A good post by Scott Belsky at the 99%. The five types he discusses are:
- Reactionary work
- Planning work
- Procedural work
- Insecurity work
- Problem-solving work
From David Allen’s latest newsletter (which you can subscribe to here), explaining why the world of work often seems so much harder now:
More and more these days I find that people in my seminars are resonating to the importance of defining our work. The challenge many of us face is to not only track, but accurately label all of our projects, and hang on to those “stakes in the ground” while the rest of the world seems to want to blow us away from them like we’re in a hurricane.
How many of you don’t have time to do your work, because you have so much work to do??!!
How many of you, in your jobs, are only doing what you were hired to do? (I never get one affirmative response in any group I query!)
I credit the late Peter Drucker for framing this issue better than anyone, from the macro perspective. He indicates that whereas fifty years ago 80% of our work force made its living by making or moving things, that number is now less than 20%. And that “knowledge work” demands a completely different paradigm of focus than we have been trained in as a professional culture.
The good news about making or moving something is that when you come to work, un-made and un-moved things make it real easy to know how to spend your day. You do not need “personal organization” other than the work that is obviously and visibly at hand. The bad news is that these days only a small percentage of us get to work and know what to do. The rest of us have to make it up. And very few (if any) of the people we interact with seem to be supporting our agenda.
So, it becomes critical for each of us to maintain a complete and accurately defined list of Projects, and to ensure that we review these at least weekly with real sincerity of focus, creating and capturing all the “oh yeah, that reminds me, I need to…” kind of next actions that need to happen to make our “work” happen.
This needs to include all the professional and personal projects about which you would like ideally for something to be happening during the course of an operational week. “R&D new camera”, “Finalize budget implementation”, “Refinance house”, “Reorganize office”, etc.
We were only trained and equipped in our culture to show up, and deal with the work at hand. We now have to train and equip ourselves, create our own targets and goal-lines, and tie safety ropes onto those outcomes to keep steady in our course against the winds of the world.
The three categories are:
- Action items
Every email or piece of paper is either an action item (to be done or delegated), information, or trash.
Often, some of the best ideas come from just hearing how other people do things. So I found it illuminating to read about the categories that Churchill divided his incoming paperwork into in Churchill on Leadership.
Seeing this illustrates how it can be helpful to pre-sort things before tackling them (whether electronic or physical). Here are his categories:
- Top of the box (most important or urgent)
- Foreign office telegrams
- Service telegrams
- Periodical returns (regular reports he had requested)
- Parliamentary questions
- For signature
- To see
- General Ismay (reports from chief of staff)
- Answers other (other people besides Ismay)
- Weekend (low priority items to get to on the weekend)
Think about what happens when you try to deal with a stack of paper. You take the first piece of paper off the stack, read it over, realize you can’t do anything about it right now, and put it back on one corner of your desk.
The next item, the same thing. The next item, you do what needs to be done and then realize that you may need the original piece of paper later, so you put it in a different stack on another corner of your desk.
You are just rearranging the stacks!
It’s impossible to prioritize a stack of paper. When you’re dealing with the stack, the most important item in that stack may be on the bottom … where you may never get to it.
The principle to overcome this is: Operate from lists, not stacks.
If you have any stacks, go through each item in them one at a time. Do what can be done in two minutes or less. When anything can’t be done in two minutes, then put it down as an action item on your next action list and then either toss the paper or, if you’ll need it when you do the action, put it in an action file and pull it out when you get to that action on your list.
If everything in the stack pertains to the same thing and it won’t fit in a file — for example, it’s a set of papers to be graded (let’s say you are a teacher) or the stack is really a big manuscript you have to read (let’s say you are an editor), then put the action which the stack represents on your next action list and put the stack on a shelf — off of your desktop. If desired, put in parentheses after the action item the location of the stack (which is really just “support material” for the action) to remind you that stack exists.
When you choose to do the action on your list, pull the stack off the shelf and do the work. When you are done with it for the day, put it back on the shelf and bring it back out the next time you work on that action.
