I’m just finishing up an article on Project Management software, and one of my biggest takeaways was of the non-tool variety: a whole heck of a lot of nonprofit project managers have bought into the Getting Things Done methodology, first proposed by the book of the same name by David Allan
I’m not a big believer in this stuff, but hearing everyone talk about it coincided with a week in which I was completely overwhelmed with stuff I had to do. So I bought the book – hey, it’s both research and personally useful!
And I was compelled. Four days after the book arrived, I had finished it and was starting to set up the system. I have to say, it’s been really very useful. The effects in fact seem to be more powerful than the steps warrant – there honestly seems to be a kind of synergistic thing going on. My email in-box has been completely under control for almost two weeks now, after years of almost-at-the-brink of email chaos. My desk is clean, which anyone who’s ever worked with me would tell you is entirely unheard of.
For me, there were some particularly powerful rules in there (some of these have been a bit personally adapted):
- If an email’s going to take less than two minutes to respond to, just respond right when you read it. This includes printing attachments that you’re going to feel the need to print. Otherwise, make it a task to manage along with other tasks. This has transformed my email inbox from a black hole that I felt I could never get on top of, to something that is nearly always organized.
- If you’ve got papers or other stuff and can’t think about what to with it at the moment, you get to throw it in a box of random stuff. My kind of rule.
- But then you have to go through the box of random stuff at least daily, and figure out the next step with each. That’s a little less fun.
- Filing shouldn’t involve categorizing. Decide on the first label you think of, and put it in that folder, or create a new folder just for that piece of paper. The first label you think is likely to be how you’d look for it anyway, and any folder is better than not filing because it’s a pain (my former system)
- You don’t get to have random papers or emails floating around that you haven’t really figured out what to do about. Take the time to decide what’s next – which is hardly ever going to take more than 20 second. This was one of the biggest for me. Probably half of all my outstanding email was stuff I hadn’t thought through, which made me panic every time I thought about going through them all.
- Every week, think through all the projects you’re working on, and make sure you’ve captured all the next steps
What software am I using to manage stuff? I’ve got my tasks organized around Gmail, with the GTD Gmail plug-in
, which is working pretty well. I have emails about many of the tasks anyway, and I can email myself new tasks. Things like Projects, Status, and Context become labels.
My only complaint with this system is that it’s hard to parse the list – I’ve got everything outstanding in my Inbox, and that’s a long list. But searching/ filtering by projects or context or whatever only shows 20 things at a time (why is that? It’s annoying). Because of this, I'm using the (non-GTD-compliant) Star in Gmail to note something that I should do soon – mostly to surface it from what is otherwise a list of a hundred things.
I also have some suspicion that the GTD plug-in sometimes becomes a memory hog over the course of the day. Anyone experience that?
I’ve just been trying out L8R
– a service that allows you to schedule emails to be sent in the future. I’m using it to send myself reminders of things that I don’t need to think about for awhile, or that I want to make sure catch my attention on a particular day. I like it, and it works, but it seems a little wonky and buggy on the interface side.
So, overall, I seem to have drunk the Getting Things Done kool-aid. And I’m not typically one to jump on a bandwagon.