Productivity and GTD
The GTD Organizing Categories
Many people think that since a considerable amount of their tasks are trivial and easy (phone calls, sending emails, attending meetings, etc.) they just need a “simple” way of getting organized. This perception is simply wrong.
All these trivial tasks hide a wide network of commitments and they need a vast amount of daily actions in order to control them. Furthermore, they change so quickly that leaving them up to a simple to-do list and a calendar is breeding ground to feed organizational chaos and personal stress.
A personal organizing system cannot be complicated up to the point where you end up not using it, but on the other hand, it cannot be so simple that it doesn’t allow you to clearly discern between different types of activities. David Allen defined a series of organizational categories within the GTD method so that once you have defined what each entry means to you, it becomes obvious where you have to save it. This system has been proved to be perfectly valid, regardless if you are a senior executive or a high school student.
Outcomes are a collection of reminders that allow you to focus on the different horizons which shape your activity. It is convenient to have this reminders in lists or in some kind of document that allows you to revise them frequently enough you can keep them on the right track. There are several possible subcategories here. From top to bottom:
- Purpose: It is convenient to have a written version of your life purpose, or your business mission statement, so that you can go over it when significant changes occur and new challenges show up.
- Principles: A lists of principles you rely on, a personal or professional declaration, will help you reaffirm your values in those moments when you need inspiration.
- Vision: Your long term goals can also be a simple list or they can include a visual representation that supports that vision.
- Goals: A dozen of mid-term objectives can also be easily managed with a simple list.
- Areas of focus: These are some aspects of your life and work in which you need to keep a high implication level. You only need a list for them.
- Projects: As we lower our horizon you are going to need a structure that can hold a bigger amount of information. Here we are talking about a project index that you have to bear in mind though; planning and details of each project belong to another organizational category, that I will explain further on.
- Outcomes which other people have to do. You will also need another list with these reminders, so that you can keep track of those high-level tasks.
Actions are what you do in your day to day, the battlefield. Don’t think about the traditional to-do lists which only reflect latest and more urgent things. Having a complete vision of all the actions that shape your life is essential to implement GTD with success. In order to really be efficient, you need to have on hand all your possible actions. There are three subcategories for such actions.
- Calendar: It’s a basic tool that contains the actions or events which have to happen in a particular day or time. It’s very important, since this will be the first place you will pay attention every day. You will therefore, have to adjust the rest of your work in regard to these critical commitments. Do not use the Calendar to write down things you would “like to do” that day, or it will lose all its value.
- Actions you must do ASAP: You will write down here the vast majority of your actions—those that don’t need to get done at a specific date—and you will look at this list every time the Calendar allows you to. For this list you will need a system that allows you to subdivide it into contexts, so that you can only focus in what you can do right now based on your situation (calls, computer, house, office, errands, in any place, etc.)
- Actions other people must do: A reminder list with anything you might be waiting for: delegated actions, an order that hasn’t arrived, lent objects, etc.
There are always actions, projects or ideas, that you would like to do in the future or, simply, save them somewhere so that you can decide later on if you are going to get involved in or not. There are two types of incubation:
- Elements you might want to review regularly. Things you would like to do, places you would like to visit, books, movies, courses, personal projects, etc. Logically, these elements have to be somewhere you check frequently. the Someday/Maybe list is perfect to remember this things—as long as you have the habit of including it in your Weekly Review.
- Things to do, or think about, in a given date in the future. They are committed actions that you won’t need to have in your Calendar until the moment in which you have to get them started. For this you will need a system which shows, activates or reminds you about these actions at the right moment, such as a Tickler file, a special calendar or a scheduled emails service.
Probably, in order to carry out your projects, you need relevant information in different formats about the issues you are dealing with, so that you can make the right decisions when the moment comes: plans, strategies, technical information, administrative data, details, related articles, links to related material, etc.
You need a place to store all of this, which at the same time should allow you to somehow classify the information. The Support Material has to be together with the project actions, but not mixed. A physical folder would do, but due to the big volume of information that you could add here, digital tools such as Evernote, Dropbox, etc. would allow you a better and handy access to the information.
Surely, every day a huge amount of information gets to you and some might be relevant to your work or lifestyle. Unlike project’s support material, this information doesn’t need to be revised so often. It simply has to be available when the moment of consulting comes.
At this point, a good classification system is important, since this will end up being the category of your organizational system with the largest amount of data.
When something becomes unnecessary or irrelevant, it’s important to eliminate it from the system since although it does not occupy physical space, it does occupy space in your psyche. This section is more important than what it seems because we tend to accumulate things which end up deteriorating our organization. If your organizational system has a big amount of obsolete things which no longer have a meaning, you will be more reluctant to use it.