Getting Things Done

I’m jealous of Ben Hammersley‘s writing style. He has an amazing ability to draw me into his articles, and I often finish the final paragraph before becoming conscious I’m actually reading the whole thing (I generally read the first two paragraphs of Guardian stories before deciding whether to continue.) His latest piece is on an interest of mine: Getting Things Done.

GTD is a system of organisation refreshingly free of the usual corporate gobblespeak (except for the godawful official description, which is really bad – what were they thinking?) I bought the book back in May, and although I can’t claim to have implemented the system fully, it’s definitely helped me. Although Mr Hammersley’s article explains it very well, I’ll have a stab here. The premise is that your organisation should all be on paper, and not in your head. Whenever you are told or think of something that needs doing, it’s written down and placed into your Inbox. Items from the Inbox are processed daily, and are placed onto ‘action lists’. Critically, the lists contain the next physical action that must be performed to progress. So if you need to ‘plan a holiday’, the item that goes onto your action list may well be ‘go to travel agents and pick up brochures’. The idea is to clear your mind so that it’s free to work on solving problems, rather than worrying about them. The two core phrases of GTD are:

Mind like water – like a pebble falling into a pond, you should be able to react to new information then continue as you were.
What’s the next action? – this forces you to focus on progressing, and stops things stalling.

Like I said, there are better descriptions 🙂 It’s more complicated than that, but not much. I haven’t leapt fully into the folds of GTD – more through fear of messing it up than any hardship – but have had some successes. I now use the Outlook Calendar properly, and everything coming up is in there so I won’t forget it. I’ve also been carrying around a Hipster PDA for the last few months, and it is the definitely the most useful thing I own. I have bits of paper everywhere, but I don’t experience ‘what was it I was thinking about…’ moments any more. It’s also amazing how useful index cards are for clarifying a point, leaving doodles for bemused waitresses or making tiny paper aeroplanes.

I’m planning to live by GTD once I’m in Stratford, as that’ll be an ideal jumping-on point. If you’re interested in learning more, I recommend 43 Folders and its excellent introduction to the whole GTD concept.