The estimated reading time for this post is 9 minutes
There’s only one you, and only one me, so why do we have separate lists to manage each facet of our life? It’s ridiculous. The system I advocate manages ALL the stuff in your life and doesn’t distinguish between work and play – it supports every facet of you. At its simplest, it’s exactly what you do before you go on holiday…
Before you go on holiday, you tie up all the loose ends, update everyone, delegate everything and nothing is left outstanding. You go on holiday knowing there are no loose ends flapping around.
The pre-holiday system works because you capture all your loose ends and because you identify what’s the next action for each of them. You don’t create a To Do list, you create an Action List and you delegate everything you possibly can.
If you’ve previously read David Allen’s book Getting Things Done, you’ll be familiar with the concept. And if, like many, you’ve struggled to implement what should be an incredibly simple system, you’re not alone. Please don’t give up because one of the tricks is to treat every week as if you’re going on holiday.
In work and play, the only thing you can manage is your actions. After all:
“You don’t manage five minutes and end up with six and you don’t manage priorities, you have them. Nor do you manage information overload you take actions to deal with it.” David Allen
The video talks you through some of the stuff I use and how I process my inbox. But that’s me, it’s not you. You may need a different supporting structure but the great thing is, when you understand the principles of Getting Things Done, we will devise the structure that’s going to support you and you’ll stop wasting time switching between the vast array of list building and project management software. Yes, systems, processes, and automation all support Getting Things Done, but they can’t support anything if they don’t know what the next action is. So, let’s tie up some loose ends…
Start with your loose ends
Write down the project or situation that is most on your mind now.
What is grabbing a large part of your attention?
This is about the whole you, not just your business so it may be a holiday you’re planning, or it may be work-related.
Now, in a single sentence, write down your intended successful outcome. Finally, write down the next action that’s required to move the project forward by one step.
What needs to happen? Do you need to make a phone call, meet with someone, write an email, carry out some research? This thing you’ve identified is your next action and it’s this action that goes on your To Do list.
How does this work?
To do lists often look like this:
- Book Holiday
- Car Service
- Write Proposal
- Choose CRM
- Write Blog
This list is actually a project list because every item requires more than one step, or action, to complete it.
Projects don’t have to be 6-month affairs or need a Project Manager and a dozen people to be involved. At its simplest, a project is something that requires more than one action to complete the project. As a caffeine fanatic, my favourite project is Project Coffee. To complete Project Coffee and mark it as complete I need to do a number of things:
- Fill kettle with water
- Boil kettle
- Place beans in grinder
- Grind beans
- Place beans in coffee pot
- Add boiling water
- Push down plunger
- Pour coffee
- Add milk and sugar as required
For the pedants amongst us, there are, of course, a few more steps, but this analogy demonstrates that even the simplest item on our To Do list can stump us if we don’t know what the next action is.
The traditional To Do List doesn’t give your brain clear instructions about what it needs to do next, and so nothing gets done. The list does tell you that you have five projects but, because there aren’t clear instructions about what specific action is required to move each project forward, your brain looks at the list and puts it all in the too difficult pile. Nothing gets done and yet it all still nags at you and takes up valuable creative thinking space.
Getting Thing Done works differently because you focus on the Next Action you need to take to move a project forward. For example, the next actions for the previous list might be:
- Call Travel agent
- Call garage
- Research XYZ
- Write a list of all things I want my CRM to do
- Write the first draft of blog How To Take Over The World
When your brain sees this list it knows exactly what its needs to do and you’re more inclined to get them done.
Don’t worry if it’s still a bit fuzzy and unclear, working through the next bit will help clarify everything.
You’ve already decided what the next action is for one loose end, now spend some time doing the same thing for every loose end in your life.
When I say everything, I mean a thorough audit of all your collection buckets. Every piece of software where your actions arrive. Your notebook, your voice recordings your inbox. Go through every collection bucket you have and decide what’s the next action for every loose end. What action will move the project along? The most dramatic way to do this is on separate pieces of paper – like an old-fashioned in-tray or a pile of post-it notes.
