GTD process commit to it or abandon it.

Stop complaining about your stress and your overwhelm! Look outside—the universe is not stress-out or confused. It’s fine. It’s only the way we are engaged with it that creates our negative reactions. GTD is the process we’ve uncovered that creates appropriate engagement. What you’re dealing with at hand may not be easy or fun, but being in the driver’s seat about it moves that experience to a much more mature and effective level. But If you’re not willing to make this process really work, 100%, don’t tire yourself with the pretenses of half-baked solutions. They just add insult to injury, and quite frankly, may not be worth the energy to continue.

Getting Things Done® Get a Grip on Your Process, or Give It Up

Your next weekly review

Here are a few things you should include in your weekly review:

Process and organize – anything you’ve collected but haven’t handled yet.

Review your active tasks – are there any to add, delegate, defer, or delete?

Review your active projects – are there any to add, delegate, defer, or delete?

Review your calendar – are there any meetings to add, delegate, defer, or delete?

Someday/Maybe – anything to add or promote to an active project?

Reference Files – anything you need soon? Anything to add or update?

Goals – are you moving in the right direction? Are you making progress? Are any changes necessary?

Getting Things Done – David Allen – Josh Kaufman

More intentional GTD

I recently read few discussions on the GTD Forums and came across a dabate around planning a day.

There is strong argument suggesting that planning days and weeks is best approach to make progress on large and important itmes that may otherwise may drown in the pool of small actions. “If it’s schedules it get done” goes the mantra. This approach does not apper to tie very well with GTDs more opportunistic model which looks at context, time, energy, priority to make decision about next task. In effect you “crank the widgets” and male small amounts of progress on many different projects.

The discussion was quite interesting and one more prolific GTD advocates – Testeq – made excelent comment pointing to projects as key reference points in daily and weekly planning.

What about making your day-planning decisions more Project/StandaloneNextAction oriented than context oriented? I mean: don’t look at your at-work context to choose next actions but rather look at your active Project list to choose projects you want to make progress and change contexts to reach your goals. GTD contexts may hurt your productivity and motivation.

Messing Up on Planning My Day 

When planning a day or a week moving up a level to projectes or a big next action really makes GTD much more intentional. It also helps to address some of the valid criticism raised by Cal Newport. Adding to calendar block of time to spend on a specific project and its next actions can  increase focus and chances of making good progress.

This is excellent suggestion for those who may be overwhelmed by the volume of items on next action lists.

Power of GTD

I subscribe to the Productive Living Newsletter which is a David Allen Company monthly update on different Getting Things Done matters including regular food for thought from David Allen.

In March edition following sentence caught my eye:

The power of GTD® is in the basics—capturing, clarifying, organizing, reflecting, and engaging—completely and consistently applied.

Merging GTD and Kanban

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Today I’m delighted to present you an interview with Pascal Venier where we talk about merging two productivity methodologies Getthing Things Done by David Allen and Kanban.

Personally it was a great fun to arrange this interview and think of the questions. I’m hopping to do more often.

Now let me pass you to Pascal.

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Can you please provide a short bio (if you like)?

I am a performance coach and trainer in personal productivity, based in Ottawa-Gatineau, in the capital region of Canada. A Frenchman, I was for over twenty years a university professor in Britain, where I have taught at the Liverpool Hope University, the University of Manchester and the University of Salford. Over the last 15 years, or so, I have become increasingly interested in personal productivity. Last year, I fulfilled my ambition to start my own practice, offering executive coaching and training workshops in personal productivity. Whilst I am based in Canada, my services are available internationally : I am a frequent visitor to both Britain and France and my coaching services are available online on Skype. I am currently in the process of completing the French translation of Jim Benson and Tonianne DeMaria Barry’s Personal Kanban: Mapping Work | Navigating Life.

How long have you been practicing GTD and/or other productivity methods?

