GTD Success in Two Minutes or Less

David Allen says following it will make you more productive than 90 percent of the planet.

What is it?

The Two-Minute Rule. And I have an emphasis I think will make you not only more productive, but also more popular with your support staff, direct reports or colleagues. And it will make your team more efficient, too.

David’s Two Minute Rule says that as you are going through your Inbox, whether physical or email, and you decide there is a next action for a given item that will take two minutes or less, you should do it right then instead of putting it on a list for later action.

Why? Because for actions that take less than two minutes, the “overhead” of deciding where to park it, disengaging and then re-engaging at a later time may be more than what it takes to “just do it.” In essence, by doing it right away instead of putting it on a Next Action list, you’re increasing your efficiency by up to 50 percent.

Why the two-minute cut-off? For actions that take more than two minutes, doing them right away can get you off on a bunny trail so you’ll never get to empty. You’ll spend your whole day working out of your inboxes and never reach the bottom. So something urgent, or at least time-sensitive, may have arrived in “in” but you won’t see it until it’s too late.

So what’s my popularity-producing emphasis? As you go through your inbox and ask “Is it actionable? If so, by whom?” in making your Do, Delegate, or Defer decision, think about whether you can do it in under two minutes…even if it’s really someone else’s job.

For example, I sometimes get email messages that could properly be delegated to someone on our team to answer. At first, that’s just what I would do, sending it along to the responsible person. Then I got to thinking, “If I want our team to be most efficient, and if I know what to do with this in two minutes or less, why should I send it along to someone else and make him or her go through this whole process of deciding what needs to be done, and when?”

So I started just answering these emails, with a cc: as an FYI to the person to whom I formerly would have delegated it. The erstwhile recipients of my delegation appreciate that the issues were resolved (but that they got the heads up to keep them looped), and the people who had sent the original message looking for answers appreciate the quick response.

I wouldn’t do this for really important things, for which the other person may have a strong sense of ownership. This isn’t about playing in someone else’s sandbox. This is for the mundane “stuff.” And by clearing it out quickly instead of letting it gum up not only your system, but also the workflows of others on your team, you can all have more time to focus on the bigger priorities.

This may be exactly in line with David’s interpretation of the two-minute rule, that if you can do it in two minutes or less that should generally take precedence over whether a task could or should be delegated to someone else. Maybe I was the only one who missed it. But then again, maybe not.

And by the way, you can get a lot done in two minutes. Like reading this post.

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GTD: Email Inbox from 11,000 to Zero (and keeping it that way)

Before reading GTD, my email was a mess. I didn’t know it was a disaster, though, because this was the only way I had worked. I did have some colleagues who sorted their email into folders, but that seemed like way too much work. I just left it all in my inbox.

As a result, I got messages like this twice a day from our IT department.

Over Size Limit Warning

Of course, I set up a Rule to automatically put those in my Trash. 😉

Part of the problem was I didn’t know how much extra work I was making for myself by not making decision about what to do with messages on the front end, so my Inbox had become a huge conglomeration of Reference, Actionable and, frankly, quite a few messages that had no value to me at all.

My total Inbox message count at its peak about a year ago was more than 11,000.

Within a week or so, I was able to whittle it down to zero. Empty. And while there are lots of elements of the GTD system in which I regularly fail miserably (like in most people’s problem area, the Weekly Review), I have seen fantastic benefits from getting my Inbox empty almost every day…or at least by the end of each week.

How did I get there? And how can you?

Organize your inbox by sender, and you may be able to delete large numbers of messages easily. You know what they are: alerts you get every day, or e-mail lists to which you have subscribed. You may want to consider unsubscribing to some (or seeing if the information source has an RSS feed instead.)

If you have several months worth of messages in the backlog, you may want to consider deleting everything older than, say, six months. This is a variation on the theme of email bankruptcy, but without the mea culpa to all those to whom you haven’t responded. And if your email is as much of a mess as mine was, you may not know which ones still need a response.

Now organize by Subject or Thread. As you work down the list you will see the related messages grouped together, and there will be some threads you know are resolved and can safely delete. This is another way to churn through a big stack quickly.

After working through these tactics, my Inbox got down to this look…

Empty Inbox

…which is where I’ve been able to keep it for nearly a year.

Archiving messages on my laptop’s hard drive also keeps me from getting those “mailbox over size limit” messages from IT. When I am working through my Inbox to get it to zero, I move all my project support and next action messages to my local hard drive so I can work on email on the bus. Now, instead of digging through a monstrous inbox and not knowing which messages are actionable or what the next action is, I simply go to one of my project or context folders.

Of course, for the first 10 months I was using and the wonderful, free add-on call Mail ActOn, which let me move messages to the right folders with a simple two-key combination. Now I’m using Entourage, so it’s more work to get to zero, and moving messages feels a lot clunkier.

If anyone reading this post has an elegant quick-keys solution to filing messages in Entourage, similar to the Mail ActOn functionality, I would be delighted to hear about it.

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GTD and Entourage

In my next post I’m going to delve into my experiences with taming the e-mail beast over the last year using Mail ActOn and for Macintosh, but sadly those are no longer available to me. (Thankfully, I still have my Mac, but due to a server upgrade I need to use Entourage instead of…and I really miss Mail ActOn.)

