The Five Stages of Workflow
We are accustomed to think of “doing our work” as involving simply one thing — the doing of the work.
In reality, there are five stages involved in getting our work done. Ironically, the actual “doing” of our work only constitutes one of the five stages. But if you don’t do the other four well, you won’t be able to actually do your work well, either.
These five stages are at the heart of the GTD process that David Allen outlines in Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (see especially page 24). They are:
I won’t go into great detail at this time, but here is a quick summary of each of these stages.
First, you collect what has your attention. You take all open loops that are currently around you or on your mind and gather them into one spot (your inbox).
Second, you process what they mean by deciding what to do about them. This is what it means to go through your inbox (whether email or physical or an electronic inbox in a program like OmniFocus).
Third, you organize the results by putting any longer-than-two-minute actions on the appropriate list (or working file if you are handling email and the email itself will serve as the best action reminder).
Fourth, you review the options to decide what to do — that is, to decide “what’s best next.”
Fifth, you actually do. You work on the action item that you’ve decided.
It is important to keep think of these five stages as distinct. As Allen writes, “I have discovered that one of the major reasons many people haven’t had a lot of success in ‘getting organized’ is simply that they have tried to do all five phases at one time.”