Tag Archives: productivity

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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Productivity: The “TO DON’T” List

focused on the most important tasks?


Take a day or two, and jot down the bad habits that keep you from being productive on a daily basis as they arise – like opening your inbox every time a new message comes in, spending too much time on blogs, working on unimportant tasks, etc. I’m super guilty of opening my email as soon as something pops up and then getting distracted there, or going down the rabbit hole of the blogosphere.

Post your list where you can see it every day – preferably somewhere near your to-do list. It’s just a little visual reminder to keep your eyes on the prize.

Here is the original Lifehacker entry on the topic:


As well as the source material from Marc + Angel’s Hack List:


There’s even a whole blog dedicated to the subject (although it’s on the humorous side):


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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 – 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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Why People Fail – Productivity Exercises

Started reading this awesome book last week – “Why People Fail: The 16 Obstacles to Success” by Siimon (no that’s not a typo) Reynolds.

In my opinion, productivity is all about doing the tasks that get you what you want and chucking all the extraneous crap. An impossible feat, if you don’t know what you want. The first part of Why People Fail is dedicated to exercises aimed at helping you figure out your goals, followed by methods to streamline your life in support of those goals. The following drills are meant to clarify your thinking.

Life Purpose – what is the primary reason you get up in the morning?

Write three possible life purposes that should inspire you and make you more effective.

Job Purpose – write down the three most important tasks you have at work and put them in order of priority. This should help you clarify what action items really need to be done towards your purpose, and what items are BS.

Weekly Purpose – every Sunday, write down the one or two most important tasks that you’d like to accomplish the following week

Ideal Person Clarity – write down what type of person you’d really like to be; choose five character traits you wish you possessed. Then, act the part. (A little weird, but you get the picture).

I went through all of these exercises last week – a bit personal to share, but super thought provoking. My favorite is the weekly purpose – on Sunday evenings, I write down two tasks (in my Moleskine, natch) that I want to do either every day the following week (to get into a habit) or to complete by the end of the week. This week I’m bringing my lunch every day and starting my workout in our sexy home gym (aka: the garage). Last week I went out for a 30 minute walk in the sun every day and did the reworked the monthly budget. Good stuff.

If you’re interested, I highly recommend the book. You can also check out his blog at http://www.siimonreynolds.com/siimon’s-blog.aspx


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Organizing for Tax Time

It’s that time of year again… F and I filed our taxes back on 2/7 (and still haven’t gotten our refund check in yet, but that’s a topic for the IRS…) Our 2011 return required a sh!t-ton of organizing and tight record keeping because of our relocation, business travel and related expenses.

Here is what I did this year. It’s admittedly analog, but considering the fact that we ended up with a 104-year old man doing our taxes at our HR Block, it was the best solution in retrospect. (I’m not joking…F and I were wondering if we could get a discount on the service if he dropped dead mid-meeting, it was a distinct possibility). I’m sure there that presenting all of this info to our ancient peepaw accountant in any other format would have made him crap his Depends.


The three-folder income tax filing system

  1. Income – place all W2s, 1099s, and other income statements in this folder. Create a cover sheet that lives on top – or stapled inside front (either handwritten or your favorite spreadsheet app) that details all information contained inside and totals it out.
  2. expenses and deductions – clip together by category: business expenses, medical, childcare, relocation, etc. Place a cover sheet as the top sheet of each category with those details noted. There should also be a cover sheet stapled to inside front of folder with a line item overview and associated totals.
  3. Investments – this is the home all statements (monthly, quarterly, annual), receipts, sale confirmations, dividend notices, etc. Again, the cover sheet – organized by line item – should go into this folder for quick reference.

The spreadsheets listing the receipts are KEY!

Finally, It would be in your best interest to peruse the instructions for the 2011 tax forms, just so that all of your expenses are deductible and that you’re not missing anything. I know it’s not exactly light reading, but it may get you a few bucks back in the long run, and who doesn’t love getting the money back that they so generously gave the US government?

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OCD Book Review: Everygirl’s Guide to Life by Maria Menounos

OK, I was skeptical at first…What could an impossibly hot, wealthy, celeb reporter conceivably have to put forth in the way of productivity advice? But, I have to admit, Maria Menounos is an OC-Delight. She’s unexpectedly marvelously anal retentive and her book had a few great take-aways that even a chubby, old mom like myself can put into play. Admittedly, the book reads like it is primarily aimed at young women just starting out on their own, heavy on very basic (and obvious to us elderly chicks) career advice, fashion do’s and don’ts and makeup tips. At my advanced age (did I mention I’m old?), I’m pretty well-versed on these subjects as well as keeping a home and “dating.” I guess I must have done something right – since I have a couple of husbands under my belt 😉

At any rate, the first couple chapters on organization and productivity are a fun read and offer a couple of good nuggets. Pics of her immaculately OCD-organized closet alone are drool-worthy. I immediately wanted to march my paycheck over to Container Store and go on a spree. However, since I can’t afford to install a spa or a screening room in our little casa, several of her suggestions in this realm were ridiculous.

Useful advice:

Create your own “Little Black Book” for reference – meant to house your most important information, so someone could theoretically “operate as you” if you were trapped under a bus.

This is a three-ring binder stocked with plastic sleeves and divided up into several categories:

• emergency contact information : names and numbers of most important friends and family members

• medical information: numbers for allllll of your doctors, dentists, Rx numbers and information, insurance card copies and information, allergies + conditions

• account information: photocopies of bills w/ account numbers and login/passwords, insurance, etc (should also have a digital version of this)

• important numbers: fire, police, attorneys, vet, business managers, landscapers, maintenance, basically all of your services

• insurance + warranty company info – home, life, auto, etc

• information and contact/account numbers for utilities – water, cable, power

• copies of SS cards, birth certificates, drivers licenses, plates

• travel information: accounts, frequent flyer numbers, car service, hotels

• birthdays + anniversaries perpetual calendar, along with address list for card mailing

Travel checklist – put a basic travel checklist in your iPhone notes and go through it/ print out + use every time you go on a trip (I do this now – but for specific trips, so I put a basic list in the phone to copy and paste…)

Grocery list + food diary templates. I use better templates than hers, but I embrace the concept anyway.

Bottom line: mostly frivolous and frothy (at least for anyone over 30) with a few good pieces of advice… Read the above points and save yourself $15.


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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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