I have been practicing GTD for nearly 9 years now. I discovered David Allen’s book Getting Things Done, The Art of Stress Free Productivity, during the summer of 2004. It was a real revelation for me. Unlike the traditional time management methods I had tried before, this flow-based method not only allowed me to gain  — or should I rather say regain — control of my workflows and place my work commitments in perspective. All importantly it gave me the ability to be remarkably flexible and adapt much better to ever changing circumstances.

What is the method that you use the most?

I am currently combining Getting Things Done with Personal Kanban. They both articulate remarkably well, as they are similarly flow-based. I like to speak as my Kanban board as the “front-end” of my GTD system. The GTD workflow process helps me have everything under control. The Six-level horizons of focus allows me to gain perspective on what I do — something which is far from obvious — and Personal Kanban actually helps you not only get things done, but to actually to get the right things done.

What elements of Personal Kanban appealed to you?

Perhaps Personal Kanban’s extreme simplicity. It only involves 2 rules: visualise your work and limit your work-in-progress. As someone who is extremely visual — I am also an avide mind-mapper — the way in which tasks and projects are represented in a visual manner with post-it appeal to me. I also like the way in which the number of tasks you are focussing on at any given time should be be limited as it really helps me with the execution face of my workflows. Personal Kanban does really help you having that all important conversation with yourself, or your team, about your work, in a timely fashion.

How did Personal Kanban improve your productivity?

It has really helped me being more selective about what I was doing, prioritize better, no longer feeling overwhelmed by huge GTD type task lists. One crucial dimension with Personal Kanban is that you actually explicitly visualise the tasks you have accomplished. Being able to see what you have achieved at the end of the week when you conduct your weekly review/retrospective is something extremely valorising. It makes a big difference psychologically.

Did Personal Kanban improve focus and making progress on the selected set of projects/actions?

Personal Kanban has really helped me to improve my focus. Having a WIP limit  — a work in progress limit, in other words limiting the number of things you do at the same time — has helped me a lot in that respect. When you have a WIP limit, you must finish a given task before you can pull another one. “Stop starting, start finishing” is a buzz word in the Kanban community. You cannot complete more work than you can actually process. It is as simple as that. As Jim Benson, Joanne Ho and Maritza van den Heuvel put it in Beyond Agile, Tales of Continuous Improvement : a person who is overloaded cannot provide full attention to the task at hand.”

What was the impact on your workflow?

It is very clear that my work is flowing much better now. At the same time, using Personal Kanban, is really helping me getting in the flow.

Were there any challenges in implementing the Personal Kanban approach?

Not really because it is very simple.

I started implementing Personal Kanban, in a very progressive manner. To start with I carried on using a GTD software, the excellent Nozbe, and simply introduce a WIP limit, something which was very easy, as it was just a matter a limiting the number of actions which would starred. This worked remarkably well. It convinced me to take things further and to also introduce the visualization dimension of Personal Kanban in my GTD implementation and started using the Trello Kanban software.

I was for a time rather reluctant to use a physical board with post-it, but since most of the Kanban practitioners were so enthusiastic about using stickies – something which really struck me when I went to a meeting of the WIP Society in Manchester – that I decided to give it a try. I was extremely surprised to see that going low tech in such a way worked well. I love the kinaesthetic dimension of moving the post-its on the board.

Do you see any areas where the Kanban could handle things better? Are there any elements that you would improve in the Kanban flow?

Well, it is very much a matter for you to conduct little experiments to find out what works best in your personal context. Personal Kanban is based on Lean thinking, which places the emphasis on Kaizen, ie continuous improvement. Think of your Personal Kanban as a tool which is allowing you to conduct little experiments which allow to improve incrementally. There is no such thing as a perfect Personal Kanban design and there are no two boards which are the same. Your own board will be evolving as your work is evolving.

Does it handle all tasks well or are there some that don’t fit into Kanban?

As ever, personal productivity is a matter of common sense. Using a Kanban works extremely well in my experience, however when you have big batches of repetitive tasks it would be an overkill to create a post-it, or a card on an digital Kanban board, for each of them.

This is very much the case about emails. Indeed there are very important emails which deserve a particular attention and as such perhaps do deserve the creation of a card on your Personal Kanban board. However, it is far more expedient to just process most of them as a batch during a time slot you allocate for this purpose.