From David Allen’s Ready for Anything: 52 Productivity Principles for Work and Life (p. 96):
When you have to focus on your system, you are detouring energy that could be used to create and produce with your system.
The objective of system installation, change, or enhancement is to get “system” off your mind again as soon as possible.
The better your systems, the more you don’t know you have them. The less attention you pay to them, the more functional they probably are. The only time you will notice them is when they don’t work or when you have to be too conscious about your use of them. You want to be working, doing, thinking, creating, and dealing with things — not focused on how you’re doing them.
You want to enjoy driving your car in the countryside without thinking about how to shift gears or work the climate control.
Creating smoothly running silent systems is often the greatest improvement opportunity for enhanced productivity.
Nine out of ten times, people have workflow systems that don’t work, because they are too much work.
Most of the organizing gear and software sold in the last twenty-five years makes sense conceptually but doesn’t function as fast as what people are trying to coordinate. When the amount of what has to be managed increases in speed and volume, a system will start to fall apart if its design is flawed or the habits of the operator are not grooved on “automatic.”
The president and CEO of Thomas Nelson publishers has a helpful post on his daily reading habits.
I blogged a few weeks ago on what Taco Bell teaches us about how to define and manage your next actions. Here’s another lesson from Taco Bell.
When you get up to the cash register (whether at Taco Bell or any fast food restaurant), it is interesting to note that the person taking your order and the person making your food are different.
Why is that relevant? Because if the same person had to do both, it would slow everything down. You would have to wait twice as long to get your food (probably longer, due to the costs of switch tasking), and the line would grow — frustrating everyone.
Here’s the problem: When it comes to productivity, most of us are both cashier and chef. We both have to receive and process the new input (cashier) and produce the results (chef). The time spent capturing and processing new input takes time away from delivering results. Sometimes, this can be substantial.
In fact, the amount of time that processing new input takes away from delivering results is larger than simply the time it takes to do the processing. The switch in mindsets from handling new stuff to focusing on delivering results creates a cost of its own. This can be minimized by making sure that you process new input in batches rather than continuously throughout the day. But it cannot be removed entirely.
What’s the solution? Unfortunately, I don’t have a complete one yet. There may not be one. Proper use of an assistant, for those fortunate enough to have one, is part of the answer but cannot solve the whole story. Batching the processing task is another, but again that is not a complete solution. Having an effective system in place and being efficient with it is a third component. But again, none of these totally solve the issue: the time (and energy — that’s huge) that you have to deliver results is decreased by the amount of time that you have to spend processing new input.
Maybe a skillful application of these three partial solutions is the best we can do. What are your thoughts?
In the meantime, if you need inspiration, just take a trip to Taco Bell.
I once heard David Allen say, “Sometimes people tell me that they don’t have a physical inbox. To which my response is: ‘Yes you do — that just means your whole house is your inbox.’”
It might be tempting these days to conclude that you don’t need to have any physical-based processing tools, since so much comes through digital channels. But inboxes are not just for email.
In spite of all the digital input we receive, there is still a steady stream of real physical input that also comes our way. For example, there is the regular mail, things your kids bring home from school, notes you jot down to yourself when it isn’t convenient to enter them into your electronic system right away, and so forth.
So it is a fact of reality that we have a bunch of incoming physical “stuff” that can be just as constant (although perhaps less in volume) as electronic input. This stuff, therefore, needs to be gathered and collected into a single spot — that is, an inbox — on a regular basis. If you don’t do this, it’s not as though you will be able to brag that you “don’t have a physical inbox.” Instead, what will happen is that your whole desk, your whole office, your whole house will become your inbox.
And the problem with that is this: It makes it hard to distinguish what is unprocessed from what is already where it should be. The result is that you will never have a sense of closure about what needs to be dealt with and what doesn’t, and things can easily fall through the cracks. You will start to drown in a sea of unprocessed stuff.
You need to gather all open loops into one spot, rather than letting them hang around all over. Which is the definition of an inbox.
Here’s an easy example of what this looks like in practice: When you get the mail, don’t just toss it on a counter somewhere, or your desk somewhere, to deal with “when you get to it.” Have an inbox, and put it in there.
