Friday, November 19, 2010

How to Get Things Done: Write Everything Down

I'm talking about How to Get Things Done, a book by Dave Allen that changed my life by showing me how to set up a system that captures everything that's going on in my life, helps me figure out where it all fits, and then gives me a way to prioritise what to do next.

Capture everything

If you're like me, you have a crapload of stuff going on in your life: things to write; people to see; obligations to fulfil; (hopefully) holidays to plan; kids to raise; emails to send; bills to pay; and more, and more, and more ...

The theory behind the Getting Things Done (GTD) system is that you need to write everything down and review it. Writing it down means you've gotten it out of your head. If you've gotten the idea out of your head and you can trust yourself to review it, then your brain becomes a lot calmer and stops thinking about the idea over and over again.

I've had this happen to me many times when I can't sleep because I'm thinking about something. If I just take the time to turn on the light and write it down, I usually find I pop off to sleep five or ten minutes later.

If you've known me for a while, you'll know that I write everything down in a hipster pda that I carry around everywhere. This is why - I want to capture every idea and look at it later to see if it's worthwhile or something I want to commit to doing.

Here's how to build a hipster pda:
  1. cut up a bunch of paper or get a bunch of 3"x5" file cards
  2. clip them together with a binder clip
  3. there is no step 3

There are other sources of information I have to collect from as well:
  • my intray
  • emails
  • texts and phone messages
  • meetings and conversations

Organise Everything

Once you've captured everything, the next step in the GTD system is to figure out where it goes. Is it something you should do right away? Is it something you need to think about for a while? Is it a project, and if so is it urgent or more something you might do someday?

There's a place for everything in the system, and How to Get Things Done goes into quite a bit of detail about how to set up a filing system, use a calendar, and set up something called a tickler file (which effectively allows you to 'post' things to yourself):

Every item you've captured will go somewhere: into your to-do list; into a list of actual or potential projects; into your calendar; into the trash.

Next up, I want to talk about those project lists - because that's something I resisted doing for years ... and I was wrong.


Karen said...

I like the hipster PDA... ability to colour code and remove pages seems like it'd work better than a diary.

43 folders would stress me out... most of my to do list moves with me from one day to the next, and I just recognise that I have to do it in the spaces of the urgent, immediate stuff. Every so often I do a sort and am surprised at how much I can cross off because I've done it or it no longer matters :-)

Steve Hickey said...

All good, Karen. Mostly I find the 43 folders most useful for stuff that I *know* I'll need on a certain day: application forms, or event itineries.

It's when I start stuffing the 43 folders with 'stuff that I'm procrastinating on making a decision about where it really belongs' that the system starts getting unwieldy for me.