Personal Kanban makes a clear distinction between pushed work and pulled work. This is between the work which is push towards you and the work you choose to pull and execute. Developing an awareness of this is in my view really important, when dealing with emails. Email is the perfect illustration of pushed work and it is vital to remain in control of what you choose to do. It is all too common for people to lose sight of the big picture and spend too much time processing emails, instead of focussing on their core mission.

When processing your in-box, using a system of tags or folders based on what columns of a Personal Kanban board can be very helpful. For instance, a way of processing emails I have sometimes been recommending involved using the following categories: Priority 3, Priority 2, Priority 1, Ready, Today, Doing (with a limit of WIP). It can help a lot to establish priorities and replace you in the driving seat, especially if you have a chronic tendency to yield to pushed work at the detriment of the work which it is truly essential for you to pull and execute, because it helps you deliver on your core objectives.

*Do you use any specific tools to support Personal Kanban in day to day activities? In your experience, does electronic or paper work better to manage the Kanban boards?
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My favourite formula is to simply used post-it on a wall!  If hyper-geeky software developers have gone low tech and rely on post-it for their complicated software developments projects, it can indeed just work fine for the rest of us!

However, since my job as an executive coach and trainer is to be able to advise clients on the whole range of tools available to them, I have been extensively experimenting with online tools. I force myself to switch regularly between the two approaches: paper-based and digital. My favourite software is LeanKit.

Do you use Personal Kanban on the go? How do you handle that aspect?

Indeed, I also use Personal Kanban on the go. What works best for me, when I am using a paper implementation, is to use a signature book, what we call in France a “trieur-parapheur”, to keep my post-it.

When it comes to the digital implementation, LeanKit makes it easy to access your boards, since it has both an iPhone and an iPad application.

Could you give us an example of your daily routine involving Personal Kanban?

Yes, this starts with a daily stand up in front of the board to review it and update it as necessary. This involves, choosing what I will endeavour to do on the day, by pulling a a few cards into the Today column, as well as the Doing column. It will then be a matter of getting started and work on each of the items in the Doing column, the work-in-progress, with a view to executing them before starting anything else. Each item which has been completed will then be moved in the done column. The idea is for the board to be always in front of you, so you can refer to it, when you need and update it on an on-going basis. New tasks you can think about during the day can be placed on the board immediately.

When do you review your board, how much time do you spend on setting it up etc?

Setting up your first Personal Kanban board is very simple. In its simplest form it would could involve only three columns: Backlog (ie that is all your tasks), Doing and Done. This would provide you with a simple tool which would help you understand your work. It will then be a matter of adapting your board to your context.

Personal Kanban does not provide you with an already made solution, but allows you to progressively develop, through trials and errors, a design which is suited to your needs.

Furthermore, as and when your context will be shifting, you will be easily adapting your design to reflect your changing work reality.

Reviewing your board, is very much an on-going process. Think of your board as the dashboard for your workflow, which you would update in real time. There are times when you feel the need to pause and reflect more carefully about where you stand. Your Kanban will provide all the information you need to make informed decisions about your work.

It is common to review it at the beginning and the end of the day and to conduct a retrospective, a more thorough examination of where your stand and what you have achieved. However, there are no prescription about how often. This can can be at a weekly interval, like with GTD, but also whenever you feel the need for it, especially when your work context is shifting. Flexibility is the key word with Personal Kanban.

**What would be the number of projects/actions on your board.

Whatever is pertinent to your specific context.

Using a Kanban board imposes a number of constraints, as the number of projects and tasks you can place on a board is necessarily limited. So is the number of projects and tasks you can actually execute.

Just like you can have a work-in-progress limit and set a limit to the number of tasks you undertake, it can make a lot of sense to limit the number of on-going projects, in other words having a project-in-progress limit.