Here’s a more advanced example: The other day we finally got a new digital camera (our old one broke after 5 excellent years of service). When I got home with all the packages (the actual camera, plus memory, camera bag etc.) but couldn’t deal with them right away, I didn’t just set them down somewhere to deal with when I get the chance. Rather, I put them into my inbox, then hung out with my kids.
Here’s one more example: Let’s say I need a new hammer, and my wife buys me one when she’s at the store. When she gets home, she doesn’t just put it on some shelf in the garage, trusting me to “notice” at some point that there is something new and out of place in there. Instead, she puts it in my inbox. That way I don’t need to notice or remember that there’s a new hammer out there in the garage that I need to put away at some point. Instead, I can just process it right along with everything else when doing my inbox.
It would be easy to say, “well, just setting a few camera boxes or a hammer down anywhere is no big deal.” Well, right. But if you do that every time, pretty soon you end up with a house (or desk) littered with “stuff to figure out what to do with.” Be diligent. Put stuff in your inbox and it won’t build up all over your desk (or house). The lack of an inbox — or an understanding of how to use them — is the single biggest reason desks get messy and rooms (like offices, garages, and so forth) get disorganized.
So now we’ve talked about why you should have a physical inbox. For details on how to process your inbox, see these posts:
Last of all, here’s a useful point worth emphasizing: As you can see from the examples above, your inbox is not just something for other people to put stuff in. I put far more things in my own inbox than anyone else, which is as it should be.
I’m going through my physical inbox right now. There aren’t too many things in it today, so this might serve as a quick example of some principles and approaches I recommend using.
This post will be a somewhat less structured. I’m just going to write down what I actually do in real-time. (Looking back now, this post feels a bit too first-person; but I hope that this inside-look might prove helpful in illustrating the principles and practices for processing an inbox.)
As is GTD standard practice, I go through the items one by one. But first I take them all out of the actual inbox and set them right next to me, just to my left. My inbox, by the way, is just a bit further back on my left side (I’ll touch on this when I blog on how to organize your desk: the left side of your desk is “in,” the middle and immediate right is “working,” and the far right is “out”).
First, there is an external hard drive. I brought this from home. So actually, let me back up. A lot of times in the evening, I have stuff I need to bring to work the next day (no news there). When I get to work, that stuff goes right in my inbox to get processed.
The external hard drive was one such example. Every three months, I do an off-site backup of my computer. I keep an ongoing backup (using Mac’s Time Machine program) on an external drive right next to my computer at home, and then every three months back up to a different hard drive that I take away from my house, just to be ultra-prepared not to lose any data in the event of a fire, etc.
So I have this external hard drive before me now. I have a spot for it here at work, and put it away right there.
Second, I have three new books. Two were Christmas gifts and one I ordered. I need to add those to my “To Read” list. This is a less-than-two-minute action, but I don’t want to literally do it right away. I find it most efficient to actually group my small actions into piles that I then execute right after processing my inbox. This saves time — there is less gear shifting. All three of these books can be entered at once, all filing can be done at once, and so forth. So I set them in a pile on my right side that I mentally designate as “to enter.”
Third, I have an ergonomics article to read. I’m going to read this right away, so I put it in a second pile right next to the books to enter, on my right side. This is my “to read” pile for right after I’m done with my inbox.
Fourth, I have a financial report. No action needed, just needs to be filed. I create a third pile for “to file” stuff, which will get added to if needed so I can do all my filing together.
Fifth, I have a newsletter. I review it to gather any relevant information, and then throw it away.
Sixth, I have what looks like a Christmas card. I open it. I’m getting into ultra-detail here, but to open it I open up my pen/pencil drawer to get out my letter opener. The card is from a friend, so I put it in my briefcase to take home and put with our other Christmas cards. (Just as stuff I bring to work goes into my inbox when I get here, throughout the day there is also some stuff that goes into my briefcase to take home, which I then put in my inbox at home, or else deal with right away.)
Seventh, I have some extra ink for my printer here that I brought from home. I have a drawer for extra supplies like this, and it goes in there.
