defer/Calendar (choose a specific date on when you will do it – if it takes longer than a day make sure you allocate multiple dates) The calendar is sacred so nothing goes in the calendar unless you have to do it on that day
  4. Action (create a ‘to do’ item assigned to a specific project with a specific context – I’ll explain context shortly) An action is a one step task, a project is anything that takes more than one action. For example, “File the FSA Return” is a project, why? – because you have to 1) Access the GL and extract the TB for the relevant reporting period, 2) Populate the FSA Return calculation workbook, 3) Provide the FD with a draft copy of the return, 4) Make adjustments and get appropriate signoff, 5) Upload and submit return on GABRIEL, 6) Print off copies of submitted return and file. So “File the FSA Return” is a project, and each of the steps 1 to 6 are actions within that project. A context is best described as an environment / state of mind / requirement that is needed before the task can be completed. This could be: a computer, a phone, internet access, running errands, weekly meeting with the boss. My interpretation (that seems to work for me) is the various aspects of my role at work. Some examples of my contexts are: @FSA Compliance; @Portfolio Management Accounts, @Fund Reporting, @Office Admin etc. The reason these contexts work is subconsciously I know what tools and locations I need based on each of these contexts. Simply putting @Calls,@Internet, @Errands, @PC are irrelevant contexts for me as I’m always by a phone, almost always have access to a laptop, and errands are things that Americans do. I shall focus on GTD in a personal aspect in a different post however I use a similar approach for my home focus albeit with different contexts along the lines of @DIY, @Finance, @Phonecalls and devote an evening to each context – I therefore have to keep my contexts low less than 7 (I want at least one night of getting stuff done!).
  5. Someday (put it on a ‘list of things to do someday’ – this list is reviewed regularly ie. weekly / fortnightly where it can be reprocessed)
  6. File (file it away for reference)

Review your calendar for what you need to do that day, the next day and the rest of the week – remember, the calendar is sacred! Action what you need to do in your calendar when it says to do it. Once you’ve actioned your calendar, address your actions according to your context or project. Some other important points to note Don’t be a slave to your email. Don’t keep your email inbox open – check it (up to) 3 times a day and process emails at one/all of those times only. Don’t be tempted to put due dates on your tasks – if it needs a due date then it should be in the calendar. The only exception for this where I do add dates is where I wish to use the dates to prioritise some projects over others – projects can have due dates, tasks cannot. For example, I know that completion of portfolio management accounts are required by the end of the second/third week. I therefore set a generic end of the week date so that I can use a view in outlook to highlight the projects due in the next 7 days. This makes sure in addition to my weekly scan of all projects that I don’t miss important project deadlines. Conclusions Has it made me more productive – I think so yes, and it has certainly made me more relaxed as I feel on top of all the different aspects of my work and it has certainly enabled me to be more focused rather than flitting from one thing to another – however, the ability to adjust focus either by project or context is the real genius – simple, but effective! In subsequent posts I may expand on various aspects of the 6 process options but I’ll mainly be covering how I actually practice GTD using the outlook add-in and OmniFocus, some custom views I’ve created in outlook and the process I use to try and organise my personal life.

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