I think this notion is very helpful, for it really addresses one of the problems people seem to be struggling the most with when implementing GTD. It is true that part of the GTD process involves drawing a list of all the projects and next actions one need to execute within a period of 12 months. This is all to often wrongly understood as a prescription to consider all the projects in question as active projects. Much to the contrary, a well tuned GTD system, should — unless I am quite mistaken — involves limiting the number of projects which can be conducted at the same time. GTD makes a clear distinction between on the one hand active projects and next actions, and what belongs to the someday-maybe list.

When you use a list system, especially in an electronic format, it can be very tempting to multiply the number of projects with all the next actions they involve. This can have a very negative effect, as youvery easily feel overwhelmed in front of both such a huge list of projects and all the next actions which go with them.

The limitation inherent to the board and the number of stickies you can fit on it, really forces you to concentrate the mind and distinguish between what should have your attention now and what should not. Its limitation is in a sense of strength for it leaves you no choice but to take a reality check.

How much your GTD practice has evolved since you started using Personal Kanban?

What has surprised me most about implementing GTD with Personal Kanban is how eminently compatible the two really are. I have the feeling that this way of doing has really helped me to take my practice to the next level, by slightly paradoxically adhering more closely to the principles of GTD. It has really forced me to think again about the fundamentals. The beauty of Personal Kanban is that its visual dimension really allows you to really have a conversation about your work, wether it is with yourself, your colleagues or your performance coach, if you have one.

Where can people find you on-line?

I am very active on Twitter, where I am @pascalvenier and my website is http://www.pascalvenier.com

On Personal Kanban, I would particularly recommend two blogs : Personal Kanban – Visualize, Learn, Improve blog, run by Jim Benson and Tonianne DeMaria Barry and The Personal Kanban Gallery, a collection of boards curated by my friend Gerry Kirk. I have also written a series of three blog posts on my experience of implementing GTD with Personal Kanban, which may also be of interest to your readers: Doing GTD Kanban Style.

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SANG Conference Interview with David Allen

Continuing from my Mondays’s post I’m in the GTD refresh mode. Coincidentally GTD time has put up an interview with David Allen from SANG Conference in 2012. 

It’s very informal and easy going conversation about the GTD, it’s impact and some practical tips for implementation and keeping things current. 

The interview is an hour long but well worth the time.

Best practices for GTD 5 stage workflow

Over the last weekend I’ve spend some time refreshing my GTD(r) system as it got stale.

My lists were out of date, next actions weren’t next action but rather undefined todo items. Project list was in bad condition too. 

Oddly enough the only list that was in relatively good shape was my Waiting For list. This is probably because I have more interest in making sure I get the things I’m waiting for.

Before I began the whole thing I was looking for some nice way to get the GTD principles refreshed in my mind and also some quick tactical tips to get me going. 

GTD times site was a perfect resource for that. Back in 2011 they have published a whole series about the best practices of GTD workflow.

GTD Best Practices: Collect (Part 1 of 5) | GTD Times

GTD Best Practices: Process (Part 2 of 5) | GTD Times

GTD Best Practices: Organize (Part 3 of 5) | GTD Times

GTD Best Practices: Review (part 4 of 5) | GTD Times

GTD Best Practices: Do (Part 5 of 5) | GTD Times

If you’re stuck in a rut or need quick rundown of main principles and the flow this is fantastic way to get you going.

Contexts.Granularity vs usefulness.

Contexts are great way to break down work into different chunks based on specific criteria. Rather than keep looking at a long list of things todo you split them based on location, type of work, tool, mood, time estimate etc. Anything that can assist you in breaking down your work and organising it into more meaningful chunks can be used as context.

The key benefit of using contexts is in grouping similar tasks together which allows you to take the advantage of the location you’re in, tools you have and the energy available. Also working in contexts reduces the waste normally related with continuous switching between different tasks.

When setting up contexts there is a great sense clarity and purpose. Thing are nicely stacked in piles but the true test comes when you’re doing the work. Can you successfully maintain system in such great detail. Do it make sense to have a context @printer or @shed or @shopXYZ if you don’t really print and visit shop XYZ once a year usually with specific purpose?

