Category Archives: GTD

Getting Fun Done(GFD): The Art of Stress Free Fun (and Productivity) For Kids

The internet is loaded with content on how you can be more productive and get more  done. David Allen’s Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity has become a virtual bible on how to achieving more in this crazy world. But if you try these techniques with your kids you’ll only end up pulling your hair out. There’s no such thing as being efficient or “processing” inboxes with kids.

Kids just want to know “when can we have fun”. I’m inaugurating a weekly series where I attempt to take the productivity tips us adults are using to achieve more and translating it to a fun, easy to use, more fun system to help kids succeed. I hope that this will in turn simplify adoption of productivity techniques that can help us all have more fun and maybe put our kids at a productive advantage in this crazy world we live in. With luck even adults who aren’t into all the fancy concepts that we productivity aficionados take for granted will be able to take something out of it.

Upcoming Articles include:

PS It’s only appropriate that I’m publishing this on my father’s birthday- who fights the world’s stresses and doesn’t let it stress me. Happy Birthday Tatty!

The Two Minute Guide to Getting Things Done (GTD)

One of the biggest obstacles to getting more productive is getting started. Here’s a two minute guide to Getting Things Done (GTD).

1. Capture– Get all your to dos into inboxes. e.g. mail goes in one spot, verbal to dos go in your notebook etc.

2. Process– Go through all your inboxes and empty out anything in your head onto a to do list. Here’s how to filter your list:
  • Delete- If you wont need it, get rid of it.
  • File- file away anything you’ll need later- but dont need now
  • Delegate- if someone else should be doing it- let them know. keep a to do item to follow up
  • Defer- Is this task not important enough to be done soon? Put it on a “someday/maybe” list. Review the list weekly.
  • Do now- Is it a task that will take 2 minutes or less? Do it. That includes putting appointments in your calender, adding addresses to your contact list etc.
3. Do– Do your to do list.
4. Weekly review– Be on top of your to do list.
Of course there’s much more but if you start with this then you’re already ahead of most people.

Let’s Fight: Why Don’t You Keep Your Inbox Empty?

No new mail!I don’t like to fight with anyone, especially not my readers but the more “productive” I become the less I understand the need for overflowing email in an inbox. In this article I’ll go through why email inboxes should be empty. I also take on the reasons people think it’s better to keep your inbox full and dispel them. I’m trying to be open minded so let me know your reasons for not keeping it empty.

Reasons To Empty Your Inbox

Clear To-Do List

With an empty inbox all your tasks, follow ups etc are on your to-do list. There is no reason to look through last week’s messages to figure out what you need to do now.

Have Specific Information on Tasks

An email can be a long novel with tasks for you generously interspersed in it. When you create a task based on an email you get to write what you need to do in your own words. This way you see the task on your list as “Run Monthly Expense Report for February” and not “Re: FWD> RE: MC/GRF4 Return Test Files Available”

Nothing Gets Lost

With an empty inbox there’s no email from two days ago hiding 50 items below your visible screen with an important item to do.

Easy to see new urgent items

You have just new mail in your box so it’s easy to spot when something important comes in.

Clear Head

An empty inbox leads to clear thinking. You know exactly what you need to work on: process any new email that comes in and do your to-do list. Don’t underestimate the advantage of clear thinking. At a moment’s notice you know exactly what you need to do today and what you can see what you won’t be able to accomplish. This enables you to focus on what you need to do and not on all the emails around what you need to do.

Reasons Not To Empty Your Inbox

After reading about all the advantages to an empty inbox you’re wondering why would anyone not want to empty it. There are three reasons I hear most often, I’ll counter them below.

Easier to Find Email

Some people keep their email in their inbox to make it easier to find. Searching for an old email is a chore in Microsoft Outlook (and some other mail programs)- you need to go to locate the right folder and even then it’s very slow and limited. The solution is to download Windows Desktop or Google Desktop. These programs are both free and allow you to search your email or your entire computer fast. So store your email in whatever folder structure you want- or no folder structure- you can easily find it.

I Have a System

Many people say they have a system and that system involves keeping some email in the inbox. The problem I see is that with some to-dos hidden in emails in your growing inbox and some to-dos in other areas you may have conflicts and aren’t sure what to do next. So you start with the one staring at you now and miss an important one. The solution is to separate your to dos from your inbox. In Outlook you can use a program to turn your messages into tasks easily like Clear Context’s IMS. That’s the one I use and it’s improved my ability to process emails exponentially. It has extra buttons like “related messages” which works quickly at finding the email that your to do is about. It also includes special quick filing buttons. There much more it can do check out Clear Context.

