Productivity and GTD

The GTD Organizing Categories

AUTHOR: Francisco Sáez

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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

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

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.

Incubating

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.

Support Material

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.

Reference Material

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.

Trash

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.

5 comments

Cd9fdc8454b2f8117c78e0ac65a87943
Commented almost 4 years ago Bob Lieberman

Nice summary of GTD. In FacileThings, how do you recommend we indicate contexts? I don't like to use tags for that purpose because tags accumulate for other reasons and the contexts get lost. I might have used "Focus On", but that seems devoted to Perspectives.

Cd9fdc8454b2f8117c78e0ac65a87943 Bob Lieberman

Nice summary of GTD. In FacileThings, how do you recommend we indicate contexts? I don't like to use tags for that purpose because tags accumulate for other reasons and the contexts get lost. I might have used "Focus On", but that seems devoted to Perspectives.

Fcb879f1bc70aa0f661b842011f280fb
Commented almost 4 years ago Francisco Sáez

The best -- and only -- way to use contexts in FacileThings is via tags, no matter you use tags for other reasons as well.

When you need to know what you can do at home, you'll look for next actions with the tag #home (which is a context.) When you need to find out the next book you'd like to read, you'll look for items in the Someday list with the tag #book (which is just a classification tag.) Actually, you don't need to distinguish which tags are contexts and which are not. You just use them to filter out stuff in different ways.

Fcb879f1bc70aa0f661b842011f280fb Francisco Sáez

The best -- and only -- way to use contexts in FacileThings is via tags, no matter you use tags for other reasons as well.

When you need to know what you can do at home, you'll look for next actions with the tag #home (which is a context.) When you need to find out the next book you'd like to read, you'll look for items in the Someday list with the tag #book (which is just a classification tag.) Actually, you don't need to distinguish which tags are contexts and which are not. You just use them to filter out stuff in different ways.

501e11ba3e9c900ac50658ed168bb92a
Commented almost 4 years ago Isaac Mann

I have found that Evernote seems to take care of the job of being both, my capture tool, in place of a pocket notebook, and as a place to keep folders for project support material. Most support material I can scan into Evernote if needed, but, in general, I have very few physical documents at this point in my life. I usually use Evernote to store websites for references relevant to a project or notes for my planning of a project.

In reference to applying tags, I have very few contexts in my life other than errands. Every other time, I'm in front of my computer so I use them for the type of task. I have also begun to implement your idea of the "not this week" idea for tags to use in the someday/maybe list. As a matter of fact, I look at having a very different list of tags that are unique to the Someday/Maybe list than the ones I use for my NextActions list or calendar events based on your "not this week" article.

501e11ba3e9c900ac50658ed168bb92a Isaac Mann

I have found that Evernote seems to take care of the job of being both, my capture tool, in place of a pocket notebook, and as a place to keep folders for project support material. Most support material I can scan into Evernote if needed, but, in general, I have very few physical documents at this point in my life. I usually use Evernote to store websites for references relevant to a project or notes for my planning of a project.

In reference to applying tags, I have very few contexts in my life other than errands. Every other time, I'm in front of my computer so I use them for the type of task. I have also begun to implement your idea of the "not this week" idea for tags to use in the someday/maybe list. As a matter of fact, I look at having a very different list of tags that are unique to the Someday/Maybe list than the ones I use for my NextActions list or calendar events based on your "not this week" article.

B106331265724a910e735e2ebf3895a3
Commented almost 4 years ago Steve Parker

I agree a reference category is very important. However, I use Evernote to keep all my reference items. FacileThings is great because it is fully integrated with Evernote. Love it!

B106331265724a910e735e2ebf3895a3 Steve Parker

I agree a reference category is very important. However, I use Evernote to keep all my reference items. FacileThings is great because it is fully integrated with Evernote. Love it!

Fcb879f1bc70aa0f661b842011f280fb
Commented almost 4 years ago Francisco Sáez

Isaac, Steve,

Evernote is a great tool to keep sorted the project support material and, in general, all kinds of reference material. We are working in a new, improved integration with Evernote. Stay tuned! ;)

Fcb879f1bc70aa0f661b842011f280fb Francisco Sáez

Isaac, Steve,

Evernote is a great tool to keep sorted the project support material and, in general, all kinds of reference material. We are working in a new, improved integration with Evernote. Stay tuned! ;)

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