Getting Things Done

Hi.

I haven’t posted to this blog in almost a year and let’s be honest – I didn’t even write that last post.

Sure, I could blame my lack of blogging on my two teenage daughters, my full time job, my adventure founding an internet start up, my time spent coaching high school cross country and track & field, or the fact that I’ve spent the last 8 months fixing up my home, selling it, moving out of it and my commercial office space to move into the nicest homeless shelter in the city of St. Petersburg (a friend’s house) while completing the purchase of my new home. All of those things played a role in my lack of blogging time, but it was mostly how I was handling them that got in the way of blogging (and living).

I pride myself on being dependable and with all of my responsibilities, I lived in constant fear of “dropping the ball”. My mind was so full of things that needed to be done that I was having a lot of trouble focusing on what I was supposed to be doing at any given time. If you’ve ever tried to run too many programs on your computer at the same time and your computer slowed to a grinding halt or eventually stopped because it ran out of memory, you’ve got an idea of what was happening to my brain. I ran out of time to actually do things because my brain was too busy processing what I needed to do!

I had a calendar and I had an inbox and I had a desk full of piles of things that needed to be attended to. But, the things in those piles didn’t necessarily need to be attended to immediately and some tasks in my inbox couldn’t be completed for several days so they stayed in my inbox until I started ignoring what was in my inbox because it wasn’t immediately useful. Then, I started worrying that I was going to miss doing something that needed to be done because it was buried at the bottom of my inbox.

While searching for design ideas for my new home office, I came across a book by David Allen called Getting Things Done. I listened to the audiobook while painting the house and then read the whole thing while on a long flight to a recent Ragnar Relay. Just beginning to follow the system outlined in the book has immediately increased my daily productivity, reduced my stress and created more time in the day to relax (and blog). Here’s what I’ve done so far:

1) Created a filing system for anything that was in a random pile.

I went through all of the random stuff on my desk, on shelves, in drawers, etc. Some of it was no longer relevant. I trashed that. Some of it was useful reference information that I didn’t really need at arm’s length. I categorized and filed that stuff in an alphabetical reference file. Some of it was stuff I wanted to do someday, but couldn’t act on any time in the foreseeable future and did not want to forget about. For that, I created a “someday/maybe” folder which I can review on a monthly basis.

tickler

My tickler file in its temporary “mid-moving” location.

2) Created a “tickler” file.

A tickler file is a series of 43 file folders. 31 of them are labeled with the numbers 1-31. The other 12 are labeled with the months of the year. The tickler file contains tasks that should be completed on a certain day, but don’t necessarily require a specific time. This helps keep my calendar clutter free and for specific appointments only.

The numbered folders in the file are ordered from lowest to highest with that particular date in front until the last day of the month, which is followed by the next month’s folder and all of the previous day’s folders, which are in turn followed by all the rest of the “month” folders in order. As I write this, it is November 20th. Today, I received an email that informed me that the early bird deadline for the Great River Ragnar Relay is March 1st, 2014. I’d certainly like to register for the relay before that deadline, but I’d also like to start recruiting the team in January. So, I write a post-it about the deadline and stick it in the February folder (to give myself some lead time). I also write a post it note telling me to start recruiting the team and stick it in the January folder. I can then remove the email from my email inbox and file it in a folder for the 2014 Great River Ragnar Relay.

Next, I remember that I need to return the cable boxes from the house I just moved out of to the cable company before the end of the month. I look through the 21-30 folders, find one that looks fairly empty and stick a post-it telling me to return the cable boxes inside.

Every morning, I open the folder for that day (today it was the “20″ folder), dump the contents into my inbox and place the folder behind its previous day’s folder (in this case the “19″ folder). When I reach the “30″ folder, I’ll also check the “31″ folder (to make sure I didn’t accidentally put something in there since there are only 30 days in November) and move both of them behind the “29″ folder. The next folder I find will be the “December” folder. I’ll open that folder and see what’s inside. Some of the things will go into my inbox immediately, but most will be distributed into the numbered folders that follow. The December folder will then be placed all the way in the back of the file, and I’ll process the numbered folders on a daily basis.

3) Empty my inbox daily.

I have 2 inboxes – my physical inbox and my email inbox. I make sure to empty them both daily. When processing items in either inbox, I first ask myself if the task it represents will take 2 minutes or less to complete. If so, I do it. If not, it either needs to be delegated or deferred. If it needs to be delegated, I send it off to whoever needs to do it. If it needs to be deferred to later in the day, it stays in the inbox. If it needs to be deferred longer, it goes in the tickler file.

If it’s not a task, it gets filed in the appropriate spot. The brochure for the Viking River Cruises goes in the “someday/maybe” file and the closing documents go in the “house” reference file.

Anything remaining in the inbox should be completed that day.It gets ordered by priority and those tasks get completed. If something is left in the inbox at the end of the day, it’s placed in the tickler file for the next day (or later).

wunderlist-screenshot

Wunderlist is cloud based. Whether you use the phone app, the web app or both, your lists always go with you.

4) Created a series of electronic lists

Using a free cloud based service called Wunderlist, I’ve created a series of lists that are accessible from pretty much anywhere. These lists might include groceries, errands I need to run, things I might want to blog about in the future, etc.

Let’s say I’m sitting at my desk and my wife calls. We discuss dinner and decide to have lasagna. I know that we don’t have any tomato sauce. I open up my grocery list on Wunderlist and add tomato sauce. Later, when I’m at the grocery store, I just pull out my phone and look at the grocery list. As an added bonus, Wunderlist makes it easy to share lists with other users, so my wife could add items to the grocery list and they would appear on my phone when I’m at the grocery store (or vice versa).

Or, let’s say I’m at the running store and I have a great idea for a blog post. I can just pull out my phone and add the idea to my “blogging” list. Next time I’m ready to blog, I can just look at the list on my laptop, grab a topic and start writing.

I’m getting pretty good at tackling most of the tasks that come at me on a daily basis. I’ve still got to get more organized in the project management arena. I’m currently re-reading the projects section of the book to get my large projects broken down into smaller tasks that fit neatly into the system.

Although this is a long post, I don’t do the whole system justice. If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed and not as productive as you think you should be, I highly recommend checking out the book yourself. You can most likely find it at your public library and you can expect more frequent blog posts from me in the future.

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2 Responses to Getting Things Done

  1. Sandy says:

    This was just what I needed to see! I’ve been considering the tickler file and I think you convinced me. I’m going to read that book, as well. Thanks, Coach!

  2. Crystal H says:

    It sounds like a great system! Unfortunately, I probably wouldn’t keep up with it. I impediment my own new system a few months ago and then mostly forgot about it.

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