It’s Too Hard To Empty My Inbox

Many people have hundreds or even thousands of messages in their inbox- to get through that many emails can be a major obstacle. The solution is to transition to an empty inbox and not just do it in one step/day.

1) Move your inbox to a new folder- Create a new folder let’s say it’s called inbox2. Move all messages from your inbox into inbox2. Maintain your old system (if you have one) on inbox2.

2) Start with a new inbox- From now on commit to emptying your inbox daily. Put items you need to work on in your to do list. In Outlook you can drag your message to the tasks icon to automatically create yourself a to do or you can use Clear Context IMS to do it easier.

3) Process your old inbox- Find chunks of your old inbox that you can file away. For example, if you’re subscribed to a list put all email from that list into a folder. Then you can put one to do item on your list- read that folder. You may decide you don’t want to read a certain list. Trash all those messages and unsubscribe. You may be able to get rid of another chunk by picking a date (say a month ago) and decide that you’ll move all those into an archive folder. Let’s face it if you haven’t done something about an email from a month ago you never will. If you need to reference it, you know where to find it. Similarly if you come across a long conversation that is no longer relevant sort by subject and move all those emails into your archives. Now sort by sender and get rid of batches of old emails. Continue your process trying to get rid of chunks of your old inbox. Hopefully by the time you’re done with the process your inbox2 folder will be tamed.

4) Maintain your old system- Keep doing what you used to so you don’t miss out on important tasks. Keep looking for opportunities to move tasks into your new system. Grab a bunch of inbox2 emails related to certain topic and file it in a folder and create an item on your to do list listing the next action on that project.

5) Finish the transition- When you get a good handle on inbox2 and there are just a few items left take the time to transition it to your new inbox and take appropriate action. Now destroy inbox2, you’re done- you have achieved an empty inbox.

6) Limit what comes in to your Inbox- One way to maintain an empty inbox is to limit what comes in to it. Be diligent about unsubscribing from lists that are no longer relevant. Create mail filters that file reference material or other mailing lists in their own folder so it doesn’t clutter what you need to do immediately. Schedule time to check those folders periodically.

This process can take time. Dedicate time each day to help the transition to an empty inbox. You’ll see once you experience an empty inbox you’ll feel free.

Merlin Mann has written an interesting set of articles helping people empty their inbox. He even has a presentation. 2Time contends that “Email Inboxes are a great indicator of professional productivity“. I’m not saying it’s the only indicator but it’s a good measure.

Does your inbox have items in it? Let me know why. Convince me. Are there more good reasons to have an empty inbox- let me know.

photo credit: Collin Anderson

David Allen on GTD’s low adoptation rate and GTD 2.0

I found a dated podcast of David Allen, the author of Getting Things Done (GTD), with Merlin Mann of I highly recommend the book, it’s a cornerstone to being productive. In the podcast, Allen admits that there’s a very low adoptation rate of people who start with GTD and end up using it. They include:

Not easy to get started- Try to put yourself in an environment where the GTD language is spoken.

Getting more dimensions– Keep learning. Keep rereading. One answer he gives is GTD connect.
High level issues (20,000 & 30,000 & 40,000- feet)- if you don’t address your high level goals “your system will become flat”.

You’ll notice  these are exactly the issues that I discussed earlier with Don’t Get Things Done. I’ll keep bring more solutions to these and other problems with GTD.

8 Steps to a Productive Day

Path to a productive dayThe Getting Things Done Yahoo Group is having an interesting discussion about Control mechanisms.

Without control mechanisms of some type in place, doesn’t that pretty much leave you in the lap of the gods so to speak?

In my response I outlined 8 steps to being productive. I try to instill control, yet give the flexibility to be creative and maximize your day. It all starts with thinking first.


At the end of each day you should plan your next day. This may be an outgrowth of your weekly review- or as it should be called “The Weekly Preview”. Depending on your type of job think this is impossible, but it’s not. For example, if you are in constant crisis mode most of your plan may be thrown out each morning but your plan should be to get the bottom of the crisis so you can move past it.

First you’ll need to determine the most important tasks (MITs) that need to be done the next day. Don’t count daily maintenance tasks like following up and checking email as part of this. If there are 20 things you need to get done then you’re just setting yourself up for failure (unless they aren’t big and you can batch a bunch together and count it as one of your MITs).

