Getting Things Done Essay

Praise for Getting Things Done “The Season’s Best Reads for Work-Life Advice .. . my favorite on organizing your life: Getting Things Done . . . offers help building the new mental skills needed in an age of multitasking and overload. ” —Sue Shellenbarger, The Wall Street Journal “I recently attended David’s seminar on getting organized, and after seeing him in action I have hope . .. David Allen’s seminar was an eye-opener. ” —Stewart Alsop, Fortune “Allen drops down from high-level philosophizing to the fine details of time management. Take a minute to check this one out. —Mark Henricks, Entrepreneur “David Allen’s productivity principles are rooted in big ideas … but they’re also eminently practical. ” —Keith H. Hammonds, Fast Company “David Allen brings new clarity to the power of purpose, the essential nature of relaxation, and deceptively simple guidelines for getting things done. He employs extensive experience, personal stories, and his own recipe for simplicity, speed, and fun. ” —Frances Hesselbein, chairman, board of governors, The Drucker Foundation “Anyone who reads this book can apply this knowledge and these skills in their lives for immediate results. —Stephen P. Magee, chaired professor of business and economics, University of Texas at Austin “A true skeptic of most management fixes, I have to say David’s program is a winner! ” —Joline Godfrey, CEO, Independent Means, Inc. and author of Our Wildest Dreams “Getting Things Done describes an incredibly practical process that can help busy people regain control of their lives. It can help you be more successful. Even more important, it can help you have a happier life! ” —Marshall Goldsmith, coeditor, The Leader of the Future and Coaching for Leadership WARNING: Reading Getting Things Done can be hazardous to your old habits of procrastination. David Allen’s approach is refreshingly simple and intuitive. He provides the systems, tools, and tips to achieve profound results. ” —Carola Endicott, director, Quality Resources, New England Medical Center PENGUIN BOOKS GETTING THINGS DONE David Allen has been called one of the world’s most influential thinkers on productivity and has been a keynote speaker and facilitator for such organizations as New York Life, the World Bank, the Ford Foundation, L. L. Bean, and the U. S.

Navy, and he conducts workshops for individuals and organizations across the country. He is the president of The David Allen Company and has more than twenty years experience as a management consultant and executive coach. His work has been featured in Fast Company, Fortune, the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and many other publications. Getting Things Done has been published in twelve foreign countries. David Allen lives in Ojai, California. Getting Things Done The Art of Stress-Free Productivity David Allen PENGUIN BOOKS Published by the Penguin Group Penguin Group (USA) Inc. 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U. S. A. Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R ORL, England Penguin Books Australia Ltd, 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia Penguin Books Canada Ltd, 10 Alcorn Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4V 3B2 Penguin Books India (P) Ltd, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi – 110 017, India Penguin Books (N. Z. ) Ltd, Cnr Rosedale and Airborne Roads, Albany, Auckland, New Zealand Penguin Books {South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R ORL, England

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First published in the United States of America by Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. 2001 Published in Penguin Books 2003 5 7 9 10 8 6 Copyright © David Allen, 2001 All rights reserved THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS HAS CATALOGED THE HARDCOVER EDITION AS FOLLOWS: Allen, David. Getting things done : the art of stress-free productivity / David Allen. p. cm. Includes index. ISBN 0-670-89924-0 (he. ) ISBN 0 14 20. 0028 0 (pbk. ) 1. Time management. 2. Self-management (Psychology). I. Title. BF637. T5 A45 2001 646. —dc21 00-043757 Printed in the United States of America Set in Adobe Caslon Designed by Sara E. Stemen Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser. For Kathryn, my extraordinary partner in life and work ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Finally, deepest thanks go to my spiritual coach, J-R, for being such an awesome guide and consistent reminder of my real priorities; and to my incredible wife, Kathryn, for her trust, love, hard work, and the beauty she has brought into my life. viii Contents Acknowledgments Welcome to Getting Things Done vii xi Part 1: The Art of Getting Things Done Chapter 1 A New Practice for a New Reality Chapter 2 Getting Control of Your Life: The Five Stages of Mastering Workflow Chapter 3 Getting Projects Creatively Under Way: The Five Phases of Project Planning 3 24 54 Part 2: Practicing Stress-Free Productivity Chapter 4 Getting Started: Setting Up the Time, Space, and Tools Chapter 5 Collection: Corralling Your “Stuff” Chapter 6 Processing: Getting “In” to Empty 83 85 104 119 Chapter 7 Organizing: Setting Up the Right Buckets 138 ix CONTENTS Chapter 8 Reviewing: Keeping Your System Functional Chapter 9 Doing: Making the Best Action Choices Chapter 10 Getting Projects Under Control 181 191 211 Part 3: The Power of the Key Principles

Chapter 11 The Power of the Collection Habit Chapter 12 The Power of the Next-Action Decision Chapter 13 The Power of Outcome Focusing Conclusion Index 223 225 236 249 257 261 X Welcome to Getting Things Done WELCOME TO A gold mine of insights into strategies for how to have more energy, be more relaxed, and get a lot more accomplished with much less effort. If you’re like me, you like getting things done and doing them well, and yet you also want to savor life in ways that seem increasingly elusive if not downright impossible if you’re working too hard.

This doesn’t have to be an either-or proposition. It is possible to be effectively doing while you are delightfully being, in your ordinary workaday world. I think efficiency is a good thing. Maybe what you’re doing is important, interesting, or useful; or maybe it isn’t but it has to be done anyway. In the first case you want to get as much return as you can on your investment of time and energy. In the second, you want to get on to other things as fast The art of resting the mind and the as you can, without any nagging loose ends.

And whatever you’re doing, you’d probably like to power of be more relaxed, confident that whatever you’re doing dismissing from it at the moment is just what you need to be doing—that all care and worry is probably one of having a beer with your staff after hours, gazing at your the secrets of our sleeping child in his or her crib at midnight, answering great men. the e-mail in front of you, or spending a few informal —Captain]. minutes with the potential new client after the meeting A. is exactly what you ought to be doing, as you’re doing it.

