Getting Things Done deals primarily with the content and meaning of what we need to manage, irrespective of how it shows up or gets organized
If you are by nature fascinated by what may be going on when you hear sirens in your neighborhood or wonder what a group of people across the room at a party is excitedly talking about, then you are ripe for becoming a victim of the endless and powerful distractions your personal technology dishes out to you
Getting Things Done is not simply about getting things done. It’s about being appropriately engaged with your work and life.
making some of the fundamental practices habitual can take quite a while for most people.
get as much return as you can on your investment of time and energy
you want to get on to other things as fast as you can, without any nagging loose ends
to be maximally efficient and relaxed
No software, seminar, cool notebook, smartphone, or even personal mission statement will give you more than twenty-four hours in a day, simplify its content, or make this often tough choice for you.
just when you learn how to enhance your productivity at one level, you’ll graduate or be forced to the next accepted batch of responsibilities and creative goals
You may have established personal habits and tools that work for a while, but a major change, such as a big shift in your job, a first baby, or buying a home, will test their sustainability and likely create serious discomfort (if not havoc!).
maximizing output and minimizing input
Many of these businesspeople are successful because the crises they resolve and the opportunities they take advantage of are bigger than the problems they allow and create in their own offices, homes, and briefcases. But
An ambient angst pervades our society—there’s a sense that somehow there’s probably something we should be doing that we’re not
focus their energies strategically and tactically without letting anything fall through the cracks
we need to create thinking habits and working environments that will keep the most caring and engaged people from burning out due to stress
IT’S POSSIBLE FOR a person to have an overwhelming number of things to do and still function productively with a clear head and a positive sense of relaxed control
capturing all the things that might need to get done or have usefulness for you
outside your head and off your mind
front-end decisions about all of the “inputs” you let into your life
multiple levels of commitments with yourself and others
A paradox has emerged in this new millennium: people have enhanced quality of life, but at the same time they are adding to their stress levels by taking on more than they have resources to handle
You knew what work had to be done—you could see it. It was clear when the work was finished, or not finished
for many of us, there are no edges to most of our projects
the lack of edges can create more work for everyone
The ever-new communication technologies have exponentially magnified the lack of clear limits to our commitments and our lives
We’re allowing in huge amounts of information and communication from the outer world and generating an equally large volume of ideas and agreements with others and ourselves from the inner world
no latitude left to ignore a single request, complaint, order, or communication from company or family
We are already having a serious negative reaction to the overwhelming number of things we have to do
Upping the quality of our thinking and commitments does not diminish the quantity of potentially relevant and important stuff to manage.
Social climbers strive to be aristocrats but their efforts prove them no such thing. Aristocrats do not strive; they have already arrived. Swing is a state of arrival
Your ability to generate power is directly proportional to your ability to relax.
a tense muscle is a slow one
Anything that causes you to overreact or underreact can control you, and often does.
if you get seriously far out of that state—and start to feel out of control, stressed out, unfocused, bored, and stuck
how to get back to mind like water, with all your resources and faculties functioning at a maximum level
Most people have lived in a semistressful experience so consistently, for so long, they don’t know that it could be quite different—that there is another and more positive place from which to engage with their world
most stress they experience comes from inappropriately managed commitments they make or accept
control the “open loops
You’ve probably made many more agreements with yourself than you realize, and every single one of them—big or little—is being tracked by a less-than-conscious part of you
Anything that does not belong where it is, the way it is, is an “open loop,” which will be pulling on your attention if it’s not appropriately managed
most people don’t do it in a consistent way
if it’s on your mind, your mind isn’t clear.
you must clarify exactly what your commitment is and decide what you have to do, if anything, to make progress toward fulfilling it.
you must keep reminders of them organized in a system you review regularly.
describe, in a single written sentence, your intended successful outcome for this problem or situation
write down the very next physical action required to move the situation forward
The situation itself is no further along, at least in the physical world. It’s certainly not finished yet. What probably happened is that you acquired a clearer definition of the outcome desired and the next action required. What did change is the most important element for clarity, focus, and peace of mind: how you are engaged with your world
just enough to solidify your commitment about a discrete pressure or opportunity and the resources required dealing with it
you have to think about your stuff more than you realize but not as much as you’re afraid you might
results have to be clearly specified, if productivity is to be achieved
much of our daily activity is already defined
Thinking in a concentrated manner to define desired outcomes and requisite next actions is something few people feel they have to do
This consistent, unproductive preoccupation with all the things we have to do is the single largest consumer of time and energy
Even if you’ve already decided on the next step you’ll take to resolve a problem, your mind can’t let go until and unless you park a reminder in a place it knows you will, without fail, look
It’s a waste of time and energy to keep thinking about something that you make no progress on
And it only adds to your anxiety about what you should be doing and aren’t
Most people let their reactive mental process run a lot of the show, especially where the too-much-to-do syndrome is concerned
a significant part of your psyche cannot help but keep track of your open loops
as a detractor from anything else you need or want to think about, diminishing your capacity to perform
The reason most organizing systems haven’t worked for most people is that they haven’t yet transformed all the stuff they’re trying to organize. As long as it’s still stuff, it’s not controllable
Looking at these often creates more stress than relief
it still calls out psychologically, “Decide about me!