Eighth, I have the manual for my printer. Actually, there are about 5 documents here. One is in another language, so I throw it away. Two more are ads, so I throw them away. I put the remaining two relevant parts of the manual into my “to file” pile.
Ninth, there are a few other books I brought today to refer to as I do one of my projects. I put those on my right side, in the back, so they are easy to access when I get to that project. Note: I would not keep those books there long-term, as this is how desks end up getting messy. They are there for today. If I have to put the project on hold for a week for some reason, those books will go back on the shelf or up in a bin that I have here for “project support material” that is too big to fit in a file.
Last, I have an adapter for my laptop that lets me plug into a projector with an older type of port. Need to think about this a bit. I already have one of these in my briefcase so that I’m always ready for this (learned the hard way). So I don’t think I need this. I think I’ll give it to our IT department, so I’ll put that in the last pile on my right side, “out.”
Now I have my inbox processed. There remain four piles of less-than-two-minute actions to my right now, and I don’t consider myself technically done until I handle those actions. The piles are: to enter, to read, to file, and out. I’m glad to have those small actions grouped. Now I’ll take care of those and move on to the next thing.
Total time? This level of items would probably have normally been about 5 minutes or less. Maybe a bit more. Took a little longer this time because of writing this post at the same time.
I am always tweaking and updating the approach I take to planning and GTD. It is of utmost importance to me that my system be easy to use. If it’s not easy to use, it’s going to take away time that should be going to execution. And, it creates drag.
Here’s my criteria for determining if my approach to managing projects and actions and so forth is simple enough: When my son is 10 years old (right now he’s 6), will he be able to use a reduced form of my system to get things done (homework, etc.)? If not, it’s not simple enough.
That’s one of my guiding principles as I continually seek to refine and improve upon my methods for getting things done most effectively.
Right now, I’m thinking through ways to make the GTD contexts more effective. For example, “@errands” and “@agendas” work like a charm.
But I typically find “@phone” to simply be an excuse to put off making phone calls that are going to take up more than a small amount of time. Further, I always have my phone with me, and segmenting actions into a context doesn’t seem as valuable when you are always in that context. Likewise, “@computer” isn’t super helpful to me, because so many things fall under that context, and I almost always have my computer with me as well.
So that’s a key issue I’m thinking through again right now. I hope to come up with something that will be powerful enough for adults in high-stress, demanding situations and yet simple enough for my son when he is ten.
If you have some innovations here that you’ve found promising, please send them my way. I’ve been trying out various ideas for a while, and hearing what some of you have done would be really helpful to add to the mix.
In general, I highly discourage putting information or things you need to act on into piles. Filing is more organized and easier, if done right. But there are some exceptions. Here is a breakdown on when to file and when to pile.
When to Pile
Create piles for things that you are working on at the moment or will be working through in the next few hours. Used in this sense, piling becomes a fairly simple and effective a way of organizing your workflow.
Here is an example. I was just going through my inbox at home yesterday. It included some ideas I had written down on paper (normally I try to put ideas I want to do something about directly into OmniFocus as inbox items electronically, but sometimes it works best to jot them down on paper), receipts that needed to be entered into Quicken, some bank statements to reconcile, various small 4-minute-or-so actions, and various things to file.
I could have deferred most of these actions and put them into the set of pending files that I have for my routine actions. But there was quite a bit of stuff, and I wanted to do all these actions right away to get them over with. So I created a pile for each type of action and sorted the items into those piles as I processed my inbox.
Here are the piles I created: Receipts to enter, notes to process, bank statements to reconcile, bills to pay, things to file, and “other small actions” to take. Then I went through the piles one by one and took care of everything in them (entered all the receipts into Quicken, paid any bills and set up auto payment for the ones I could [we just moved], processed the ideas into projects and actions, and so forth).
Piles are effective in situations like these because they are temporary. It is helpful to have your work laid out and visible before you. Then you go from one pile to the next until you are done.
But piles are ineffective if you keep them longer than a few hours. The key is to get through them right away, not let them sit for days. If you do that, the actions get stale — unless you turn to filing.
