Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur

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

5 Steps to Get Things Done (GTD)

“Contemplation often makes life miserable.  We should act more, think less, and stop watching ourselves live.” Nicolas de Chamfort

Every passing day signifies 24 hours of our life, which we will not be able to get back. Very often, days pass by so quickly that they turn into weeks, months and years before we know it. We often complain about the day not having enough hours, and yet, we tend to lose precious moments every day. It is only when we look back and think of what could have been, do we realize how vital it is to use the time we have to the best of our ability. I do not believe in regrets and beating myself up for what could have been. What upsets me however, is seeing myself waste time. It can be procrastination, day dreaming or the fact that I was overwhelmed with everything that needed to be done. Either way, I know I will not be able to get that time back. When searching for ways to organize my life and use time wisely, I found the GTD system, which has introduced accountability as part of my days. Listed below are 5 steps to use, and implement a system to get things done.

1. Collection: This begins with picking up pieces of our lives scattered all over the place. This includes cluttered desks, messy drawers, loose papers, over flowing inboxes and over loaded thoughts. We have to begin by collecting all these “open loops” and putting them into a system where we can process each and everyone of them. It requires much discipline and hard work to get all this stuff into one place initially. The key is to have a system in place which allows us to record these open loops as and when they are created. This takes a huge load of one’s mind, and allows it to focus, rather than be confused with all the happenings in your head. To learn more about how to get started on the collection step, please click here.

2. Processing: After step one, there will be much information to be processed. This means we need to go through each item and open loop, sort out which needs to be acted upon, those that need to be archived, and most importantly, those that need to be trashed. We have to make a conscious effort to minimize the number of items our system will hold as much as possible. Items which require 2 minutes or less of action, must be acted upon instantly, and those loops closed. For example, the expense sheet that needs your signature, sign it now, and send it to the required person. To learn more about how to process all your items please click here.

3. Organizing: Once we have the information after processing, it needs to be organized in a manner to enable us to refer to it, as and when needed. This means each item needs to be allocated specific buckets to slot into. These buckets can be projects or reference topics, in which to organize all the necessary items under one file. For example if you are launching a new corporate website, all the items and thoughts for that project need to be filed together. It is important to label all these action items with contexts that allow you to focus on them when required. Examples of contexts are “Phone Calls”, “Emails”, “Errands” etc. This way you can batch certain activities together. To learn more about how to organize your data please click here.

4. Reviewing: This is a critical step which refreshes your mind of commitments, and closes loops on projects taking up more time than they should. I use three reviewing cycles which are a daily, weekly and monthly review. In these review cycles, I ensure that my daily schedule is structured to maximize my time. Weekly reviews give me a higher level view of everything accomplished during the course of the week, and the progress made. Lastly, the monthly view provides me a snapshot of the larger picture. Without these constant reminders it is easy to get side tracked, and revert to old ways. To learn more about my review cycles please click here.

5. Doing: Very often it comes down to taking action. Lists are only useful, when the items on them are periodically checked off and progress made. Without action we could use the most sophisticated technology in the world to collect, process and organize our data; without seeing any improvements at all in our lives. I use the four criterion model where the task I choose depends on the context, time available, energy and priority. For example if my commute to work everyday is 30 minutes and I have access to my phone during that period of time, I use my “Phone Calls” list and make all the calls during this period of time. Likewise the task I choose depends on the time available, the amount of energy I have and most importantly how important the task is. To learn more about the four criterion model please click here.

There is not just one way the GTD system can be implemented into your daily lives. Everyone has different needs and requirements, each step can be customized. What is important is that we create a system which is reliable and all encompassing. We need to take the load of our minds and put it down on paper, where we can process it more efficiently. As David Allen says, the aim is to reach a “mind like water” state. Where we will be able to move seamlessly from one activity to another, while maintaining a high level of productivity and efficiency. I hope this simple guide serves as a helpful starter for those wanting to begin using this system. I would appreciate your comments, feedback and experience using the GTD system.

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GTD Step 5: Doing

“Success will never be a big step in the future, success is a small step taken just now.” Jonatan Mårtensson

Going through steps one to four, can be a liberating experience in itself. Through these steps, we have I believe, brought some structure to our often chaotic lives, and now have access to a system with a broad overview of happenings in our lives. These steps must however be executed on a daily basis, in order to bring about a reliable system. We are the main engine for making this system work. The minute we stop inputting our commitments, action items and thoughts into the system, the reference angle is meaningless. Hence, we have to set-up the system in a manner that is easy to use on a daily basis. There are several methodologies used to keep the wheels spinning in a GTD system. Outlined below, is the one I prefer to use.

