This 5 part series covers the 5 stages of Getting Things Done or GTD, a personal organization system developed by David Allen and released as a book in 2001. In our first part we discussed the philosophy of GTD and stage 1: Collecting. The second part covered stage 2: Processing. The third part covered stage 3: Organization. In the fourth part we covered stage 4: the Review. In this final part we will discuss stage 5: Doing.
The purpose of any organization system is to make us more effective in accomplishing the things we have committed to. This is where GTD really pays returns on all the time you have spent capturing, processing, and organizing. The first way GTD changes how you complete tasks is to help clear your mind from trying to remember everything. If you trust that your system will remind you of things and keep you from forgetting them, then they no longer take up space in your active memory. This is a state that David calls “Mind like water” where you are able to be creative and focused because you aren’t constantly reminding yourself of everything else you ‘should’ be doing. While this can be a great benefit of a well implemented GTD system there are several tactical pieces of GTD that help with Doing as well.
So now you are ready to start working, but where to start. First you can start with your calendar. What are the things on your hard landscape that you have coming up. If you find you have time before your next appointment, you go to the lists for the Contexts you are in. The goal is to have already done all of the thinking during your reviews. Now doing tasks should be as simple, as David puts it, as “Cranking Widgets”. You may be at work (@Work) with a phone (@Phone) and a computer (@Computer). Now just review those lists and decide what the most appropriate thing is for you to do given your energy level and any pending deadlines. You should have all the information in your context lists to make those decisions and start Doing the action. If you can’t then you need to rethink what you are putting on your lists.
As you crank widgets and mark things off your Next Actions lists, you continue to collect input. Don’t stop working to process it, just put in into an inbox and trust that it will be process later. When you complete an action you don’t have to write down the next step in that project if you are moving on to it immediately. Only when you stop one string of actions for a new one, possibly because of a distraction, do you need to collect the next outstanding action. In this way next actions act as bookmarks, reminding you what step you were on and what is needed to pick up where you left off.
Two Minute Rule
One of the powerful tools that David introduced is the Two Minute Rule. This rule says that if you have a Next Action that can be done now and takes less than two minutes, just do it now. The ‘can be done now’ piece means that there are no context or dependency requirements for the action. The ‘two minute’ piece is a hard deadline for finishing the action. If you can reply to an email or lookup a number in less than two minutes, it’s better to finish it rather than writing it down as a Next Action. But be careful, you may be able to ask your sister about her pasta maker in less than two minutes, but it may not be a good idea if you know she will keep you talking about cousin Gertie for half an hour. This rule is always applicable but is most effective during a review and can turn your weekly review into one of the most productive times in your week. You must be sure to return to your Review when you are done and capture the new Next action for that project. Don’t let the rule become an excuse for distractions.
Another powerful part of GTD is it’s assumption that distractions will always happen. Rather that trying to avoid them, GTD accounts for and even embraces them. These new inputs can completely derail your plans, calendar, and lists. GTD give you a framework for getting back in control of your system and your work. If a new input, such as a phone call, email, coworker, or even your boss, happens then try to quickly determine if it takes precedence over what you were doing. Obviously your boss takes precedence over almost everything, but a coworker may be fine with a ‘call you in 15 minutes’ reply to a question. If you aren’t going to engage the input now, make sure you capture it into an inbox. That could be a note tossed into your physical inbox or a quick calendar reminder so you remember to call that coworker back 15 minutes later. If you do deal with it now, then be sure to capture what you were working on so you can return quickly to it when you finish with the new input. This way GTD keeps you working on tasks in a world full of new input and distractions.
Doing is ultimately the point of any organization system, and GTD excels in helping you Do more, be more focused, and keeping things from ‘falling through the cracks’. I hope this overview is helpful as an introduction to GTD. For those interested in more, pick up your own copy of GTD. In a future post I will lay out the details of my own GTD system and some of the important lessons I have learned in the Seven years I have been using GTD.