Teaching you how to be maximally efficient and relaxed, whenever you need or want to be, was my main purpose in writing this book. xi WELCOME TO GETTING THINGS DONE I have searched for a long time, as you may have, for answers to the questions of what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. And after twenty-plus years of developing and applying new methods for personal and organizational productivity, alongside years of rigorous exploration in the self-development arena, I can attest that there is no single, once-and-for-all solution.

No software, seminar, cool personal planner, or personal mission statement will simplify your workday or make your choices for you as you move through your day, week, and life. What’s more, just when you learn how to enhance your productivity and decisionmaking at one level, you’ll graduate to the next accepted batch of responsibilities and creative goals, whose new challenges will defy the ability of any simple formula or buzzword-du-jour to get you what you want, the way you want to get it. But if there’s no single means of perfecting personal organization and productivity, there are things we can do to facilitate them.

As I have personally matured, from year to year, I’ve found deeper and more meaningful, more significant things to focus on and be aware of and do. And I’ve uncovered simple processes that we can all learn to use that will vastly improve our ability to deal proactively and constructively with the mundane realities of the world. What follows is a compilation of more than two decades’ worth of discoveries about personal productivity—a guide to maximizing output and minimizing input, and to doing so in a world in which work is increasingly voluminous and ambiguous.

I have spent many thousands of hours coaching people “in the trenches” at their desks, helping them process and organize all of their work at hand. The methods I have uncovered have proved to be highly effective in all types of organizations, at every job level, across cultures, and even at home and school. After twenty years of coaching and training some of the world’s most sophisticated and productive professionals, I know the world is hungry for these methods. Executives at the top are looking to instill “ruthless execu- xii

WELCOME TO GETTING THINGS DONE tion” in themselves and their people as a basic standard. They know, and I know, that behind closed doors, after hours, there remain unanswered calls, tasks to be delegated, unprocessed issues from meetings and conversations, personal responsibilities unmanaged, and dozens of e-mails still not dealt with. Many of these businesspeople are successful because the crises they solve and the opportunities they take advantage of are bigger than the problems they allow and create in their own offices and briefcases.

But given the pace of business and life today, the equation is in question. On the one hand, we need proven tools that can help people focus their energies strategically and tactically without letting anything fall through the cracks. On the other, we need to create work environments and skills that will keep the most invested people from burning out due to stress. We need positive workstyle standards that will attract and retain the best and brightest. We know this information is sorely needed in organizations.

It’s also needed in schools, where our kids are still not being taught how to process information, how to focus on outcomes, or what actions to take to make them happen. And for all of us individually, it’s needed so we can take advantage of all the opportunities we’re given to add value to our world in a sustainable, self-nurturing way. The power, simplicity, and effectiveness of what I’m talking about in Getting Things Done are best experienced as experiences, in real time, with real situations in your real world.

Necessarily, the book must put the essence of this dynamic art of workflow management and personal productivity into a linear format. I’ve tried to organize it in such a way as to give you both the inspiring bigpicture view and a taste of immediate results as you go along. The book is divided into three parts. Part 1 describes the whole game, providing a brief overview of the system and an explanation of why it’s unique and timely, and then presenting the basic methodologies themselves in their most condensed and xiii WELCOME TO GETTING THINGS DONE basic form.

Part 2 shows you how to implement the system. It’s your personal coaching, step by step, on the nitty-gritty application of the models. Part 3 goes even deeper, describing the subtler and more profound results you can expect when you incorporate the methodologies and models into your work and your life. I want you to hop in. I want you to test this stuff out, even challenge it. I want you to find out for yourself that what I promise is not only possible but instantly accessible to you personally. And I want you to know that everything I propose is easy to do. It involves no new skills at all.

You already know how to focus, how to write things down, how to decide on outcomes and actions, and how to review options and make choices. You’ll validate that many of the things you’ve been doing instinctively and intuitively all along are right. I’ll give you ways to leverage those basic skills into new plateaus of effectiveness. I want to inspire you to put all this into a new behavior set that will blow your mind. Throughout the book I refer to my coaching and seminars on this material. I’ve worked as a “management consultant” for the last two decades, alone and in small partnerships.

My work has consisted primarily of doing private productivity coaching and conducting seminars based on the methods presented here. I (and my colleagues) have coached more than a thousand individuals, trained hundreds of thousands of professionals, and delivered many hundreds of public seminars; This is the background from which I have drawn my experience and examples. The promise here was well described by a client of mine who wrote, “When I habitually applied the tenets of this program it saved my life . . . when I faithfully applied them, it changed my life.

This is a vaccination against day-to-day fire-fighting (the socalled urgent and crisis demands of any given workday) and an antidote for the imbalance many people bring upon themselves. ” xiv Getting Things Done part The Art of Getting Things Done A New Practice for a New Reality 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. And though the method and the techniques I describe in this book Anxiety is caused are immensely practical and based on common sense, by a lack of control, most people will have some major work habits that organization, must be modified before they can implement this preparation, and system. The small changes required—changes in the action. ay you clarify and organize all the things that com- . —David mand your attention—could represent a significant shift in how you approach some key aspects of your day-to-day work. Many of my clients have referred to this as a significant paradigm shift. The methods I present here are all based on two key objectives:(1) capturing all the things that need to get done—now, later, someday, big, little, or in between—into a logical and trusted system outside of your head and off your mind; and (2) disciplining yourself to make front-end decisions about all of me “inputs” you 3

THE ART OF GETTING THINGS DONE | PART ONE let into your life so that you will always have a plan for “next actions” that you can implement or renegotiate at any moment. This book offers a proven method for this kind of highperformance workflow management. It provides good tools, tips, techniques, and tricks for implementation. As you’ll discover, the principles and methods are instantly usable and applicable to everything you have to do in your personal as well as your professional life. You can incorporate, as many others have before you, what I describe as an ongoing dynamic style of operating in your work and in your world. Or, like still others, you can simply use this as a guide to getting back into better control when you feel you need to. The Problem: New Demands, Insufficient Resources Almost everyone I encounter these days feels he or she has too much to handle and not enough time to get it all done.

In the course of a single recent week, I consulted with a partner in a major global investment firm who was concerned that the new corporate-management responsibilities he was being offered would stress his family commitments beyond the limits; and with a midlevel human-resources manager trying to stay on top of her 150-plus e-mail requests per day fueled by the goal of doubling the company’s regional office staff from eleven hundred to two thousand people in one year, all as she tried to protect a social life for herself on the weekends.