once we allow stuff to come into our lives and work, we have an inherent commitment to ourselves to define and clarify its meaning
You can minimize the loose ends across the whole spectrum of your work life and personal life and get a lot more done with less effort
What you do with your time, what you do with information, and what you do with your body and your focus relative to your priorities—those are the real options to which you must allocate your limited resources
you can’t do a project
You can only do an action related to it
Many actions require only a minute or two, in the appropriate context, to move a project forward
Getting things done requires two basic components: defining (1) what “done” means
outcome) and (2) what “doing” looks like (action
Intellectually, the most appropriate way ought to be to work from the top down, first uncovering personal and organizational purpose and vision, then defining critical objectives, and finally focusing on the details of implementation
most people are so embroiled in commitments on a day-to-day level that their ability to focus successfully on the larger horizon is seriously impaired
You’ll be better equipped to undertake higher-focused thinking when your tools for handling the resulting actions for implementation are part of your ongoing operational style
There is no real way to achieve the kind of relaxed control I’m promising if you keep things only in your head
organize 100 percent of my stuff in and with objective tools at hand, not in my mind
do that kind of list-making drill only when the confusion gets too unbearable and they just have to do something about it
I try to make intuitive choices based on my options, instead of trying to think about what those options are
Most people walk around with their RAM bursting at the seams
Studies have demonstrated that our mental processes are hampered by the burden put on the mind to keep track of things we’re committed to finish, without a trusted plan or system in place to handle them
A big problem is that your mind keeps reminding you of things when you can’t do anything about them
1 | Every open loop must be in your capture system and out of your head. 2 | You must have as few capturing buckets as you can get by with. 3 | You must empty them regularly
determine what to keep and what to throw away (clarify
The quality of our workflow management is only as good as the weakest link in this five-phase chain
Those lists alone often create more stress than they relieve
Others make good decisions about stuff in the moment but lose the value of that thinking because they don’t efficiently (3) organize the results
Ask yourself, “When do I need to see what, in what form, to get it off my mind?” You build a system for function, not just to have a system.
Most decisions for action and focus are driven by the latest and loudest inputs, and are based on hope instead of trust
separate these stages as I move through my day
one of the major reasons many people haven’t had a lot of success with getting organized is simply that they have tried to do all five steps at one time
open loop will take up energy and prevent you from having a totally effective, clear focus on what’s important
you have to know that you have truly captured everything that might represent something you have to do or at least decide about, and that at some point in the near future you will process and review all of it.
empty these containers regularly
Minimize the Number of Capture Locations
As you proceed in your career, for instance, you’ll probably notice that your best ideas about work will not come to you at work
Emptying the contents does not mean that you have to finish what’s there; it just means that you have to decide more specifically what it is and what should be done with it, and if it’s still unfinished, organize it into your system
to get “in” to empty, however, an integrated life-management system must be in place
safety net is lost when the piles get out of control or the inventory of e-mails gets too extensive to be viewed on one screen
get those in-trays and e-mail systems empty without necessarily having to do the work now.
you organize the actions you’ll need to take based on the decisions you’ve made about what needs to be done
do we actually need to do something about them
Two things need to be determined about each actionable item: 1 | What “project” or outcome have you committed to? and 2 | What’s the next action required?
capture that outcome on a “Projects” list
if you answer it appropriately, you’ll have the key substantive thing to organize
the next physical, visible activity that needs to be engaged in, in order to move the current reality of this thing toward completion
Defer it, If the action will take longer than two minutes, and you are the right person to do it, you will have to defer acting on it until later and
track it on one or more “Next Actions” lists.
To manage actionable things, you will need a list of projects, storage or files for project plans and materials, a calendar, a list of reminders of next actions, and a list of reminders of things you’re waiting for.
Three things go on your calendar: time-specific actions; day-specific actions; and day-specific information
No More “Daily To-Do” Lists on the Calendar
Doing predefined work Doing work as it shows up Defining your work Doing Predefined Work
Decisions at this altitude could easily change what your work might look like on many levels.
project as any desired result that can be accomplished within a year that requires more than one action step
If you don’t have a placeholder to remind you about it, it will slip back into your head
anything you are committed to finish within that scope needs to be reviewed weekly to feel comfortable about its status
Projects do not initially need to be listed in any particular order, by size, or by priority
You don’t actually do a project; you can only do action steps related to it
Your Projects list will be merely an index
I usually recommend that people store their support materials out of sight
keep your digital reference world as simple as possible, and consistently reviewed and purged.
