Simple Getting Things Done Method
Everything Goes Into an Inbox (and out of your head): Identify your inboxes. These are the places where incoming tasks go first.
You have your email, which is an inbox.
Then you have a physical inbox, which is for your mail, post-it notes, or that Amazon package you need to return.
The other very important inbox I use is voice notes on my phone for capturing ideas while I’m driving or otherwise in a place where I don’t want to write something down.
Make sure that in any situation you can add an item or thought to one of your inboxes, which gets that item out of your head.
You first create some lists inside your email program and to-do program as described below.
Next Action—the most important tasks. They usually need to be done the same day. (Example, you need to get your suit to the cleaners so that it is done by Friday)
Action—second priority tasks. They are important but not as important or as timely as the “next action” tasks. (Example: return the cell phone holder to Amazon)
Waiting On—this is where tasks that you’ve delegated or tasks that you are waiting for someone else to do their part before you can proceed are located. (Example: you’ve delegated a research project to your dedicated Vira Agent)
Tickler—this is where you put projects that you would like to work on someday but are not a priority now.
Calendar—this is where you schedule things that absolutely have to be done on a certain day or time of day. Appointments go here but tasks as well. Pro tip: If you are scheduling a task that came from an email, copy the subject line of the email into the calendar appointment for easy reference. Calendar appointments take priority over any other list in the GTD system. If a task goes from either your email or another virtual inbox and into the calendar, you can take it out of that virtual list because it will definitely be done if it is on the calendar.
How To Make Lists in Your Email
It is very important to have your email set up with different lists to match the ones I’ve described above. In Outlook, it is pretty easy. Just make folders.
For Gmail, I suppose you can use the labels feature, but I use those for other things, and I’d rather see all my lists on the screen at the same time. For this purpose, I set up the “multiple inboxes” labs feature within Gmail. Here’s how to do that:
When you are ready to go through your emails, you can easily label them as described above. Pro tip: The quickest way to label an email is to select it, and then type “l” as in llama + “next,” and it should automatically fill in the rest of the label “next action,” and then you just hit “enter.” When you have a lot of emails, this will dramatically cut down on your total time.
Your To-Do Program/App: Along with your email, you need to have one other program for maintaining these lists unless you want to write yourself an email for each new task. Quite a few to-do type programs are available. Here are some of the most popular:
Remember The Milk
Out of these, Remember The Milk is my personal favorite. I’ve been using it for personal and business tasks for about ten years now. It is never down and has all the features I need. Make sure that you also set up this program as an app on your phone and sync the account.
Inside Remember The Milk or whatever to-do program you are using, create each of the lists I mentioned in “The Lists” section above. It should look like this:
Every Morning: Go through your inboxes, deciding what to do with each item.
Start with your calendar so that you know what is scheduled for the day.
Then start with your email. Look through each message and if you can take care of the task in two minutes or less, just do it.
All other emails are placed in one of your lists.
Look at your physical inbox. Similarly, if you can take care of an item in two minutes or less, go ahead. For everything else, make a note of it in one list inside your To-Do program.
If your To-Do list has an inbox list, then go through that following the same procedure as email and your physical inbox.
Finally, go to your voice notes either on your phone or synced up to your computer as I have done. Each item goes into the proper inbox in your To-Do program.
Twice a Week: Go through your “waiting on” lists, and follow up on anything not done. If it has been done, then be sure to remove it.
After your “every morning” is complete, you now know what you need to do and in what order. You start with the “next action” items in your email and to-do program. Just make sure to stop when you have something on the calendar.
Every new thought you have goes directly into an inbox every time. You don’t think about it. You just do it, and you know that this new item will be processed into your system the very next morning.
If you would like to know more, check out the book Getting Things Done, by David Allen.