You can go very deep with contexts, breaking things down into very small categories. Although this may seem like excellent idea it may be a way of hiding tasks out of the view. This way the granularity can hinder the work you need to do.

So how can you maintain the usefulness of contexts and not get bogged down in the minute detail of managing too many of them?

  • match them to your work – this is key, context should be aligned with your work, think of the places, and tools specific to your line of work and design context around them.
  • keep them at bay – don’t allow to grow them beyond being manageable. Can you manage 6-7 contexts, can you manage 15? Avoid keeping context with 2-3 items in them as you will lose sight of them quickly.
  • have easy access to them – make sure you can access all of you contexts. Regardless of the system you use to keep your list handy so that you can take the advantage of the different places and tools and the are available. Do lose the time simply because you don’t have the right list.
  • review regularly – do a regular assessment of contexts you use, see if they have the right tasks, do they still match to your line of work, are the locations right, are tool still relevant.

Doing these small tasks and asking these simple questions will help you maintain a nicely tailored suite of context that keep you covered at work and home.

How many contexts do you have, do you manage them in any way? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Climbing the GTD ladder

GTD as a productivity methodology seems very tactical down to earth you have your action lists, contexts, projects and your project files. There is a lot of focus put on this area, after all it’s a bottom up approach system. This means that you sort out the chaos of your day to day activities and then look at the higher perspectives.

Where does it lead? Is the direction right?

So having a good grip on day to day stuff is really just a beginning. Once the mess around you sorted you will look further and new things will pop up. Do I take on project A or project B but project D looks exciting too. That means you need to make choices. At the same time having everything neatly organised for the sake of if isn’t really the point. It’s actually quite absurd. So why then? This is one of the BIG questions?

Where am i going?
What do i want from life?
Is the direction right?

GTD levels

Finding satisfying answers isn’t quick and easy process and it’s usually effect of long self reflection and deep thinking. As you go through a process of figuring these answers GTD can help you with leveraging your discoveries and integrating them in to your life. GTD offers the latitude model with two levels focused on the tactical aspects and other three dedicated to more strategic views.

  • 30k feet is about 1-2 year goals and defining what you want to become true in the space of 12-24 months. This relatively short time frame allows for being quite specific and action/project orientated.
  • 40k feet is about 3-5 year goals which although specific are usually beyond the have or do aspects and touch more on experiences, quality or life.
  • 50k feet focuses on life purpose, perhaps the most difficult one to know fully, it’s centered around values, contribution, meaning.

The content of these latitudes takes time to develop which means that they are less likely to change from day to day. Once you’ve decided what they are then they should form part of regular review. Some like to look at these levels on weekly basis others prefer monthly or quarterly. The frequency depends on you and how often do you want to ensure you’re on course.

Why you need to know the answers

So you’ve established your higher levels but what are other benefits that just knowing the direction. Where else clarity around your vision comes handy?

  • dealing with opportunities – every now and then we’re presented with opportunities,moving to another country, taking up a new job etc. These are big decisions and not easy to make. Yet once they are done in the context of 30-50k feet views they come much easier. It’s easier to see whether things fit into what we want, whether this step or that opportunity brings us closer.
  • too much going on – trying to tackle too many projects at once isn’t a pleasant thing. At some point you need to choose where your time goes. The easiest way to do it simply to know which of the projects will actually take you closer to your goals and choose those.

  • no effects – you put effort into some projects but can’t see any results. It seems that you’re spinning your wheels. This is perfect opportunity to review the higher altitudes. Look where you want to get, what are you aiming at and the see what needs to change. There may be projects that need to be dropped and other that need to started. This is very much like checking you’re map while walking a trail.

To sum this up figuring out your goals and lives purpose is like closing a loop. Whether you look at projects that you want focus on or those that should be abandoned, clarity on top will make the decisions easier. The better the decision you make the closer you will be to achieving desired vision.

Why now?

