In his flagship work Getting Things Done, David Allen shares life changing perspectives and techniques which will transform your office enjoyment and productivity. That may sound like it is straight from the back cover of the book, but it is actually from the heart. Now, I do suggest you read this book, or if you really have to you could read the shorter version, but I have found that over the years Allen’s teaching has boiled down into three simple steps that, if followed, make my office look like I don’t have any work to do at all.
Step 1: Make a Decision
You receive a piece of paper in your office mailbox. I’ll use a real-world example, it’s a letter from the local nursing home with a list of dates they have you down to lead a Sunday Afternoon devotion for the chapel service. Now, before you read this blog post you would have thrown it aside, either starting a new pile or adding height to an old one. But not anymore.
- Throw it away: If you aren’t going to do something with it, throw it away. If it is already digital, throw it away.
- File it: If it is something physical that you will need later, put it in your file cabinet. If you don’t have a file folder with that category, make one right then and there. So keep folders and labels handy.
- Delegate it: If it is something that you shouldn’t be handling, put a sticky note on it and place it in someone else’s mailbox. Heh heh heh.
- Put it in your “Top Box”: If none of the above are true, do this. This isn’t what David Allen calls it, but it is what I call it because I have a two-teir paper holder. A literal top and bottom box. This will become important in a moment.
Step 2: Make a List
Look around, your desk is still clear! It’s a Christmas miracle! No, you just made some smart decisions and put your papers in a box. Now, lets take your pile of papers out of your Top Box one by one and make a list.
I make a simple list with three sections:
- Action (A blank space)
- Calendar (A space for a checkmark)
- Completed (A space for a checkmark)
I look at my nursing home letter and I think about the action that will be necessary to complete this. “Aha! I will need to add these dates to my calendar, along with a one day reminder. I will also need to email every other date to our Youth Pastor because we divide up the work.”
Action: Add Nursing Home Dates to Cal w/ Reminder, Email Dates to Patrick
And with that, I slide the letter into the “Bottom Box” meaning it has been dealt with. This is a powerful thing because, as David Allen explains, our brains aren’t designed to keep track of all of these things. So we need to get them onto a list and off our minds. With our minds free of stress, we can work with joy. There isn’t a pile looming over my coffee cup, and there isn’t an annoying, guilty feeling in the back of my head anymore.
You’ll then want to get your single action items onto your calendar. My first Nursing Home visit isn’t until three weeks away, so I’ll choose to deal with it at 9am, two weeks from now. If that timeframe gets filled with a meeting or something, no big deal, at least I am ahead of the game!
You can now check your calendar box and move to step three.
Step 3: Make Hay
After you have processed your Top Box and everything is in your Bottom Box, it’s time to GTD–Get Things Done! With no piles or stress, take a look at your calendar at what items you have chosen to complete and get working!
Do you have any tips for how you manage your piles? Share them below!