What does need to be tracked is every action that has to happen at a specific time or on a specific day (enter those on your calendar); those that need to be done as soon as they can (add these to your Next Actions lists); and all those that you are waiting for others to do (put these on a Waiting For list).
it’s virtually impossible to nail down to-do items ahead of time
if there’s something on a daily to-do list that doesn’t absolutely have to get done that day, it will dilute the emphasis on the things that truly do
the calendar should be sacred territory
Any longer-than-two-minute, non-delegatable action you have identified needs to be tracked somewhere
If you leave this stuff mixed in with other categories, it will seriously undermine the system and your clarity in the environment
parking lot” for projects that would be impossible to move on at present but that you don’t want to forget about entirely
include a scan of the contents in your Weekly Review
until some designated time in the future
reference should be exactly that—information that can be easily referred to when required
The lack of a good general-reference file can be one of the biggest bottlenecks in implementing an efficient personal management system
You need to be able to step back and review the whole picture of your life and work from a broader perspective as well as drop down “into the weeds” of concrete actions to take, as needed, and at appropriate intervals
At any point in time, knowing what has to get done and when creates a terrain for maneuvering
It’s a good habit, as soon as you conclude an action on your calendar (a meeting, a phone call, the final draft of a report that’s due), to check and see what else remains to be done
After checking your calendar, you’ll most often turn to your Next Action lists
Projects, Waiting For, and Someday/Maybe lists need to be reviewed only as often as you think they have to be in order to stop you from wondering about them
things can get relatively out of control during the course of a few days of operational intensity
clean house and refresh the contents once a week.
how will you decide what to do and what not to do, and feel good about both?
context, time available, energy available, and priority
A few actions can be done anywhere (such as drafting ideas about a project with pen and paper), but most require a specific location
This is where you need to access your intuition and begin to rely on your judgment call in the moment.
Next Actions lists and calendar
Doing Work as It Shows Up
Every day brings surprises—unplanned-for things that just show up—and you’ll need to expend at least some time and energy on many of them
Defining Your Work
clearing up your in-tray, your digital messages, and your meeting notes, and breaking down new projects into actionable steps. As you process your inputs, you’ll no doubt be taking care of some less-than-two-minute actions and tossing and filing numerous things (another version of doing work as it shows up). A good portion of this activity will consist of identifying things that need to get done sometime, but not right away. You’ll be adding to all of your lists as you go along.
Horizon 5: Purpose and principles Horizon 4: Vision Horizon 3: Goals Horizon 2: Areas of focus and accountabilities Horizon 1: Current projects Ground: Current actions
not things to finish but rather to use as criteria for assessing our experiences and our engagements
Areas of Focus and Accountabilities
Often meeting the goals and objectives of your job will require a shift in emphasis of your job focus, with new accountabilities emerging.
organization strategies, environmental trends, career and lifestyle transition circumstances
Purpose and Principles
1 | Defining purpose and principles 2 | Outcome visioning 3 | Brainstorming 4 | Organizing 5 | Identifying next actions
You almost certainly didn’t need to actually write all of them down on a piece of paper, but you did a version of that process in your mind.* The key to intelligent thought is more intelligent thinking
Have you envisioned success and considered all the innovative things that might result if you achieved it? Have you gotten all possible ideas out on the table—everything you need to take into consideration that might affect the outcome? Have you identified the mission-critical components, key milestones, and deliverables
Horizontal focus is all you’ll need in most situations, most of the time
think productively in this more vertical way and how to integrate the results into your personal system
You’ve got to think about the big things while you’re doing small things, so that all the small things go in the right direction
In my experience this tends to be the most productive kind of planning you can do in terms of your output relative to the energy you put into it
too often the participants in a meeting will need to have another meeting—a back-of-the-envelope (or whiteboard) session—to actually get a piece of work fleshed out and under control
We need ways to validate and support our thinking, no matter how informal
More formal and structured meetings also tend to skip over at least one critical issue, such as why the project is being done in the first place.
very few such meetings bring to bear sufficient rigor in determining action steps and accountabilities for the various aspects of a project plan
when people do more planning, informally and naturally, they relieve a great deal of stress and obtain better results
Your brain noticed a gap between what you were looking toward and where you actually were at the time, and it began to resolve that cognitive dissonance by trying to fill in the blanks
You have an urge to make something happen; you imagine the outcome; you generate ideas that might be relevant; you sort those into a structure; and you define a physical activity that would begin to make it a reality. And you do all of that naturally, without giving it much thought
Think of your purpose. Think of what a successful outcome would look like: where would you be physically, financially, in terms of reputation, or whatever? Brainstorm potential steps. Organize your ideas. Decide on the next actions. Are you any clearer about where you want to go and how to get there
If you’re waiting to have a good idea before you have any ideas, you won’t have many
What’s a good idea?” is a good question, but only when you’re about 80 percent of the way through your thinking! Starting there would probably blow anyone’s creative mental fuses
attempting to come up with a good idea before defining your purpose, creating a vision, and collecting lots of initial bad ideas is likely to give you a case of creative constipation
it’s common sense that’s not commonly practiced, simply because it’s so easy for us to create things, get caught up in the form of what we’ve created, and let our connection with our real and primary intentions slip.
the why question cannot be ignored
Until we have the answer to my questions, there’s no possible way to come up with an appropriate response to theirs
Purpose defines success
Often the only way to make a hard decision is to come back to the purpose of what you’re doing.