When to File
If you are going to defer working on a group of items, then they should go into a file, and the action to complete those items should go on your next action list. I’ve noticed some routine types of actions that recur every time I go through my inbox: receipts to enter, ideas to process, and so forth — basically the piles I listed above. So I have created a set of files that correspond to these types of actions.
I call these “pending files.” They are holding tanks for work I am going to be attending to shortly. In the example above, I wanted to deal with all the actions coming from the processing of my inbox right away. So I created piles and worked through them immediately. But if I had wanted to defer those actions, I would have just put them into the appropriate pending files. To make sure I wouldn’t forget to actually deal with the items in those files, I have a weekly task to empty each of them completely (every Saturday morning).
For stuff that doesn’t fall into a routine pending file, I have a “catch-all” pending file called (creatively), “general.” Whenever there is support material I need for any action not covered by one of my routine pending files, I put the support material into the “general pending” file and then put the action on my next action list (and make note that the support material is in pending).
For example, if I get a long contract I need to review at work before signing, and I don’t have the time to review it right away, I’ll put the contract in my “general pending” file and then create a next action to review the contract. I would not, on the other hand, just leave the contract on my desk as a “reminder.”
It is an important principle that you should manage your actions from a list (with any needed support material in a file), not from piles — with the one exception being when you are going to work through the piles right away.
This discussion has focused on filing vs. piling when it comes to actionable documents. When it comes to storing reference material and project documents, filing without question is the way to go. There is a whole system that can be applied to filing in this sense which I’ll be talking about soon.
A few years ago I was waiting in line for my order at Taco Bell, and I thought to myself “these guys have a better productivity system than I do.”
I had been doing GTD for a while, but things still weren’t clicking. What stood out to me was how simple of a system they had at Taco Bell for processing orders: it just listed the items they had to make for each order.
Very simple. Very, very simple. Here’s what’s intriguing: In the GTD methodology, each of those items in an order is technically a “project” because it involves more than one step. But obviously if the order system had broken those items down into their actual “next actions” (“now grab a handful of cheese, then a cup of chicken and put it in the tortilla”), you would have chaos and confusion.
The problem is that that is exactly the way I had been handling my next actions list. I was dividing tasks up into pieces that were way too granular. Since in GTD your “next actions” are on a different list from your “projects,” this was really confusing — I couldn’t keep track of which actions pertained to which projects. Further, after completing an action, the natural thing would be to do the next “action” on the project — but my system didn’t facilitate this, because each project only had one action on my next action list. So instead of moving ahead on the same project after completing an action, I’d move on to a different project — highly inefficient and scattering to your efforts.
This was a mess. I don’t blame GTD for this — nothing in it says that you need to get this granular. But it sure sounds that way at first. It is easy to implement GTD wrongly by making your actions too granular.
There are a lot of solutions here that make GTD much more effective, even if you haven’t been taking things to the granularity that I was. Sometime soon I plan on writing something fairly comprehensive on this.
But in the meantime, the most significant solution is what I took away from the cooks at Taco Bell: I started defining my next actions not according to real specific steps (highly literal “next actions”), but according to what I can accomplish in one sitting.
In other words, I don’t always ask literally “what’s the next physical action I can take here,” because that can really make things overly-specific. Rather, I ask “what is the outcome I can accomplish here in one sitting.” The result is that many things that would have otherwise been projects actually become straight next actions, thus de-cluttering my projects list. Projects become more the multi-step things that need to be done over the course of several days.
So there has been a shift in my thinking, in part, from defining projects as “multi-step outcomes” to “multi-step outcomes that I won’t do in one sitting.” And when defining a next action for a project, I try to actually create an action that will trigger a series of steps, not just one, by asking “what can I do in one sitting,” rather than “what’s the next specific, literal thing this project requires.”
This is like Taco Bell: You see “make steak taco” and you make the taco. Very simple. But if your next action list is at the level of “put in the cheese, add the meat, etc.,” that’s just tough.
(BTW: The folks at Taco Bell on Franklin Ave in Minneapolis are some of the fastest I’ve ever seen. Way to go!)
David Allen talks about viewing your work both horizontally and vertically.
