Prioritization and Getting Things Done

September 7, 2008

After my panel at Office 2.0, and sharing our GTD-based web app with some of the crowd there, the question of prioritization kept coming up.

The discussion usually goes something like “it’s an interesting methodology, but I really need to be able to prioritize all my work, and there’s no way to do that”. In my experience, that’s not true, you’re just framing the idea of prioritization differently than most systems; you’re making priority an explicit decision about what deserves your attention. That judgement happens as part of your daily and weekly reviews.

You start by prioritizing along hard deadlines and framing out your time. Appointments that must happen at a certain time and date go in the calendar, and become commitments that you’ve said are more important than anything else you could work on that week at that time. By making them scheduled items, you’re implicitly saying that you’ll not take any new, incoming work or think about the rest of your to-dos to work on those scheduled items.

Then you pick out what I think of as soft landscape pieces: tasks that need to happen at any time on a given day. By building them into your workload on a given day, you’re saying they also have a high priority and that you value them enough to give them a specific, time-determined commitment, but that they aren’t important enough to promise to block out conversations and calls and emails to get them done.

As a final filter, you review your open projects. You look at the topics and themes that matter to you (Horizons of Focus in Allen’s terminology) and then look at your project list. Move most of that project list to “on hold” status, and leave active the projects that are the most valuable toward achieving your long term goals. Use the landscape pieces in your calendar to figure out how many projects you’ll realistically have time to fit into your schedule. These are your medium priority tasks- you’re making a judgement that they matter enough to commit to working on them, but not enough to make hard and fast promises in your calendar about when you’ll do them. If they were higher priority, you would commit to a given time.

Low priority tasks, in my interpretation, are everything on hold. If I finish everything active, I can move on to them. If I have a small window of time that doesn’t fit my active work, I’ll skim a context list and grab one of those as filler.

Once you’ve made these judgments, you’ll have a pretty short short list of things to do, compared to your overall project list. And when the inevitable flurry of incoming messages and calls and requests starts to arrive, you compare those to your active projects. Is anything coming in higher priority than what you’ve committed to in you hard landscape and thought are medium priority projects? If so, you’ll bump the tasks that don’t have dates and times associated with them and take on the incoming work.

Priorities in this model aren’t about assigning a flag to something to remind yourself that it matters. Instead it’s about making a commitment of your time and focus to a subset of your possible work and letting the rest be stored in your trusted system until you review again and reevaluate those commitments. And leave time for friends and family and real human interaction. If your work-related tasks and household administrative stuff will fill your schedule from the time you wake up to the time you go to sleep, you can skim that active projects list and find the point at which you need to set that aside and go enjoy a relaxed evening with your loved ones.

GTD is a trademark of the David Allen Company. It’s use on this blog has not been reviewed by their company, I’m just another GTD-er sharing my experiences.


Office 2.0 Getting Things Done panel with David Allen

September 4, 2008

The Getting Things Done panel discussion at Office 2.0 is now online. Watch David Allen, Neil Mendelson of MindJet, Kevin Merrit of blist and our very own Doreen Hartzell discuss how Office 2.0 tools can support Getting Things Done.

Video here:

David Allen Keynote at Office 2.0

September 4, 2008

Updated: Video of David Allen’s keynote is now online.

Why read GTD?

surf on top of stuff, not in it. Get things out of your head, and feel happy to relax because you know what’s

Not inherently organized, how much easier to make things happen. Consult – flake or consultant are what you do then.

Gadget freak – anything small black and expensive: want it. Try it, see if it works later. Had come from small companies, figured the big companies had all this productivity worked out. In reality, the busier and more responsibility, the more they felt overwhelmed

Externalize your commitments. Clarify what it means – outcomes and Park results in a system with hard clean edges. Add in a reflective review process. Put everything in perspective and align it with your goals.

Offload brain’s core processor so remind and remember aren’t required to work in your head: avoid multitasking and let yourself focus. Brain is very good at analysis and pattern recognition – very powerful. But isn’t threaded. Needs to focus on one thing powerfully. Mind has to know there are placeholders for everything (decisions already made) somewhere, or it will keep spinning them back into your thoughts and interrupt your conversation.

You’re in the zone when you are focused on one thing clearly.

Not about just written things, about extended your mind and externalizing.

1. Capture what is rattling around your head. Identify what is pulling at your psyche. Don’t force decision making when you’re capturing those thoughts.

why getting organized often doesn’t work – can’t capture and evaluate and make decisions and prioritize all at the same time.

Jott is great.
David Allen notetaker wallet (office 0.5: paper and pen)
Write it anywhere, even your arm, just so you can get to it and process it later.

Having lists in and of itself doesn’t help: you have to empty that list every 24 hours or so.

Paper or electronic – don’t just collect lists.

2. Clarify meaning.

3. Organize what you’ve clarified.

How to collaborate with a team: what tools to interact.

