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This is a fascinating, wide-ranging conversation between David Allen and Brian Robertson. They discuss how we as humans relate to our own attention, and how the increasing complexity of our work environment has necessitated that we get stuff off our minds. They point out multiple common threads between Getting Things Done for individuals and Holacracy for organizations. They also consider what happens after your personal system and your organization’s system are on cruise control.

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It’s here! We’re happy to announce our new best-practices guide for implementing GTD® with Asana®.

This Guide will show you how to:
– Understand the fundamental GTD best practices
– Optimally configure Asana in the way we have found works best for GTD
– Integrate your actionable email
– Create project and next actions lists in Asana
– Create useful reference lists
– Use Labels effectively… and more!

PDF download

Not an Asana user? Check out our full library of expert GTD software guides.

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The GTD® Summit kicks off in just seven weeks!

We are in the midst of finalizing our program and I am excited to announce that Emily Gregory of VitalSmarts will be joining our incredible lineup. She’s going to be sharing insights on effectively managing 10,000+ people.

As well as our stage content, we have been working on an exciting part of the event that we’re calling the “Productivity Jungle.” There you’ll be able to meet 12 curated companies demonstrating their innovative productivity apps, project management tools and newest educational programs.

Among those companies are Coda.io, Scoro, Meereffect, OmniFocus, NirvanaHQ, and many more that we’ll be announcing over the next weeks.

As always, check out the full lineup as well as our complete roadmap to help you plan your two days. Prices go up again on May 10th—don’t miss out.

See you there!

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Tell us a little about yourself:
My name is Steve Holden, and I currently live in Southern California near San Diego. I originally grew up in Northern California near Sacramento. I came down to San Diego to go to San Diego State University (SDSU) to study computer science, and fell in love with San Diego. I have been blessed to be able to stay here in the San Diego area with my wife, three kids, and two dogs.

Photo by Alan Antczak

What do you do for work?
Since graduating from SDSU I started working at a Research & Development (R&D) Navy Lab. My current role is Lead Systems Engineer (LSE). I started out my career as a software developer and database engineer, but I am now doing more system analysis, architecture, engineering, integration, and testing. I have also been a project manager with responsibilities related to managing cost, schedule, and performance.

How long have you been practicing GTD, how did you hear about it, which tools do you use, etc.?
I started practicing GTD in 2002. It is kind of strange, but I got started with GTD based on the name “Getting Things Done.” I had just finished reading the book “Execution” by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan that had the subtitle “The Discipline of Getting Things Done.” And after reading the book “Execution,” David Allen’s book title must of caught my eye at the airport bookstore because I picked it up and started reading it immediately. I couldn’t put the book down because it really clicked on many levels with my current feelings of being overwhelmed and having no good way to handle all the inputs in my life. As soon as I was done reading I just started implementing it at home and work.

Given the nature of my work for the government, I’ve always had two systems – one for work and one for home. My work system has been pretty stable for years. I’m using Microsoft Outlook configured like the recommended Outlook Setup Guide using Outlook Tasks for tracking Next Actions, Projects, Waiting For, etc. Usually each Project I have gets a dedicated folder in my Windows computer’s Project’s folder. Most of my support material is in Microsoft Office products like Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. I am keeping work related Reference material in Microsoft OneNote. I am a big fan of doing mind mapping, and use the Windows version of MindManager for doing mind mapping, brainstorming, mind sweeps, note taking, project planning, etc.

My personal system is currently using Nirvana. I just made the changed in January 2019. My Nirvana setup is using the recent Nirvana Setup Guide. Before the change I was using Google Keep for several years, and my personal blog post about my Google Keep setup still gets a lot of traffic (http://bit.ly/GTD-Using-Google-Keep). Before that I dabbled with doing GTD in Evernote. I am really happy with Nirvana. It is simple to use and I really like the way you can link Next Actions to Projects. I also like that I can access Nirvana via web or with an app on my Android phone or with my iPad.

How has GTD made a difference in your work and life?
GTD has been so central to my life — 17 years if my math is correct. It keeps me on track and gives me a sense of control in the whirlwind of life. I use to be super stressed out about everything going on, however, adopting GTD has made everything so manageable that I actually can’t conceive of not having it in my life.

Two things do come to mind though as examples.

The first is having a system like GTD lets me be more present and actively engaged in where I am physically at. Having my GTD “external brain” lets me account for all my commitments, and what I plan to do about each of those commitments as already been decided. This gives me the freedom to know that if I am in a meeting, or sitting on the couch watching a movie with my family, that this is the best use of my time in that moment.

The second is that if something new — good or bad — shows up, I know how to deal with it and how to process it into my system. Back in October my Mom passed away suddenly. It was awful from an emotional perspective. There was so much that had to be done as her son and Executor that it would have been completely debilitating without having my GTD skills. I can honestly say that GTD was one of many things that got me through that period until now, and me being “organized” really helped my family deal with this loss.

