Getting Things Done

The lack of a good general-reference file can be one of the biggest bottlenecks in implementing an efficient personal action-management system. If filing isn’t easy and fast (and even fun!), you’ll tend to stack things instead of filing them.

If you’ve organized them by context (“At Home,” “At Computer,” “In Meeting with George”), they’ll come into play only when those contexts are available.

Everything that might potentially require action must be reviewed on a frequent enough basis to keep your mind from taking back the job of remembering and reminding.

Most people feel best about their work the week before their vacation, but it’s not because of the vacation itself. What do you do the last week before you leave on a big trip? You clean up, close up, clarify, and renegotiate all your agreements with yourself and others. I just suggest that you do this weekly instead of yearly.

• 50,000+ feet: Life • 40,000 feet: Three- to five-year vision • 30,000 feet: One- to two-year goals • 20,000 feet: Areas of responsibility • 10,000 feet: Current projects • Runway: Current actions

20,000 Feet: Areas of Responsibility You create or accept most of your projects because of your responsibilities, which for most people can be defined in ten to fifteen categories. These are the key areas within which you want to achieve results and maintain standards. Your job may entail at least implicit commitments for things like strategic planning, administrative support, staff development, market research, customer service, or asset management. And your personal life has an equal number of such focus arenas: health, family, finances, home environment, spirituality, recreation, etc. Listing and reviewing these responsibilities gives a more comprehensive framework for evaluating your inventory of projects.

Have you envisioned success and considered all the innovative things that might result if you achieved it?

Have you gotten all possible ideas out on the table—everything you need to take into consideration that might affect the outcome? Have you identified the mission-critical components, key milestones, and deliverables? Have you defined all the aspects of the project that could be moved on right now, what the next action is for each part, and who’s responsible for what?

Have you clarified the primary purpose of the project and communicated it to everyone who ought to know it? And have you agreed on the standards and behaviors you’ll need to adhere to to make it successful?

Don’t just do something. Stand there. —Rochelle Myer

A great way to think about what your principles are is to complete this sentence: “I would give others totally free rein to do this as long as they ...”—what?

Suffice it to say that something automatic and extraordinary happens in your mind when you create and focus on a clear picture of what you want.

If more action is what’s needed, you need to move down the model. There may be enthusiasm about the purpose of a project but at the same time some resistance to actually fleshing out what fulfilling it in the real world might look like. These days, the task of “improving quality of work life” may be on the radar for a manager, but often he won’t yet have defined a clear picture of the desired result. The thinking must go to the specifics of the vision. Again, ask yourself, “What would the outcome look like?”

Whenever you come across something you want to keep, make a label for it, put it in a file folder, and tuck that into your filing drawer. Or put a Post-it on it instructing your secretary or assistant to do the same. In my early days of coaching I used to give my clients permission to keep a “To File” pile. No longer. I discovered that if you can’t get it into your system immediately, you’re probably not ever going to. If you won’t do it now, you likely won’t do it later, either.

When your computer is up and running and you’re cruising along digitally,

You’ll probably find that at least a few of the following common list headings for next actions will make sense for you: • “Calls” • “At Computer” • “Errands” • “Office Actions” or “At Office” (miscellaneous) • “At Home” • “Agendas” (for people and meetings) • “Read/Review”

You’re going to have to learn to say no—faster, and to more things—in order to stay afloat and comfortable. Having some dedicated time in which to at least get up to the project level of thinking goes a long way toward making that easier.

involvements—until you can honestly say, “I absolutely know right now everything I’m not doing but could be doing if I decided to.”

The most senior and savvy of them, however, know the value of sacrificing the seemingly urgent for the truly important, and they create their islands of time for some version of this process.

Your best thoughts about work won’t happen while you’re at work.

What are your key goals and objectives in your work? What should you have in place a year or three years from now? How is your career going? Is this the life-style that is most fulfilling to you? Are you doing what you really want or need to do, from a deeper and longer-term perspective?

Thinking is the very essence of, and the most difficult thing to do in, business and in life. Empire builders spend hour-after-hour on mental work . . . while others party. If you’re not con-sciously aware of putting forth the effort to exert self-guided integrated thinking . . . then you’re giving in to laziness and no longer control your life. —David Kekich

Which brings us to the ultimate point and challenge of all this personal collecting, processing, organizing, and reviewing methodology: It’s 9:22 A.M. Wednesday morning—what do you do?

I’ve noticed that people are actually more comfortable dealing with surprises and crises than they are taking control of processing, organizing, reviewing, and assessing that part of their work that is not as self-evident. It’s easy to get sucked into “busy” and “urgent” mode, especially when you have a lot of unprocessed and relatively out-of-control work on your desk, in your e-mail, and on your mind.

• 50,000+ feet: Life • 40,000 feet: Three- to five-year visions • 30,000 feet: One- to two-year goals • 20,000 feet: Areas of responsibility • 10,000 feet: Current projects • Runway: Current actions

When you’re not sure where you’re going, you’ll never know when enough is enough.

If you feel out of control with your current actionable commitments, you’ll resist focused planning. An unconscious pushback occurs.

It’s the catch-22 of professional development: the better you get, the better you’d better get.

I suggest that you use your mind to think about things, rather than think of them.

It’s really the smartest people who have the highest number of undecided things in their lives and on their lists.

Avoiding action decisions until the pressure of the last minute creates huge inefficiencies and unnecessary stress.

There are risks and costs to a program of action, but they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction. —John F. Kennedy

Asking “What’s the next action?” undermines the victim mentality. It presupposes that there is a possibility of change, and that there is something you can do to make it happen.