I read David Allen's Getting Things Done in about 2006. I didn't implement it all at first. In fact, as a perfectionist, I mostly dropped it when I didn't have the perfect system. But somewhere in the back of my mind, I kept coming back to it when I felt overwhelmed by all I had to do. Though I tried different apps and approaches, it took some time before the system I use today evolved into what it is. It is by no means perfect still. But I've let go of the perfectionism enough to see the benefits I get in using this workflow to manage my tasks, complete projects, and work toward my goals. Today, I'd like to share an overview of how the tools I use fit into that workflow. The benefits are lowered stress, increased productivity, and greater creativity.
The first phase is to collect all of the reminders of what you need to do in one place.
The second phase is to process those items to figure out what exactly is the next action.
Then you can organize the reminders to help you take the right action at the right time.
Phase four is to review your reminders and your overall system on a regular basis.
Finally, take action on those reminders to get things done.
Nozbe is my trusted system for everything I need to do, and my number one answer for where to include a reminder of something I need or want to do. As GTD seeps into how you do things, you'll understand that you can think of something, immediately store it in your trusted system, and not have to think about it again until you are focused on the other phases of the workflow.
I have a reminder to check my voicemail every day, because I rarely get important messages that way, but I handle it the same way if an item in that inbox represents something I need to do.
Evernote is my final important inbox. I use Evernote for storing resource information, brainstorming and draft writing, and managing the big picture of my projects and weekly schedule that Nozbe and my Calendar can't quite do alone. But if something in Evernote represents a task, I add a reminder, and its integration with Nozbe makes that note show up in my Nozbe inbox.
When I process my Nozbe inbox, I think about what actually needs to be done. What project is the task related to? How long do I think it will take to complete? Is it really the next task, or a multi-task project for which something else really needs to happen first? This separation of clarification in this step, from the capturing process in the previous step, was key to reducing much of the stress that I felt about what I needed to do on a day-to-day basis. I could capture a thought without having to figure out what it meant, and I could later figure it out what it meant without having to rely on my memory that something needed to be done.
When you clarify (process), you are attempting to make it as easy as possible for your future self (or a person to whom you delegate the task) to understand what exactly needs to be done. Answer the question "what is the exact action that this reminder represents?" Give it an action verb and move on to the next item.
There are eight possibilities when organizing the "stuff" that comes your way:
Trash - Let it go if it's not something you need or want to actually do.
Someday/maybe - if you've come up with a good idea, but it needs to incubate a while, you'll need a place (you regularly review) to hold on to that idea. While I do have a Someday/Maybe project to store these tasks in Nozbe, I also have Evernote notebooks for specific someday/maybe ideas where I can continue to collect thoughts and brainstorm. I may or may not ever act, but I have a safe place for those ideas to take root.
Reference - if the inbox item represents something that you want to keep, but doesn't represent a task you need to do, then store the item. I love Evernote for storing many types of things. I do still also have a physical file cabinet for items that I haven't digitized.
Project plans - if the task is part of a bigger project, I add it to the task list for that project in Nozbe. I spend time on managing projects that includes figuring out what the very next action is to move a project forward. In Nozbe, starring an item from the project list gets that item on my Priority (or next actions) list (see number 8).
Do it - as I mentioned, if the task is quick enough that it won't throw off your organizing workflow, go ahead and do it and get on with your life.
Delegate it - If the task needs to be done, but not by you, you'll need to have some method of delegation and follow up with that person. My task manager, Nozbe, allows you to invite team members to your Nozbe projects and then have an option to delegate the task to that person.
Defer/Next Actions - Most all of my actions that are not done, delegated, or added to the calendar get put on project lists. But the Next Action list (which is called Priority in Nozbe) represents the tasks that I need to do as soon as possible. While I'm organizing, I can also add context to the task, such as if it's an errand or phone call. These contexts help me identify tasks that are better suited for some times of day or circumstances better than others.
It's also important to review someday/maybe and reference information occasionally.
The reviews are the part of this system that I still have the most trouble implementing. It's hard when I'm busy to set aside time - and of course, the longer I wait, the longer it takes to get through everything. But I also know that when I neglect my reviews, the uncomfortable sense of unease creeps back into my life, generating the stress of not knowing exactly if I've forgotten anything.
