eProductivity review part one: What is Getting Things Done?

Short review: eProductivity works.
When choosing between the Notes 8.5 standard mail template and the eProductivity template, I choose the Red Pill. I am staying with eProductivity.

eProductivity is a replacement for the email, to-do and calendar design. It enhances the to-do forms greatly, it brings in a project concept, it implements and supports all the Getting Things Done tools.

First, you have to know a bit about what Getting Things Done (GTD) is. In my next blog entry I will look at how the eProductivity product supports working in the GTD way.
Getting Things Done is a set of methods for "achieveing Stress Free Productivity" (taken from the cover of a book by David Allen who is the architect behind GTD). It sounds like yet another philosophy. I would rather describe it as a toolbox full of great advice on how to get your to-do's - ranging from small ones to actual projects - handled in a great way.
I will highlight some of the advice and tools that I find have inspired me to handle my stuff in a better way than before i started using GTD.

I like one of the thoughts introduced very early in the Getting Things Done book. By way of examples it is demonstrated how you need to write down the stuff that is on your mind. You must not let it stay on your mind, it has to be externalised. Most people have tried lying in bed and then getting some thought that just would not get away. It could be something like "I wonder if Raymond has implemented backup on the new email server". If it is just a little important, that stuff might keep you awake. The only sensible thing would be to get out of bed and write that important stuff down in a place where you know you will find it in the morning. When that's done, in all likelyhood you wille be able to go to bed and have a good night's sleep and the next morning you're ready to act on what you wrote down.
If for some reason you did not write that thought down, you may have forgotten and who knows when that thought might pop up again - perhaps tonight again.
The idea is that you need to externalise those things that you feel a responsibility for. Externalise the stuff into a system you can trust to make sure that these objects will pop up when they are relevant for you.
By moving stuff from your head to paper or some electronic device you free up your mind to actually do stuff. Like for instance acting - doing the things that were on your mind. Painting the front door, writing the quarterly report, ordering a new box of Chocolates for the meeting room or whatever.

The GTD way of thinking has got five main principles that it relies on:

  • Collect
  • Process
  • Organize
  • Review
  • Do

Collecting is basically what I described above: If something is on your mind put it down in a system. Not necessarily an electronic one. It can be on post-it notes or whatever. The main idea here is that you have to decide what your collection buckets are. You can have more than one, but you need to keep the number down. An example could be that you have a physical box on your desk for collecting paper mail, notes from your colleagues, and then you could have a Word Processing document where you keep a list of things that are on your mind,

You then need to Process the stuff that shows up in your buckets. The buckets need to be emptied - processed - regularly. If you don't, the system will break. The trust will go away.
Processing happens by taking out an item and having a look at it:
"What is it?"
Is it something that you can act on or does it not really have logical action that could follow from it?
If it is actionable you need to decide if you will act now or if it should be deferred or if you need to delegate it to someone else.
A guiding principe here is that if it will take you less than two minutes you should just do it.
If the item is not actionable, there are three possible next steps for the item:

  • File it for future reference
  • Delete or throw away
  • Put it on a list of items to look at in the future (but that is not back in the bucket)

Then there is the Organizing. Here we list objects of similar nature on different kind of lists. Stuff coming through the Processing part and that need actions that take more than two minutes and that you have not delegated need to be organized.
And here we get very action-oriented. Some of what comes out of the processing is simple things like: "Call Raymond and ask if backup for the mail server has been implemented". These belong on a list of Next actions. Actions are what some call to-do's. They need to be described in an action-oriented way. Preferably staring with verb: "Call Ben ...", "Write report...", "Phone Raymond...".
Some of what shows up in processing is not simple and will require more than just a single action. These we call Projects. For projects a very central question is what will the successful project look like when it is done? "We have moved in to new offices" or "We have employed a new Project Manager". Projects belong on a separate Projects list.
You will also need a list of things where you are waiting for something to happen before you do more. It could be when you have delegated something and you need to follow up on this sometime in the future. Put the thing on the Waiting for list.
You also need a Someday/Maybe list. This is a list of things that you don't yet know when or even if you will move on. "Should I buy a new DVD player?", "Do we need to switch Anti Virus system?" could be examples.

Then there is the Review. Once a week you should do a complete review of all lists and you should empty all collection buckets. Get a complete look through the system. It is a great way of making sure you have the overview in place. The Weekly Review really is a key component of the GTD way of working. This is where you will get feel very much in control of your work, commitments, your calendar - everything. When the Weekly Review is done, you know where you are going and you know that you haven't missed anything.

That's the very quick tour. Buy the book - I really recommend reading it. And I would be surprised if you don't get at least a couple of good ideas. Most likely you will have lots of those moments where you think "Yes, that makes perfect sense" while reading the book. In Europe you can get the book from Amazon for just €8: Getting Things Done: How to Achieve Stress-free Productivity. If you sometimes feel out of control of your commitments - professional or personal - then buy it.

I am preparing a review of eProductivity. Stay tuned.