A paradox has emerged in this new millennium: people have *I consider “work,” in its most universal sense, as meaning anything that you want or need to be different than it currently is. Many people make a distinction between “work” and “personal life,” but I don’t: to me, weeding the garden or updating my will is just as much “work” as writing this book or coaching a client. All the methods and techniques in this book are applicable across that life/work spectrum—to be effective, they need to be. 4 CHAPTER 1 | A NEW PRACTICE FOR A NEW REALITY nhanced quality of life, but at the same time they are adding to their stress levels by taking on more than they have resources to handle. It’s as though their eyes were bigger than their stomachs. And most people are to some degree frustrated and perplexed about how to improve the situation. Work No Longer Has Clear Boundaries A major factor in the mounting stress level is that the actual nature of our jobs has changed much more dra- Time is the matically and rapidly than have our training for and quality of nature our ability to deal with work.

In just the last half of that keeps events the twentieth century, what constituted “work” in the from happening all industrialized world was transformed from assembly- at once. Lately it doesn’t seem to be line, make-it and move-it kinds of activity to what working. Peter Drucker has so aptly termed “knowledge work. ” —Anonymous In the old days, work was self-evident. Fields were to be plowed, machines tooled, boxes packed, cows milked, widgets cranked. You knew what work had to be done—you could see it. It was clear when the work was finished, or not finished. Now, for many of us, there are no edges to most of our projects.

Most people I know have at least half a dozen things they’re trying to achieve right now, and even if they had the rest of their lives to try, they wouldn’t be able to finish Almost every project could be these to perfection. You’re probably faced with the done better, and an same dilemma. How good could that conference potentially be? How effective could the training pro- infinite quantity of gram be, or the structure of your executives’ compen- information is now available that could sation package? How inspiring is the essay you’re make that happen. writing? How motivating the staff meeting? How functional the reorganization?

And a last question: How much available data could be relevant to doing those projects “better”? The answer is, an infinite amount, easily accessible, or at least potentially so, through the Web. On another front, the lack of edges can create more work 5 THE ART OF GETTING THINGS DONE I PART ONE for everyone. Many of today’s organizational outcomes require cross-divisional communication, cooperation, and engagement. Our individual office silos are crumbling, and with them is going the luxury of not having to read cc’d e-mails from the marketing department, or from human resources, or from some ad hoc, dealwith-a-certain-issue committee.

Our Jobs Keep Changing The disintegrating edges of our projects and our work in general would be challenging enough for anyone. But now we must add to that equation the constantly shifting definition of our jobs. I often ask in my seminars, “Which of you are doing only what you were hired to do? ” Seldom do I get a raised hand. As amorphous as edgeless work may be, if you had the chance to stick with some specifically described job long enough, you’d probably figure out what you needed to do—how much, at what level—to stay ane. But few have that luxury anymore, for two reasons: We can never really be prepared for that which is wholly new. We have to adjust , • ourselves, and every radical adjustment is a crisis in selfesteem: we undergo a test, we have to prove ourselves. It needs subordinate self-confidence to face drastic change without inner trembling. 1 | The organizations we’re involved with seem to be in constant morph mode, with ever-changing goals, products, partners, customers, markets, technologies, and owners.

These all, by necessity, shake up structures, forms, roles, and responsibilities. 2 | The average professional is more of a free agent these days than ever before, changing careers as often as his or her parents once changed jobs. Even fortysomethings and fiftysomethings hold to standards of continual growth. Their aims are just more integrated into the mainstream now, covered by the catchall “professional, management, and executive development”—which simply means they won’t keep doing what they’re doing for any extended period of time. Eric Hoffer 6 CHAPTER 1 I A NEW PRACTICE FOR A NEW REALITY Little seems clear for very long anymore, as far as what our work is and what or how much input may be relevant to doing it well. We’re allowing in huge amounts of The burner I go, information and communication from the outer the behinder I get. —Anonymous world and generating an equally large volume of ideas and agreements with ourselves and others from our inner world. And we haven’t been well equipped to deal with this huge number of internal and external commitments.

The Old Models and Habits Are Insufficient Neither our standard education, nor traditional time-management models, nor the plethora of organizing tools available, such as personal notebook planners, Microsoft Outlook, or Palm personal digital assistants (PDAs), has given us a viable means of meeting the new demands placed on us. If you’ve tried to use any of these processes or tools, you’ve probably found them unable to accommodate the speed, complexity, and changing priority factors inherent in what you The winds and waves are always are doing.

The ability to be successful, relaxed, and in on the side of the control during these fertile but turbulent times ablest navigators. demands new ways of thinking and working. There —Edward Gibbon is a great need for new methods, technologies, and work habits to help us get on top of our world. The traditional approaches to time management and personal organization were useful in their time. They provided helpful reference points for a workforce that was just emerging from an industrial assembly-line modality into a new kind of work that included choices about what to do and discretion about when to do it.

When “time” itself turned into a work factor, personal calendars became a key work tool. (Even as late as the 1980s many professionals considered having a pocket Day-Timer the essence of being organized, and many people today think of their calendar as the central tool for being in control. ) Along with discretionary time also came the need to make good choices about what to do. “ABC” priority codes and daily “to-do” lists were key techniques 7 THE ART OF GETTING THINGS DONE | PART ONE that people developed to help them sort through their choices in some meaningful way.

If you had the freedom to decide what to do, you also had the responsibility to make good choices, given your “priorities. ” What you’ve probably discovered, at least at some level, is that a calendar, though important, can really effectively manage only a small portion of what you need to organize. And daily to-do lists and simplified priority coding have proven inadequate to deal with the volume and variable nature of the average professional’s workload. More and more people’s jobs are made up of dozens or even hundreds of e-mails a day, with no latitude left to ignore a single request, complaint, or order.

There are few people who can (or even should) expect to code everything an “A,” a “B,” or a “C” priority, or who can maintain some predetermined list of to-dos that the first telephone call or interruption from their boss won’t totally undo. The “Big Picture” vs. the Nitty-Gritty At the other end of the spectrum, a huge number of business books, models, seminars, and gurus have championed the “bigger view” as the solution to dealing with our complex world. Clarifying major goals and values, so the thinking goes, gives order, meaning, and direction to our work.

