Getting Things Done

2005 is looking like an interesting year, but for the last week or two it’s been looking as though that might be interesting as in the allegedly Chinese way. I’ve been starting to feel somewhat overwhelmed by details, had caught myself forgetting a couple of fairly important things and decided that Something Had To Be Done!

Few people can have escaped hearing about David Allen’s book Getting Things Done.Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-free Productivity As well as Allen’s own site describing the process, there’s a rash of other sites describing variants and implementations. Definitely the meme-of-the-moment when it comes to personal productivity.

I’ve been following a few links on the subject for a few weeks, but the thing that swung it for me was reading Dave Pollard’s descriptions of how he selected, planned, implemented and improved the Allen approach. Dave is a prolific writer and a busy consultant, so I reasoned that if it worked for him then it might work for me.

Although GTD is a tool-agnostic process, an awful lot of the debate around it seems to be about which tools in which configurations work the best. Tempted as my inner geek was to explore some of the more innovative uses of personal wikis, the pragmatic part of me kept pointing out that I spend my working life in an environment in which Outlook and Exchange (especially email) are the core tools for moving work around.

Since the point of the exercise is to get things done, rather than spend forever thinking about the best way to configure the toolset, I decided it was time to use someone else’s ideas. The best resources I found were Allen’s guide to Getting Things Done With Microsoft Outlook (PDF, $10) combined with Bill Kratz’s insight about managing projects as Outlook Contact items.

I spent a couple of hours setting things up at the end of Friday: configuring my Outlook categories, tasks and a new contacts folder for projects; archiving the accumulated email in my inbox; setting up the first few projects and tasks from the things I knew had been happening; finding and adapting a macro to automate the setup of Weekly Review tasks.

This morning I had scheduled time to do a first pass through a Weekly Review before getting on with previously-scheduled work. The first time through this took nearly two hours (about double the time I expected), a sign perhaps of just how chaotic my work-in-progress had become.

During the day I’ve found it quite easy to follow the discipline of marking tasks off as done, reviewing the task lists in any “float” time (not that there has been much of that), delegating or creating new tasks as stuff comes in. Perhaps the most liberating thing has been having an empty email inbox – it’s amazing how much difference that made to my energy levels and ability to keep working without distraction. When emails did appear the urge to restore the pristine blankness created more than enough incentive to deal with them immediately.

The most immediate negative effect I’ve noticed is that I over-scheduled in terms of work I could reasonably do. By the time that a couple of meetings had over-run, and I’d dealt with an “urgent and important” that came up, I found that there was one reasonably-significant task and a couple of middling ones that just didn’t happen.

So summing up how I feel about it after day one:

Good things

  • The process seemed to work smoothly after the initial setting-up.
  • Having an empty or almost-empty email inbox feels wonderful!
  • I’ve already learned something about my tendency to over-schedule. If this means I can reduce my feelings of being over-loaded and give more realistic delivery dates to people then this could be a huge benefit.
  • I’m already starting to feel some benefit from not having to remember everything.
  • Clearing my mind of some of the things I was carrying around in my head has meant that other things (which would otherwise have been forgotten) are starting to surface.

Not so good things

  • I scheduled too much work into the day, so not everything got done.
  • Clearing my mind of some of the things I was carrying around in my head has meant that other things (which would otherwise have been forgotten) are starting to surface – so I still have a feeling of lots of things that I need to remember. (I expect this one to go on for a few days as I slowly move stuff from my head to the system.)
  • It felt a bit strange writing things down as they came in.

I’ll write about this again when it’s had a chance to bed in.

Proactive application of technology to business

My interests include technology, personal knowledge management, social change