But now, based on some things I just found, and in keeping with the idea that a blog is the ultimate, unlimited searchable general reference filing system, I want to zoom up to today and some things I’ve discovered that I think will be really useful for me…and maybe for some others too.

Yesterday I came across the $10 paper Davidco has available for how to use Entourage for implementing GTD, but this morning may have found something even better. Nik, who has contributed some Applescripts to extend the functionality of Ethan Schoonover’s Kinkless GTD system, has made the jump away from kGTD to using Entourage.

I’m looking forward to seeing what OmniFocus will do, but maybe Nik’s scripts can bring this all into one system that syncs with my Blackberry. That would be sweet.

I also found another article about using Entourage for GTD. I will want to digest that, too.

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GTD: Taking the Plunge

David Allen begins Getting Things Done (GTD) with a bold promise:

It’s possible for a person to have an overwhelming number of things to do and still function productively with a clear head and a positive sense of relaxed control. That’s a great way to live and work, at elevated levels of effectiveness and efficiency. It’s also becoming a critical operational style required of successful and high-performing professionals. You already know how to do everything necessary to achieve this high-performance state. If you’re like most people, however, you need to apply these skills in a more timely, complete and systematic way so you can get on top of it all instead of feeling buried.

In the remaining pages, David fulfills his promise by laying out a systematic approach that he has developed and refined over about two decades of organizational coaching. And unlike many other books on organization that introduce readers to broad concepts and principles, David offers concrete, step-by-step instructions on ways of organizing that he has repeatedly found effective in hundreds if not thousands of real-world situations.

That’s the essence of coaching: it’s not “introduce the concept, let the students figure out the details for themselves.” A good basketball coach, for example, teaches sound shooting technique by instructing players on effective form. It’s possible to be a good shooter with bad form, but it’s a lot less likely and takes a lot more work. Likewise, it’s possible to be effective at organizing your life and work by developing your own system from scratch. But if someone has taken the time to distill decades of experience into one book that has not only strategies for success, but also the nitty gritty tactics, why go out of your way to invent your own methods?

David Allen is the John Wooden of personal organization trainers. And just as Bill Walton and Lewis Alcindor (later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) bought into Coach Wooden’s system to win 10 NCAA basketball titles (including seven in a row) for UCLA, you would do well, no matter your natural personal organization talents, to apply David Allen’s system to your life.

When I arrived home after my plane ride, I decided to just take David’s advice. He suggested getting an electronic label maker so filing would be fun and easy, so I did it. He made other office-supply suggestions for maximum efficiency, so I spent about $100 (including the label maker) to get what he said would be useful. He said it would be good to clear a couple of days to do an initial organization and to clear out the underbrush, so instead of taking the day after Thanksgiving off as I had previously planned, I used it dive in.

In the next few days I’ll be writing more about that experience, what I learned then, what I’ve learned in the year since then and how much more I’ve yet to really learn.

If you’re like many people, you’re probably coming into a weekend that will give you some free time. I think one of the best things you could do to get more out of your coming work week, and work weeks yet to come, would be to get a copy of GTD and read it straight through, and then resolve to apply what you learn. Or, as David says, to apply in a more systematic way what you already know, but perhaps haven’t taken time to consciously consider.

And while you’re at it, pick up one of Coach Wooden’s books, too. I especially recommend Wooden on Leadership.

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GTD: A Year Later

It was on a trip to Jacksonville last November that I first read about GTD, David Allen’s Getting Things Done, in some blogs about personal productivity: one from Michael Hyatt, which led me to Marc’s Outlook on Productivity, which led to a presentation by Jeremy Wright, which I listened to and while following along with the Powerpoint.

After watching a presentation that seemed to make sense, and hearing everyone in these blogs (including Merlin Mann) talking about how fantastic GTD is, I decided that instead of reading articles from people who were applying David Allen’s system, it would be smart to get it straight from the source, and read his book. So I stopped by the book store on the way to the airport, and bought Getting Things Done for the plane ride home.

I was hooked.

GTD was one of the best purchases I’ve made. The system absolutely made sense, and what I loved most about it was how down-to-earth and practical it was. Books about strategic thinking can be both inspiring and deflating: they create aspirations for operating at a higher level, but don’t teach you how to clear the underbrush that creates all of the fires you constantly seem to be fighting. So as a result you develop the appetite for living more intentionally, but get either frustrated or guilty because the day-to-day press of “stuff” weighs you down.

GTD isn’t like that; it gives you immensely practical tools for dealing with the crush of “stuff” that is a reality in our always-on information society, so you can make time to do the strategic part.

Over the next couple of weeks, as I approach my one-year anniversary with GTD, I’m going to share some highlights of the practical benefits I’ve derived, the areas in which the immediate benefits have been tremendous, and some areas in which I still need work. I wrote about (and showed) some of the benefits in this post. I plan to elaborate on what has worked well (and also hopefully re-establish some habits that have become less habitual.)

I hope people reading this will find the example helpful, and that maybe you also would share your experiences, either through comments or trackbacks. I’d love to hear practical tips and pointers you can offer.

But more importantly, I hope you will do what I did: read the book for yourself instead of getting it second-hand.

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