A Real World Example of David Allen’s Getting Things Done

Let me set the scene for the first time I knew I needed help with my office. It was 8:00 pm on a Tuesday. My wife and son were out of town and I decided I’d stick around the office to play catch up. Piles of paper had stacked up on my desk, my conference table, and the floor around me.

Getting Things Done

Sticky notes are great for jotting down an idea or a person’s phone number. They do not, however, offer much benefit as one’s only means for tracking what needs to be done. As I sifted through the papers I’d discover yet another note scribbles on a sticky note. “Crap, I never got back to him on this” I’d think, as I read the note. Then I’d write down, on yet another sticky note, that I needed to finish the project and get back to Dave.

This is not what an efficient office looks like, nor is this a good way to go about getting things done. The rest of the evening, early morning, and next day, were spent not catching up on work, but completely restructuring how I operate.

Imagine an office with a clean and neat desk. Desk drawers are organized and well stocked with the necessary tools of the trade. Paper is hidden and seems to be non-existent. Productivity is oozing from the walls and work is being turned out at an incredible rate. No task is forgotten, no meetings missed, no projects late. At the helm of it all is the Wizard of Oz, you!

This isn’t a dream – this is reality. This is the office you can have. It isn’t easy, but it is worth it.

The Process
Performing what David Allen calls, “knowledge work” requires first that we can define the following:
What is the desired outcome?
What needs to be done to achieve this outcome?
What is the next step to get it done?

In this process, we must have defined In, Outs, and In-betweens.

What is In – Everything that enters your office must be placed into “In”.  For this, I have two inboxes only. One inbox is on my desk; the other is in the form of email. If something enters the office on foot (delivered by a coworker) it is placed into in. If something enters the office via the telephone, it is written down, then placed into in. This is only allowed to happen twice a day. If something is emailed, it sits in the inbox until it is processed. Email is only processed twice daily as well.

You can tell already that not much time is spent talking on the phone or emailing. These two necessary evils will kill your productivity if you allow them constant access. I’ll share more on how to limit the interaction of telephone and email later in the productivity section. You’re going to love it.

Processing In – The actual processing of in depends on your day. I personally prefer to process “In” twice daily. I do this after lunch and before leaving for the day. Processing simply means you take the notes, papers, reports, files, or whatever, out of your inbox and make a decision on it. Making a decision on everything in your inbox can seem like a chore. To make it easier, we limit ourselves to only two decisions:
1 – Will this take less than two minutes to complete? If yes, do it. If no, put it into Nozbe.
2 – Can someone else do this at least 80% as well as I can? If yes, delegate it. If no, put it into Nozbe.

Email processing – Treat your email the exact same way as your physical inbox. I prefer to process my physical inbox and my email inbox one right after the other. This way, I completely empty “In” twice a day. Ask yourself the same two questions as you did while processing your physical inbox.

What to do with items once you’ve made a decision:

For everything physical – Scan papers into Evernote or Dropbox, and then trash them. For this, I use the Fujitsu SmartScan, which syncs directly with Evernote and Dropbox. In the rare event that the item is something physical someone else will need later, I file it. For example, we have job folders at my office. They are in my inbox for my approval. Once I approve them, they are taken to our A/R department. For items such as these, I don’t scan them.

I scan items that I need to save as a reference into my Dropbox. This way I can access it anywhere on any device. This keeps me free from the office. For items that pertain to a project or that I delegate, I sync to Evernote. Evernote then automatically syncs them to my project on Nozbe – more on this in this post.

For everything digital – meaning emailed, I apply the same two questions first. If I need to save the information, I place it into a project folder in my email client. Let’s say you receive an email asking you to plan an event. You decide it would be best to delegate this to your assistant. Simply use Nozbe short codes in the email. Automatically the information in the email will be added to your project and context on Nozbe. If I want to save specific information, I use the Evernote Extension in Outlook to save it as a note on the project action in Nozbe. More on these amazing integrations later.

Schedule – If the two minute drill doesn’t apply to something and you can’t delegate, you have no choice but to do it yourself. But right now is not the time. Instead, schedule time to do it. Add the item to your project list on Nozbe. If you’re going to need to be alone to finish the work, schedule a meeting with yourself. The times at which you schedule these tasks will depend on where they fit into your ideal week.

Delegate – When you’ve delegated a task you must track it. What gets tracked gets done. Explain as thoroughly as possible in an email what you want done, what your timeframe is, what your expected outcome is, and how much autonomy you’re giving your chosen delegee. Track this with Nozbe shortcodes. Be certain to track it by context. Personally, I have a context for every employee. Before I meet with them, I just check their context on Nozbe and I instantly know what they’re responsible for.

The devil is in the details. Now that you’ve gotten everything in your office to “In” status and have decided what to do with it, you’re poised for success. But you’re not guaranteed success. Processing “In” is like a sprinter getting into the blocks. He knows what needs to be done and how he’s going to do it. Now he must act on his desires.

Are you ready for that starting gun to fire?

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