Tag Archives: David Allen

Getting Things Done: Processing – Getting “In” to Empty

You’ve gone through last week’s exercise of collecting everything that has your attention, now it’s time to actually wade through all of it. By the time you’re done with this step, you will have trashed the unnecessary stuff, delegated as much as possible, sorted through your own organizing system and identified any larger projects that are looming.

Check out the chart. Scary.

Basic rules: process the top item first, process one item at a time, never put anything back into your “in” basket. By “process,” Allen means “decide what the thing is, what action is required and then dispatch accordingly.” Your in basket is a processing station, not a storage bin, and the key question to keep in mind is “what’s the next action?” The action step needs to be the absolute next physical thing to do – such as “call accountant and set meeting.” If there is no real and immediate action that can be taken, you can trash it, incubate it or keep it as reference material in your filing system.

Once you determine the next action step:

Do it – delegate it – defer it.

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.

Finally, shift your attention to outlining your projects – those outcomes that will take more than one action step to complete. Make a list of projects to ensure you have placeholders for all of those open loops. This project list must be completed, and maintained as the key driver for appraising your status and progress.


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Getting Things Done: Collection – Corralling Your Stuff

In this week’s installment of GTD, we finally get to take some action. Gathering all of your crap, sorting, tossing, and moving forward.

ImageSet aside several hours to gather all of your incompletes, your paper, your “stuff” into one place. Note: this works for both your home and office workspaces, so tackle the most egregious one first. Search your physical environment for anything that doesn’t belong where it is and put it in your in-box (or if you have a lot of crap, use an actual large shipping box), so that they are available for later processing.

What shouldn’t go into the in-box:

• Supplies

• Reference material

• Decoration

• Equipment

If something is clearly trash, go ahead and toss it, don’t put it into your in-box.

Order of attack:

• Start with your desktop

• Move to your desk drawers

• Countertops (stuff on top of cabinets, credenzas, etc)

• Then inside the cabinets

• Floors, Walls + Shelves

• Equipment, Furniture and Fixtures (anything you want to change about the physical space itself)

Once you’ve gathered your stuff to be processed or tossed (hopefully), you’re ready to move on to what David Allen calls “the mind sweep.”

Sit with a stack of blank printer paper and a big ass marker and write out each thought, each idea, each project or thing that has your attention on its own separate sheet of paper. You will be processing these items individually, so it’s best to put each thought on its own sheet. Stick these sheets into your in-box.

To assist in your brain dump mission, you can use this trigger list – go item by item to make sure you’ve included everything.


Print out your important emails, transcribe important voice mails – it sounds terribly analog – but make everything paper-based and physical and put it into the in-box.

Once you have an overflowing in-box and feel that everything is physically and psychically in one place, you can tackle next week’s step: “Getting ‘In’ to Empty.”

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Getting Things Done: Processing Your Stuff – Time, Space + Tools

Today’s installation of David’ Allen’s getting things done, I’m implementing his “stuff processing” method on my filing system. Although, I must confess, it’s already in pretty good shape. In this chapter, Allen states that his method is all about “tricks” (hacks!) and sometimes one great trick can make going through the whole process worthwhile. I totally agree, as I’m a committed lifehacker.. I’m talking about little tricks/cues/hacks like leaving the tote bag on the front door knob to prompt me to remember to bring replacement clothes or diapers or burp clothes with us to daycare in the morning. It’s the little things… According to GTD:

“You increase your productivity and creativity exponentially when you think about the right things at the right time and have the tools to capture your value-added thinking.”

Ideally, over time and with the right tools in place, managing your workflow would become automatic. Anyway, if you’re into it, here are his steps to processing your stuff into a manageable filing system:

• Set aside the time and prepare a workstation with the appropriate space, furniture and tools (ideally two whole days, back-to-back)

• Set up the space – the bare bones is a desk surface and an in-basket; if you work outside the home, you should also have a satellite system in your home. Focused work space: work, home, if possible – in transit. Don’t share space – you should have your own physical space in each of those locations – don’t split the desk with yo’ man.

