As one who subscribes to the Getting Things Done philosophy of, well, getting things done, I should probably know exactly when I started applying GTD techniques. I can’t pin down an exact date, but I know it has been a shade longer than a year. In that time, it has helped me immensely. I simply would not be able to keep my head above water without some form of system in place.
For the most part, GTD stays out of the way and just lets things happen. Nonetheless, it is useful to evaluate what is going on once in a while to see if things can be improved. This is precisely what I did with Outlook, and it helped quite a bit. I used to really loathe Outlook. I can’t say I really love Outlook now, but if it were a person, we would be on cordial speaking terms. We might even have a beer together after work once in awhile. It is doubtful that we would hang out on the weekends though.
So, things were clicking along nicely. Everything but the weekly reviews. This seems to be a common problem in the GTD crowd. GTD was working for he most part, things were not falling through the cracks or getting lost; they just were not happening fast enough. Without reviews on a regular basis, there was no defined time to sit down and prioritize things. I just kept adding to the list and once in a while, I would knock a couple off.
The good news is, since everything was captured on a list somewhere, I was able to pull out of this downward spiral very quickly. I knocked a bunch of items off my lists in one afternoon. After getting all this work done and feeling good about it, I wanted to keep things that way. So, I turned by gaze towards what had led me down this dark road: Lack of Weekly Reviews.
After looking at the problems, I decided to do two simple things:
- Reschedule weekly reviews for Friday mornings
- Make a couple weekly tasks daily
After a year of trying to do reviews in the afternoon, I found that Friday afternoon is generally a crap time to schedule anything like this. I really needed minimal interuption, but I didn’t want to be unavailable. So, when people stopped by the office or called to chat, I chatted. Eventually, the work day ended and I wanted to get out of there. Sure, I could have stayed on and finished the review, but I’d rather be elsewhere on Friday evening. The result was that I rarely completed reviews. Rescheduling to Friday morning solved this problem. The review gets done and I have time to chat if need be.
With that problem solved, I focused on what I was trying to accomplish during the review. I actually had a check list for my weekly review. Not a long list, but there were a couple items on it that I really dreaded. Specifically, making sure all of my data entry was complete and following up on emails were cumbersome. These are both very important tasks that need to get done on a very regular basis. I decided that if there was less to do, it would be more palatable. So I started dealing with these items more often.
In the case of data entry, this was not all that difficult. For the most part, my data entry is quick and easy so long as I keep up with it. It normally consists of notes I’ve jotted down in meetings. Now, I try to enter those in shortly after the meeting. If I don’t have time, I put them in my data entry folder. When I have a few spare minutes, I’ll dive in and enter whatever time allows. If I have a bigger data entry task, I don’t just toss it in that folder. I make note of it on a list so I am sure I’ll get back to it at some point. This makes for a thin (or empty) data entry folder that is easy to deal with during a weekly review.
As for the email follow-ups, rather than waiting until the weekly review to do them, I now review them daily. Basically, I look for any email in my @Waiting folder that has gone for more than a week without a response and follow up on it. This means I am normally dealing with less than 10 emails at a go rather than 45 or 50. Following up a bit sooner also has the side effect of keeping the total number of follow ups down to a more manageable number.
These minor adjustments to my review process don’t seem all that earth shattering, but they have made GTD much more effective for me. Reviews are probably one of the biggest hurdles for people trying to practice GTD. They certainly were something I grappled with for a while. As I said before GTD is pretty damn effective even if your reviews aren’t, but regular reviews make it hum.