To be honest, I haven’t been looking at the higher levels often enough eventhough I created my yearly strategy. Over the last few weeks I’ve been getting different prompts to change that. First my mentor (really starting too see the benefits) got me to think about 5 year vision, that spurred further thinking about the direction of this blog and then I wasn’t happy with the results of my efforts on various fronts. As consequence I’ve looked at my project list, I’ve assigned myself specific actions to take time and think about higher levels. The process isn’t finished and I expected it will take a while but so far I like what I see. The image is getting sharper and the direction is getting clearer.

GTD workflow with Remember the Milk

The beauty of Getting Things Done methodology is that it can be used with any tool whether it’s a paper notebook or digital application sitting on your laptop or mobile phone.

In the center of GTD sits a workflow model which helps you deal with incoming information, requests, ideas and task. This model is based on the following five stages:

  1. capture
  2. process
  3. organise
  4. review
  5. do

It’s a very simple process, yet very powerful as it allows you to make decisions about the things that enter your space and whether you are willing to do them and if so when. As I rely on this model on daily basis I thought I would share how my current task manager of choice Remember the Milk helps me apply it on daily basis.

Capture

Capturing ideas, thoughts, tasks, requests etc is the basic element of well functioning GTD implementation. All the things that have your attention should be routed into an Inbox for later review and assessment. David Allen says:”Your mind is for having ideas not for holding them”. Remember the Milk offers a multiple ways of capturing your information

  • use the input panel on the web
  • use bookmarklet to quickly capture ideas in your browser
  • on the go use smartphone app and the new task widget (Android only)
  • send emails to RTM using subject line to define the task
  • send tasks via Twitter using @rtm account.

These options allow me to capture information very quickly and efficiently regardless of where I’m or do and have it in a single place waiting for me to process it.

Processing

Processing is the stage where you need to decide whether the things you’ve captured are still worth pursuing, should you delete them or put it of for later. This is important stage as not everything you captured will be completed. Having ideas does not mean we need to pursue them all. This state allows to weed out things that we don’t want to spend our time on. Processing focuses on determining whether I want to accomplish the task or idea that I’ve captured. If the answer is “NO” I delete the task or move it to someday maybe list for later consideration. If the answer is “YES” it means the task enters my system permanently and at this moment I apply things like tags, due dates, time estimate, list name etc. These elements will define the context of the task like @home, @computer or the location in the static lists that I use. Adding all these elements means that the organising stage is very easy and almost automated.

Organise

There is so much flexibility there that I could spend months discussing different ways you can organise the tasks using Remember the Milk. Best approach is to keep this simple and relevant and build up from there. For me organising tasks very easy and I heavily rely on smart list which effectively act as a self organising mechanism. Let me explain. I use a static list to manage my areas of focus and at this moment use two list. This is the only time I have to manually assign tasks to a specific list.

For my context, project and waiting for lists I rely on smart list. These list are dynamically generated list that display tasks based on the selected criteria. So if at the processing stage I add tag @computer then my context list “@Computer” will display that task too. Simple no dragging and dropping no moving around etc. Relying on smart list reduces a lot of friction and steps necessary to make sure that my list are up to date and include all items. I also have a “no tag” list which shows me items which don’t have a tag, this is little security net so I can pick up on lost items.

Review

Once you’re tasks are nicely organised it is time to review the relevant list and pick few things that you really want to put your attention on. I have a special list called MIT (thanks Jason Womack) which I update on almost daily basis. The list will include my critical tasks for a given day or a week. The process of adding items is simple, I scan my list and assign selected task a priority level 1 which mean any item of this type will be added to the MIT list. If all planned items are done I look through my context and pick something from the relevant one.

Do

For the doing phase make sure you have easy access to your Remember the Milk account and pick the first task you planned for today. To make sure I get to seem them I have RTM pinned in my browser and a widget set on my phone to display these. Then all it’s left is to do the work.

RTM is so powerful that you can create a very complex list structures and workflows which will involve a lot of steps. My preference it to keep things simple and as close to GTD model as possible while still retaining some of my personal preferences. From experience I can tell that the more elaborate structure/system the less likely you will be able to sustain it. Keep it as simple as you can it will pay off.