In practice, however, the well-intentioned exercise of values thinking too often does not achieve its desired results. I have seen too many of these efforts fail, for one or more of the following three reasons: 1 | There is too much distraction at the day-to-day, hour-tohour level of commitments to allow for appropriate focus on the higher levels. 2 | Ineffective personal organizational systems create huge subconscious resistance to undertaking even bigger projects and goals that will likely not be managed well, and that will in turn cause even more distraction and stress. | When loftier levels and values actually are clarified, it raises 8 CHAPTER 1 | A NEW PRACTICE FOR A NEW REALITY the bar of our standards, making us notice that much more that needs changing. We are already having a serious negative reaction to the overwhelming number of things we have to do. And what created much of the work that’s on those lists in the first place? Our values! Focusing on values does not simplify your life. It gives meaning and direction—and a lot more complexity. Focusing on primary outcomes and values is a critical exercise, certainly.

But it does not mean there is less to do, or fewer challenges in getting the work done. Quite the contrary: it just ups the ante in the game, which still must be played day to day. For a human-resources executive, for example, deciding to deal with quality-of-work-life issues in order to attract and keep key talent does not make things simpler. There has been a missing piece in our new culture of knowledge work: a system with a coherent set of behaviors and tools that functions effectively at the level at which work really happens. It must incorporate the results of big-picture thinking as well as the smallest of open details.

It must manage multiple tiers of priorities. It must maintain control over hundreds of new inputs daily. It must save a lot more time and effort than are needed to maintain it. It must make it easier to get things done. The Promise: The “Ready State” of the Martial Artist Reflect for a moment on what it actually might be like if your personal management situation were totally under control, at all levels and at all times. What if you could dedicate fully 100 percent of your attention to whatever was at hand, at your own choosing, with no distraction? It is possible.

There is a way to get a grip on it all, stay relaxed, and get meaningful things done with minimal effort, 9 THE ART OF GETTING THINGS DONE I PART ONE Life is denied by lack of attention, whether it be to cleaning windows or trying to write a masterpiece.. — Nadia Boulanger Your ability to generate power is directly proportional to your ability to relax. across the whole spectrum of your life and work. You can experience what the martial artists call a “mind like water” and top athletes refer to as the “zone,” within the complex world in which you’re engaged.

In fact, you have probably already been in this state from time to time. It’s a condition of working, doing, and being in which the mind is clear and constructive things are happening. It’s a state that is accessible by everyone, and one that is increasingly needed to deal effectively with the complexity of life in the twenty-first century. More and more it will be a required condition for high-performance professionals who wish to maintain balance and a consistent positive output in their work. World-class rower Craig Lambert has described how it feels in Mind Over Water (Houghton Miffin, 1998):

Rowers have a word for this frictionless state: swing. . . . Recall the pure joy of riding on a backyard swing: an easy cycle of motion, the momentum coming from the swing itself. The swing carries us; we do not force it. We pump our legs to drive our arc higher, but gravity does most of the work. We are not so much swinging as being swung. The boat swings you. The shell wants to move fast: Speed sings in its lines and nature. Our job is simply to work with the shell, to stop holding it back with our thrashing struggles to go faster. Trying too hard sabotages boat speed.

Trying becomes striving and striving undoes itself Social climbers strive to be aristocrats but their efforts prove them no such thing. Aristocrats do not strive; they have already arrived. Swing is a state of arrival. The “Mind Like Water” Simile In karate there is an image that’s used to define the position of perfect readiness: “mind like water. ” Imagine throwing a pebble into a still pond. How does the water respond? The answer is, 10 CHAPTER 1 I A NEW PRACTICE FOR A NEW REALITY There is one thing we can do, and the Can You Get into Your “Productive State” happiest people are When Required? hose who can do Think about the last time you felt highly productive. it to the limit of You probably had a sense of being in control; you their ability. We were not stressed out; you were highly focused on can be completely what you were doing; time tended to disappear present. We can (lunchtime already? ); and you felt you were making be all here. We noticeable progress toward a meaningful outcome. can . . . give all our attention to Would you like to have more such experiences? And if you get seriously far out of that the opportunity state—and start to feel out of control, stressed before us. out, unfocused, bored, and stuck—do you have the Mark ability to get yourself back into it? That’s where the totally appropriately to the force and mass of the If your mind is input; then it returns to calm. It doesn’t overreact or empty, it is always ready for anything; underreact. it is open to The power in a karate punch comes from speed, everything. not muscle; it comes from a focused “pop” at the end —Sbunryu Suzuki of the whip. That’s why petite people can learn to break boards and bricks with their hands: it doesn’t take calluses or brute strength, just the ability to generate a focused thrust with speed.

But a tense muscle is a slow one. So the high levels of training in the martial arts teach and demand balance and relaxation as much as anything else. Clearing the mind and being flexible are key. Anything that causes you to overreact or underreact can control you, and often does. Responding Anything that inappropriately to your e-mail, your staff, your proj- causes you to ects, your unread magazines, your thoughts about overreact or underreact can what you need to do, your children, or your boss will control you, and lead to less effective results than you’d like. Most often does. eople give either more or less attention to things than they deserve, simply because they don’t operate with a “mind like water. ” 11 THE ART OF GETTING THINGS DONE I PART ONE methodology of Getting Things Done will have the greatest impact on your life, by showing you how to get back to “mind like water,” with all your resources and faculties functioning at a maximum level. The Principle: Dealing Effectively with Internal Commitments A basic truism I have discovered over twenty years of coaching and training is that most of the stress people experience comes from inappropriately managed commitments they make or accept.

Even those who are not consciously “stressed out” will invariably experience greater relaxation, better focus, and increased productive energy when they learn more effectively to control the “open loops” of their lives. You’ve probably made many more agreements with yourself than you realize, and every single one of them-big or little—is being tracked by a less-than-conscious part of you. These are the “incompletes,” or “open loops,” which I define as anything pulling at your attention that doesn’t belong where it is, the way it is.

