Getting Things Done

So you’ve done your brain dump and gathered everything that wasn’t where it belonged… now what? Now the goal is to Step 2) CLARIFY everything, to get to the bottom of the list. Now that doesn’t mean we have to do everything that we just wrote down; it means that we have to identify each item, decide what it is, what it means, and what we’re going to do with it.

The first step is to decide if your items are considered actionable. Ask yourself, is this something that requires you to take action? If the answer is no, then it has 3 possible piles to go in. This is step 3) ORGANIZATION– the easiest one is trash–something you no longer need, second a someday/maybe pile–something that you’d like to look at in the future (mine covers everything from learning new skills like knitting to financial goals to trips I want to take to things for my house and my family), and finally a reference pile–things you need (mine includes user manuals, warranties, legal documents, reference materials for projects I’m working on, etc). When I went through this step I put anything that required an action in 1 pile while organizing those that did not because I found that since no further action was required after deciding which category they fall in it was the best use of my time. My trash pile got thrown away, my reference pile was put into a gallon ziplock while I found the best folder system to hold it, and my someday/maybe pile was transferred onto a list separated into different categories (trips, financial, family, house, etc.). This is the easiest way for my brain to process that kind of information, rather than looking at a long list.

Once you have gone through the non actionable items switch your attention to your action pile. First you have to decide what the very next action on this item is. For example, one of my items is to buy a house warming present for a friend. My next action would be to decide what to buy. Once you have figured out the very next action you will decide which category it falls into. There are 4 possible categories. First, a less than 2 minutes pile–this is any action that can be completed in 2 minutes or less, second, a projects pile–this is any action that requires 2 or more steps, third a delegate it pile–any action that you are waiting on someone else to do, and finally a defer it pile–any action that you are waiting to do for later.

When deciding if an item is a project the key is to have a time frame in mind. For me any action item that has 2+ steps and I want to complete in a 2-3 month time frame is a project; any items that will take longer than that get moved to my Someday/Maybe list. This allows me to have a streamlined list of projects to focus on, rather than get bogged down in a never ending list.

Now you are ready to ORGANIZE all of your action items. I always start with my Deferred Items group. The first thing I do is make sure I have a calendar (physical or on my phone) and a piece of paper for my Next Actions list. A Next Actions List is a list of the very next step you need to take for any item in that pile as well as the next step on any project you are working on. My list is divided into categories because it helps me stay clear. David Allen suggests any list with over 20 items be categorized. These categories could be calls, at computer, errands, at office, at home, anywhere, etc whatever groups work best for you. As I work my way through this pile I put on my calendar only things that are day and/or time specific. Avoid putting to do lists or anything that is not specific to that day. What this allows us to see is the things that are required to get done that day. Once everything is done then we can move to the Next Actions List and begin crossing off the things we have time for that day based on our energy level and time. Then I like to focus on my project section next. I go down the list and evaluate what the very next step is and add it to my next actions list under the correlating category. It’s a must to have at least one action item on the next actions list for each project you have or delegate the next item to the best person for the job. This way you know there is progress being made! Finally I created a Waiting For List that shows all the items I have delegated, so that I will be able to circle back on any items that need to be followed up on.

One of the most important Must Do’s of clarifying is that nothing goes back to the inbox. The goal is to empty the inbox completely and have everything set into a category that you are going to deal with. If you keep putting things back in the inbox your brain won’t trust the system you’re trying to work with and it won’t free up the space you are trying to.

 

So this week work through your inbox clarifying what needs actions and what needs to be filled away for later, and organizing everything into your groups. Remember if it takes less than 2 minutes get it done then! Check back next week for the final installment of Getting Things Done-Reflect and Engage.

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