Tag Archives: Getting Things Done (GTD)

GTD: How to prioritize

The steps outlined below are not new to most people, many of us perform these steps subconsciously, but it is interesting to see these steps in text to distill what is involved in prioritizing a list of tasks.

The following list assumes an “action items,” not a “to-do” list.  The difference being that an action list contains items of single step (“send email to blah”, “take out garbage”, “fill in time sheet”), whereas a to-do lists typically contain items of desired goal and often involve multiple steps (“clean basement”, “Develop finance application”), defined by GTD as projects.  For more information, read David Allen’s book on Getting Things Done.

So, what is it we do subconsciously when making a priority decision?  The following steps usually factor into the thought process:

Context – Context is most important, if you’re not near a computer or phone, there’s no way to respond to email.  GTD breaks all action items into context categories (@Office, @Home, @Computer, @Call etc).  The principle being that you can ignore a large percentage of your action item list if you are not in the desired context – why bother with what’s at home when you’re in the office?

Time Available – This factor is inherent in most of us, depending on how much time you have available before your next “scheduled” appointment will depend on what tasks you pick up.  Let’s say you have a meeting in 60 minutes, it is unlikely that you’ll tackle a large job before the start of this meeting.  Your calendar is important for knowing how much time you have between appointments, and your action item list contains one step tasks, which are easy to determine the time required to complete.

Energy – Until I read David Allen’s book I hadn’t given this factor a lot of consideration.  What type of task do you take on at the scrag end of the day, or last thing on a Friday afternoon before a weekend?  Your ability to crank out a task determines your success, so if you’ve been in wall to wall meetings all day and are toast, then the last hour of the day is a great time to clean your desk.  Once again, your action items list will contain many one step tasks, including mundane tasks that may never reach a to-do list.  Even when working on small insignificant tasks, you can go home at the end of the day with a satisfaction that you’ve crossed off entries in your action items list.

Biggest Pay Off – This is usually what most people think of as prioritizing – working on the tasks that are biggest and give you the best pay off.  Assuming you have met all the factors listed above then it is best to pick an action item that gives you the best reward for the time spent.  In a corporate office environment, this is likely working on a task for your best client (or worst if they’ve been sucking a lot of your time of late), at home maybe it’s the one job that gives you most pleasure, or impresses your loved ones the most.

No matter how trivial the list above, what I am trying to highlight in this blog post is that a good deal of tasks on action lists are irrelevant at any one time because their configuration does not match that of the current situation.  Once you determine those tasks that match the current situation, you can quickly prioritize them without becoming overwhelmed or clouded by problems preventing task completion.

GTD – Email from your cell phone

So, you’ve read my previous posts on GTD and now your life is in perfect harmony, but….. you happen to remember something important whilst driving home that has yet to make it into your collection system.  You do not really want to pull over to note down this valuable nugget of information, and writing an email/task on your PDA whilst driving is too fiddly (not to mention dangerous/illegal).  So, what to do?  Simple, subscribe to Jott.com:

  1. Jott.com is a free service that converts voice messages into emails, sign up using your cell phone.
  2. Add Jott’s free-phone number as a speed-dial, if you have voice activated dialing, even better.
  3. Next time you think of something to collect, call Jott and leave a message for “myself.”
  4. Live with peace of mind, next time you open email – presto, there’s you GTD task ready for processing.

Simple huh?

Additionally, if you’d like to blog from your cell phone, you can set up an email address to your blog using BlogMailr and add this address to your Jott contacts. Presto – blog posts on the move.

Getting Things Done

For those of you who know of David Allen and his seminars on “Getting Things Done fast!” – skip this post.  Those of you that have no idea what I am talking about, or like me, have only just heard about this, might want to read on.

As far as GTD is concerned, I cannot take any credit, and this blog post is solely for the purpose of passing on the good word.  So what is GTD, and why the hype?

We now find ourselves smack in the middle of “Information Age.” Information is power and the world has gone nuts in striving to feed people with more and more productive information.  Connectivity barriers crash down as a slue of technologies allow us to receive emails, voice calls, and even faxes in remote locations.  What do our brains make of this constant stream of readily available data? 

David Allen invented GTD, in 2001, as a series of steps to empower busy people with the tools to handle the constant bombardment of information and tasks.

Until I started reading David’s book, it never occurred to me that the brain may have a fixed capacity, and the fuller it becomes the more stresses I experience. David’s methodology for “Getting Things Done” aims to show us how to better deal with information overload and avoiding stress so we can be more cognitive and productive. The following are a few points I picked up from the first few chapters:

Work is not just the office – David defines “work” as anything not done.  If you leave the office and then come home to a list of chores – this is work, and it needs doing.

Work falls into one of two states – “doing,” or “done.” The idea is to get to the “done” stage.

Projects – consist of any outcome that requires multiple completed tasks to consider the overall task as done.

The Brain becomes cluttered with many tasks – this causes stress, and every task filling time in your brain is an uncollected, unorganized task that owns a piece of you.  Learn to dump tasks from “brain RAM” to persistent storage in the form of lists.

For each new task/project consider:  What is the desired outcome?  What is the next step?  The act of “doing” is about determining the single next step.  “Done” is the desired outcome – the goal.

GTD consists of the following five phasesCollect things that require attention, Process what they mean and what to do with them, Organize the results, Review what we choose to do, and Do the next step.

Anything not collected and organized is considered “stuff” –  Stuff causes stress and anxiety because it resides in your short term memory and reminds you constantly that there is something you have not done.  This clouds your brain and prevents free and clear thinking for more productive purposes.

Dump everything on your mind – No matter how small or big, or wether work or personal – dump everything on your mind to paper or some sort of list (this is not a task list) so that you can free brain RAM to better process what needs doing next.

As of writing this I am not as yet done reading David’s book and have followed the exercise of dumping the contents of my brain to a single list.  As I read more of the book I shall report more progress and tips to “Getting Things Done Fast.”