Classic Nerd Guru: Getting Things Done

Note: This article originally ran on September 6 2007, is slightly edited for reprint in an effort to share previously published ideas with new readers.

I have been assimilated.

Lots and lots of people have recommended David Allen’s productivity bible,  to me over the years, but I kept thinking, “I’m already pretty productive, I don’t need that.” I couldn’t have been more wrong. Over the past several months, Allen’s techniques have made a noticeable impact on my day to day life that I didn’t think was possible. Instead of doing a traditional review of his material, I thought I’d walk through what I’ve done with it over the past few months that has changed the way I approach my job.

I ended up adopting Allen’s processes in two waves (with another one still to go) and reaped huge benefits from both. Almost all of my work life comes to me in email. Prior to reading GTD, I’d let my Outlook inbox run to several thousand items and clean it out once a quarter or so. The list would be cluttered with things I just had to know about, things that I had to remember to do at a later date, things that could be deleted, and things that were reminders to do something. I found I was able to keep track of the really important things in my head and was pretty good about responding to people within 24 hours on various topics, but it was an organizational mess.

For Wave 1, all I did was follow some GTD basic rules about inbox processing. I read each item immediately as it came in and did one of 3 things with it:

1. Filed it in the set of topic-oriented reference folders I already had in Outlook if it was something I just had to know was happening.

2. Deleted it if it was something I didn’t care about.

3. Left it in my inbox if it was something I had to do or was a reminder that I was waiting for someone else to respond.

Just that slight change in process made a huge difference for me. An inbox list that previously had a tendency to grow out of control until my quarterly cleanup activity never got larger than one screen full of messages. It stayed that way for 6 weeks before I proceeded on to Wave 2, but just this step let me see my whole world worth of worries in one screen, which made a big difference in my peace of mind and in my productivity. Everything I had to be concerned with was on one page, not hiding in cracks on multiple scroll downs.

Wave 2 led me to adopting the GTD system more strictly. In addition to the “reference” folder I already had, I added “actions”, “waiting”, and “some day” folders.

What that allowed me to do was take that 1 page full of inbox items and further sort them into actionable categories. Now, when I get a new message it gets read immediately and either replied to, deleted, or filed into one of those 4 places. My favorite message to see staring at me several times a day is “there are no items to show in this view”.

Now, different aspects of my work life are easy to display. I have 15 minutes between meetings, is there something I can get done in that amount of time? Check the “actions” folder. Who owes me a response on that new data center move? Check the “waiting” folder. What was that thing I was talking to Sam about that we might do next year when we get funding? Check the “some day” folder.

I end up spending a lot less time figuring out what to do next and a lot more time actually doing it. That has been the productivity leap I’ve been able to make with the suggestions of this book. The one aspect I haven’t adopted yet has to do with breaking apart projects into different actionable tasks, but I’m giddy over what the book has already given me.


3 Responses to “Classic Nerd Guru: Getting Things Done”

  1. John B. Kendrick Says:

    I had a similar experience when I learned about David Allen’s GTD and ready his book. I used and taught Covey and Daytimer for many years before switching to GTD. And then I found an application that allows me to view my entire GTD at work on my Win machine, at home on my Macs and even on my cell phone. And another app lets me call in tasks to my GTD without any writing or typing, great for those thoughts that hit me while driving. I’ve written about my experiences with GTD in a blog post at John

  2. Dan Says:

    For implementing GTD you can use this web-based application:

    You can use it to manage your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, schedules and a calendar.
    A mobile version and iCal are available too.

  3. Jason Alba (al - buh)» Blog Archive » Mission Accomplished - Inbox 0 Says:

    […] get to this monumentous point by abiding by the Tim Ferriss 4 hour work week ideas, or by applying Nerd Guru’s ideas (using GTD), or by listening to Kent Blumberg’s […]

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