Wednesday, February 18, 2009

How to setup your next action lists

Welcome to the next lesson of the GTD Thirty Day Challenge and that is how to setup your next action lists or context lists. When talking about these lists, these are the types that I am referring to:

@ Calls
@ Office
@ Errands
@ Computer
@ Agenda

In addition to keeping next action lists, I also use the same system to to keep my project and someday/maybe list.

GTD Next Action Categories

When you are first starting out, I suggest you go straight with the categories he lays out in the book. There will be some temptation to refine your categories when you are setting things up. Eventually once you have your system running smoothly, I'd review the context lists for your situation and evaluate it's effectiveness for you. Resist the urge to modify the system at first.

I think times have changed since David Allen first wrote GTD in that now, contexts in which work are much more blurred and you'll have difficulty choosing which context to work on. Expect some challenges there in trying to work with in the contexts. Eventually, you'll adjust your context lists to match your environment like I have in that I pretty much keep a @ Calls and @ Action list.

Where and how to keep your GTD next action lists

You have two basic ways to keep your lists. One is the low tech way of paper. And, the other is the high tech way of some sort of digital list keeper. If you are a paper person, start with paper. You'll like the feel of crossing things off which I recommend using a highlighter to do.

I personally use a digital list. The options available to keep your lists digitally are numerous and you'll experience some trial and error. I prefer digital because I can back it up and it makes my list look nice and clean. I can also carry my lists in my Blackberry without printing out my lists.

Remember, if you use a digital list keeper to keep your lists, you can still print them out in paper form. I know that when I first started, I used Basecamp to keep all of my lists and then I printed them out and stuck them in a binder. Now, however, I use Next Action software to keep my lists in my Blackberry so I don't have to print them out. While I still use Basecamp for delegating tasks, I keep my action lists in my Blackberry and back them up to Microsoft Outlook.

I think it's a great idea to have your lists with you at all times, particularly your @ Calls list because typically you can make calls from anywhere. Otherwise, get your lists into some sort of system you are comfortable with to complete a big part of where most of your system will be, in the form of lists.

Before I implemented GTD I was a stacker. I used the physical items as reminders for everything I needed to do. These GTD lists comprised the next actions of these physical items and make your work extremely portable and efficient.

When choosing next actions, use a verb. An example of a next action is:

Call Fred 555.555.5555 re: the cool project
Write draft article for blog
Email John about report

These next actions would then go on the appropriate list.

I use the same list setup for my projects and someday/maybe lists. I also use it for my checklists and for my reference lists. Your first step is how to keep your next action lists and then to start putting next actions in the appropriate context for later doing.

Once your processing is done and you've populated your next action lists, the next step is doing and you should view that list as just another inbox to empty. Good luck setting up your next action lists.

Here is a video, I made that discusses some of what I wrote above.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

How To Process Your Inbox To Zero

In today's GTD Thirty Day Challenge I wanted to talk about how to process your inbox to zero. The inbox we are going to empty in this case is your physical inbox.

I think that it's in this area that people have a rough time because they confuse processing with doing. The purpose of your inbox is to get things into your system. While you'll do some quick actions, you'll want to move papers into your organizational buckets as quickly as possible and then actually work from the buckets not your inboxes.

I've put together two videos below to show you what processing your inbox to zero looks like. While there are a couple of nuances that aren't shown, for the most part, this is what it looks like when I process my inbox to zero quickly and efficiently.

What you are going to see in the videos is how I start with a big stack of stuff after I made a mail run along with some other items that got in my inbox. The important thing to note is that while your stuff may be different, the decision making is the same no matter what the stuff is.

You'll notice that before I process my inbox to zero, I get my inbox whittled down to those things that actually need processing. This means I've gotten out all the trash, shredding and filing.

Once I do that, I'm left with a stack of items left in "in" which I then make some quick decisions on what should happen to each piece of paper. You will also notice that I use a folder called "Action" that I put stuff in. The purpose of the Action folder is to place items I need to do but that can be done at any time.

If you have been following the challenge closely, you'll have noticed that in my email account I also have a folder called Action and I've copied that strategy to paper as well. This folder is basically a list. But, instead of a printed list of the things I need to do, the physical piece of paper serves as a reminder I need to take action.

While I don't show it in the video, if time allows I'll then work my way through those items and get my action folder to zero as well. If I'm swamped, I know everything in my inbox has been reviewed and anything urgent brought to my attention.

Anyway, I think in these two videos below, you'll see more than I can explain in words about how to process your inbox to zero.