If you’re not sure why you’re doing something, you can never do enough of it.
if you don’t really know when you’ve met your purpose or when you’re off track, you don’t have a viable directive. The question, “How will I know when this is off purpose?” must have a clear answer
Simple, clear purpose and principles give rise to complex and intelligent behavior. Complex rules and regulations give rise to simple and stupid behavior.
I would give others totally free rein to do this as long as they . .
What behavior might undermine what I’m doing, and how can I prevent it
you must have a clear picture in your mind of what success would look, sound, and feel like
vision provides the actual blueprint of the final result
focus instantly creates ideas and thought patterns you wouldn’t have had otherwise. Even your physiology will respond to an image in your head as if it were reality
You” supply the goal by thinking in terms of end results. Your automatic mechanism then supplies the means whereby
you won’t see how to do it until you see yourself doing
Outcome/vision can range from a simple statement of the project, such as “Finalize computer-system implementation,” to a completely scripted movie depicting the future scene in all its glorious detail
give yourself permission to capture and express any idea, and then later on figure out how it fits in and what to do with it
adds to your efficiency—when you have the idea, you grab it, which means you won’t have to have the idea again
Nothing is more dangerous than an idea when it is the only one you have
Write all your notes and quotes on separate three-by-five-inch cards. Then, when you get ready to organize your thinking, just spread them all out on the floor, see the natural structure that emerges, and figure out what’s missing.
hold the context
Don’t judge, challenge, evaluate, or criticize. Go for quantity, not quality. Put analysis and organization in the background
Going for quantity keeps your thinking expansive
Often you won’t know what’s a good idea until you have it
A project plan identifies the smaller outcomes
once you get all the ideas out of your head and in front of your eyes, you’ll automatically notice natural relationships and structure
When a project calls for substantial objective control, you’ll need some type of hierarchical outline with components and subcomponents, and/or a Gantt-type chart showing stages of the project laid out over time, with independent and dependent parts and milestones identified in relationship to the whole
Identifying the three key things that you need to handle on the project, for example, may cause you to think of a fourth and a fifth when you see them all lined up.
Identify the significant pieces Sort by (one or more): components sequences priorities Detail to the required degree
What’s the next action?”
if the project is an actionable one, this next-action-thinking decision must be made
Answering the question about what, specifically, you would do about something physically if you had nothing else to do will test the maturity of your thinking about the project
each of the current “moving parts” of the project
when every next-action step has been decided on every front that can actually be moved on without some other component’s having to be completed first
Is there something that anyone could be doing on this right now?
In some cases there will be only one aspect that can be activated, and everything else will depend on the results of that
The habit of clarifying the next action on projects, no matter what the situation, is fundamental to you staying in relaxed control
If the next action is not yours, you must nevertheless clarify whose it is
Often all that’s required is to allocate responsibility for parts of the project to the appropriate persons and leave it up to them to identify next actions on their particular pieces
In general, the reason things are on your mind is that the outcome and action step(s) have not been appropriately defined, and/or reminders of them have not been put in places where you can be trusted to look for them appropriately
If greater clarity is what you need, shift your thinking up the natural planning scale
If more action is what’s needed, you need to move down the model
If you’ve formulated an answer to that question, but things are still stuck, it’s probably time for you to grapple with some of the how issues and the operational details and perspectives
aren’t moving forward because they haven’t yet taken a few minutes to dump some ideas out about what that might entail
And if there is a plan, but the rubber still isn’t hitting the road like it should, someone needs to assess each component with the focus of “What’s the next action, and who’s got it
you must be responsible for collecting all your open loops
front-end thought process
managing the results with organization, review, and action
Many people I have coached have redesigned their office space so they have plenty of general-reference file drawers literally within swivel distance, instead of across the room. One Alpha System I have one A–Z alphabetical physical filing system for general reference, not multiple ones. My e-mail reference folders are also organized this way
The smart part of us sets up things for us to do that the not-so-smart part responds to almost automatically, creating behavior that produces high-performance results
If you were to take out your calendar right now and look closely at every single item for the next fourteen days, you’d probably come up with at least one “Oh, that reminds me, I need to _______.”
