By Steven Roll
Like most people, I begin each year by making several resolutions relating to productivity. I often resolve to get more exercise by doing my morning run at 5 am. This year I did it on Jan. 2. But I’ve slept through my alarm clock’s call every morning since.
Fortunately, not all resolutions relating to productivity depend on sheer willpower. I also began 2008 by re-reading David Allen’s Getting Things Done. The book–or “GTD” as its adherents refer to it–was published in 2003 and is ranked #53 on Amazon. It has a cult like following on the blogosphere.
Allen likens the mind to a computer hard drive, which can only hold so much data. Moving this data to an organized place outside of your brain reduces the need for you to try to remember all of your obligations. The goal is to get rid of what Allen calls “stuff.” Writing all of your commitments down clarifies them and helps you to review, prioritize, and even get rid of some. Removing stuff from your mind helps you to relax and focus on the task at hand.
This year I found a free Web application that helps with this. It’s called Remember the Milk. RTM is a task manager that allows you to enter all of your tasks and prioritize them by date or importance. Whenever I think of something that I want or need to do, I send an e-mail to my RTM in-box. The next time I log in to RTM, I prioritize the task and set a date for completion. Many times I need to postpone completing the task, but at least it’s written down somewhere where I can refer back to it.
Putting GTD in practice means emptying your e-mail’s in-box every Friday afternoon. According to Allen, you should respond to an e-mail immediately if it will take you two minutes or less. If a more involved response is needed, you should move the e-mail to a folder that you will refer to later. If an e-mail doesn’t warrant a response and is not worth saving in a folder, then delete it. I managed to empty my e-mail inbox last Friday, and was surprised at all of the loose ends I was able to tie up. Gina Trapani, one of my favorite bloggers and productivity gurus, says she empties her e-mail in box three times a week.
GTD also means reviewing your list at the end of every week and re-prioritizing it. This is one of the most challenging aspects of Allen’s system, and the thing that I’ve failed to do in the past. But I think RTM is going to help me get over that hump. Now if I could only figure out how to make it get me out of bed to go running every morning.