Develop and Maintain Successful Business Relationships with GTD

cardsReaders of my site know that I am a big fan of David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” methodology, which the cool kids call “GTD” (see my 5 must read business books post).

GTD for some is a life changer. I can tell you that I personally went from work drawers full of paper piles to an organized filing system and, every once in a while, a clear desk.  But GTD isn’t about organization. It’s about capturing your commitments in a trusted system and using your now free brain to make decisions about what you should be doing right this instant.

When people ask me to recommend a tool for keeping up with business contacts, I don’t have a piece of software I recommend, but rather a systematic approach that could be used in a variety of programs or even on paper.

Let me explain. You may find yourself at a business function. It could be a meeting, a local event, or a national conference. You will probably meet new people, have a few conversations, make a few light-hearted promises, and collect a pocket full of business cards.  The meeting is not where people experience the most stress, it’s the next day. The next day you get back to your desk, open your drawer, and throw in a pile of cards. You’ll deal with them later, right?

If you are trying to develop or grow a professional network, this is a huge mistake. What GTD teaches you is that each one of those cards is a mental commitment you’ve made with yourself. You’ll spend more time and energy worrying about , “who was that guy I met?” and “what did I say I would send her?” then you will if you just process the cards right away.

Instead of throwing those cards in your drawer, get yourself a card scanner (they are cheap). Scan those cards into whatever system you use (Outlook, Apple Address book, Lotus Notes, day planner, etc.)

As you verify the scanned information for each card, do a brain dump into the notes section. Where did you meet this person? What did you talk about? Capture every bit of information or minor detail about this person you can. Get it all out of your head.

Now ask yourself whether there are any “next actions” related to this person. If there are, capture them in your next actions list.

Example: “look for old boating book for Ned Smith”

If it is your desired outcome to develop a meaningful and productive business relationship with this person, create a project on your projects list called “Relationships: Ned Smith.” That way you have captured your desired outcome somewhere you can review it. During each weekly review, you can determine the next action needed to move that relationship forward.

The GTD system recommends that you have a series of lists you review on a regular basis. One list you should have is a relationship “hit list.” This is a list of your 10-15 most important business contacts. You should review this list monthly to make sure you “ping” each of these contacts (send them a note, call them, take them to lunch) at least once per month.

mattscartoonUsing GTD will improve your ability to develop and maintain successful business relationships. Get those cards out of your drawer. Get those commitments out of your head. And get them into a trusted system.

Matt Handal is a marketing professional who offers actionable advice on marketing, business development, and productivity at He is an avid GTD’er and can be reached by email.