If you take out a clean sheet of paper right now, along with your favorite writing instrument, and for three minutes focus solely on the most awesome project on your mind, I guarantee you’ll have at least one “Oh, yeah, I need to consider ______.”
put the right things in your focus at the right time.
laying out the gear and practicing the moves
Don’t be afraid to take a big step if one is indicated. You can’t cross a chasm in two small jumps.
If your space is properly set up and streamlined, it can reduce your unconscious resistance to dealing with your stuff and even make it attractive for you to sit down and crank through your input and your work
two whole days, back to back
Implementing the full capturing process can take up to six hours or more, and clarifying and deciding on actions for all the input you’ll want to externalize and capture in your system can easily take another eight hours
weekend or holiday
Dedicate two days to this process, and it will be worth many times that in terms of your productivity and mental health
it takes a lot of mental energy to capture and make decisions about such a large inventory of open loops
cockpit of control
you’ll want to establish identical, even interchangeable systems in both places, though one will probably be primary
space dedicated to the processing of notes, mail, home and family projects and activities, finances, and the like is critical
Many people lose opportunities to be productive because they’re not equipped to take advantage of the odd moments and windows of time that open up as they move from one place to another, or when they’re in off-site environments
But the problem inherent with that is the confusion of managing the traffic that ensues with all the options available on your mobile device
You need to use your system—not continually have to re-create it.
There must be zero resistance to using the systems we have
color-coding is a level of complexity that’s hardly ever worth the effort
the calendar should be used not to hold action lists but to track the “hard landscape” of things that have to get done on a specific day or at a specific time
having organizing tools you love to use.
If your reference system is not under control, it creates a blockage in your workflow that causes amorphous content to back up into your world.
the tool you use will not give you stress-free productivity. That is something you create by implementing the GTD method
all you really need to do is manage lists
Just go for simplicity, speed, and fun.
Random nonactionable but potentially relevant material, unprocessed and unorganized, produces a debilitating psychological noise
Whenever you feel strongly about events or ideas you must try not to let them pass from your mind, but instead to formulate them for your files and in so doing draw out their implications, show yourself how foolish these feelings or ideas are, or how they might be articulated into productive shape.
now I’m just using it instead of thinking so much about it
Many people are still using their e-mail in-tray area as an amorphous general-reference storage place (“I need to keep this e-mail because it has information about my son’s school event schedule
it does require some thought about how to structure it, as well as some directed behavior to flow this kind of stuff into appropriate places instead of complicating and confusing your digital environment
It should take you less than one minute to pick something up out of your in-tray or print it from e-mail, decide it needs no next action but has some potential future value, and finish storing it in a trusted system
Besides being fast, the system needs to be fun and easy, current and complete
Take heart: I’ve seen people go from resisting to actually enjoying sorting through their piles and digital world once their personal filing system is set up and humming
Keep Your General-Reference Files Immediately at Hand
This magnifies geometrically the number of places something isn’t when you forget where you filed it
People have a tendency to want to use their files as a personal management system, and therefore they attempt to organize them in groupings by projects or areas of focus
You should have the freedom to be as much of a pack rat as you wish
with so many options and locations for data storage, that power also can easily add complexity and confusion
all alphabetized within each level of abstraction
The biggest issue for digitally oriented people is that the ease of capturing and storing has generated a write-only syndrome: all they’re doing is capturing information—not actually accessing and using it intelligently
We need to have a way to overview our mass of collected information with some form of effective categorization
Make It Easy to Create a New Folder
Make Sure You Have Plenty of Space for Easy Storage
At times when I’m on hold on the phone, I’m purging my e-mail folders and old document directories
Label Your File Folders with an Auto Labeler
Things you name, you own. Collected but unnamed stuff owns you.
In the fire zone of real work, if it takes longer than sixty seconds to file something where it belongs, you won’t file, you’ll “stack.”
Purge Your Files at Least Once a Year
A personal purge day is an ideal thing to put into your tickler file, either during the holidays, at year’s end, or around early spring tax-preparation time, when you might want to tie it in with archiving the previous year’s financial files
it’s too much work to continually think about the nature of the contents, so your brain will go numb to the pile
clear the decks of any other commitments for the duration of the session
gather representatives of all of your open loops into one place
Until you’ve captured everything that has your attention, some part of you will still not totally trust that you’re working with the whole picture of your world.