You can’t legislate system. He doesn’t know what other people have a system. Judge on results. Set standard of “don’t let stuff slip”

Lotus notes, email. Lots of Lotus databases at the office. The interesting part is who’s responsible.

Common language is powerful – “I have 6 waiting items with you – can we review and/or renegotiate our agreements”

Don’t meet without desired outcome, don’t leave unassigned next actions

Personal preference for electronic and paper will still matter, people will just double their efforts to also use their own system in addition to the mandated one.

Uses discussion databases, have distributed systems to find out where the discussion and decisions last ended. Don’t want to click more than 2-3 times to categorize something. Internally has template for Lotus notes for their internal data along GTD model. “Will hear more about this soon”. Downside is requires someone fairly savvy to operate, hard to establish protocols and standards for what data to have input and legislate that as a team.

Must have common standards and agreements. Each database has a specific owner. Must have ownership, or stuff just lingers. And becomes a waste of time. It’s about your best practices, not the specific tool you’ve chosen.

Have tracked allergies, even, in home database, to schedule trips to avoid it. Has “quotes” database too.

Growing company with 6 divisions, moving CRM to something bigger than ACT as company grows is a new challenge. Scheduling employees around the world, etc.

Online may not be the next big thing. Interested in connection between form and function. When word processors were new, (and spreadsheets) were a paradigm shift and dramatically changed how you worked in an office and what was possible due to resource allocation.

Computer became thinkstation because of speed of Apple UI when came out

Mindmapping – another one. That is something new, but in early stages. Not sure where it will go – causes him to have new ideas he didn’t have before.

Speed of slicing and dicing information isn’t as revolutionary as being able to remix that way anyway.

Wants: “Computer: Fun, Ballet, New York” should generate a schedule of ballets in New York when a trip to NYC

Have to use and push a system hard to know if it will really work. Has to get physically engaged to know whether it is a geek toy or something for real life on a bad Monday morning. Can’t read the potential until you push the limits.

Ismael. Example: point of this conference. using new Web 2.0 tools in ways that they weren’t entirely designed for, see what happens.

End of day: is this about taking back the pace of your life. DA: point of new book. What GTD hit such a nerve was that it is a tool to give you back control and perspective.

Control: cooperation with intention. Accept what is, but guide and leave. Can’t fully control and predict. So yes, about regaining control of your life. About not being overwhelmed by the commitments you’ve made to self and others.

Information overload can’t be dealt with passively, you need to make executive decisions about what to do with info.

Getting in control isn’t about finishing everything, it’s about making decisions and finding an external way to

Start with control. If your ship is sinking you don’t care where you’re headed. Once you’re afloat, figure out which way to go. That returns your focus (6 horizons)

How to stay on the wagon? Do you need GTD to track everything you need to GTD?

It is about changing habits. Get yourself so habituated to the result is that you can’t bear to avoid it, like showering and brushing your teeth.

Addiction to stress. Your comfort zone with how many unread emails you can tolerate before you have to take action and make decisions about them. Don’t feel like you have to feel guilty about not working hard enough.

have you made a list and felt better? If you reverse engineer why that works, you won’t keep stuff in your head anymore. Would you throw away your calendar? No, then don’t keep other stuff in you head either. You do or don’t keep it in your head.

Crisis: then people are highly focused and productive. Because it drives everything else out of your head and there’s no decision-making. Lots of energy. Forebrain shuts down, you get both clever and stupid.

High performer: how do I get that focus BEFORE getting to the crisis point that forces focus. Remove distractions.

Multitasking is just rapid refocusing. You can do that if there is no residue from the things you just looking at. Like martial artist with 4 opponents.

Rapid switching is fine if you have the right placeholders and the unfinished pieces don’t nag at you.

Would be cool if you could see all your connections projected on a wall, to resort them.

If you make tasks for everything, do you still have time to complete them? Well yes, because when you can see the inventory of your commitments, you get better at saying no and not taking on more than you can do.

In the cloud, there is so much stuff, it can be hard to avoid leaving stuff lingering around. Why many people like paper – load is clear. Tools that scatter make it hard to manage. The system is only as good as what you will maintain when you feel miserable with a flu and fever. It has to work when you don’t feel like maintaining a system.

Captures in mindmanager and mindmaps – does a lot of double entry just to see things in the right places and contexts.

Mind Meister and Mind Jet are both here.

GTD Summit coming up in March 11-13. People who get into this really like to get together – create a place where they aren’t weird and everyone speaks the same language. Should be a good chance to compile best practices.

Getting into GTD 2.0

August 26, 2008

Ramping up to the Office 2.0 conference in San Francisco next week, I’ll be blogging over on their conference site as well. Over the next few days, I’ll be writing a >series of posts outlined how I’ve got my personal system set up. I’ll turn that into an article over here as well.