What areas of GTD are you doing really well (or at least better than you used to)?
Overall my GTD game really started improving back in October 2017. The reason is that I had on my Someday/Maybe list — “Become a Certified Trainer of GTD” for my work. And in October I completed that training with VitalSmarts, and then in 2018 I conducted 8 courses training 87 co-workers.

Being on the hook to facilitate classes about GTD really gave me additional motivation to make all of GTD a regular habit. I was pretty good with weekly reviews, but now I’m much better in timeliness and consistency. I have also moved from having a weekly review for Work on Monday mornings and then a separate weekly review on Sunday for Personal, to just one weekly review on Sunday afternoon. This is giving me a better perspective as I start the work week on Monday.

What areas of GTD would you like to get even better at doing?
The one area that I’ve been working on more recently is with ENGAGE. This is to make sure I actually have time on my schedule to do the work that I’ve committed myself to. One way I’ve been experimenting with improving on ENGAGE is by using a Panda paper planning system to make sure I get the right amount of reflection to really know what my key projects, the key tasks that need to get done in a day, and making sure I am still tracking things I am grateful for, things I’m excited about, my big wins, and things I still need to improve on. So far it has been pretty positive.

What is one piece of advice you would give to someone just starting out with GTD?
Remember that doing GTD is for you. You aren’t being graded on it, and you aren’t being compared to others. Your GTD practice is personal — it is you working on you being a better human being. It is not an event, but a journey that will take time. The pay-off will be a better you. And communities like GTD Connect can help you on this journey.

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How does technology affect your productivity?

Despite my thirty-five years of consulting, coaching, and training in hundreds of organizations, I don’t have an easy answer to that question. The digital tools we need and like require more intensive labor than they should. It would be great to have a digital dashboard that integrated all apps, allowed you to manipulate information in a single location, and then sent the revised data back to its original location. And all upgrades would happen automatically! Doubtful, in my lifetime.

In the meantime, we have to make the tools we have work as best we can. Imagine your workspace is like your kitchen, with tons of different gadgets and tools that serve different purposes. You can gain a lot of clarity just by making sure you regularly clean and organize your kitchen (and digital ecosystem). You can go a step further by discarding out-of-date hardware (and software)—to keep your “cockpit” streamlined.

The digital revolution

The digital revolution didn’t necessarily make work simpler; it just speeded up processes and introduced a zillion creative options. And its tools require constant upgrading.

Keeping all of that straight in your own life is challenging enough. But when you add to that the technologies that teams and organizations incorporate to try to become more productive, which you may be required to use, frustration can dramatically increase.

Shared technology

Problems with shared technology usually arise because (1) the formulas and protocols about how to use the applications are not well defined, and/or (2) not everyone plays appropriately, so the data is incomplete or unreliable. This is particularly true with shared software for project status tracking. And if the system is not 100% trustworthy, it doesn’t serve you well or save you time. Same goes for the team and the organization.

Staying on top of your workflow

To stay on top of this game you need to integrate the GTD methodology so you appropriately engage with all potentially meaningful inputs in your life, and learn how to use your digital implements like a master chef. And find some savvy twelve-year-old to be your digital consultant! If you can get all that on “cruise control,” you’ll recognize it’s a great time to be alive.

–David Allen

This essay appeared in David Allen’s Productive Living Newsletter. Subscribe for free here

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Join David Allen for an intriguing discussion about leadership and the architecture of story, with Nancy Duarte and Patti Sanchez. They came to fame when they created the presentations that Al Gore used in speeches for several years before An Inconvenient Truth won the Academy Award for best documentary. Their book is Illuminate, “a road-map to help leaders move people to embrace bold visions and carry them forward.” They describe five phases of an organization’s story, and how leaders need to communicate to inspire progress. The team at Duarte have also been a trusted resource for David Allen Company in the storytelling involved with our GTD curriculum.

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There are only two problems in life.

Isn’t that nice to know? You only have two things you ever need to be concerned about. Not only are there only two problems—they are really quite simple. Ready?

Problem #1: You know what you want, and you don’t know how to get it.

Problem #2: You don’t know what you want. Anything you can define as a problem can be reduced to one or both of those statements.

Now, since there are only two problems, it follows that there are only two solutions that you will ever need. You need to make it up, and make it happen. You must decide and clarify what outcome you’re after; and you must then determine how you get from here to there.

The two sides of your brain

It turns out that those two issues match the two sides of your brain. The “make it up” part relates to the right hemisphere—the imaging, gestalting, creative part of our thinking. The “make it happen” part is identified with the left side—the linear, logical, figure-it-out aspect.

Another way to understand this polarity is that if you know what you want and where you’re going, efficiency is your only improvement opportunity. Getting there with less effort is the name of your game. If, however, you’re not so sure where you’re headed or what it is exactly that you’re after, your challenge is to identify and sharpen the image, the outcome, the goal.