Don’t try to fill your full day with MITs- these are just the choices to get you started. Just pick the 1-5 items that you want to get done the next day (keep it 3 or less ideally). Start with items that MUST get done (e.g. deadlines) – that if you don’t do it you’ll need to stay late. Also check your calendar of how much time you’ll have. The more scheduled time you have the less MITs you should plan. Then if you still have open slots, pick tasks that will be best for you for the long term while balancing for project size: smaller projects go first. A better idea is to use layering to cut your most strategic projects into small attainable parts so they don’t get pushed off and are the smaller projects that you end up doing.

At the end of this process you’ll have you a few MITs and a bunch of other tasks. Dont worry these other tasks will still get done.

Here’s how to schedule your productive day:

1. Most Important Tasks

Start with your first MIT first thing when you get in, before you check email or process your other in boxes. Much has been written about the advantages of starting the day early. Getting in early to do a MIT can set your day in the right track. Even if you cant get in early get to your first MIT as soon as possible.

2. Process

When you start processing your in boxes do the quick tasks on the spot. GTD has a two minute rule that in itself can trim items off your to do list before they get there. I would expand this to a 5 minute rule (or even 10) for the following scenarios:

a) Lots of small tasks

Your to do lists are long enough, if you keep having to add 5-10 minute tasks to it and cycle through 5-10 minute tasks every time you want to pick a task you’re just wasting time and energy. Further if you know someone will spend 5 minutes following up on these tasks then it wastes more time. Get it done. Once it’s done it’s no longer on your list and out of your mind. This is part of the reason you didn’t over schedule yourself, so you can properly react to your incoming tasks. If you have a lot of these tasks then you may decide to schedule a MIT for the next day to get rid of the 10 minute tasks.

b) Offensive Opportunities

Sometimes if you take care of a task quickly you can create good will. This can be used with prospects, customers and bosses.

c) Preparation

If you receive information about a task that doesn’t have an immediate deadline don’t just file it away, look at it first. Jot down a quick outline of your thoughts. You may create a few Next Actions right away. Pay special attention to missing information, you’ll want to email people quickly so they have maximum time to do proper research. Seek to get project scope/deadline early on- this will save you lots of rushing at the deadline.

d) Soaking Time

Give yourself time to be creative by figuring what needs to be done and let your mind work in the background. Again an outline helps here. Then let your brain work in the background. You can even schedule a reminder for your self in a few days to jot down a few more notes.

3. Maintenance tasks

These are the small daily tasks you need to do like ticklers/follow ups. Be sure that you go through your follow up list.

4. More MITs

Spend uninterrupted time on your next MIT. Set your environment so you can get in the zone.

5. More Processing/Breaks

Breaks are good for you- just don’t take it to an extreme. Two to five minutes every hour gives you time to rejuvenate. After a break you can switch gears to the next MIT or processing time.

You should schedule processing time at key intervals of your day. Different jobs have different requirements. I would recommend once in the morning, once before and after lunch and one last time before you leave.

6. Context

You can only do certain tasks in certain places. In your Preplanning, you may have scheduled yourself to be in a place to do one of your MITS (e.g. a meeting). Be sure that you think through where you’ll be so you can have a productive time during the transitions e.g. as you wait. Trace your steps through transitions. If you find yourself in your car be sure to have your cell phone or something appropriate to listen to.

7. Seize The Day

After you’re done with your MITs for the day, you pick your next task by gaugin the time available/energy available. If you’re ambitious you can find another MIT, otherwise just slice and dice and get your task list down.

8. Start Planning

Before you leave for the day preplan (see the first section) the next day to get it going on the right foot.

As you see this schedule is rigid but allows flexibility. You may be going along one day doing your tasks and realize that the current task can be ATEd (automated, eliminated or delegated). If you spend some extra time now you’ll receive greater benefits in the future. You can then decide to schedule it for the next day or push off your next MIT to the next day and do the automation on the spot.

I used this flexibility to write this blog post. I started the base of this blog post as a reply to the conversation but as I kept writing I realized it was getting lengthy as there were some concepts I wanted to explain. Some may have quit and said there’s too much to write and not enough time allocated. Instead I took the extra time and it became the foundation for the blog post that I wrote later.

Have a productive day!