Open loops can include everything from really big to-do items like “End world hunger” to the more modest “Hire new assistant” to the tiniest task such as “Replace electric pencil sharpener. ” It’s likely that you also have more internal commitments currently in play than you’re aware of. Consider how many things you feel even the smallest amount of responsibility to Anything that does change, finish, handle, or do something about. You not belong where it have a commitment, for instance, to deal in some is, the way it is, is way with every new communication landing in your an “open loop” e-mail, on your voice-mail, and in your in-basket. ulling on your And surely there are numerous projects that you attention. sense need to be defined in your areas of responsibility, as well as goals and directions to be clarified, a career to be managed, and life in general to be kept in balance. You have accepted some level of internal responsibility for every12 CHAPTER 1 | A NEW PRACTICE FOR A NEW REALITY thing in your life and work that represents an open loop of any sort. In order to deal effectively with all of that, you must first identify and collect all those things that are “ringing your bell” in some way, and then plan how to handle them.

That may seem like a simple thing to do, but in practice most people don’t know how to do it in a consistent way. The Basic Requirements for Managing Commitments Managing commitments well requires the implementation of some basic activities and behaviors: • First of all, if it’s on your mind, your mind isn’t clear. Anything you consider unfinished in any way must be captured in a trusted system outside your mind, or what I call a collection bucket, that you know you’ll come back to regularly and sort through. Second, you must clarify exactly what your commitment is and decide what you have to do, if anything, to make progress toward fulfilling it. • Third, once you’ve decided on all the actions you need to take, you must keep reminders of them organized in a system you review regularly. An Important Exercise to Test This Model I suggest that you write down the project or situation that is most on your mind at this moment. What most “bugs” you, distracts you, or interests you, or in some other way consumes a large part of your conscious attention?

It may be a project or problem that is really “in your face,” something you are being pressed to handle, or a situation you feel you must deal with sooner rather than later. Maybe you have a vacation trip coming up that you need to make some major last-minute decisions about. Or perhaps you just inherited six million dollars and you don’t know what to do with the cash. Whatever. 13 THE ART OF GETTING THINGS DONE I PART ONE Got it? Good. Now describe, in a single written sentence, your intended successful outcome for this problem or situation.

In other words, what would need to happen for you to check this “project” off as “done”? It could be as simple as “Take the Hawaii vacation,” “Handle situation with customer X,” “Resolve college situation with Susan,” “Clarify new divisional management structure,” or “Implement new investment strategy. ” All clear? Great. Now write down the very next physical action required to move the situation forward. If you had nothing else to do in your life but get closure on this, where would you go right now, and what visible action would you take?

Would you pick up a phone and make a call? Go to your computer and write an e-mail? Sit down with pen and paper and brainstorm about it? Talk face-to-face with your spouse, your secretary, your attorney, or your boss? Buy nails at the hardware store? What? Got the answer to that? Good. Was there any value for you in these two minutes of thinking? If you’re like the vast majority of people who complete that drill during my seminars, you’ll be experiencing at Think like a man least a tiny bit of enhanced control, relaxation, and of action, act like a focus.

You’ll also be feeling more motivated to actuman of thought. ‘ ally do something about that situation you’ve merely —Henry Bergson been thinking about till now. Imagine that motivation magnified a thousandfold, as a way to live and work. If anything at all positive happened for you in this little exercise, think about this: What changed? What happened to create that improved condition within your own experience? The situation itself is no further along, at least in the physical world. It’s certainly not finished yet.

What probably happened is that you acquired a clearer definition of the outcome desired and the next action required. But what created that? The answer is, thinking. Not a lot, just enough to solidify your commitment and the resources required to fulfill it. 14 CHAPTER 1 I A NEW PRACTICE FOR A NEW REALITY The Real Work of Knowledge Work Welcome to the real-life experience of “knowledge work,” and a profound operational principle: You have to think about your stuff more than you realize but not as much as you’re afraid you might.

As Peter Drucker has written, “In knowledge work . . . the task is not given; it has to be determined. ‘What are the expected results from this work? ‘ is . . . the The ancestor of every action is a key question in making knowledge workers producthought. tive. And it is a question that demands risky deci—Ralph sions. There is usually no right answer; there are Waldo choices instead. And results have to be clearly specified, if productivity is to be achieved. Most people have a resistance to initiating the burst of energy that it will take to clarify the real meaning, for them, of something they have let into their world, and to decide what they need to do about it. We’re never really taught that we have to think about our work before we can do it; much of our daily activity is already defined for us by the undone and unmoved things staring at us when we come to work, or by the family to be fed, the laundry to be done, or the children to be dressed at home. Thinking in a concentrated manner to define desired outcomes is something few people feel they have to do.

But in truth, outcome thinking is one of the most effective means available for making wishes reality. Why Things Are on Your Mind Most often, the reason something is “on your mind” is that you want it to be different than it currently is, and yet: • you haven’t clarified exactly what the intended outcome is; • you haven’t decided what the very next physical action step is; and/or • you haven’t put reminders of the outcome and the action required in a system you trust. 15 THE ART OF GETTING THINGS DONE I PART ONE That’s why it’s on your mind.

Until those thoughts have been clarified and those decisions made, and the resulting data has been stored in a system that you absolutely know This constant, you will think about as often as you need to, your unproductive brain can’t give up the job. You can fool everyone preoccupation with else, but you can’t fool your own mind. It knows all the things we whether or not you’ve come to the conclusions you have to do is the need to, and whether you’ve put the resulting outsingle largest comes and action reminders in a place that can be consumer of time trusted to resurface appropriately within your conand energy. cious mind. If you haven’t done those things, it —Kerry won’t quit working overtime. Even if you’ve already decided on the next step you’ll take to resolve a problem, your mind can’t let go until and unless you write yourself a reminder in a place it knows you will, without fail, look. It will keep pressuring you about that untaken next step, usually when you can’t do anything about it, which will just add to your stress. Your Mind Doesn’t Have a Mind of Its Own At least a portion of your mind is really kind of stupid, in an interesting way.