The horizontal perspective is the process for actually carrying out your work — the five stages for executing your workflow. The vertical perspective pertains to how you define your work.
Allen uses an aerospace analogy to illustrate the six horizons from which to view our work. He defines them in this way (see Getting Things Done, page 51):
- Runway: Current actions.
- 10,000 feet: Current projects.
- 20,000 feet: Areas of responsibility.
- 30,000 feet: One- to two- year goals.
- 40,000 feet: Three- to five- year vision.
- 50,000 feet: Life (mission/long-term vision/values)
Each horizon “drives” the items at the level beneath. In other words, if you want to know where most of your next actions are coming from, there is probably a project (multi-step outcome) at the level above creating them. Likewise, if you want to know where your projects are coming from, there is probably an area of responsibility or larger goal at the level above creating most of them.
I have some nuances to bring to the exact way we should define these horizons, and a new horizon to introduce (the concept of operations, which fits in one way or another within areas of responsibility), but for now it is simply helpful to observe that we need to think of our work in terms of multiple horizons.
The upshot is this: If you want to get something accomplished, you need to break it down into its next-level components. For example, if you have a goal that you want to accomplish (30,000 foot level), you can’t just write it down somewhere and forget about it. Instead, you need to create a project or two (10,000 foot level) whose accomplishment will bring you closer to reaching your goal.
Likewise, when you have a project to accomplish (10,000 foot level), you need to determine what the next concrete actions are (runway level) that will bring you closer to completing your project.
Breaking things down to the next level beneath is a fundamental principle for getting things done.
I just got an email notifying me that a new account has been set up for me at a new Basecamp site we’re using to manage some projects.
Basecamp actually has an RSS feed you can subscribe to in order to stay up to date on your projects. Nice.
But a lot of sites that we need to use frequently in our work or regular life don’t have this. For example, to review and analyze our Google Analytics reports, I go to the actual site. Likewise with any agenda lists we keep online, financial sites, and other such stuff. Everybody has a bunch of stuff like this.
Here’s what I do when there is a site that I need to use frequently like this.
First, after I’ve created my account, I put the username and password in my passwords document. Even though Firefox (or IE if you use that) stores the passwords, sometimes the browser just won’t fill them in for me (this mostly happens with financial sites). This is also important for when the time comes that you switch computers, or browsers, and all that data doesn’t transfer in your browser.
My passwords document is a bit of a frustration because it is 16 pages, but it is simple. Each site is given a bold heading, then the username and password are underneath. There are some applications that seem to manage passwords well (like 1Password), but I haven’t taken the time yet to seriously compare how much time that would actually save me versus this document. (Also, don’t forget to password protect your password document!)
Second, I add the site to my bookmarks. The important thing here is to have your bookmarks organized well so that they are actually useful. If they aren’t organized well, they aren’t useful and you probably ignore them. See my previous post on how to organize your bookmarks for immediate access.
Third, this usually isn’t enough to remember to actually use the site. Often times the work itself contains natural reminders that will drive me to the site (as it is with Basecamp), and in those cases no further action is needed. But often times there needs to be some trigger reminding me to go check it.
For example, there is no natural trigger that sparks me to check our web stats every day. Some people are really good at just remembering the things they need (or want) to do every day. I’m not like that. When there are more than about 3 things I need to make sure and do every day or semi-frequently, I’m not going to remember to do them spontaneously. So I build them into my routine.
I have a daily routine that I go through every morning (with some exceptions) that contains the most basic things I want to make sure and do every day. One item in my routine is to process my email to zero. Another is to check our website reports (or, it used to be, until my role changed, although I should get back to doing that daily).
So if I’m going to need to review the site daily, I’ll put it in my daily routine. If less frequently, then I put it into my schedule for whatever frequency seems best (weekly, or whatever). And again, if other actions I take will naturally lead me to use the site (for example, paying bills each month naturally leads me to go to my credit card site), then it doesn’t need to go in the schedule, but having the site in your well-organized bookmarks is crucial.