• Gather basic processing tools: paper holding trays (minimum 3), stack of plain letter printer paper, pen, 3×3 post-its, paper clips, binder clips, stapler/staples, scotch tape, rubber brands, label maker, file folders, calendar, trash/recycling bins.

Set up your filing system – file drawers, folders, labels, logical basis of organization. No hanging files if possible – this is controversial – hanging folders less efficient because of the effort it takes to make a new file ad hoc and the formality it imposes on your filing system.

Once you know how to process your crap and have a reliable system established, you really just need to create and manage lists – so you might want to add a planner/notebook into the mix once this processing step has been completed. I got these cute new Jonathan Adler file folders so that I have something pretty to look at for my home office filing system.


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Getting Things Done: The Five Phases of Project Planning

David Allen posits that the key ingredients of “relaxed control” are:

clearly defined outcomes – PROJECTS

next actions required to move them toward closure and  reminders placed in a trusted system that is reviewed regularly. He calls this “horizontal focus” and it’s all you need in MOST situations.

However, if you need more focus to get a specific project under control and moving forward, this will require “vertical focus” which should take place within the framework of his “natural planning model.” This sounds like some sort of fertility exercise to me, but I bear with it…

Your brain is already an amazingly accomplished project planner (who knew), automatically dividing a complex task into the following steps:

(1)  defining purpose and principles – why are you doing this thing?

(2)  outcome visioning – what would success look and feel like

(3)  brainstorming – capture all of your ideas, big and small, in an easily relatable format like mindmapping

(4)  organizing – identify components, sequences and events….what are the things that must occur to create the final result and in what order?

(5)  identifying next actions – activate the “moving parts”

For example, I’m really considering writing a book. It’s a biography about a figure I admire, but I’m not going to share because if it doesn’t happen, I’ll feel like an asshole for bringing it up. So, neh.

Anyway, to apply this model to my potential project would look like:

(1) I want to write a book about Person X because she is amazing and relevant with a life story worth telling, and she has not been the subject of a previously released biography

(2) This book will be interesting, engaging, timely, and will honor the subject. This book will be published, successful and read by a wide variety of people.

(3) I need to do a great deal of background research. I need to determine if her previously published written content can be included as part of this book by the people who currently own the rights. I need to sit down and really dive into her life story, her writing, her process and figure out the most interesting and relevant way to present this information in book form.

(4) Write up a plan: start researching, put an outline together, start writing, shop the book around.

(5) Immediate action item would be to start the basic background research

ImagePhew. There. I put it out there – out of my head and onto the internets. I’m making it real – and I’ll do it using these techniques I’ve been working on this year and report back on my progress. I’ve been mulling this for months and I just really need to get off my ass and at least get started – even if it takes me a decade to finish.

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Getting Things Done – Reference Files

What is your general reference filing system like? Do you have two, big-ass metal file cabinets, meticulously organized and lovingly labeled? Do you have big canvas-covered hanging file boxes (as I do) and keep only the bare minimum? Do you have hoarder-esque stacks of crap lining the walls of your office? Or are you all digital, scanning receipts and tossing them later?


According to David Allen, in “Getting Things Done,” your filing system must be “fast, functional and fun, or you’ll resist the whole process.”

Allen recommends an “alpha system” organized entirely by A-Z as opposed to multiple systems. One simple alpha system files everything by topic, project, person or company so that it can only be in 3-4 places if you forgot where you put it. I’m not sure I’m down with this, as I like to keep my reference files according to subject (i.e. – vacation ideas, childcare articles, etc). He also recommends using the heavy-duty metal filing cabinets, having sh!t-tons of fresh file folders available, and labeling every damn thing with a label maker. OK, I agree with all of that. Also, files should be purged at least once a year – for sure…

 OCD: End of month gut check

OK so this month, I put routines in place for morning and night, started writing up and accomplishing two weekly goals every Sunday, instituted the grocery list template, the menu planner, the wipe-off chore list, a petty cash system and clipboards galore… I think I’ve really taken February by the balls here. Doing my best to get into some better habits – maybe acting like more of a grown up (now that I’m pushing 40)… All that good shit…

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Getting Things Done: The “Next Actions” List

Returning to David Allen’s “Getting Things Done,” I’ve reached a portion of the book that I object to… The “next actions” list – as a separate entity from your calendar – or, in other words, the abolition of the to do list.