Four Criteria Model

1. Context: All my action items are always grouped according to context. Therefore, depending on where I am, and the tools currently available, I select a context to work in. For instance, if the commute to my office takes 30 minutes, and all I have access to at that time is my phone, I bring up the list of calls I need to make. If I am able to work on multiple contexts at the office, I will use the remaining three criterion to help make a decision.

2. Time Available: I am at the office and have a meeting scheduled in the next hour, I can use this time to come up with an agenda for a proposed meeting, or review the presentation I have to give on my computer. If I only have five minutes before the meeting, I can scan my list of short phone calls or emails, and deal with them  using this period of time. This way, I am able to maximize the awkward 5-10 minutes in between meetings, calls and appointments.

3. Energy Available: Some tasks require more physical and mental effort than others. Let’s say it is 7:30pm after a long day at work. I have a list of low energy tasks which I could do at this moment. Depending on the time and tools available, this is a great time to fill in expense sheets, data entry or another task which requires minimal effort. For tasks requiring more energy, I work to place them in the earlier part of the day when I feel fresher and have a clearer mind.

4. Priority: We all have critical tasks which need to be given a higher level of priority. These tasks are usually flagged in my task lists, and are completed as soon as possible. If an entire day goes by, and these tasks are left undone, it often feels like the entire day has gone to waste. It is essential that your task list clearly marks priority, to ensure that you see these flagged tasks first and get them done as soon as possible.

Using this model I am able to collect, process and organize my action items throughout the day. It is undoubtedly not the most structured approach out there as compared to other methodologies. I like to be able to switch between projects depending on external factors. Other people that I know have more structured approaches, where they complete certain types of work at predefined times in the day. It is important to select a methodology that you are comfortable with. The primary objective must be to make it easy for you to use the system regularly and refer back to it whenever required.

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GTD Step 4: Reviewing

“People love chopping wood.  In this activity one immediately sees results.” Albert Einstein

Steps one through three, involved the gathering of data, putting it into appropriate buckets, and ensuring it was placed in a system to enable us to know what to do next. The fourth step in the process is a critical one, it puts a review system into place. The purpose of a review system is to analyze whether we are on track, as also gauge the progress we are making. A common case  in need of such a review system is, making lists of things to do, and then never getting around to doing them, because of inadequate and irregular review system . A review system helps to refresh your mind of commitments and closes loops on projects taking up more time than they should. I use three main review cycles, they are outlined below:

Daily Review: The first thing I do when I get into office is to open my calender, and review the tasks allocated for that particular day. This helps me plan accordingly for the rest of the day. The next task is to review my project lists, and determine the next action and it’s context. Depending on this list, I plan my day to maximize completion of tasks.

Weekly Review: This is by far the most important review cycle of them all. My weekly review is scheduled for Sunday morning, for those who work a 5 day week I suggest keeping it on Friday when things are still fresh in your mind. During this review I have a couple of key tasks which I now do habitually.

Emails: During the course of the week, I make sure my inbox remains as empty as possible. However if there are unprocessed emails which require thinking about, this is the time I usually clear them. I also identify emails that I am expecting, but which have not been received yet. I then create reminders, to ask the concerned individuals during the course of the week.

Calender: I review last week’s calender and see which tasks need to be moved forward to this week if required. I schedule appointments and action items for the coming week in advance if required. This way I ensure nothing is left unprocessed from last week, and move into a new week being aware of the workload to expect.

Project Review: Next, I review all the projects labeled for weekly reviews. In this manner I can monitor fairly adequately how much I got done during the week. If I have fallen behind schedule on certain tasks, I identify the reasons, and make sure that greater time is allocated to get them sorted out in the coming week. This project review helps close many loops on concurrent projects and helps me stay afloat with the activity, without getting overwhelmed.

Monthly Review: This review is carried out on the last Saturday of every month. I use this review to monitor progress of the macro goals I have set for myself. They  include growth of a businesses, personal finance, personal development and health. These are some larger goals which a weekly review does not cover. Through this review I get a perspective on the larger picture, without feeling bogged down with smaller projects running simultaneously. This is a very important review cycle, I recommend it’s use to everyone.

Incorporating a review system into my schedule has greatly increased my productivity and focus in life. The feeling of being bogged down with simultaneous project rarely occurs now. This provides a degree of control which is calming and reassuring at the same time. Without this vital step the GTD methodology will impact in a less meaningful manner. A disciplined review system, is a foundational building block, and helps this system unlock its true potential.

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