If it had any innate intelligence, it would remind you of the things you needed to do only when you could do something about them. Do you have a flashlight somewhere with dead batteries in it? When does your mind tend to remind you that you need new batteries? When you notice the dead ones! That’s not very smart. If your mind had any innate intelligence, it would remind you about those dead batteries only when you passed live ones in a store. And ones of the right size, to boot. Between the time you woke up today and now, did you think of anything you needed to do that you still haven’t done?

Have you had that thought more than once? Why? It’s a waste of time and energy to keep thinking about something that you make no progress on. And it only adds to your anxieties about what you should be doing and aren’t. 16 CHAPTER 1 [ A NEW PRACTICE FOR A NEW REALITY It seems that most people let their minds run a lot of the show, especially where the too-much-to-do syndrome is concerned. You’ve probably given over a lot of your Rule your mind or “stuff,” a lot of your open loops, to an entity on your it will rule you. nner committee that is incapable of dealing with — those things effectively the way they are—your mind. The Transformation of “Stuff” Here’s how I define “stuff”: anything you have allowed into your psychological or physical world that doesn’t belong where it is, but for which you haven’t yet determined the desired outcome and the next action step. The reason most organizing systems haven’t worked for most people is that they haven’t We need to yet transformed all the “stuff” they’re trying to orga- transform all the “stuff” we’re trying nize.

As long as it’s still “stuff,” it’s not controllable. Most of the to-do lists I have seen over the years to organize into (when people had them at all) were merely listings of actionable stuff we “stuff,” not inventories of the resultant real work that need to do. needed to be done. They were partial reminders of a lot of things that were unresolved and as yet untranslated into outcomes and actions—that is, the real outlines and details of what the list-makers had to “do. ” “Stuff” is not inherently a bad thing.

Things that command our attention, by their very nature, usually show up as “stuff. ” But once “stuff” comes into our lives and work, we have an inherent commitment to ourselves to define and clarify its meaning. That’s our responsibility as knowledge workers; if “stuff” were already transformed and clear, our value, other than physical labor, would probably not be required. At the conclusion of one of my seminars, a senior manager of a major biotech firm looked back at the to-do lists she had come in with and said, “Boy, that was an amorphous blob of undoability! That’s the best description I’ve ever heard of what passes for organizing lists in most personal systems. The vast majority of people have been trying to get organized by rearranging incomplete lists of 17 THE ART OF GETTING THINGS DONE I PART ONE unclear things; they haven’t yet realized how much and what they need to organize in order to get the real payoff. They need to gather everything that requires thinking about and then do that thinking if their organizational efforts are to be successful. The Process: Managing Action

You can train yourself, almost like an athlete, to be faster, more responsive, more proactive, and more focused in knowledge work. You can think more effectively and manage the results with more ease and control. You can minimize the loose ends across the whole spectrum of your work life and personal life and get a lot more done with less effort. And you can make frontend decision-making about all the “stuff” you collect and create standard operating procedure for living and working in this new millennium.

Before you can achieve any of that, though, you’ll need to get in the habit of keeping nothing on your mind. And the way to do that, as we’ve seen, is not by managing time, managing information, or managing priorities. After all: • you don’t manage five minutes and wind up with six; • you don’t manage information overload—otherwise you’d walk into a library and die, or the first time you connected to the Web, or even opened a phone book, you’d blow up; and • you don’t manage priorities—you have them. Instead, the key to managing all of your “stuff” is managing your actions.

Managing Action Is the Prime Challenge What you do with your time, what you do with information, and what you do with your body and your focus relative to your 18 CHAPTER 1 I A NEW PRACTICE FOR ANEW REALITY priorities—those are the real options to which you must allocate your limited resources. The real issue is how to make appropriate choices about what to do at any point in time. The real issue is how we manage actions. That may sound obvious. However, it might amaze you to discover how many next actions for how many projects and commitments remain undetermined by most people.

It’s extremely difficult to manage actions you haven’t The beginning identified or decided on. Most people have dozens of is half of every things that they need to do to make progress on action. many fronts, but they don’t yet know what they are. —Greek And the common complaint that “I don’t have time to ____ ” (fill in the blank) is understandable because many projects seem overwhelming—and are overwhelming because you can’t do a project at all! You can only do an action related to it. Many actions require only a minute or two, in the appropriate context, to move a project forward.

In training and coaching thousands of professionals, I have found that lack of time is not the major issue for them (though they themselves may think it is); the real problem is a lack of clarity and definition about what a project Things rarely get really is, and what the associated next-action steps stuck because of required are. Clarifying things on the front end, lack of time. They get when they first appear on the radar, rather than on stuck because the the back end, after trouble has developed, allows doing of them has not been defined. eople to reap the benefits of managing action. The Value of a Bottom-Up Approach I have discovered over the years the practical value of working on personal productivity improvement from the bottom up, starting with the most mundane, ground-floor level of current activity and commitments. Intellectually, the most appropriate way ought to be to work from the top down, first uncovering personal and corporate missions, then defining critical objectives, and finally focusing on the details of implementation. The trouble is, however, 19 THE ART OF GETTING THINGS DONE | PART ONE hat most people are so embroiled in commitments on a day-today level that their ability to focus successfully on the larger horizon is seriously impaired. Consequently, a bottom-up approach is usually more effective. Getting current on and in control of what’s in your in-basket and on your mind right now, and incorporating practices that can help you stay that way, will provide the best means of broadening your horizons. A creative, buoyant energy will be unleashed that will better support your focus on new heights, and your confidence will increase to handle what that creativity produces.

An immediate sense of freedom, release, and inspiration naturally comes to people who roll up their sleeves and implement this process. You’ll be better equipped to undertake higher-focused thinking when your tools for handling the resulting actions for implementation are part of your ongoing operational style. There are more meaningful things to think about than your inbasket, but if your management of that level is not as Vision is not efficient as it could be, it’s like trying to swim in enough; it must be baggy clothing. combined with Many executives I have worked with during the venture.

It is not day to clear the decks of their mundane “stuff” have enough to stare up spent the following evening having a stream of ideas the steps; we must and visions about their company and their future. step up the stairs. This happens as an automatic consequence of —Vaclav Havel unsticking their workflow. Horizontal and Vertical Action Management You need to control commitments, projects, and actions in two ways—horizontally and vertically. “Horizontal” control maintains coherence across all the activities in which you are involved.