Once you have all the things that require your attention gathered in one place, you’ll automatically be operating from a state of enhanced focus and control
These are the kinds of things that nag at you but that you haven’t decided either to deal with or to drop entirely from your list of open loops
anything that doesn’t permanently belong where it is, the way it is
Supplies Reference Material Decoration Equipment
supplies, reference materials, decoration, and equipment may need to be tossed into the in-tray if they’re not just where they should be, the way they should be
If you can’t physically put something in the in-tray, then write a note on a piece of letter-size plain paper to represent it
Be sure to date it, too
It’s also just a great habit to date everything you handwrite, from Post-it notes for your assistant, to voice mails you transfer onto a pad, to the note you take on a phone call with a client
The 3 percent of the time that this little piece of information will be extremely useful makes it worth developing the simple habit.
just create stacks around the in-tray, and maybe even on the floor below it
The objective for the capturing process is to get everything into “in” as quickly as possible so you’re appropriately retrenched and have “drawn the battle lines
If you’re not sure what something is or whether it’s worth keeping, go ahead and put it into “in.” You’ll be able to decide about it later, when you process the in-tray
Clarifying requires a very different mind-set than capturing; it’s best to do them separately
Be Careful of the Purge-and-Organize Bug! Many people get hit with the purge-and-organize virus as they’re going through various areas of their office (and their home
What you don’t want to do is let yourself get caught running down a rabbit trail cleaning up some piece of your work and then not be able to get through the whole action-management implementation process
treat those lists as items still to be processed
It’s easy to resist and avoid picking up anything in your world that you know requires some thinking.
Collect it all
Don’t let things to be handled that you have considered “not so important” gnaw away at your energy and focus
Once you feel you’ve collected all the physical things in your environment that need processing, you’ll want to collect anything else that may be residing in your mental RAM space
I recommend that you write out each thought, each idea, each project or thing that has your attention, on a separate sheet of paper
There is a discipline required initially to stay focused on one item at a time, as you process it
your first captured thought will seldom be the final content you’ll want to track about it (the desired outcome and next action for it will be)
after you’ve gathered everything else
In this instance, go for quantity. It’s much better to overdo
Remember, when something occurs to you, write it on a piece of paper and toss it into “in.”
Capturing is complete when you can easily see the outer edges to the inventory of everything that still has some of your attention in any way.
all the e-mails that are currently staged in the “in” area of your communication software. It should also include any items on your organizer lists for which you have not yet determined next actions
mails are best left where they are, because of their volume and the efficiency factor of dealing with them within their own subsystem.
You don’t want to leave anything in “in” for an indefinite period of time, because then it would without fail creep back into your consciousness, since your mind would know you weren’t dealing with it
Getting “in” to empty doesn’t mean actually doing all the actions and projects that you’ve captured
For instance, if you pick up something from “in” and realize, “I’ve got to call Andrea about that, but I’ve got to do it on Monday, when she’s in her office,” then you’ll defer that action immediately and enter it on your calendar for Monday
back and forth between the simple decision-making stage of processing the open loops and the trickier task of figuring out the best way to enter these decisions in their particular organization systems.
I recommend that you read through this chapter and the next one, on organizing your actions, before you actually start processing what you’ve captured in “in.”
What’s in your hand is likely to land on a “hmph” stack on the side of your desk because you become distracted by something easier, more important, or more interesting below it. Thinking about the stuff you’ve accumulated usually does not happen naturally, of its own accord. You must apply conscious effort to get yourself to think, like getting yourself to exercise or clean house.
You can always upgrade your tools later, once you have your system in place.
Process the top item first. Process one item at a time. Never put anything back into “in.”
The verb process does not mean “spend time on.” It just means “decide what the thing is and what action is required, and then dispatch it accordingly
Emergency Scanning Is Not Clarifying
When you’re in processing mode, you must get into the habit of starting at one end and just cranking through items one at a time, in order
Many people live in this emergency-scanning mode, always distracted by what’s coming into “in,” and not feeling comfortable if they’re not constantly skimming the contents on their computer or mobile devices
every day or two
You may find you have a tendency, while processing your in-tray, to pick something up, not know exactly what you want to do about it, and then let your eyes wander to another item farther down the stack and get engaged with it
The focus on just one thing forces the requisite attention and decision making to get through all your stuff
multitasking is an exception—and it works only if you hold to the discipline of working through every item in short order, and never avoid any decision for longer than a minute or two
Nothing Goes Back into “In”
most things you deal with are not to be acted upon the first time you become aware of them
“The first time you pick something up from your in-tray, decide what to do about it and where it goes. Never put it back in ‘in.’”
every decision you make, little or big, diminishes a limited amount of your brain power
I know what I want to do, but I don’t know where to begin
fast, hard thinking
If there’s an action, its specific nature will determine the next set of options. But what if you say, “There’s really nothing to do with this”?
Processing all the things in your world will make you more conscious of what you are going to do and what you should not be doing
their systems have never really been totally functional and clear-edged before
How big would you like your reference library and toolbox to be?
discriminate about whether something is actionable or not
The key here is the regular reviewing and purging of outdated information,
Write them on a Someday/Maybe list. Put a reminder of them on your calendar or in a tickler file.
they give you a way to get the items off your mind right now and let you feel confident that some reminder of the possible action will resurface at an appropriate time
Pending category you will be accumulating for later sorting
if it’s not easy, quick, and fun to file something away, you’ll stack or simply accumulate it in “in” instead of organizing. And then it will become much more difficult to keep things processed.
if you can’t get it into your system immediately, you’re probably not ever going to
You should feel free to instantly create a new reference file for a new topic, theme, person, or project, and drag or insert the e-mail into it right away.