GTD fundamental thinking process

This dual nature of our work and our world connects with the two key questions of what we refer to as the “fundamental thinking process”—What’s the desired outcome? And, what’s the next action? Those are the two questions that must be asked and answered by any of us, to determine what any of our “stuff” means to us. What do I do with this email, this piece of paper, this thought I had driving home? What outcome, if any, am I now committed to about it? What’s the next action required to move it toward that outcome? Those questions are normally answered for us or self-evident, except in a crisis. Usually we have to, in a sense, make something up (decide what we’re committed to) and make it happen (choose a next physical action to move forward on it).

Welcome to “knowledge work athletics.”

So, which question do you need to answer, about what, at this point? Where do you need to put some more mental horsepower into figuring out what you’re trying to accomplish, at what horizon? And on which things do you still need to challenge yourself and others to decide the next actions to take, and who’s going to take them?

You can’t manage time

Time management? No, you can’t manage time. It’s thought management. You must lasso the wild horse of your mind with the two critical aspects of a successful ride—direction and control. Make it up, and make it happen.

–David Allen

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I’m often asked about the best practices for taking meeting notes, including how to process them after the meeting. Here are some tips and suggestions that I hope will be useful to you.

Capturing ideas, relevant information, etc. during meetings is important so that you don’t have to rely on your brain to remind you about them later. How best to capture that information is purely a personal preference – some people like to use electronic note-taking devices, some people prefer pen and paper.

Regardless of which tool you use, keep in mind that taking notes during meetings is just “collecting”, and the notes will need to be processed just like any other input – email, paper, etc. It would be one thing if we returned to our desk from a meeting and could say with 100% certainty that EVERYTHING we wrote down during the meeting was reference info that could be filed immediately. But what happens of course, more often than not, is that what’s captured: 1) doesn’t necessarily have anything to DO with the actual meeting, 2) is a mishmash of info that popped into our head during the meeting, and/or 3) is an amorphous mix of next actions, mixed with reference info, mixed with doodles!

Here are some suggestions for “closing the loops” with meeting notes:

1. Just as with any capture tool, you want to have as many as you need but no more than you need. Try to have just one or two notebooks that you actively use. It’s much easier to process and organize when you have one notebook, versus having multiple ones.

2. Always date stamp the notes. You don’t want to waste time going back to your calendar to determine when the meeting took place.

3. When processing your notes, go one page at a time, looking for next actions, projects, reference info, ideas, etc. Organize them (manually) into their appropriate places in your trusted system.

4. If you don’t have time to process the notes immediately after the meeting, tear them out of your notebook, toss them into your inbox, and process them within 24-48 hours of the meeting. (Trust me, the abbreviations and scribbles will be much easier to decipher.) If you’re using an electronic note-taking tool, either print the notes out and toss them into your inbox, or write a hand-written note that says “process notes from 8.28 meeting” and put that into your inbox.

5. Ideally, after the notes have been processed, they either get filed if you need/want to keep them, or they get tossed. If you use a spiral notebook and have resistance to tearing the pages out (you know who you are!), take a pen and draw a line through the pages that have been processed. That way your brain doesn’t feel like it has to re-process the notebook from beginning to end.

Doing these behaviors consistently will alleviate having a backlog of notes (and notebooks!) to process later.

Julie Ireland is a GTD Coach with GTD Focus, the certified partner for coaching in the U.S.

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Seems that we’re here on the planet to learn about and do two things—complete and create. We are responsible for what we have put into motion on all levels, and we must manage the process of what we are putting into motion every moment.

I work with people and organizations about both aspects. Complete means getting control of all those things into which we have invested our attention and commitments. The create part is the proactive process of focusing our energies toward more expanded and positive expressions and outcomes.

Though both aspects are primary, I think a lot of people could use a good bit more emphasis on the complete part. Our cultural personality seems bent on limitless expansion and not necessarily cleaning up after itself. Consider on a macro scale how we’re dealing (or more critically, not) with climate change and our roles in that.

In one of my more sublime enlightenment moments many years ago, I got a message loud and clear that I needn’t be so concerned about “what to do with my life.” I had already created so much that all I had to do was deal with what was present in front of me to the best of my ability, resolving it as quickly and cleanly as possible. The conveyor belt of life would just deliver the next experience in the queue, as soon as I had dispensed with the last one. It’s been good advice.

When I work with people to get closure and completion on all their “stuff” lying around their desk, in their email, and on their mind, without exception I’ve watched significant creative energy burst forth in them. It seems to be a natural state for us, when we clean up the kelp on the keel.

-David Allen

This essay appeared in David Allen’s Productive Living Newsletter. Subscribe for free here

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We’ve updated our GTD® & Google® Apps for Desktop Setup Guide to work with the latest versions of Google Tasks™, Google Keep™, Gmail™, and more. If you passed over Google Tasks in the past because of its limited functionality, the new version is much more user-friendly and functional.  Download or see a sample.

This Guide will show you how to:
– Understand the fundamental GTD best practices
– Optimally configure Google Apps in the way we have found works best for GTD
– Integrate your actionable email and how to turn email into Tasks
– Create project and next actions lists in Google Tasks or Keep
– Create useful reference lists in Tasks, Keep, or Drive
– Use shortcuts to speed up your workflow
… and much more!

PDF Download (39 pages)

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