Single-source documentation is a concept that has been around for some time, if mostly championed only by the technology providers and practitioners who already know it's power. I got interested in the concept early in my career, back B.K. (before kids) in the mid 90s; and for the last 12 years as a freelancer, I've applied the principles whenever and where ever I can to improve my own personal productivity and efficiency.
Write once, publish in different formats for different audiences
Single-sourcing is one of the most powerful processes available to prepare you for riding this wave.
“Establishing processes and priorities for curating and managing knowledge within and outside your organization will help you become more efficient and your knowledge products...become more effective and valued.”
I used this utility to make sure I could explain single-source publishing as simply as possible.
To boil it down to the essence, single source publishing is a way of writing once for many uses. It takes a bit of work up front to write in a way to use it again, and another bit of work to store the content in a way to make the pieces easy to find later.
But the payoff for the added set up is an exponential increase in efficiency and productivity. You can maintain the content pieces in an agile way to keep up with your product changes, and assemble deliverables ranging from white papers to knowledge base articles to training materials in minutes.
Single source publishing is a way of writing once for many uses. Writing and storing the content takes a little extra work at the beginning, but pays off in increased productivity, with more efficient updates across multiple outputs and audiences.
A good overview starts with a summary of Anders Svensson's 5 principles*:
- Don't repeat yourself (instead of repeating the same content in multiple places, reuse it)
- Keep it simple and straightforward (the simplest way is usually the best)
- Aim to make topics stand alone
- Each topic has only one job
- Avoid specifics or use simple strategies for dealing with them (like variables or conditional text), which must be balanced with the “keep it simple” strategy
It is possible to over-complicate the design for reusing content. I once had a client who wanted user guides for multiple modules of multiple products with multiple licensees. As I implemented his requests one-by-one over time, the documents I'd inherited ended up getting so complicated that maintaining what amounted to hundreds of pages of content needed to be a full-time job rather than a once-every-update outsourced project.
However, in the new subscription service landscape, these principles of single-sourcing are vital not only to documentation, but to every aspect of an organization’s content creation, from customer education and success to sales and marketing.
The most successful companies will master these methods of reusing and sharing content across their organizations.
* Svensson, A. (2016, January 13). The 5 Principles of Single Sourcing in Technical Documentation. Retrieved from LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/5-principles-single-sourcing-technical-documentation-anders-svensson/
The challenge is to write something related to the topic of the current chapter we are reviewing within the group, which for this week, has to do with productivity myths.
My own myth was that I believed that I just needed the right tool or process. I could get things done - and not feel overwhelmed - if I just had the right system.
"It’s hard even for a naturally organized person not to get lost without a good productivity system." #10stepsbook
I forgot about GTD for awhile, but every time I started feeling especially overwhelmed, I came back to the practice of emptying my head and thinking through the next steps for each of the goals I hoped to accomplish.
As my freelance career expanded, I found that I had to get very good at project management because I often juggled up to 7 or 8 direct client and subcontracting projects in different phases at once. I used a few different digital tools to help me stay on top of things, and even started and stopped with Nozbe a few times before coming to the regular practice I have now (which still has lots of room for improvement!).
The truth is, that for me, no matter how I set up the tools that help me keep on top of my projects, I sometimes found myself using my to-do-list as a way to keep me occupied on tasks that needed to be done, without making progress on my bigger personal goals, especially when they don't have an immediate economic payoff. This is why I still don't have a finished novel (although I do have a memoir ready to be published!). And why I have a number of ideas for business-related books and/or courses yet to complete. You can even see this mentality in my current project lists. Is the color coding a subconscious message? The top projects (in green or gold) are client projects that make money more or less immediately. Those tasks get done. The tasks for personal goal projects (especially those in pink, purple or blue) are more likely to languish in those projects for weeks or even months without making any progress.
One of those personal projects that's been on the back burner is my new blog (in addition to this one - Train Your Customers isn't going away anytime soon). I'm taking this challenge as the opportunity to get it going, even though I plan to start publishing posts on a temporary Weebly site before the new blog finds its permanent home probably early in 2018.