If you’ll be there, or a user in San Francisco, let me know, I’d love to meet up for coffee and say hello.

Why I get things done with GTD:

In building personal relationships, the discipline of keeping all mundane communications electronic has refocused my conversations. At home I don’t need to waste time with loved ones talking about who’s picking up the groceries, or whether the bills got paid. At work I don’t need to run through which requests that have come in are my responsibility and which ones aren’t. The time that used to take is freed up to talk about shared experiences and dreams and the things that really matter to the people around me. At work, we can to focus our meetings on where we want our products to go and evaluating ideas, rather than on the mechanics of keeping the company going.

Read the rest.

Office 2.0 – September 3-5, San Francisco

August 24, 2008

Badge.png The Office 2.0 conference is coming up fast, and we’re thrilled to announce we’ll be there. I’ll be participating the GTD panel, along with GTD guru David Allen, Neil Mendelson from Mindjet, and Kevin Merritt from blist.

The conference will include new tools, best practices, and case studies on using Web 2.0 applications to move to a productive, paperless workplace. The focus of the event this year is on enterprise adoption of Web 2.0 services.

Registration for the conference is still open, if you’d like to attend. It will be held at the St. Regis Hotel in downtown San Francisco. Attendees will also receive an HP 2133 Mini-Note PC, so the conference can run paper-free. Conference attendance also gets you into the Unconference.

At the conference we’ll also be doing two launches we’re very excited about. The Pro version of Enleiten’s GTD-based project management app will come out of beta. This version allows groups to share project space, while still maintaining the privacy of personal to-do lists in a single trusted single. We owe a thousand thanks to the beta testers who have given us patient feedback and suggestions on how to improve the interface and suggestions to get the workflow right.

We’ll also be releasing the beta of our community checklists library. You can contribute your favorite shopping lists, business trip packing lists, weekly review checklists, wedding planning lists, and more. Users and non-users will be able to search for useful lists, and users will be able to convert them directly to projects in their Enleiten account.

Plan for success: rethinking the to-do list

August 13, 2008

Take a quick look at your current project list, and notice what kinds of names you’ve given your projects and tasks.

Do you have a “Sales” project, or projects named “Increase current account sales 5% this quarter” and “Generate 20 new leads”?

On a personal level, do you have “Spend more time with family and friends” as a goal? Do you have self-improvement projects that say that, or ones that are called “September dinner party with the neighbors” and “Week Vacation with Family in Boundary Waters”?

I’m finding more and more that the phrasing of those project names makes a big difference. “September Dinner Party” is a project you can finish. “Spend more time with friends”, even if there are specific events in there that will make that happen, is probably not something you’ll ever cross off your list as having completed to your satisfaction. You know when they are done, you can complete them, and replace them with the next specific project that fits with your bigger goals of growing your company, improving your personal life, etc. Giving your projects a clear, specific outcome as a name means you can win.

It’s a lot harder to feel like you’re making progress when the stuff you’re working on never goes away. Think of the difference between looking at your to-do list at the end of the week and seeing that you’ve crossed off 75 things, which meant two projects were finished and the rest closer to completion. Or looking at those same 75 things and knowing you’ve done some work that inched you along a list of things that will never be finished and never end, even if you’d cranked through 100 items instead of those 75.

Be specific. Make your project names reflect the outcome you want. And enjoy the satisfaction of being able to mark things DONE.

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How GTD saved the wedding. (well, at least the flowers)

June 18, 2008

Groom's Boutonniere with Mini callas and lily of the valley

A few months ago I’d offered to help some friends with their wedding and put together their flowers. In GTD style, I put everything in my system: requests for the list of corsages needed, requests for photos of bouquets the couple had found online and liked, information about when the flowers needed to be available for photos at the ceremony, etc. And most importantly, the RFQ I sent my supplier.

I’d used this vendor before for flowers, because it was quick and easy to email in a list of what I was looking for a checking prices. So off it went, with the waiting task in place, and out of my head.

Having the system in place saved me on this one, because my weekly review came around and that request had been sitting too long. Turns out my supplier was no longer in business, even though their email didn’t bounce and their website and price list were still up and running. Running across that outstanding item on my list was an excellent prompt at a time I wasn’t thinking about the project all the time, with the focus on picking up hardware and getting my schedule at work in order.

With that prompt in mind, I had enough time to call on my request, find out what was happening, and deal with the crisis of locating a new supplier who still had time to get my order placed with the growers.

Bridesmaid Bouquet with Gerbera daisies

For any other aspiring wedding couples out there, we’ll be putting together a set of wedding checklist templates. You’ll be able to sign up for an account and do all your wedding planning online, a great way to coordinate with family and loved ones dispersed across the country to get your wedding plans done.

It’ll take us a few more weeks before those checklists come out of beta to play, but if you’ve got samples of your checklist you’d like to contribute, or would be interested in getting into the beta early to help us finetune it, drop us a line at