Maybe this is my reptile brain, pulling back from this concept in revulsion – but my daily to do list is a habit I don’t think I can or want to break. I’m totally dependent on it. At any rate, in the spirit of journalistic integrity, I’ll share his concept with you:

Allen maintains that there are two basic kinds of actions:

  • Those that must be done on a certain day and/or at a certain time (meetings, appointments)
  • Those that just need to be done as soon as you can get to them, around your other calendared items

Your calendar must show only the “hard landscape” around which you do the remainder of your action items. Allen goes on to say that the old habits of daily to-do lists are “bad” (gasp!) because you put actions on the calendar that you think you’d really like to get to that day, but actually might not, and then you have to shift them to the following day. Therefore, the “as soon as I can” stuff should be organized into different lists based on context required for that action. In other words, you have a “calls” list for when items that must be taken care of by phone, and an “errands” list for tasks that must be taken care of in the car, etc. All totally separate from your calendar. You get the picture. So now I have a calendar as well as SEVERAL different to-do lists (I’m sorry, “next action” lists…) that sounds like crazy talk to me. How is that possibly more streamlined than my Moleskine page-a-day 2012 journal? My appointments for the day are there, and I don’t mind having to rewrite an action item on a following day. In fact, it’s a useful exercise to review the list throughout the day and shift as needed, and then to close out my day with a final look – moving stuff over to tomorrow and beyond. It’s soothing, it’s meditative.,. then I know what I have ahead of me tomorrow and I can drift into dreamland with my glass of pinot noir… etc. etc.…

Maybe I’ll adapt this by breaking up my DAILY lists into these categories – as opposed to keeping a separate list/document for each that isn’t assigned to a day. I’ll give that a shot next week and report back.Image

What daily system to you use to manage tasks and appointments? And what are the pros and cons – do share!

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Getting Things Done: The Calendar

The Getting Things Done method also places a great deal of importance on the calendar. It’s the “bucket” in which only three types of information should go:
– time specific actions (meetings, appointments)
– day specific actions (tasks and to-dos that must be completed on a certain day but not at a specific time that day)
– day specific information (things you want to know about on certain days such as directions to appointments, events of interest)

Evidently only these three types of information and nothing else can go onto your calendar – be it digital or analog. This is to prevent the jam-ups that occur on your daily to-do checklist because of constant new input and shifting priorities. Additionally if there is something on the list that doesn’t really need to be done it dilutes the importance of the tasks which must be accomplished that day.

To that end, actions that are not day-specific and reminders should go on a “next actions” list. So your daily tasks revolve around two separate sources of information: your calendar and your next actions list. This seems needlessly complicated to me and is why I love my Moleskine daily planner, it’s the best of both worlds. I can put in events by time and list what I have to do that day – as well as a general time (morning, afternoon) in which I have to get stuff done. The only drawback is that if I don’t get something done on one day, I have to transfer it to the following day…which would be painful except I have a fetish for my own handwriting and adore making lists. Just sayin’…

How do you keep track of daily tasks – do you have a system with which you are similarly obsessed?


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The Tickler


Sounds like an item for sale at Babes in Toyland….

However, one of the big take-aways from Getting Things Done, is the importance of establishing a “Tickler File” as an adjunct to your usual filing system. The idea is that anything that you may need to be reminded of at a later date goes into this file. Copies of interesting articles, ideas for future globe hopping vacations, restaurant reviews, etc. Every day (or at least weekly) you are supposed to put the folder in your inbox and go through it – adding any time sensitive information to your daily action item list. It should be kept in your line sight, so it’s not forgotten.