Photo credit: Maik Radke

Getting Dreams Done Part 1: Making Dreams Reality

What’s stopping you from achieving your dreams? For many people it’s simple, they haven’t verbalized their dreams. Without verbalization, dreams can’t happen. Others will fire back the usual dream, “I want to be rich and happy”. Having a dream is a step in the right direction but if you haven’t turned your dreams into actionable items and pursued it, that’s what it will remain- a dream but not reality. So how can you turn a dream into reality? There are 4 easy steps: verbalize the dream, set your goals, create a plan to turn that dream into reality and of course execute. In this part we will focus on verbalizing the dream.

Determining Your Dreams

One of the key points of the Success Making Machine (and how it enhances GTD) is that you are encouraged, dare I say required, to verbalize your dreams. In the dream phase you are picturing what success looks like. At this point, you can make them as unrealistic as you want or as generic as you want, even “I want to be rich and happy”. The more specific you are the more it will help you in the long run. One way to put some structure around your dreams is to verbalize dreams for each area of your life: career, financial, family, social, community, health etc .

Be Positive

When you are verbalizing your dreams- focus on what you want, not what you don’t want. For example, “I want to be rich” is more powerful than “I don’t want to be poor”.

Before you commit to a dream ask yourself if it’s really what you want. Picture your life with your dream achieved. You may find that it isn’t quite what you want. Growing up, many of us wanted to be sports/music or film stars. If you had the magic powers to have the talent for it would you still want it? Maybe you wanted the fun that went with being a baseball player but do you really want to play every single day for 10-20 years? Perhaps you may want it but do you want to keep up that rigorous travel schedule? How will this correspond with your goal of raising a family? So before you commit- think it through.

Buy into your dream

A dream should be something you truly want. Then set your energies to it. Your thoughts, beliefs and actions should be geared toward achieving this goal. You’ll need to believe this dream is possible. You don’t need to know all the details of how it will happen- just know that it will. As you continue to read through this series some of the next steps to success will crystallize. Some would call this the “Law of Attraction” (if you believe/act a certain way you will attract it). This site isn’t build on going into psychological tricks and unproven theories- it’s about logic and actions. Logic tells you if you believe something, invest yourself in it and your mind works toward achieving it, you will be more likely to succeed. You can call it karma- I’ll call it logic.

The Finale

Peter at I will change your life(which I recommend) has a well defined dream:

…to write a book that would help young people, or anyone really, find happiness and meaning in their life…

In the final part in this series I will outline how to use the lessons from this series to approach his dream.

What’s your dream?

Verbalize it and you’ll get closer to achieving it. Now that you’ve started to crystallize your dreams, in the next section we’ll talk about taking steps to achieve it. Subscribe to this feed to be notified when the next part of this series is posted.

Don’t Get Things Done!

Go. Do. Act. Do More. Everywhere you turn there are more and more demands on you. The smart people turn to a productivity system like Getting Things Done and gain control of their lives- or do they?

These systems solve can certainly help gain control over tasks but they leave open many problems:

  • Too Complex– You need to read through a 200+ page book to get started. Who has the time and effort to go through it? When you get through the last page do you remember the points from page 10? Then the setup can take days, who has the patients?
  • Don’t focus on Planning– The systems focus almost exclusively on the doing: Get it done faster, better. But they are too quick to act. Many times a little thinking in advance can save much time on the execution or eliminate it completely.
  • Don’t Focus on Enjoyment– You can be perfectly efficient doing tasks you hate but if you don’t enjoy it what’s the point? Then before you know it you’re procrastinating and what good is the system doing for you?
  • Don’t Focus on Your Life– The systems may focus on work. Some even focus on the tasks you perform at home but what about integrating your health, spouse, kids and the rest of your goals into this.

Don’t get me wrong I love Getting Things Done and use many of its principles (You’ll see them in these pages) but it doesn’t address the above problems.

In this site I’m developing (yes developing lots more content to come) a system to take the best of all systems and address the above problems and more. Here are the advantages you’ll experience:

  • Simple It uses simplicity and simple technology to do a lot of the tasks for you. No need to recopy notes and keep 43 million folders for filing.
  • Life Management There’s more to life than work. There’s family, play, community- it’s about balance and doing what you need, when you need to.
  • Get started quickly– I’ve added a Get Started section where you can get started in just a few minutes. Actually if you take away that you should enjoy whatever you do, you’re already ahead of the game.

What are your frustrations with your current system?