One of the most popular posts on our previous site was this piece on how our Managing Director, Alex, uses the David Allen 'Getting Things Done' (GTD) methodology to manage his workflow and processes. This was originally posted in 2014, but the themes, technologies and techniques outlined below are just as valid today as they were a few years ago.
Getting Things Done
I've always had a desire to master David Allen's Getting Things Done personal productivity system. I first read the book in 2007 and I've had several attempts at implementing a practical solution that works for me.
I found my cognitive capacity was often maxed-out as I found myself churning over stuff that wasn't the actionable, wasn't relevant or wasn't really the current focus. This meant that I was under-performing on the real stuff I was trying to do. I set myself to building a process, combining the productivity tools and applications available to me, which would enable me to implement the GTD methodology in my everyday life.
I think that I have finally done it and the results are awesome, my head feels clear and I feel productive.
This post outlines the system I have created for myself and walk you through how to set up a similar system of your own.
A brief outline of the GTD Methodology
Basically stuff arrives in your inbox and you have to process it from there. The key question being is it actionable? If not, then get rid of it or file it for later. If it is actionable but there are multiple steps required to reach the desired outcome, then call it a project. If it's immediately actionable and will take less than 2 minutes, do it now. If you can delegate it, delegate it. If none of the above, defer the action for later. When something is collected into the inbox it is not fully processed until it has been placed in one of the buckets; Projects, Next Actions, Waiting For.
The key requirement for implementing this workflow is trust. Your brain must trust that everything is captured in your system. Only then is the "physic RAM" in your brain freed up for higher level thinking. So, you must trust your system.
My system - requirements
1. I wanted to be able to collect and place things in my inbox no matter where I was or what I was doing. In practice, in the modern age, this is usually as simple as being able to do it from your phone.
2. I wanted to have all of the notes, projects, next actions, reminders all captured in one single central place.
3. I wanted a calendar view to be able to see tasks with due dates laid out on a calendar.
4. I wanted to be able to filter by context (it is supposed that each next action can be executed in a particular context, i.e. phone, computer, office, home)
5. I wanted to share the state of my system with other people, trusted colleagues, family members etc.
6. I wanted email to be a first class citizen within the system as the world seems to revolve around email.
My system - implementation
Now that I had committed to my methodology and defined my requirements I needed to build a real system that enabled me to approach my tasks in a GTD style, in a practical way.
In my company we focus on leveraging the tools and frameworks that are out there in order to develop software that is more powerful, more efficient and quicker to market. Much like a construction firm that does not manufacture all of the required cement, steel reinforcing bars and windows itself but instead, it procures these parts from third parties for the same reasons. I adopted this approach to build my GTD system, using productivity tools and applications that are available to us all for free. I integrated them in a collaborative way that leads to a sum greater than its parts and creates an exponentially more productive me.
At the core of my system is Trello, a fantastic and flexible list management application. I have a single Trello board which acts as an extension of my brain, contains the inbox and the other buckets.
Addressing my requirements one by one:
2. My GTD Trello board is my one source of truth.
4. As part of my processing step (moving things from the inbox to next actions) I use Trello labels to give each task a context. Right now I am working with (Kindle, Phone, Computer, Office, Home). I can then filter the Trello cards based on the context that I am currently in.
5. I can share the whole GTD board with trusted colleagues, friends and family.
6. I can mark any email in my Gmail inbox with a tag "GTD" and my Zapier automated zap will create a card for that email (Zapier is an advanced web automation tool and will probably be the subject of future posts).