Monday, November 15, 2010

How to Get Things Done: What's the Next Action?

There's an observation in my previous post about economics that really sticks with me: most people are too busy dealing with the day-to-day tasks in their life to lift their heads up every once in a while and see the bigger picture. I've certainly felt like that, and its that feeling - coupled with setting up a new organisational system at my work - that's motivated me to talk about one of the books that really literally changed my life.

How to Get Things Done by Dave Allen is a book that - at its most basic level - is about how to set up a filing system. But really its about how to set up a system that captures everything that's going on in your life, helps you consider where it all fits, and then gives you tools and routines to help you prioritise what to do next.

I've been using it since 2005, and I only now feel like I'm beginning to apply some of the deeper lessons from it (and that's after doing some extra reading and thinking about it).

What I'd like to do in the next few posts is talk about the basics of the version of the system I use. Perhaps it'll be helpful; most of it will probably be similar to (or an extension of) things you're already doing.

The Next Action List

Over the last few years, I have shifted to a single to-do list, which captures everything that's going on in my life.

However: the items on this to-do list are all written using one of two basic principles of the Getting Things Done (GTD) system; each item describe, in very specific terms, the next physical action I need to do. For instance, it doesn't say:

  • Sell spare clothes to the Costume Cave.

Instead it says:

  • Call Costume Cave (385-9682)

The item before that might have said:

  • Google 'Costume Cave' and find out phone number.
The other basic principle is that if an item can be done in under 2 minutes, do it then and there. You'll make more progress, and it'll be easier and faster than writing it down and revisiting it.

I've tried a lot of systems for organising my to-do lists but the best version I've found is called 'Autofocus', developed by productivity expert Mark Forster. There's an online demonstration of how it works, here.

Essentially, I have one to-do list stored in a 1B5 notebook. In the next post, I'll talk about how things get into that notebook.
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