This post is the third in a series of articles on the Getting Things Done (GTD) method and how to implement it.
Throughout the day
Throughout the day, you will collect information from various sources: letters, emails, telephone calls, new ideas etc.
- Pile all paper documents (letters, notes, memos etc.) in an in-tray.
- As far as possible, upload all files (glossaries found on the internet, software etc.) into the same folder on your computer.
- Leave all your emails in your inbox except those that you don’t need to keep and that you can delete straightaway. I advise against using filters to sort messages into folders (except for maybe forums), so as not to forget anything.
At the end of your working day, go through your various in trays: actual tray, email inbox, downloaded files.
- Handle each document in your in-tray one by one until it is empty. Don’t leave anything on your desk or in a pile.
- Note all the tasks in your task list, file all reference documents and schedule projects (see the first article). Note everything, even the most trivial of tasks.
- Handle your files in the same way.
- Then empty your email inbox in the same way.
Here are a few real examples from my personal experience:
E-mail with a purchase order and files to translate
- I create the project in my translation software, prepare the files and put the conversation in a folder in my email software (one folder per project).
A request for a quote I answered during the day
- I am waiting for the client’s confirmation.
- The conversation goes into a “waiting” file (to be consulted regularly so as to chase up replies).
Contribution on a forum with potentially useful information
- I note the information in Evernote and delete the message.
E-mail from a client asking for documents
- I cannot answer straight away as I need to request a document from an organisation.
- I add the project to my task list:
- Request X document from Z organisation
- Waiting for: document X
- Send document X to client Y
- I file the conversation in the corresponding client folder in my email (one folder per client). I know where to find the emails when I’m ready to reply.
E-mail that requires a quick response (to which I can only reply the next day, for example)
- I don’t leave the email in the inbox: I note a task “reply to X concerning Z” in my list of tasks for the next day and I file the email in the appropriate folder.
At the end of the day, your email inbox, your desk in-tray and your desk must be completely empty.
I cannot emphasise this enough. It is absolutely essential that your inbox be empty when you switch off your computer in the evening.
The secret is in the name: an inbox is not a filing cabinet. After all, you don’t leave your letters to pile up in your letter box do you? If you follow this rule, you will very quickly gain peace of mind. You will really feel like you have finished your day. The next morning, you will have the satisfaction of opening your email software and seeing only new messages.
The next day
Drawing up a schedule for the following day is not part of the GTD workflow. But you can bend the rules whenever you like, as long as it suits you. Every evening, I note down what I need to do the next day: translation projects (number of words to translate/proofread), meetings and all my personal tasks. It is not necessary to totally separate your professional and personal life because during the day, you are always going to do a personal task in between two business tasks, especially when you work from home. [ref]Don’t tell me you’ve never hung the washing out during the working day.[/ref] Once I have estimated how long each top priority task will take, I choose next actions in my task list in ongoing projects according to my goals[ref]The issue of goals will be examined in the next article.[/ref] that I am currently aiming for). The biggest difficulty is estimating how long each task will take to complete and avoiding unplanned events! If you are worried about unplanned events, you can always leave a “free” hour to be able to handle them.
Once a week
Every Friday afternoon (or whatever day is the end of your working week), you should set aside some time to review your task list and waiting tasks:
- tick off the tasks you have completed and that you hadn’t yet ticked;
- delete tasks that no longer need doing;
- add new tasks and new projects that come to mind (mindsweep);
- modify the priority of certain tasks, etc.
If you have defined short, mid and long term goals, you can monitor their progress. With this weekly review, your organisation is complete and reliable. If you cannot rely on your system 100%, you will not get the full benefit of the method.
Once a month
Do a more in-depth review of your ongoing projects and goals: see how they are progressing and adjust your task list accordingly.
You will probably come across two main problems:
- finding the time to organise and schedule tasks: it takes me between 15 and 30 minutes each evening to empty my various inboxes and a good hour each week to review.
- remaining methodical in the long term. If you realise that you are not doing your weekly review systematically (for example, if you often shoot off for the weekend on a Friday evening or if you tend to have lots of work to deliver that day), try to find a quieter time on another day of the week.
In the next article, we will be looking at the vast issue of goals and the advantages of setting short, medium and long-term targets. Feel free to have a look at the rest of the series on GTD or start a discussion in the comments.