I’m looking at my tickler folder now. So far I’ve added a Rolling Stone article to remind me to buy tix to the RHCP show in Austin if I ever have any spare cash, research regarding putting together a will and getting a health savings account, and a blog posting about how 3.5 year olds are the worst people on the planet (which is absolutely true, by the way) that I plan to pass along to other unfortunate parents of such.

Now there is some controversy in the lifehacking/time management community – over whether the Getting Things Done or the more complicated and time-sensitive “43 Folders” method (1 folder per day of the month = 31 + 1 folder per month of the year = 43 folders) is preferable. At this stage in my game, I’m sticking with the simpler Getting Things Done plan, as I’m not back at work yet and the amount of really time-sensitive information I need to keep on top of mind is limited to home-management type of stuff. I’ve also set up a virtual “tickler file” in my gmail to accomplish the same. I think I’ll migrate to the 43 folders method as I progress through the steps in the book, just because my OCD-ness is drooling over the possibility of having daily and monthly folders in which to file, and check meticulously. Excellent.

Now – the trick is – will I remember to check both my paper and electronic tickler files daily? I guess I’ll have to add this as a recurring item in my “action list.” Sigh. Complicated.

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Getting Things Done – Part 1

So the first expert method I’m hitting up is the ubiquitous “Getting Things Done” by David Allen. I already apply several of these techniques to my own work and personal life, but I am always looking to tweak and improve.

His workflow can basically be broken down into the following steps:
collect – process – act

Of course, there’s much more to it than that – since the book is several hundred pages, but that’s the gist.

– capture all information in “containers” (physical in-boxes, note taking/lists, electronic systems, etc)
– every open loop must be in your system
– “collection” system must be emptied, regularly, item by item

– is it actionable?
– NO: then it goes into the trash or into either a tickler (future project) file or reference/information file
– YES: is it a project (more than one step)? if so, what is the outcome? what is the next action?
Capture projects on separate projects list
If it’s a one-step action item, put it on the action item (to-do list), where you will do it, delegate it or defer it

So, basically we’re looking at a few categories for all of your data:
– action item list (consisting of singular actions – i.e. make vet appointment, follow up on printing order, etc)
– calendar (where you put time-specific actions such as meetings/appointments and information needed for these appointments)
– project list (a main list consisting of multi-step projects and intended outcome which will be broken out into individual action items and then added to your daily action item list according to when they need to get done)
– individual project files (where you keep all pertinent information applicable to the projects on your list)
– tickler file (stuff you want to get to eventually, but either don’t have the time, inclination or all of the information to begin)
– reference/information file (stuff that is not actionable, but that you need to save for future reference)
– TRASH (duh)

Well, seems rather complicated when it’s all written out – but I’ve gone ahead and started a project list, a tickler file and a reference file. I already have the to do list and calendar – which I am not embarrassed to say – is totally analog. The action of physically writing things down is extremely satisfying to me. At any rate, since we just started this week, I’ll keep the blog updated with the outcomes.

I’ll start with the filing system – coming soon in a subsequent post.

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Resolutions are for fatties


I’ve accepted my big rear, hatred of exercise and passion for booze, so my “resolutions” this year relate to the one area over which I have some modicum of control: time management (and by extension, organization…)

So in 2012 I’m going to experiment — combining some methods and tips from experts, apps and tools from the intarwebs, and my own common sense and experience — to make some lifehacky tweaks in our little world. The purpose of this blog is to share what I’ve learned and to hopefully pick up a few pointers from readers.

As a family, we have three major areas of improvement to straighten out:
– F’s workflow (now that he has a home office and the boss is back in NYC)
– my goals and projects (top of list – get a job!)
– organize and manage our budget and finances once and for all (total stress reduction…)

Starting with “Getting Things Done” by David Allen, I’ll road test some time management methods: break them down, try them out, and post the pros and cons. I’ll also be outlining and applying the principles of Julie Morgenstern’s “Organizing from the Inside Out,” as it pertains to our physical environs (home, office, etc…)
Sprinkled in the OCD mix will be tests and reviews of apps, tools, and software designed to get our collective sh!t together. I’ll share the best and worst.

It’s going to be a streamlined and efficient 2012, damnit!

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