GTD is a scalable personal organization method. The motivation for using GTD is that there is an enormous burden on you to keep all your tasks in mind and to relieve this burden, you should write it down. This will mean that your mind can now let go of making sure that you remember your tasks and move on to doing those tasks.
When following the GTD way, you start with the following two core principles,
- Every task that can't be done in the next 2 minutes should be recorded in a list
- Tasks should be categorized in a list that reflects their types
The basic GTD method has the following lists
- Next Action
- Waiting For
The In list is where you put down tasks that you have in mind when you don't know which list you should put them in. Of course, if you already know which list you are going to put a task in, you should just go ahead and put the task in that list. If every single task that you have is easily categorized, then you might not even need the 'in' list.
The Next Action list, or rather lists is where your executable tasks are put. Its usually not just one list. You will probably have one next action list for work, one for home, maybe one for shopping,etc.. all dependent on your needs. This is where you put all your tasks that you are going to work on and these lists are the ones you look at when figuring out what to do next.
Personally, I have the following Next Action lists
- Next Action - Shopping List This is for the miscellaneous shopping items I need to buy, everything from specific items to general "Go to shopping center" items.
- Next Action - Email This is for the emails I need to send. Usually, the task is a name and the details of what the content of the email need to be.
- Next Action - Write up This is for the different things I need to write up, for blogs, specs, etc.. (this particular post about GTD was a task in this list :))
- Next Action - Requires Driving This is for tasks that require I go to a particular location/office/place.
- Next Action - @Work This is for tasks that require my physical presence at work (eg. Tasks like "Talk to person x", etc...)
- Next Action - Contact This are people I need to talk to, either by phone or in person. Usually, this is personal instead of work related.
- Next Action - Coding Since a significant amount of my work is coding, here go the tasks that I need to write code for.
- Next Action - Online This is stuff that only requires an internet connection. I can even do these tasks from a phone (eg. "Read article about ethiopia")
- Next Action - Research And Read These are topics I need to thoroughly read up on and research.
The Waiting for list is a list of reminders for things you are waiting for, such as replies to emails you have sent and calls you are waiting for.
It is not enough to only be able to see the individual tasks that we need to execute on but rather, we also need the context we need to execute them in. This means keeping in mind the more overarching goals we have that are parents to many of our tasks. For this, we put all these high-level items in the Projects list. While none of the items in this list are executable tasks themselves, they should all have tasks in the other lists that map to them.
The Done list is where we put all the tasks we have completed. Technically, I have a new done list for every week, with a title that indicates which week the list refers to.
That is it, that is all there is to the method (at least the subset I use).
The first thing your should do is spend 1 to 2 hours writing down every single task you have in the "in" list. This initial time investment is necessary and should (hopefully) not be required in the future since adding tasks will be a daily task for you.
Next, identify areas of your life that make sense to create next action categories for and create those lists. Don't worry if you don't get it right the first time, you can adjust and readjust as you use the method until you get it right.
Every week, preferably Sunday afternoon, you should go through everyone of your tasks and review them. I personally like to summarize the major accomplishments of the week in a list. This helps me gauge the effectiveness of my week and drives the conversations I have with my manager.
Also, you should have sometime every morning to look at the list to help you get a view of what your day might look like.
The first of two things that are important to making this process successful is making sure that as you encounter tasks that take more than 2 minutes and/or can't be done immediately, you add them to the one of your lists. The second important thing is to make sure that every time you are about to do a task, consult your task list to make sure that there isn't something better you could be doing and that the task you are about to do is being tracked in your list. Don't forget, not only will your list remind you of what you should do, but also encourages you by showing you what you have already done.