Corporate Health – Getting Things Done in the New Year

By guest blogger Josh Tafoya, Technical Trainer

(This is the first of a monthly series about Corporate Health, where we will examine different methods and ideas for improving efficiency, your company culture, and employee morale.)

I’m a relatively busy person.

On any given day, I may have as many as four separate training calls, a dozen smaller calls, countless emails to answer, conversations to have, and yes, the occasional blog post to write. Not to mention working towards my personal, departmental, and company goals.

In the past, I struggled with time management and figuring out when all of these things were going to happen.

Now, most of my training calls are scheduled, so I know when those will take place. Of course, there are the random five-minute calls throughout the day, too. But there’s still a lot of work to do. Since many days are largely filled, I needed a quick and efficient way to organize the myriad small tasks that inevitably come up.

The solution I found helped me immensely. I know it’s not for everyone. I know it’s not the perfect solution. But then, what is?

The one that works for me is called Getting Things Done (GTD). It’s a process that was created by David Allen. He wrote a book which I highly recommend. GTD has apparently worked for many because a devoted community has risen up around it. There are dozens of books about ways to use GTD. Dozens of websites. Dozens of apps.

So here’s how it works. (I’m going to be paraphrasing here, so if you want to learn more, Google “GTD” or visit David Allen’s website.) GTD begins with understanding that the capacity of people’s memory and organizational skills are going to be all over the place. Some people can remember things well and others can’t. Some people are able to prioritize things naturally and others aren’t.

So, we need a way to do a few things. We need to be able to gather tasks, emails, inquiries, memos, and anything else which needs our attention into a single trusted place. We need to be able to spend some time categorizing this group of items. We need a method for organizing those categories. We need to review our organized lists often enough to be productive. And of course, we need to get things done.

So David Allen came up with his Five Steps. Again, I’m paraphrasing here with everything except the names of the steps and explaining how I use this to get things done.

Step 1 is to Capture. Have an email that needs more attention? A memo? A call to return? An idea for a blog? Taxes to do? Doctor appointments to make? I could go on and on, but the idea is there always seems to be an endless list of things that need to get done, both work-related and personal. I would never be able remember them all. So the first thing to do is get it out of my head and get it into my trusted organizer. Some people use notebooks. Some use physical inboxes. Me? I use my phone and a wonderful web app called Nirvana. If I need to spend more than 30 seconds on anything it goes in there.

Step 2 is to Clarify. I do this as I add to my list. I ask myself if the items on my list can be actioned. If it’s “no,” then it goes in the trash. If it’s “not right now,” I file it for the future. If it’s “yes,” I identify what task I need to do to complete the item. If the task will take five minutes or less, I’ll do it right then. If it will take more time, I’ll see if I can delegate it (although if you’re like me, you probably have a lot to do, and nobody to delegate to). If that is the case, I add it to my list of things to do.

Step 3 is to Organize. This one is easy. All of those things that end up on my list of things to do? They get a tag or tags which tell me what category they fall into. Is it an email that needs to be written? A call that needs to be made? Is it a blog post idea? Every item gets at least one tag. This way, when I come back to do the tasks, I can write the emails all at once. All the calls can happen at once. And so on.

Step 4 is to Reflect. I’m able to do this once a day, though some people might need to do it more and some less. I go through my list of things to do and prioritize them to determine which task is going to be done next. Now, this is not a timeline for getting everything done; it’s just the priority each item holds. It’s important to point out that we are NOT creating a daily “To Do” list. It’s too stressful to figure out how each item would be scheduled. I know what’s more important and what’s less, so I keep prioritizing.

Step 5 is to Engage. This means to simply do the things on my list. Based on my reflection, I know the next item which needs to be done. So I do it. Then I mark the checkbox when it’s complete. On any given day, my list of things to do could be short or long. But this way, I know I’m getting through it.

What this process did for me was remove from my life the need to try to remember everything. It was making me crazy. I felt as though all my capacity was being used simply trying (and quite frankly, failing) to remember everything.

As I said, the GTD method is not for everyone. But it has really helped me make better progress with getting things done, so I hope you may find it useful as well!