Getting Things Done: How I Never Forget To Do Anything

Do you often have the best intentions but fail to follow through?

Do you make too many commitments and feel overwhelmed from trying to juggle way too many tasks?

Do you have piles of “stuff” that continually builds up in your mind that you’re never quite sure what to do about?

If so, this blog may be for you.

Ok… “never” may be a strong word. I do forget things on occasion, but I have found that it seems to happen much less frequently than many people.

In the past, I’ve been somewhat reluctant to talk much about productivity and self-improvement until a recent conversation with a couple of friends who encouraged me to share more often.

Getting Things Done by David Allen

Getting Things Done by David Allen

So today I thought I would share a simplified version of the system I use to organize everything that comes across my plate.

First off, I don’t believe that the ability to remember and keep track of commitments is a reflection of one’s character, work ethic or intelligence. It’s simply about having a trusted system in place that works for you.

The following 5 steps are loosely built on David Allen’s GTD system, and the workflow utilizes elements of the Scrum and Kanban frameworks often used in Agile software development.

While this article is based on this board in Trello, there are plenty of other options like Evernote that I’ve found equally useful as tools to manage the process.

The 5 Steps

1. Collect

  • What is it?
    • This is the process of capturing the thoughts currently in your mind and those that you encounter throughout the day.
    • The goal here is to quickly get these items off your mind allowing you to return focus to your current activity.
  • What do you do?
    • Throughout the day, add any new “stuff” (to-do’s, commitments, ideas, etc.) that you encounter to the “Inbox” column of your Trello board (using the Mobile or Desktop App). Again, feel free to copy this example I created in Trello if you find it useful.
    • Developing a habit of immediately capturing each item you encounter is imperative to making the process work.
    • 2 Tips
      • Don’t overthink how you describe each item. Do it quickly and move on. You will clean these up later (see Step 2).
      • When you encounter items that can be completed very* quickly, complete them. There is no need to add these to the Trello board; it’s more efficient to complete and move on.
  • When should it happen?
    • Immediately and throughout the day.

*David Allen recommends 2-minutes as a good rule-of-thumb for completing these items.

2. Process & Organize

  • What is it?
      • This is a time you dedicate each day to processing and organizing everything you’ve collected in step 1. It’s when you empty your “Inbox”.
    Trello_GTDScrumbanTemplate

    Getting Things Done – Trello Board

  • What do you do?
    • Process
      • The collection step (Step 1) is quick and dirty and may not result in clearly defined items. Process is simply a step to review and clarify each item in your “Inbox” and determine when you might want to do it.
    • Organize
      • After Processing, once the item is clear and you have an idea about priority, choose one of these 3 options: (1) Move the item to the desired column, (2) Move the item to your **Reference System or (3) ***Archive the item if no longer interested in doing it. The “Someday/Maybe” column is reserved for items that you might want to do sometime after the current quarter; the other columns should be self-explanatory.
  • When should it happen?
    • This should happen at least once per day. Some find it helpful to perform it twice daily – morning and afternoon.

**A Reference System should be strictly reserved for non-actionable information. I’ve used OneNote and Evernote; both work great.

***Archive is a Trello function for removing (but not deleting) an item from your board.

3. Daily Review

  • What is it?
    • After things are organized, the daily review is when you review items in the “This Week”, “Today” and “Waiting For” columns.***
  • What do you do?
    • Move the items you’d like to work on before the end of the day to the “Today” column.
    • Tip: I also do 2 other things during the Daily Review that may be helpful.
      1. Review your calendar to get an idea of the day’s events
      2. Review/empty your e-mail Inbox
        • Read all new items in your e-mail Inbox, add any tasks, follow-ups, etc. (anything actionable) to your Trello Inbox and add any reference material that you may want to keep for later into your Reference System.
        • Consolidating actions in one place (Trello) and having a clear e-mail Inbox daily (w/ no unread items) was key for me in making this process work.
  • When should it happen?
    • Uhh… Daily? Yeah, I guess that’ll work. I personally find it helpful to perform the Daily Review immediately after Step 2, but they are independent processes.

***The “Waiting For” column is reserved for actions that you’re waiting on someone else to complete or get back with you on. Example, if I email John and need his response before I can take my next action, then I would place that item in the “Waiting For” column. Reviewing the “Waiting For” column is optional in the Daily Review as long as it is reviewed weekly (Step 4).

4. Weekly Review

  • What is it?
    • This is a time dedicated each week to review the entire board (except for “Someday/Maybe”) to make sure nothing’s out of place and to plan your work for the upcoming week.
  • What do you do?
    • Archive all items in the “Done” column.
    • Move items from “This Quarter” that you’d like to work the following week into the “This Week” column.
  • When should it happen?
    • Weekly! Come on; you knew that. I’ve personally found it helpful to perform the weekly review at the beginning (Monday Morning) or ending of the week (Friday afternoon or the weekend).

5. Quarterly Review

  • What is it?
    • This is a time dedicated once per quarter to review the entire board (including “Someday/Maybe”) to make sure everything’s in order and to plan your work for the upcoming quarter.
  • What do you do?
    • Review items in the “Someday/Maybe” list.
    • Consolidate, clarify or archive each item.
    • Move items that you’d like to work on in the following quarter from “Someday/Maybe” to “This Quarter”.
  • When should it happen?
    • I would do this quarterly because THAT’s WHEN YOU PERFORM QUARTERLY REVIEWS FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!!! I typically reserve a half day to a full day for my Quarterly Reviews and usually shoot for a day at the end of the current quarter, or beginning of the following quarter, wherever it’s easiest to carve out some time.

And, that is a wrap!

Please leave comments, questions and corrections in the comments below.

Thanks for reading!

-mark