11 Guidelines for Clarifying StuffAUTHOR: Francisco Sáez
"Clarity affords focus." ~ Thomas Leonard
This stage is about clarifying what each thing you have previously captured means and deciding what you are going to do with them. It is about turning an inbox full of amorphous and indefinite stuff into a set of correctly organized actions. In other words, it is here where you transform chaos into calm.
This stage is as important as the others for your organizational system to be complete and up-to-date. Here’s a list of guidelines to help you clarify things efficiently:
- Process at least once a day. Unprocessed stuff are indefinite tasks, ideas, thoughts, etc. that will be hitting your head until you shape them. Process as often as you need to have the feeling that everything is under control.
- Process each stuff in isolation. Process one item at a time and don’t let the other stuff distract you. You need to focus on each item to make the best decisions.
- Process your lists in sequential order. From top to bottom, or bottom to top, it doesn’t matter. All items are equally important. If you prioritize here, you’ll begin to leave things unprocessed and procrastinate tasks, and your personal productivity system will lose all its value.
- Empty your inboxes. Actually, this is the purpose of clarifying. Every “processing” time should finish with your inboxes empty. Don’t leave any item there, no matter how difficult it may be to make a decision.
- Don’t put anything back into the inbox. Once you have clarified what a thing is, don’t turn back. Take as much time as you need and do not fall into unproductive habits. Go ahead.
- Minimize your inboxes. Clarifying means emptying your inboxes. Therefore, the more inboxes you have, the harder it will be to manage your system. Reduce the number of email accounts and personal management applications you use. One of each is enough.
- Block a specific time for clarifying. Each stage of GTD requires a different mental attitude. It’s much more efficient to get into “clarifying” mode at one or more times of the day than to constantly interrupt what you are doing to process what comes to your mind.
- Don’t spend too much time. Here it is not a question of doing the job, but of understanding what every thing is and clearly defining the next action — the next physical activity necessary to move forward. Clarifying each item should not take more than a couple of minutes.
- Update your Project List. If something requires more than one action, add a project to the Project List to have a reminder that there are still things to do here.
- If you delegate an action to a third party, write down the name of the responsible and the date you handed it off, so that you can follow up later.
- Use the two-minute rule. It says that if the defined action requires less than two minutes and you can do it at the moment, then just do it.
Clarifying a lot of things that you have stacked on the table or an infinity of emails that you have in your inbox is a task that, a priori, can scares you. This will not happen if you do it with the necessary frequency.
At this stage lies one of the great psychological strengths of GTD. Once you’ve decided the next action step for every incomplete thing in your life, you get a sense of control and relaxation that completely deserves the effort.