Loose ends cause an awful lot of anxiety and the last time I did this I ended up with a list of 72. That was 72 things I hadn’t recorded and which my unconscious mind was desperately trying to remember at the least opportune moments.
Now that you have a record of all your loose ends. The next step is to Process them.
For every loose end that is a two-minute task, do it. Get it done. Screw up your post-it and throw it in the bin.
If it’s a loose end you need someone else to respond, delegate it and add the action to your Waiting List with a due date. You don’t have to add a time, you just don’t want to lose track of it and so a due date will bring it back to light on the day you’ve picked.
If it’s something you have to do, decide what the next action is and schedule time in your diary to do it. The action is captured, it’s visible and you’ve allocated time to do it. If something more urgent or important prevents you from doing it, you treat it like any other appointment and reschedule it.
That is it. Really, that’s all you need to do to get more stuff done.
If you like a nice flow chart, here’s how the Getting Things Done system works. For everything that comes into your life, follow the process and decide what you’re going to do with it. Is your Stuff actionable?
The Supporting Structure
When I coach people in Getting Things Done we use the stack of post-it notes and work through the flowchart, one post-it note at a time. The first time you do this it will take a day to work through everything so make sure you give yourself plenty of breathing space because once you’ve identified the next actions, you then need to create an infrastructure to support them.
And this is it. Just 8 places where you file stuff (The Infrastructure). Knowing what elements form your infrastructure means you will more easily choose the software that’s right for you and that’s going to keep track of your Action lists, Reference folders and Project management system.
Here’s some of the software that works really well with Getting Things Done:
Your Projects List
Trello or Asana will capture this information, as can Todoist, as can a piece of paper.
Project Support Material
This is the old-fashioned filing cupboard where you store documents relating to a project. For example project plans, notes of meetings with clients. Keep them in Dropbox or Asana or Trello.
I prefer to synchronise my Google Calendar with Todoist so I only have one Calendar for everything.
Next Actions Lists
Todoist or similar and one that integrates with your email, or your main communication channel will make life a lot easier.
Waiting For List
This is your list of stuff where the action currently rests with someone else.
Things you refer to and need to access easily – HMRC, VAT etc.
A someday/maybe list
Things you don’t want to lose sight of. They’re interesting and you’ll want to come back to them someday and if you don’t make a note of them, your subconscious will continue to remind you. File them so you don’t forget. File them so you know where they are.
And that’s everything you need to manage every piece of information or stuff in your life.
When and How Often Do I Process My Stuff?
This entirely depends on how much stuff you have to process. Every morning I process everything that’s arrived in various collection buckets. Processing isn’t doing. When you process your collection buckets all you’re doing is deciding what the next action is and recording it so the action is captured in your system and your mind can forget about it.
Initially, I recommend you schedule the time to process your stuff in the morning, at lunchtime and at the back end of the day. Gather your loose ends and decide what the next actions are and get them onto your Action List. Outside of these times, you ignore whatever is pinging and ponging and focus on whatever deep thinking stuff you have to do.
When your lose ends are tagged and bagged, your calendar and your next actions list will keep you on track. For this system to work, you must have a weekly review because it gives you the opportunity to:
- Collate new loose ends and decide what the next action is
- Review the items you’re Waiting for and give people a nudge
- Review your calendar for the week ahead to see if you need to renegotiate anything in your calendar
- Review the status of Projects and update / alert clients of problems before they happen
Software I Use to Get More Stuff Done
- Google Suite
- Google Chrome Extensions – Boomerang, Gmail Show Time, Gmail label column resizer
- Sort’d for Gmail turns your Gmail into a Trello board
I’ve been using the system for 15 years and have helped lots of people scoop up all their anxieties and get them into a system created specifically for them. And, because it takes around 2 months for a new behaviour to become automatic, I provide 8 follow up sessions to support you.
Stop fretting about your next anxiety and focus on your next action instead.