David Allen - Organise and Succeed

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"How I get 4 Days of work done in just 4 Hours, and have fun in the process." Read on...

Picture this: I was taking care of the HR department of our Company and I was buried with applications that were flowing into our growing company. I badly needed a system to file all these applications in a way that I could retrieve an application within 30 seconds when I needed it. There began my Internet search for a good filing system. Little did I know that this would become one of the most significant changes in my life. Seriously. allen_david


I came across the system that's popularly know as GTD. GTD is short for Getting Things Done', founded by David Allen. He has compiled this fabulous system that improves the output of you as an individual. Hence he's earned the title of being the Henry Ford of the digital age, by KPMG. An analogy of how GTD improves one's productivity, can be made by looking at the improvements that can be done to a disorganised factory floor. A disorganised factory floor may have all the equipment and the right people, but if the equipments are not aligned in the correct order; the output of the organisation would be extremely poor. However, simply organising them better can make the factory ten times more productive.


The whole concept of GTD, revolves around the fact that we are most productive, most efficient, when we are relaxed.



So how does GTD Work? What are the steps involved?


Look back at your life. When were you able to successfully negotiate be it purchase of vegetables, your salary, or the purchase of a piece of land? We get the most effective result, when we are calm and relaxed, we are so focused, in what athletes call ‘the zone' that time disappears for us. Being relaxed doesn't mean being in-attentive, in fact you're super alert, in total control, and simultaneously not-stressed about a single thing. We are least productive, least efficient, when we are stressed.The question is how to get back to ‘the zone' once you've fallen off? Well, that's where GTD comes in.


If a Next Action takes less than 2 minutes to do, from the moment you thought of it, you do it right away! This is the famous GTD 2 minute rule.



Here is a step by step guide to using GTD to improve your output.....


1.       Tell me, where does it hurt Well first of all identify a pain area in your life. What is it that's not working for you at work and/or personal life. For eg. I had a pain area of filing. Your pain area could be all the emails that you get. Or  you may be super organised at Work, but disorganised at home. GTD is the ultimate time-management and stress-management system.


2. Pay Attention to what has your Attention The next step in the GTD process is ‘Collect'. Write down whatever you find yourself thinking about. The idea is to go for quantity not quality. Work, personal, big, small, urgent, useless...just write down and make a list of all the things that you feel you need to do something about. It could be hire a new manager for this department, buy a company, research latest blackberry model or just buy groceries..... Anything and everything that's taking away your attention from the current task at hand.


Very often what takes our attention away from the task at hand are not just thoughts that bother us, but actual physical items that are sitting on our desk or on the floor of the room. So if there's anything that's incomplete on your desk  (ie a report that your supposed to read) or anything that you need to do ( fill a stapler, remove the dead plant) write that down too. Go ahead, try it as you're reading this article, don't go ahead until you've written atleast 10 items on a fresh piece of paper.


3 What's the Next Action? And what's the Successful Outcome?


Now take each individual item and ask yourself the following questions:


- What's the Next Action? - What's the Successful Outcome? - Does it have multiple steps to complete? - Does it take 2 minutes to complete?


First, what's the immediate Next Action that you need to take to get moving on this item. This is where the magic of GTD happens. Typical next actions look like:


- Call Suresh about xyz proposal


- Draft thoughts about the upcoming Project launch


- Speak to Rajan to get update on so and so matter.


Say you have an item on your list, buy a new mobile phone. What could be your next action. Well, you say your Next Action could be to visit the store that your friend (Ramesh) bought his latest mobile from (as they have excellent deals happening there). But then is there anything you need to do before you visit the store? Well you think and say, well yes, I need to find out where the store is. And to do that you would need to call Ramesh. If you have Ramesh's number, your Next Action would be to call Ramesh, it would not be visiting the store as you had thought earlier. If you did not have Ramesh's number then your Next Action would be to get his number. Do you see what I'm driving at? The Next Action is not always self-evident and needs to be thought through.


Second, what's the Successful Outcome of this item? And does it have multi-steps to complete? So to carry on with the earlier example, the Successful Outcome would be to buy a mobile phone. At this point it does help to ask Why? The answer to why you need a new phone could be, well I want to be able to check emails from my phone which I can't do so with my current model, therefore your Successful Outcome is now more defined. A Successful Outcome is not just to buy a mobile phone but a phone that you can check email with.