The key to keeping it effective will be regular revisiting of our data and how we’re organizing it; and keeping it current and usable
Doing a straightforward, clear-cut task that has a beginning and an end balances out the complexity-without-end that often vexes the rest of my life. Sacred simplicity
The next action should be easy to figure out, but there are often some quick analyses and several planning steps that haven’t occurred yet in your mind, and these have to happen before you can determine precisely what has to happen to complete the item
The Action Step Needs to Be the Absolute Next Physical Thing to Do
Until you know what the next physical action is, there’s still more thinking required before anything can happen—before you’re appropriately engaged.
Many people think they’ve determined the next action when they get it down to “set meeting.” But that’s not the next action, because it’s not descriptive of physical behavior
If you haven’t identified the next physical action required to kick-start it, there will be a psychological gap every time you think about it even vaguely. You’ll tend to resist noticing it, which leads to procrastination.
Deciding isn’t really an action, because actions take time, and deciding doesn’t
There’s always some physical activity that can be done to facilitate your decision making
Do it (if the action takes less than two minutes). Delegate it (if you’re not the most appropriate person to do the action). Defer it into your organization system as an option for work to do later
Even if the item is not a high-priority one, do it now if you’re ever going to do it at all
The rationale for the two-minute rule is that it’s more or less the point where it starts taking longer to store and track an item than to deal with it the first time it’s in your hands
He never let his e-mails mount up beyond a screenful anymore. He said it had changed the nature of his division because of the dramatic decrease in his own response time. His staff thought he was now made of Teflon!
Two minutes is in fact just a guideline. If you have a long open window of time in which to process your in-tray, you can extend the cutoff for each item to five or ten minutes
You’ll be surprised how many two-minute actions you can perform even on your most critical projects
It’s not a bad idea to time yourself for a few of these while you’re becoming familiar with the process
The hand is the cutting edge of the mind
If, however, you take an action and don’t finish the project with that one action, you’ll need to clarify what’s next on it
it is likely that at least 30 percent of your actionable e-mails will require less than two minutes to respond and dispatch
That said, you shouldn’t become a slave to spending your day doing two-minute actions
primarily when you are engaging with new input
Am I the best person to be doing it?” If not, hand it off to the appropriate party, in a systematic format
E-mail is usually the fastest mode in the system; it provides an electronic record; and the receiver gets to deal with it at his or her convenience
Note: Of chat
The least preferable option would be to interrupt what both you and the person are doing in the moment to talk about the item
This is immediate, but it hampers workflow for both of you and has the same downside as voice mail: no written record
Note: No written record!!!
you’ll need to track it
a significant category to manage is Waiting For
It’s important that you record the date on everything that you hand off to others
These actions will have to be written down somewhere and then organized in the appropriate categories so you can access them when you need to
This last step in getting to the bottom of “in” requires a shift in perspective from the single-action details to the larger picture—your projects
if the action step you’ve identified will not complete the commitment, then you’ll need some stake in the ground to keep reminding you of actions you have pending until you have closure
The purpose of this list is not to reflect your priorities but just to ensure that you’ve got placeholders for all those open loops
Airtight organization is required for your focus to remain on the broader horizon and eliminate the constant pressure to remember or be reminded.
allows your mind to let go of lower-level thinking and graduate to intuitive focusing, undistracted by matters that haven’t been dealt with appropriately
your physical organization system must be better than your mental one in order for that to happen
Being organized means nothing more or less than where something is matches what it means to you
It should and will evolve, as you do.
It’s critical that all of these categories be kept pristinely distinct from one another
when a key person is sitting in front of you in your office, you’d be wise to have all the things you need to talk about with him or her immediately at hand. The
hidden” projects: Current activities Higher-horizon interests and commitments Current problems, issues, and opportunities
If you neglect this categorization, and allow things of different meanings into the same visual or mental grouping, you will tend to go psychologically numb to the contents
If you have projects that you’re not going to be doing anything about for some time, they must go on your Someday/Maybe list so you can relate to the Projects list with the rigorous action-generating focus it needs
you shouldn’t bother to create some external structuring of the priorities on your lists that you’ll then have to rearrange or rewrite as things change
review them as options for work to do when you have time
some perhaps with a final due date).
only things in there are those that you absolutely have to get done, or know about, on that day
You need to trust your calendar as sacred territory, reflecting the exact hard edges of your day’s commitments, which should be noticeable at a glance while you’re on the run
the majority of the actions that you need to do are left in the category of “as soon as possible, against all the other things I have to do
How discrete these categories will need to be will depend on (1) how many actions you actually have to track; and (2) how often you change the contexts within which to do them.