The key principle here is: Don’t rely on your mind to remember to remember something, even your routines. Create a trigger. Sometimes the nature of your work will serve as the trigger, but when it doesn’t, put it in your schedule. Then use your mind for more important things than “remembering to remember,” like creativity and high-level planning and actual implementation.
Here’s one of the most basic productivity functions of all, and yet probably most of us never think about how we do it: Getting the mail.
I actually have to go get the mail right now. Why don’t I go do that, and then I’ll come back and summarize how I go through it.
Processing the Mail is the Same as Processing Your In-Box
OK, here we go. First, I’d normally actually just put it in my in-box, since it’s the middle of the afternoon, and process it the next time I process my in-box. And that’s the first point: The mail is just another form of input to be processed along with every other form of input you get. So in one sense I could stop this post right now, because getting the mail really reduces to processing your in-box. But, I will continue.
The Three Rules of Processing Stuff
Second, I go through the items one by one (very quickly). Looks like I have about 15 items. David Allen gives the three cardinal rules of processing, which apply here:
- Process the top item first
- Process one item at a time
- Never put anything back into in
The Two Questions when Processing Anything
Third, with each item I ask myself two questions: What is this? and What’s the next action? This is because before you can know what to do with something, you need to know what it is. Once you know what it is, you can determine how to handle it (that is, define the next action).
When No Action is Required
With most stuff, this is easy and takes about 0.25 seconds. Some things have no actions required. For example, an item of junk mail gets trashed.
Handling Quick Actions: The Two Minute Rule
Some things involve very quick actions. With these I apply David Allen’s “two minute rule”: if you can do it in two minutes or less, do it right away. So a newsletter or such from an organization I give to gets a quick look, for example, and then I toss it (or determine the larger action required by it and process it accordingly).
Handling Longer than Two Minute Actions
Then there are some things that involve more than 2 minutes of action. I have something in this category before me right now: the statement for my money market account. I have actually noticed that 90% of my 2-minute plus actions that come up fall into 1 of 6 categories. I’ve set up a group of pending files for these: bills to pay, notes to process, receipts to enter, other financial to enter, to read, and to file. This one falls into the “other financial to enter” category—I need to reconcile this with my Quicken–, so I put it in that file. (I go through those files every Saturday, by the way—I wouldn’t put anything in an action file without a regularly scheduled task to actual dispense of those actions. I put these regularly scheduled actions on my “action calendar,” which I’ll talk about down the road)
Now I have before me two post cards that the grandparents sent to our kids (ages 5 and 3) while they were on their trip to DC. I put these to my right in a temporary “out” pile, which is where I put stuff that I need to give to my wife or kids or take somewhere else in the house.
The next item is my 2009 vehicle tabs. Here I have two things to do: The stickers themselves go in my “out” box, and I will put them on my car when I take that stuff to where it goes. But I also want to keep the registration card that came with them, so I put that in my “to file” pile.
The next item is something from Dish Network saying I have to upgrade my DVR with these new smart cards they’ve sent, or it will stop working in two weeks. Good grief. This is why life is so complicated and we need productivity systems in the first place.
Now I have my IRA statement. There is a newsletter with an article on “what you need to know about bear markets,” which I’ll give 10 seconds to. There is also an update to the “custodial agreement” (whatever that is). In previous years I probably would have filed that with my IRA stuff, but I’m getting tired of the information glut, so I’m just going to throw that away. I put the actual statement into my “other financial to enter” file.
Now I have my mortgage statement. We’re not on automatic withdrawal because we plan on moving soon and I wanted to save the time of setting that up. Not sure if that actually saved me time, but oh well. I put the bottom portion in my “bills to pay” file and the actual statement in my “to file” pile.
There are a few magazines that I put in my “to read file,” and now I’m done. Now what I’m going to do is quickly take my “out” stuff where it goes (put the post cards for our kids in my wife’s in box, the tabs on the car, and that smart card in my DVR), file my “to file” stuff, and get on with my day. On Saturday morning I’ll clear out the two minute plus actions that I put into my “other financial to enter” and “bills to pay” files.
Nothing this time involved a project (a more-than-two-action outcome) or had to go on my next action list. Down the road I’ll be posting some about those lists and how to use them effectively.