Does the Successful Outcome have multiple steps? Well, if you have to get your Ramesh's number, then call him and then visit the store, then buying a mobile phone does have multi-steps.


Does it take less than 2 minutes to do If the item takes less than 2 minutes to do, you do it right away! This is the famous 2 minute GTD rule. So as soon as you defined the next action to call Ramesh, and you have a phone with you, and if it takes less than 2 minutes to call Ramesh, you call him right away. If the action takes longer then 2 minutes, then you Organise that in a reminder system, more on that in the next point.


The concept is a little subtle and re-reading the above point paragraph may help.


4 Write each answer down in separate distinct lists.


Once you have the answers, make separate distinct lists. For eg. If your next Action was to call somebody, you would put in your Calls list. If there's something you need to do at home, you could put it under At Home list. The typical categories that GTD'ers can start with are:To Calls, At Home, At Office, At Errands (stuff to do outside), At Computer, Agendas


Similarly the multi-step Successful Outcomes would be put separately on a Project list. (A Project would be any thing that has multi-steps and could take from one week to an year to finish. So that would be to buy a mobile phone, hire a Project Manager or Find a School for kids).


To write these lists you would need some cool tools. You may use either the Tasks Feature in Outlook making a category for a different list or simply a Notebook using post-it flag for the different categories.


5 Just Do it!


Finally next all you've got to do is..... just do it. But how do you then decide from the various Next Actions that you've listed on to your At Home, At Errands, At Office, At Computer and At Calls list which is the one action that you should be doing. Should you make the Call to you client or complete the report for your boss? Well run the lists through this really quick and easy checklist:


i) What Context are you in? If your boss calls you for a meeting and then asks you to wait outside his office for 5 minutes, and you've got your phone with you, the only thing you can do is probably make a few calls. Therefore you look at your Calls list.


But once your Boss calls you inside and asks if there are any pending items you want to discuss with him, you then whip out your Agenda list and glance down to see any items there are there to discuss with your Boss. So you see, the list you look at depends on your context.


ii) How much time and energy you have? If you're waiting for 5 minutes to see your boss and you have your phone with you. When you look at your calls list you can easily eliminate those calls that take longer and focus on those that you can do within 5 minutes. Similarly if you're with your Boss and you know he's not got a lot of time and energy to talk on heavyweight strategy discussions, you can get mentally strike those topics off and finish discussing the lighter topics on your Agenda List.


iii) Which item would give you the maximum return? Finally if there's more than one call that would take 5 minutes, follow your intuition to tell you which would give you the maximum return and then make that call. Likewise, if you're with your boss which topic on your Agenda list would give you the most satisfaction for having completed, that's the one to take up.


In Conclusion: Once you have successfully made a habit of the above you would have got control on a whole lot of stuff that's been pulling and pushing your attention. Of course there are other topics to address such as filing, handing emails, addressing priorities, but we can handle that in a different article.


In the last 2 years GTD has really sky-rocketed my productivity levels and has me focused on the higher goals of Vakil Housing and Life. Stuff would literally take me weeks to complete, simply because I had not written it down and not asked myself what's the immediate Next Action. Now If there's something I acknowledge that I would be moving forward on, I note it down. Once a day, I set aside time to process all those items I have written throughout the day. I do that by asking What's the Next Action, What's the Successful Outcome and organise those on different lists in my Blackberry. By making a habit of this, I truly get 4 days work done within 4 hours and have a ball of a time doing it.


Other Resources where one can Learn about GTD: Official website of David Allen: www.davidco.com. The book available at major stores: Getting Things Done, the Art of Stress Free Productivity. By David Allen. Popular blogs  on  GTD: www.michaelhyatt.com/workingsmart/  www.43folders.com (This blog is more tuned for Mac Users)  


arif-vakilArif Vakil is the Director of Vakil Housing, a real-estate company based in Bangalore, India. He is in the final stage of being Certified Inhouse Instructor on GTD. Email: Blog: www.vakil.org


Issue BG88 July 08


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