David Allen, in his book ‘Getting things done’, gives keys to improve the way you organize your life. By giving you a simple approach to clear your mind, you will be more productive, achieve greater results and unleash your creativity. The idea is the following:

  1. You have to collect ‘things’ or ‘stuff’ into your basket. Anything can be collected, from the most important or work related item like ‘do my tax return’ to anything that comes to your mind like ‘hang a frame’.

  2. When you have something in yout basket or in-tray, you can refine it, say what is it and what has to be done?

  3. Then you define if the task is actionable.

  4. If no, you have 3 possibilities. Either you trash it immediately, either you put it in your someday/maybe list which is a list that you don’t lose sight of, or you store it somewhere as a reference, as something retrievable when needed. For example this can be stored as a bookmark in your browser.

  5. If it is actionable, then define what is the next action. If it takes less than 2 min to do, just do it now. If it takes longer than 2 minutes, you can try to delegate it and then you place it in your ‘waiting’ list, for someone else to do, or you can defer it: in that case you can plan the task and put it in your calendar, to do it at a specific time, or just put it on top of your action list, to do as soon as you can.

This is the main logic behind the GTD method and it is rather simple!

I already had a to-do list in Google Keep on my phone, also available from my computer. My to-do list is available at all time, and I think it is such a great thing to have that because it is easily rearrangeable. In comparison, the author wrote the book a while ago and he doesn’t suggest any modern digital tool. But now thanks to the book I improved my list management, and I am particularly amazed by the 2 minutes rule! It is magic to just decide and do the task in the moment, instead of accumulating small useless tasks that at the end of the week take 1 hour to be done and is on your mind.

The key is to have a trusted list where you write everything that comes to your mind and discharge your brain. It helps to get rid of the mental charge of keeping a to do list in your brain. One of the other key idea is to deal with the thing in your in-tray and take a decision about it. Another good tip that I do which is not in the book is to estimate the time the task will take to be done. If you check your list you can then easily find the perfect task for the time available you have. For example if you are at the doctor in the waiting room, you can check your list of tasks and find one of 10 minutes to fit your available time frame.

Also, David Allen proposes to categorize the ‘stuff’ in entry or in review into a 6 Level Model.

  • Ground: current actions
  • Horizon 1: Current projects
  • Horizon 2: Areas of focus and accountability
  • Horizon 3: Goals
  • Horizon 4: Vision
  • Horizon 5: Purpose and principles

This can help to define for horizon 5 ‘Become a great father’ and then you cut down things into smaller purposes until you have a first concrete action to be done like ‘read a book to my daughter everynight before sleep’ at the level of the Ground. Indeed it is often easy to say ‘Oh I want to become an actress’ and then to give up because we don’t know how to reach the ultimate goal! As long as you never figure out the concrete actions / small steps to reach your goal, it is hardly doable. So it is great to fill in the ground and then elevate the accomplished tasks toward the goal and beyond.

Another tip is that when an activity takes more than 2 or 3 tasks to be done, it has to become a separated list or project. It is important to select a bunch of things to be done per month or per day so that you don’t feel overwhelmed by all the tasks showing up on the list. The key for me is really to pick a few items and decide today I’m doing it and I will get released of these tasks right away. Often refine the list on a daily / weekly / monthly basis. Last tip is to separate the lists according to the place / the tools you need at hand to carry out the task. For example, some tasks require you to have calls. So you need to be able to have your phone and a quiet and private environment to do so. Or you need to sit at a computer, or it is something that you have to do outside. YOu can have lists such as:

  • Calls,
  • At computer,
  • Errands,
  • At the office,
  • At Home,
  • Read / Review etc.

David Allen also mentions the Tickler file system, which is a system where you can have files in all of the ‘pockets’ corresponding to the coming 30 days, and pockets per month, where you can just put all your tasks inside and define on which day to do what while never forgetting a single item.

Be also aware of the energy that a task requires. Depending on your level of available focus, you can not maybe start the budget-planning session review after an interview of 2 hours.

Don’t ever leave a meeting with the feeling that you don’t know what is expected from you. CLarify, ask to agree at the end of a discussion, repeat what you think was agreed on and push for commitment and agreement so that when you meet the next time, the tasks are done and you are talking about the same thing.