Imagine your psyche constantly scanning your environment like police radar; it may land on any of a thousand different items that invite or demand your attention during any twenty-four-hour period: the drugstore, the housekeeper, your aunt Martha, the strategic plan, lunch, a wilting plant in the office, an upset cus20 CHAPTER 1 | A NEW PRACTICE FOR A NEW REALITY tomer, shoes that need shining. You have to buy stamps, deposit that check, make the hotel reservation, cancel a staff meeting, see a movie tonight.

You might be surprised at the volume of things you actually think about and have to deal with just in one day. You need a good system that can keep track of as many of them as possible, supply required information about them on demand, and allow you to shift your focus from one thing to the next quickly and easily. “Vertical” control, in contrast, manages thinking up and down the track of individual topics and projects. For example, your inner “police radar” lands on your next vacation as you and your spouse talk about it over dinner—where and when you’ll go, what you’ll do, how to prepare for the trip, and so on.

Or you and your boss need to make some decisions about the new departmental reorganization you’re about to launch. Or you just need to get your thinking up to date on the customer you’re about to call. This is “project planning” in the broad sense. It’s focusing in on a single endeavor, situation, or person and fleshing out whatever ideas, details, priorities, and sequences of events may be required for you to handle it, at least for the moment. The goal for managing horizontally and vertically is the same: to get things off your mind and get things done.

Appropriate action management lets you feel comfortable and in control as you move through your broad spectrum of work and life, while appropriate project focusing gets you clear about and on track with the specifics needed. The Major Change: Getting It All Out of Your Head There is no real way to achieve the kind of relaxed control I’m promising if you keep things only in your head. As you’ll discover, the individual behaviors described in this book are things you’re already doing. The big difference between what I do and what others do is that I capture and organize 100 percent of my “stuff” in and with objective tools at

There is usually an inverse proportion between how much something is on your mind and how much it’s getting done. 21 THE ART OF GETTING THINGS DONE | PART ONE hand, not in my mind. And that applies to everything—little or big, personal or professional, urgent or not. Everything. I’m sure that at some time or other you’ve gotten to a place in a project, or in your life, where you just had to sit down and make a list. If so, you have a reference point for what I’m talking about. Most people, however, do that kind of list-making drill only when the confusion gets too unbearable and they just have to do omething about it. They usually make a list only about the specific area that’s bugging them. But if you made that kind of review a characteristic of your ongoing life- and work style, and you maintained it across all areas of your life (not just the most “urgent”), you’d be practicing the kind of “black belt” management style I’m describing. I try to make intuitive choices based on my There is no reason options, instead of trying to think about what those ever to have the options are. I need to have thought about all of that same thought twice, already and captured the results in a trusted way.

I unless you like don’t want to waste time thinking about things more having that thought. than once. That’s an inefficient use of creative energy and a source of frustration and stress. And you can’t fudge this thinking. Your mind will keep working on anything that’s still in that undecided state. But there’s a limit to how much unresolved “stuff” it can contain before it blows a fuse. The short-term-memory part of your mind—the part that tends to hold all of the incomplete, undecided, and unorganized “stuff”—functions much like RAM on a personal computer.

Your conscious mind, like the computer screen, is a focusing tool, not a storage place. You can think about only two or three things at once. But the incomplete items are still being stored in the short-termmemory space. And as with RAM, there’s limited capacity; there’s only so much “stuff” you can store in there and still have that part of your brain function at a high level. Most people walk around with their RAM bursting at the seams. They’re constantly distracted, their focus disturbed by their own internal mental overload. 22 CHAPTER 1 I A NEW PRACTICE FOR ANEW REALITY

For example, in the last few minutes, has your mind wandered off into some area that doesn’t have anything to do with what you’re reading here? Probably. And most likely where your mind went was to some open loop, some incomplete situation that you have some investment in. All that situation did was rear up out of the RAM part of your brain and yell at you, internally. And what did you do about it? Unless you wrote it down and put it in a trusted “bucket” that you know you’ll review appropriately sometime soon, more than likely you worried about it.

Not the most effective behavior: no progress was made, and It is hard to fight tension was increased. The big problem is that your mind keeps an enemy who has reminding you of things when you can’t do anything outposts in your about them. It has no sense of past or future. That head. —Sally Kempton means that as soon as you tell yourself that you need to do something, and store it in your RAM, there’s a part of you that thinks you should be doing that something all the time. Everything you’ve told yourself you ought to do, it thinks you should be doing right now.

Frankly, as soon as you have two things to do stored in your RAM, you’ve generated personal failure, because you can’t do them both at the same time. This produces an all-pervasive stress factor whose source can’t be pinpointed. Most people have been in some version of this mental stress state so consistently, for so long, that they don’t even know they’re in it. Like gravity, it’s ever-present—so much so that those who experience it usually aren’t even aware of the pressure. The only time most of them will realize how much tension they’ve been under is when they get rid of it and notice how different they feel.

Can you get rid of that kind of stress? You bet. The rest of this book will explain how. 23 Getting Control of Your Life: The Five Stages of Mastering Workflow THE CORE PROCESS I teach for mastering the art of relaxed and controlled knowledge work is a five-stage method for managing workflow. No matter what the setting, there are five discrete stages that we go through as we deal with our work. We (1) collect things that command our attention; (2) process what they mean and what to do about them; and (3) organize the results, which we (4) review as options for what we choose to (5) do.

The knowledge This constitutes the management of the “horizontal” that we consider aspect of our lives—incorporating everything that knowledge proves has our attention at any time. itself in action. The method is straightforward enough in princiWhat we now ple, and it is generally how we all go about our work in mean by any case, but in my experience most people can stand knowledge is significantly to improve their handling of each one of information in the five stages. The quality of our workflow manageaction, ment is only as good as the weakest link in this fiveinformation phase hain, so all the links must be integrated focused on results. together and supported with consistent standards. —Peter F. Drucker Most people have major leaks in their collection process. Many have collected things but haven’t processed or decided what action to take about them. Others make good decisions about “stuff” in the moment but lose the value of that thinking because they don’t efficiently organize the results. Still others have good systems but don’t review them consistently enough to keep them functional.

