Where the Heck Does This Stuff Go?!
“My Inbox is processed!”
“My list of next actions is made!”
“My less-than-five-minute tasks are done!”
“WHERE DOES ALL THIS STUFF GO NOW?!”
According to David Allen (Getting Things Done, pp. 140ff), it goes in one of seven “buckets:”
- A projects list
- Project support material
- Actions and information in your calendar
- List(s) of next actions
- A “Waiting For” list
- Reference material
- A list for Someday/Maybe … a catch-all for things to plan or decide about later
Following the principles of GTD will enable you to effectively maintain your un-stressed productivity with such a deceptively small set of collection bins if you treat them as mutually exclusive. That means don’t keep the same item in more than one place! If it goes in Next Actions, don’t put it in Waiting For at the same time! Similarly, if your boss owes you a response on something, that item belongs in Waiting For flagged as having a response due from your boss, not languishing in your Next Actions folder. Keep them straight and they’ll help keep you straight.
Projects, project support material, and reference material we’ll save for another time. Calendar management is addressed here. I’ll add that the things that belong on your calendar are things that meet all of the following criteria:
- Meetings or tasks you cannot delegate
- Things that take longer than five minutes
- Things that must be done on a given day
If it doesn’t meet the foregoing criteria, delegate it or put it in Next Actions if you must deal with it. Resist the temptation to schedule things on the calendar at times you’d like to do them. In fact, beat the temptation with a stick. Hard. Schedule things where they properly belong and protect them. That way, you’ll trust your calendar.
Using “Next Actions”
Next Actions has the benefit – and the curse – of being the logical holding place for things you need to remember to do, but which take longer than five minutes and which also can’t be delegated (or not yet). The tendency will be to make such Next Actions as “Complete XYZ project” or “Buy a house.” These are not appropriate entries for Next Actions! Legitimate next actions are discrete steps that can be taken to advance the completion of a project or effort and which are logically the next actions. In the house example, a useful next action would be “Research available mortgage lenders” or “Call ABC Loan Officer.” Depending upon what you’re working on, Next Actions could be small or quite large (which is where the later discussion of project files comes in). If you’re managing just a few (less than twenty) next actions, a single integrated list might work fine. Usually, however, I find as Allen has suggested that context-based Next Action lists work better:
- Home … for items completable there only
- Office … just like the Home list for miscellaneous items not captured otherwise
- Calls … a list of calls to be made that can be made anywhere
- At Computer … a list of items that require access to a computer to complete.
- Errands … a list of running-around next actions
- Read/Review … a tray or basket in which the to-be-read items are placed (or a folder when traveling)
Except for Read/Review, all of these lists can be kept much more effectively on a smartphone, or your computer if you insist. But really…get a smartphone. Otherwise, you might not want to bother with the whole productive-with-less-stress thing.
Using “Waiting For”
Really…it’s easy. When you’ve delegated something or appropriately transferred responsibility for it up, down, or sideways, put it in Waiting For so you have a reminder that someone owes you something…a reply, revisions, comments, approval. Doesn’t matter. What matters is you have a centralized place that helps you keep track of who owes you what. If you use a smartphone or a computer for this, items can be moved into the appropriate folders (and notes attached!) as their state changes.
If you need a refresher on how these buckets and the others are related to each other, take a look at this workflow diagram.
Breathe. Now, off you go to productive work armed with stress-reducing advice.