Another productivity factor that this kind of organization supports is leveraging your energy when you’re in a certain mode
It takes more energy than most people realize to unhook out of one set of behaviors and get into another kind of rhythm and tool set
We must strive to reach that simplicity that lies beyond sophistication.
Simplifying your focus on actions will ensure that more of them get done
At Office If you work in an office, there will be certain things that you can do only there, and a list of those things will be useful to have in front of you then
These next actions should be put on separate Agenda lists for each of those people and for that meeting (assuming you attend it regularly
separate lists be kept for bosses, partners, assistants, and children
The broader your responsibilities, and the more senior your organizational roles, the more you will get things done through your communications and transactions with other people
they, too, deserve their own lists, in which you collect things that will need to be addressed on those occasions.
your system should allow you to add Agendas ad hoc, as needed quickly and simply
To-read printed items that you know will demand more than two minutes of your time are usually best managed in a separate physical stack tray labeled “Read/Review.
grouping the documents and magazines themselves
things get seriously out of control and psychologically numbing when the edges of this category are not clearly defined
Review/Respond category for the more rigorous reading that requires a different kind of focus
People who don’t have their Read/Review material organized can waste a lot of time, since life is full of weird little windows when it could be used.
Manage the commitments of others before their avoidance creates a crisis
When the next action on something is up to someone else, you don’t need an action reminder, just a trigger about what you’re waiting for and from whom
won’t necessarily be tracking discrete action steps here, but more often final deliverables or projects that others are responsible for
The responsibility for the next step may bounce back and forth many times before a project is finished
It’s also very useful to have your Waiting For list available when you are meeting with or talking to anyone who might be responsible for any of those deliverables. It is much more elegant to broach a conversation early on
include the date that each item is requested for each entry, as well as any agreed-upon due date
just this one tactical detail is worth its weight in gold.
The originating trigger won’t be needed after you have processed it
you can toss those after you’ve pulled out any projects and actions associated with them
Some things are their own best reminders of work to be done. The category of Read/Review articles, publications, and documents is a good example
The primary reason for organizing is to reduce cognitive load—i.e. to eliminate the need to constantly be thinking, “What do I need to do about this?”
Most undermining of the effectiveness of many workflow systems I see is the fact that all the documents of one type (e.g. service requests) are kept in a single tray or file, even though different kinds of actions may be required on each one
mails that need action are sometimes best as their own reminders—in this case within the e-mail system itself
it’s also possible to set up a workable system that will keep your actionable messages discretely organized outside the “in” area itself (which is where most people tend to keep them).*
create one folder for any longer-than-two-minute e-mails that you need to act on
It takes much less energy to maintain e-mail backlog at zero than at a thousand
those actionable e-mails that you still have pending must be reviewed individually, just like your Calls and At Computer lists. In essence, @ACTION is an extension of your At Computer list and should be handled in exactly the same fashion
Distributing action triggers in a folder, on lists, and/or in an e-mail system is perfectly OK, as long as you review all of the categories to which you’ve entrusted your triggers equally, as required
In order to hang out with friends or take a long, aimless walk and truly have nothing on your mind, you’ve got to know where all your actionable items are located, what they are, and that they will wait. And you need to be able to do that in a few seconds, not days.
The Projects list is not meant to hold plans or details about your projects themselves, nor should you try to keep it arranged by priority or size or urgency
You actually won’t be working off of the Projects list during your moment-to-moment activities
The real value of the Projects list lies in the complete review it can provide
Projects often don’t show up in nice, neat packages. They start as what seems a simple situation, communication, or activity, but they slowly morph into something bigger than you expected
the Weekly Review is the critical success factor for marrying your larger commitments to your day-to-day activities
And a complete Projects list remains the linchpin for that orientation
Once executives and spouses and staff people get the picture of the commitments of their work and life, it triggers extremely important and constructive conversations with those involved. But it doesn’t happen without that complete list
What meetings are on your schedule—past or upcoming—because of some outcome you’re committed to achieving that the meeting itself does not complete or resolve
Double-check that you have them all associated with the further and final outcomes instead of remaining workflow orphans.
A review of the accountabilities you’re invested in professionally—the things you need to be doing well in your roles at work—and the areas of your life you need to keep up to certain standards will likely trigger some reminders of things that may have been taking some of your attention, for which defining a project about them will be valuable
have you identified all the projects that they should engender for you
clarify for herself in regard to it
Problems Process improvements Creative and capacity-building opportunities
When is a problem a project? Always
at the very least you have some research to do to find out
you will surprise yourself with a new level of elegance in the stress-free productivity game
What do you find yourself complaining about regarding your systems or simply how things are getting done (or not)? Is there anything frustrating about your procedures for filing, storage, communication, hiring, tracking, or record keeping?
defining desired outcomes about them on the Projects list