Finally, if any one of these links is 24 CHAPTER 2 | GETTING CONTROL OF YOUR LIFE: THE FIVE STAGES OF MASTERING WORKFLOW weak, what someone is likely to choose to do at any point in time may not be the best option. The dynamics of these five stages need to be understood, and good techniques and tools implemented to facilitate their functioning at an optimal level. I have found it very helpful, if not essential, to separate these stages as I move through my day. There are times when I want only to collect input and not decide what to do with it yet.

At other times I may just want to process my notes from a meeting. Or I may have just returned from a big trip and need to distribute and organize what I collected and processed on the road. Then there are times when I want to review the whole inventory of my work, or some portion of it. And obviously a lot of my time is spent merely doing something that I need to get done. I have discovered that one of the major reasons many people haven’t had a lot of success with “getting organized” is simply that they have tried to do all five phases at one time.

Most, when they sit down to “make a list,” are trying to collect the “most important things” in some order that reflects priorities and sequences, without setting out many (or any) real actions to take. But if you don’t decide what needs to be done about your secretary’s birthday, because it’s “not that important” right now, that open loop will take up energy and prevent you from having a totally effective, clear focus on what is important. This chapter explains the five phases in detail. Chapters 4 through 8 provide a step-by-step rogram for implementing an airtight system for each phase, with lots of examples and best practices. Collect It’s important to know what needs to be collected and how to collect it most effectively so you can process it appropriately. In order for your mind to let go of the lower-level task of trying to hang on 25 THE ART OF GETTING THINGS DONE | PART ONE to everything, you have to know that you have truly captured everything that might represent something you have to do, and that at some point in the near future you will process and review all of it.

Gathering 100 Percent of the “Incompletes” In order to eliminate “holes in the bucket,” you need to collect and gather together placeholders for or representations of all the things you consider incomplete in your world—that is, anything personal or professional, big or little, of urgent or minor importance, that you think ought to be different than it currently is and that you have any level of internal commitment to changing. Many of the things you have to do are being collected for you as you read this.

Mail is coming into your mailbox, memos are being routed to your in-basket, e-mail is being funneled into your computer, and messages are accumulating on your voice-mail. But at the same time, you’ve been “collecting” things in your environment and in your psyche that don’t belong where they are, the way they are, for all eternity. Even though it may not be as obviously “in your face” as your e-mail, this “stuff” still requires some kind of resolution—a loop to be closed, something to be done.

Strategy ideas loitering on a legal pad in a stack on your credenza, “dead” gadgets in your desk drawers that need to be fixed or thrown away, and out-of-date magazines on your coffee table all fall into this category of “stuff. ” As soon as you attach a “should,” “need to,” or “ought to” to an item, it becomes an incomplete. Decisions you still need to make about whether or not you are going to do something, for example, are already incompletes. This includes all of your “I’m going to”s, where you’ve decided to do something but haven’t started moving on it yet.

And it certainly includes all pending and in-progress items, as well as those things on which you’ve done everything you’re ever going to do except acknowledge that you’re finished with them. In order to manage this inventory of open loops appropri- 26 CHAPTER 2 | GETTING CONTROL OF YOUR LIFE: THE FIVE STAGES OF MASTERING WORKFLOW ately, you need to capture it into “containers” that hold items in abeyance until you have a few moments to decide what they are and what, if anything, you’re going to do about them. Then you must empty these containers regularly to ensure that they remain viable collection tools.

Basically, everything is already being collected, in the larger sense. If it’s not being directly managed in a trusted external system of yours, then it’s resident somewhere in your psyche. The fact that you haven’t put an item in your in-basket doesn’t mean you haven’t got it. But we’re talking here about making sure that everything you need is collected somewhere other than in your head. The Collection Tools There are several types of tools, both low- and high-tech, that can be used to collect your incompletes.

The following can all serve as versions of an in-basket, capturing self-generated input as well as information coming from outside: • Physical in-basket • Paper-based note-taking devices • Electronic note-taking devices • Voice-recording devices • E-mail The Physical In-Basket The standard plastic, wood, leather, or wire tray is the most common tool for collecting paper-based materials and anything else physical that needs some sort of processing: mail, magazines, memos, notes, phone slips, receipts—even flashlights with dead batteries.

Writing Paper and Pads Loose-leaf notebooks, spiral binders, and steno and legal pads all work fine for collecting random ideas, input, things to do, and so on. Whatever kind fits your taste and needs is fine. 27 THE ART OF GETTING THINGS DONE I PART ONE Electronic Note-Taking Computers can be used to type in notes for processing later. And as character-recognition technology advances, a parade of digital tools designed to capture data continues to be introduced. Handheld devices (personal digital assistants, or PDAs) and electronic legal pads can both be used to collect all kinds of input.

Auditory Capture Available auditory devices include answering machines, voicemail, and dictating equipment, such as digital or microcassette recorders. All of these can be useful for preserving an interim record of things you need to remember or deal with. E-mail If you’re wired to the rest of the world through e-mail, your software contains some sort of holding area for incoming messages and files, where they can be stored until they are viewed, read, and processed. Pagers and telephones can capture this kind of input as well. Higher-Tech Devices Now you can dictate into computers as well as hand-write into them.

As more and more communication is morphed into digital and wireless formats, it will become easier to capture ideas (with a corresponding increase in the amount of data reaching us that we need to manage! ). “Computer! ” “Yes, David? ” “I need bread. ” “Yes, David. ” My needed grocery item has been collected. And as the organizing part of the action-management process is further digitized, “bread” will automatically be added to my electronic grocery list, and maybe even ordered and delivered. 28 CHAPTER 2 | GETTING CONTROL OF YOUR LIFE: THE FIVE STAGES OF MASTERING WORKFLOW

Whether high-tech or low-tech, all of the tools described above serve as similar in-baskets, capturing potentially useful information, commitments, and agreements for action. You’re probably already using some version of most of them. The Collection Success Factors Unfortunately, merely having an in-basket doesn’t make it functional. Most people do have collection devices of some sort, but usually they’re more or less out of control. Let’s examine the three requirements to make the collection phase work: 1 | Every open loop


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