Thursday, October 26, 2006

GTD and Me

I've spent some time hanging around GTD aficionados and I've been itching to give it a go for quite some time now. Never had the courage to dump my over-flowing inbox though. The clean break required and the abandonment of old and tested ways was always a little too scary. Working at this new place though, I decided to go clean from the get go. I've been 'GTD' for the last month now or so and here's how I go about my business.

What is GTD?

At it's heart, GTD is about two very simple ideas:

  1. Be ruthless in how you organise and process tasks.
  2. Group actions according to how/where you'll do them, not when.
Point 1 means you never let your inbox get crufty with old emails and posts left around for reference. Dump all non-actionable items in the appropriate folders. Focus on what needs to be done and (point 2) group your activities according to how you'll do them.

And then do them.

If they can't be done now, defer or delegate them.

Rinse and repeat.

How do I GTD?

Everyone's got their own particular flavour of GTD which fits their requirements and personality. Here's how I process the mountains of emails I usually receive.

I've set up a bunch of folders prepended with '@' which I use for all my GTD needs. There's no particular reason to use the '@' character to mark your folders, it just helps group them together and on top. All these folders (except for @Reference and @Everything Else) have been set to show the total number of mails within them, not the number of unread items.

When a new email comes in, I read it and:
  1. If it's spam, a duplicate or completely useless, I delete it
  2. If it was worth reading, but it's purely informational, I dump it into @Everything Else
  3. If it's worth keeping as a reference, I put it in @Reference
  4. If it's something I need to act on, I put it in @Action
  5. If it's a call I need to make or a meeting I need to attend, I put it in @Calls or @Meetings as appropriate
Once I'm done with this initial processing loop, I take up the actions in @Action one by one and:
  1. If it's something I can do and finish off immediately, I do it.
  2. If it's something that can be done now, but it's going to take some time to complete, I get to work on it and put it in @In Progress
  3. If it's something I need to wait on for sometime/someone, I put it in @Waiting
  4. If it's something I would like to do someday, but not right now, then it going into @Someday
And that's it! :-)

I keep reviewing @Action, @In Progress and @Waiting and acting on the items in there, while keeping my inbox empty at all times. All non-email related todo's are converted into emails using self-addressed mails and put into the appropriate @ folder. This keeps everything organised and collected in one location.

This may not be the best way to organise a GTD system, but it's been a real productivity booster for me. It also keeps my stress levels under control :-). At all times I know the exact status of every task currently under way, the things that need doing and the people who need pushing.