This is part one of three series about basic GTD elements. I hope to share with you some information different elements of GTD.
This post will focus on the first two steps of getting things done methodology. The collection and processing stages of the full process.
Have you ever tried to focus on 4-5 or more items at a time? What was happening with you while you were working on something, then phone rang, a co-worker stopped by, an email arrived? Have you manage do hold your focus, did you remember what the conversation was about?
Can you imagine juggle in the circus. At first he keeps 3 balls in the air then more balls are thrown at him, he add them in but after 6rd or 8th is added he reaches his capacity and needs to drop one to keep juggling. Human brain works the same way. Human brain can hold only a handful of items at the time. The more new impulses come our way the more difficult it is to get clear and produce quality work. Every time new thing arrives one is dropped.
To get clear and focused you need to capture all things that have your attention and put them outside of your brain where you can see them. If you keep them in your head they will clog your thinking as things get mulled over and over again without much progress. By externalising those items you can have an overview of all that needs to be done, could be done.
Ideas, co-workers, phone calls rarely show up when you are free with nothing to do. To maintain your focus you need to capture those things as they show up and leave them for later. The main idea here is to write everything down and route it into inbox and then process it. The two essential elements for good capture are "ubiquitous capture tool" and an inbox.
Ubiquitous means everywhere, so the tool should always be with you. The aim is to be able to capture things instantly with out a need to hold those thoughts for too long. Every time idea pops in you head, phone rings, co-worker stops by you can write it down or record it.
Capture usually takes two forms:
an adhoc collection any time an idea pops into your head or when you are out of control and need to clear your head
regular so called "mind sweep" during your weekly review. things that are on your mind are usually a great indicator of what’s important for you at this moment.
When it comes to capture quantity is king – capture all and capture everything leave the decisions about those things for later.
For capture I use variety of tools depending on the setting with Evernote and paper being on the top of the list. If you want to read how I capture things with Evernote then check out this post.
All of the items you’ve collected should be routed to Inbox. This is a temporary place where items await to be processed.
You already use a number of inboxes like your email inbox, voicemail inbox, letter box, a place in your house where your drop leaflets, post, bills etc. These are your inboxes.
How many inboxes should you have? David Allen says as many as you need and as few as you can go by.
Collection places should be easily accessible so that the collected items can be left there but on the other hand keep those to minimum so the number does not overwhelm you. The more places to keep track of the more difficult it’s to make sure they get processed to zero. It’s very easy to create a one in the car, garage, computer, living room, kitchen etc. Having too many places will result in stuff being forgotten and inboxes not being checked/processed.
Inbox works only as temporary holding place anything that ends up there should be reviewed and processed on regular basis.
Once you move into processing mode all you need is just refer to the inbox pick up an item and make a decision about it.
Capturing things doesn’t make sense if you don’t do anything with the items you’ve captured. This stage involves making decisions about the things that have entered your space/mind.
The crucial element is to ask yourself a question "is this actionable?".
This simple question separates projects/actions from other stuff that you might have collected. There are only two answers to this: yes and no.
If yes then then you need to establish what to do and when to do it.
For example you’ve had a note "new printer". You’ve decided that you need one. So you log "buy new printer" on your project list. Further down the road you probably do some research and decide on the make, model, price etc.
If no, then you can do two things. Put it for later as you don’t know what to do now but want to keep it somewhere close or your can simply trash the thing.
Once you’re done with one thing move the the next one.
When to process?
Regular once a day maybe every two days at most.
It’s the nature of many inboxes that things are collected for us without our intervention (emails, voicemails etc.). It’s not surprising that inboxes can quickly overflow with stuff that need to be processed. Setting up regular review times help to deal with that.
I have set two processing times when I deal with all the email in my inbox. Once it’s around 10.30 so I can take care of the stuff that arrived during the night and early morning. Second processing time is around 15.30 so I can deal with stuff from the day and still be able to react if necessary.
Also every time you do a mind sweep then move to processing mode to look at each item individually and sort actionable items form non-actionable. I usually do it during the weekly review. I would list the things on my mind even though they might be on my lists. Then I process them as appropriate. If I see things are repeating I know this is something important that needs my attention.
Also if I get stuck or fall of the wagon I do a sweep and then process the results to kick start the system.
Processing should be a relatively quick exercise as there is no doing involved. Decisions should/are made based on single question is it actionable then parked appropriately. The main reason for separating processing from doing is to not get bog down in menial tasks or actions that prevent you from stopping and looking at all the things collected. If you start doing while processing the risk is that you will be constantly processing and doing quick and easy things. The more advanced, complicated projects, goals will never get done.
The only exception to that is something called "2 minute rule". Two minute rule "permits" you doing the task as you pick it up for processing provided that the task will not take more than 2 min to do. The two minutes is not fixed period. If needs to be it can be extended based on your situation. If you have plenty of time available for processing and are not chased by deadlines you can focus on tasks that takes 10min or more if you want.
This contradicts the above but here is why it makes sense. Keeping track of things takes some time and effort. It may be more effective to do thing there on the spot rather than track it and come back to it in couple of hours or days. Examples? You noticed plants need watering, simply do it right now and be done. Putting this action through all the motions of GTD may be too long for them.
Two more things to remember when processing your inboxes.
All things are equal. The stuff that ends up in your inbox is equal regardless whether it’s important deal, family holidays, change tyres, or clean up the garage. Until you made the decision about all those things they are the same. This might be a difficult thing to practice as it requires be detached from nature of things but it helps to make decisions.
Never put things back. There is only one way for stuff to get out of the inbox through processing. If you don’t know what to do with particular item don’t put it back as it completely defies the point. By putting things back you duplicate the number of inputs that you will have to deal with. Also you have to go through similar thinking process again. Both things make this ineffective strategy. If you really don’t know what to do make a note and put it into calendar to review in couple days.
This is the first part of 3 part series covering basic of GTD. If you want to know more or have some comments please let me know.