An Explanation of “Getting Things Done”

In this post I wrote that I am currently trying the “Getting Things Done” system again, so I figured it might help if I explain a little bit of what it is.  Basically it is a system of a calendar, several well-defined lists, and a good reference (i.e. filing) system.

The first step is to COLLECT everything that represents an “incomplete” in your life.  David Allen says that as soon as you attach the words “I should”, “I ought to,” etc. that it becomes an “incomplete.”  Collect it all and put it in your in-box.

Now, I have to add at this point that the first time around (several years ago), I took literally the challenge in the book to collecting every incomplete, and consequently filled my living room with all kinds of stuff that I felt was out of place!  I don’t recommend doing that :).

This time I still have all kinds of stuff that is out of place, but I’m handling it by including on my “projects list” or my “someday/maybe” list (soon to be explained) a reminder to go through each area.

This is what I did collect.

  • All papers that were in my kitchen, in my church bag and purse, and otherwise laying around loosely.
  • Previous “To Do” lists
  • Information from e-mails sent by others
  • All of my thoughts (by taking the suggestion to “empty my head!”)

The second step is to PROCESS everything that was collected.  This part was a little overwhelming to me, and according to the book it is also overwhelming to others too.  Because I was sitting there going through every little thing that I need to be doing all at once, and creating a giant list!  But in my opinion, it was worth the temporary stress it caused, because once it was done, I felt very clear about what I was committed to doing currently and what I was not.

Here is how you process the stuff you collected:

Ask if what you are looking at (the piece of paper, object, etc) needs any action?  If the answer is no, you have 3 choices.

  1. Throw it away
  2. File it in your reference system
  3. Review it later by either writing it on a someday/maybe list OR  write a reminder about it on a calendar

If the answer is yes, ask yourself “what is the next action?”  Once you have your answer, you then have 3 choices.

  1. Do it now (if it will take less than 2 minutes)
  2. Delegate it (to someone else)
  3. Defer it (by writing it on a calendar or a next actions list)

The third step is to ORGANIZE.  This is where you set up the folders and lists.  A good reference system requires some kind of filing cabinet and folders, set up in a way that is easy to access and easy to add to.  David Allen says (and I tend to agree!) that if it’s not easy to file and create new files that most people won’t do it.

Various lists need to be created.  The “next actions” lists are ideally organized by context.  I have several: daily household tasks, other household tasks, at the computer, desk work, phone calls, errands, and even stuff to pray about.  I kept coming across stuff that I didn’t know what to do about except pray for guidance, so that’s how this final category originated.

Also decisions need to be made about how these lists will stored?  Electronic or paper?  Mine is currently paper – and it’s all on the front of my refrigerator where I can see it.  But lots of people prefer electronic calendars, and these lists fit nicely with most of those.

One additional list that needs to be created besides the ones I mentioned above is a “project list.”  A project is anything that  requires more than one action to complete it.  Only the individual actions go on the “next actions” list, and this is the list that you work from on a day-to-day basis.  But the project list exists as a reminder of all the projects that you are currently committed to moving towards completion.  (This part is tricky to explain; I may attempt it in another blog post soon, but you can also read the book for more info!)

The fourth step is to REVIEW.  This means to review the actions you wrote down in order to decide what to do when.  He explains in great detail how to go about making that decision, but it’s pretty intuitive too.

There is also the “Weekly Review” which I must admit that I don’t like.  But I do think it is necessary.  This means that once a week you do what I described above all over again.  The only difference is that it’s not so much because only one week has gone by since you last did it.   The reason it is necessary is because in the process of doing all the actions, it can be tricky to constantly make sure you are writing down the next “next action” after completing the first, in order to keep the project moving forward.  Things can get a little messy in the process of doing everything and so it’s good to take a time-out and get the system completely current again.

The fifth (and final) step is to DO. This is obvious, of course.  Take those next actions lists and start working on them!  A lot of the resistance is gone by this point because the lists are simple and do-able.  Since they are organized by context it is easy to just run all of the errands at once, or sit down at the computer and do several things right there.

So there you have it — an explanation of the “Getting Things Done” system.  I have to say that this week I’m appreciative of it.  I spent last week doing the initial collecting, processing, and organizing.  Then, this week my kids have been unexpectedly out of school due to snowy weather.  I have a meeting to prepare for this coming Sunday and I was counting on the time with everyone gone to work on it.  But with this system, I was able to become clear about what I need to do, and I can work on a little piece of it here and there as the opportunities arise — even with the unexpected family at home!


2 thoughts on “An Explanation of “Getting Things Done”

  1. Pingback: From Paper to Electronic: Switching My Task Management System | littlemissdebbie28

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