…let’s face it. It is better than not getting anything done.
It would not be an understatement to say this book from David Allen has changed the lives of many. It has not brought about world peace yet, nor stopped world hunger but as far as task management goes it is alright in my book. In essence the book targets all those who feel deluged with the constant bombardment of new tasks daily and struggle to keep pace never mind getting ahead of it. David sees this problem as a symptom of how our work has changed but the techniques used to deal with it have not kept pace and are often inadequate when faced with the torrent of information one confronts on a daily basis.
The Getting Things Done Solution
David imagines a nirvana of productivity with an unperturbed mind like water. Thus, theoretically enabling 100% of your focus to be applied to the task in hand. There are several key elements to achieving this mystical state of being and can be summarised by his 5-stage workflow,
- Collect all the tasks
- Process the tasks
- Organise the result
- Review the results for next task
This system can be best summarised using the flowchart he has created showing the flow of the tasks from one’s head to one of several lists.
The Getting Things Done Workflow
The categorisation and the use of those lists can be loosely be defined as follows,
- Delegate list
- Should you be lucky enough to have an army of minions working for you they will surely be on this list.
- Defer list
- Can’t do right now, but I plan to do it at a certain date.
- Someday list
- I will get around to it but don’t know when.
- Reference list
- I have absolutely no intention of lifting a finger to do anything but who knows, maybe this stuff may be useful to me some day.
- Project lists
- A project in this case is a task requiring two or more tasks.
The collection and filing of the tasks is pretty straightforward with this system. So, once you have processed all your tasks, have got them into the appropriate list, then comes the inevitable question, what work do I do now? or as David would say, “What’s the next task?”
“What is the next task?”
Much of the book is focussed on this point and when applied with a degree of zealousness it can be transformative in the way you go about determining and executing your tasks. So, when you have populated your lists and this question comes up several ways are outlined to try and determine how the next task can be selected. It can be selected on the basis of 4 items,
Does the task fit the opportunity to do it? For example if you need to be at your computer to do it then tasks can be allocated to be done while at your computer.
If you have 30min spare, then identify the task to fill that slot.
Everyone has a certain time of the day when they are at their most productive. Utilise that time for the big ticket items.
Obviously the tasks that if not done will have an adverse impact.
Review of Task Lists
Another point that is driven home is to review the task lists to keep them up to date and active. A weekly review is advocated for all lists with Do, Delegate and Defer requiring more frequent glance.
One aspect of GTD which tends to get a fairly light touch is projects and in my opinion too light a coverage. In the book it is defined as a task requiring two or more steps. In terms of how they are handled in the lists, the “projects”, conveniently dole up your tasks and are simply executed in a similar way to the other tasks. David mentioned that the people who plan projects of a fairly complex nature would tend not to have much more opportunity for improvement as they already have the tools and the techniques at their disposal. I disagree with this. Big picture planning is one thing but getting those large tasks into bite size chunks that can integrate with a daily working system is quite another. I think this is one omission that should have been dealt with in more detail. Personally, I have such a system that covers this scenario and I will explain it in another post.
The methods the presents are a good foundation for task management and since the publication of the book in the early noughties it has stood the test of time. However, some of the tools he uses are looking a bit dated, with the list including among others scotch tape, rubber bands, an automatic labeller. Ah, who knows, perhaps these things will a make a comeback under the banner of vintage or retro in the years to come. If flares can do it surely, anything is possible. Anyway, I digress, David Allen has written a good book here and for getting the fundamentals of task management I heartily recommend it.
If you have already tried it then let me know how you find it!