Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur

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How to get from where you are to where you want to be

GTD Step 2: Processing

“The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.” Hans Hofmann

If you have followed step 1 outlined in my last post, chances are you have a lot of stuff to deal with. When I go off the GTD system, my desk drawers become bottomless pits where I deposit just about anything, and then completely forget about it. I am sure all of us have cleared desks and drawers this way many a time. We are suddenly faced with all this surplus information which needs to be processed. Looking at a huge pile in front of you is stressful, so take a deep breath to start with! Next, pick up one item at a time from your in-basket, and start to process. It is important to deal with each item in the tray one at a time, and not put the item back until it has been processed. Outlined below are steps I follow to process my in-tray.

Step 1: I ask myself…. “What action does this particular item require?”. It could require a form of action or, none at all.

Step 2a: If the item requires action, I determine what level of action is required. There are three possible options at this point:

i) Do it: If the item can be completed in 2 minutes or less then I get to it immediately. For example, if the first item on the tray is an approval letter which requires my signature, I sign it, and have it sent to the appropriate person.This item could also be responding to an email, or confirming attendance at a party. Anything which takes a short period of time to complete.

ii) Delegate it: If the item requires another person to take action on it, I mark it, and have it sent to the concerned individual. For example, if the item is a contract my partner needs to comment on, I have it sent over to him.

iii) Defer it: If the item cannot be processed immediately but requires action in the near future, I mark it, and place it on my calender. For example, if the item is a post-it note reminding me to call a particular customer, and today being Saturday, I will put an action item on my calender to call the individual on Monday morning.

Step 2b: if the item does not require any action, there are then a couple of easy ways to deal with it.

i) Trash it: If the item in your tray is junk mail, it should go straight into the trash bin. Anything which does not have some value must be trashed.

ii) Incubate: If the item is an invitation to a wedding, which is to take place in a months time, and you are uncertain of your travel schedule, put it away in a file to review after a designated period of time. Many items will require you to think about stuff, and such a file is a great place to organize them.

iii) Reference: If the item is a competitor’s brochure, I would keep it as reference material. It is important that your reference material is well marked and easily retrievable. Much of the time we archive stuff and never see it again. Mark your files carefully, and keep them within reach at all times.

This may all seem excessive when you first look at it, however, with a little bit of practice all these decisions take place almost instantly. We know instinctively what we need to do with each item, since much of it may have been bothering you for some time. Getting into the habit of keeping your in-basket at a manageable level at all times can greatly improve the quality of life. It is important that you process this tray regularly. Once we have processed all the information, we can move to the next stage, which is, organizing all this information.

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GTD Step 1: Collect

“For disappearing acts, it’s hard to beat what happens to the eight hours supposedly left after eight of sleep and eight of work.” Doug Larson

Here is a common scenario in which I have fallen off my GTD schedule. My inbox has hundreds of emails which need to be sorted and processed, I am moving from one project to the next without getting anything accomplished, books are left unread half way through, my desk is cluttered with to-do lists and post-it notes, and overall, things are just not getting done. As an entrepreneur every day spent in such chaos is a day wasted. Time flies by, and I am left wondering when the day started and when it ended. According to David Allen, this scenario is a result of having too many ‘Open Loops’ in our brain. An open loop signifies thoughts in our brain which need closure. When these loops are left open for extended periods of time, we tend to procrastinate and get stressed out over all the things that need to get done. If you are carrying too many open loops presently, read the steps below to start clearing them out.

Step 1: Clear your Workspace: Our desks are where we spend the better part of our working day, they reflect our state of our mind. A messy desk serves as a reminder to our brain, of all the open loops we are carrying. At one moment we may be working on an important report, suddenly our eye catches an unpaid utility bill. Our focus suddenly switches to the bill, and we begin worrying about getting the payment in before the due date. Beneath the bill, we notice a letter for a seminar we needed to register for yesterday, we have missed the deadline to sign up. This process goes on and on until we sit down and clear our desk of all, but the necessary items which need to be on it.

Step 2: Clear your Computer: Somehow, desktop screens seem to collect a lot of stuff very quickly. Downloaded files, new documents, attachments and a host of other new creations. These serve as constant reminders of open loops and can be very distracting. Create folders, set dates and time to clear them as soon as possible. Next, move to your email box and begin dealing with all unanswered emails, delete those which do not need a response and archive important emails to designated folders for easy retrieval.

Step 3: Clear your Mind: This is one my favorite exercises. When I cannot bear the open loops any more, I take a piece of paper and start putting down my thoughts onto the sheet of paper. This can literally cover anything which is bothering me. For example, it could be, buy a box of chocolates, call the cable repair man, chart out a timeline for the new project, make a Doctor’s appointment, make reservations for saturday night dinner, or, start doing some charity work. This is one of the most therapeutic things you can do for yourself and putting it all down feels really good.

During these steps many documents and files need to be handled. Set up a basic ‘in’ and ‘out’ tray to manage all the data, and set dates and time to process all the information which has been gathered. I also use basic file folders for specific information, and I review those folders on a periodic basis. There is no point in collecting all this data, thoughts and action points, without setting up a system to manage your collection properly. Before you begin the collection process have a couple of fresh envelopes, file folders, labelers and, the trash bin nearby.

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Are you getting things done?

“Good thoughts are no better than good dreams, unless they be executed.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ever had a day start off with a million things to do, and at the end of it, not manage to strike even one of them off the list? Often the tasks at hand are huge ones, like writing a business plan, creating a brochure or even developing a website. Chances are, if you have, write a business plan on a to-do list, it is not going to get completed when you need it. Lets face it, most of us have procrastinated at some point in time. Some do it more regularly than others. As an entrepreneur, your plate is usually full, and procrastination comes at a heavy opportunity cost. We have to do whatever it takes, to make sure that we use our time optimally. Time management is a topic I wrote about earlier this year. Since then, I have changed my time management methodologies and now use the GTD (Getting things done) methodology, it has helped me greatly in getting more accomplished.

The GTD methodology was developed by Mr. David Allen. It is a simple system which helps streamline many of the tasks we do on a daily basis. Before I started using this system, my mind used to race from one project to the next. If I receive an important email while busy writing a report, I often just switch tasks, and that is ususally the end of the report. Things such phone calls and uncalled for meetings were draining a lot of my day. This system got me started on a concept called, working in a particular context. Which means, I partition my day contexts such as responding to emails, phone calls, thinking, reading and a host of other activities where I can see all the tasks related to that context. It made a world of difference.

Over the course of this week, I plan to outline some key components of the system. This will help individuals who do not know this methodology to learn a little more about it. Pointers from this series can be applied to your daily schedule, and you can test out which components of the system to incorporate into your schedule without disrupting it too much. In the end the focus has to be on execution and delivering results. We could talk incessantly about the business we want to start, or the new product that needs to be launched. Unless we take decisive action, we will not get anything accomplished. I hope this system will be of as much benefit to you, as it has for me.

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