How full is your inbox? This is a basic question in the Getting Things Done system of managing your work. The focus of GTD is to get clear … and this means that your inbox is empty because you have added every item into your management system. The problem that this is intended to solve is that until you do this, everything is on your mind and robbing your subconscious of focus.
- Capture everything. Your to-dos, your ideas, your recurring tasks, everything. Put it in a pen-and-paper notebook, a to-do app, a planner, whatever you prefer to use to get organized. GTD doesn’t say to use a specific tool, but whatever you use has to fit into your normal flow. The barrier to using it should be so low that there’s never a reason for you to say “I’ll add it to my list later.” You want to capture everything as soon as it happens so you don’t have to think about it again until it’s time to do it.
- Clarify the things you have to do. Don’t just write down “Plan vacation,” break it down into actionable steps so there’s no barrier to just doing the task. If there’s anything you can do right away and have time to do, get it done. If there’s anything you can delegate, delegate it. Here’s a helpful video where David Allen explains how to clarify your to-dos so they don’t require more time to figure out what you meant than it takes to actually do the thing you wanted to do.
- Organize those actionable items by category and priority. Assign due dates where you can, and set reminders so you follow up on them. Pay special attention to each item’s priority, as well. You’re not actually doing any of the items on your list right now, you’re just making sure they’re in the right buckets for later, and your reminders are set. In short, this is quality time with your to-do list, inbox, and calendar.
- Reflect on your to-do list. First, look over your to-dos to see what your next action should be. This is where the clarifying step pays off, because you should be able to pick something you have the time and the energy to do right away. If you see something that’s so vague that you know you won’t be able to just pick up and run with it, break it down. Second, give your to-do list an in-depth review periodically to see where you’re making progress, where you need to adjust your priorities, and determine how the system is working for you.
- Engage and get to work. Choose your next action and get to it. Your system is, as this point, set up to make figuring that out easy. Your to-dos are organized by priority and placed in categories. You know what to work on, and when. They’re broken into manageable, bite-sized chunks that are easy to start. It’s time to get to work.
Step 1, Capture, creates an Inbox. You gather EVERYTHING that might distract you into one place for processing. This ensures that your focus need not be divided in any way. One way I create an Inbox is to have several colored tubs around the house, at each desk. There is not clutter, ideally, because everything goes into the Inbox. Your email Inbox is an additional Inbox for the system. One tub inbox is preferred, but as the idea is to get EVERYTHING off your mind and into an inbox, I use one at each desk.
At a particular time of the day or week, you will process everything in the Inbox. In Step 2, Clarify, you begin to process what is in your Inbox by asking a very simple question. In Step 3, Organize, you begin to sort everything by identifying characteristics such as category, priority, urgency (due dates) and other identifiers which allow you to find similar items in groups. Most software systems will allow you to “tag” such items and put them in places – folders or notebooks. I call this “tag and bag.”
In Step 4, Reflect, you identify the “next action” – the key element in the GTD system. If you do this, you will not need to think through the task before working on it. You can just pick it right up and start working. GTD suggests that planning and doing are different mental muscles and that it is best to do them at different times. If additional tasks come to mind, add them as well. Once the next task is identified, GTD suggests grouping them into categories of types of tasks, which are called contexts. As you tag and bag for context you will have the ability to view all phone calls together, all letters to write together, things for home or office together, things that require a computer hooked up to the Internet, etc. This allows you to batch or work on similar tasks at the same time, which increases time effectiveness and flow. You also tag and bag for projects, which GTD identifies as anything with more than one task associated with it.
These first four steps organize you to actually do the work – to Engage with it and Get Things Done with the minimum of distractions. When everything is out of your Inbox and into your system, you are ready to go to work.
ActiveInbox puts it this way: The essence of GTD is never ‘having to remember’ something. Everything that’s important to do or remember goes into a task list or calendar when you first come across it. Your daily actions are always based on a prioritized task list rather than what you happen to remember to do or what turns up in your inbox. Once you have a system to control the tasks coming at you every day, you can start to prioritize work and deal with things in the right context rather than whenever you happen to remember them.
The first quote above is from Productivity 101: A Primer to the Getting Things Done (GTD) Philosophy by Alan Henry at http://lifehacker.com/productivity-101-a-primer-to-the-getting-things-done-1551880955
GTD provides a video for each step here: http://gettingthingsdone.com/fivesteps/
The last quote is from https://www.activeinboxhq.com/gmailtips/2015/11/10/the-123-on-gtd-a-clear-fluff-free-guide-to-getting-things-done/