This article describes my attempt at implementing David Allen’s excellent Getting Things Done (GTD) methods for personal organization, using a variety of Office 2.0 services. If you have not read David’s book, I respectfully suggest that you do so. If you have but need a quick refresher on the GTD’s terminology and processes, you can download a simple Workflow Diagram from the David Allen Company website.
According to the GTD, the first decision point in one’s workflow process when receiving new “stuff” is to decide whether or not the item is actionable. This might be the most difficult part of any personal organization method, and there is no fancy tool to help you there, just good judgement based on experience and daily practice of the method.
If the item is not actionable, I trash it, store it as a long-term goal or attach a note to an object, both using Salesforce.com as data repository. Salesforce.com does not have any standard object for goals, therefore I created a custom one. A goal has a long-range timeframe attached to it, which can either be the current year, next year, within five years, within ten years, or within one’s lifetime. A goal with a five years timeframe could be the buying of a house for example. The decision to use a note rather than a goal is based on the fact that a note does not have a timeframe. It’s a simple piece of information that I want to make sure I will be able to retrieve when looking up the object it is attached to. Using Salesforce.com’s relational model, a note can be attached to any object, such as an account, a contact, or whatever custom object you might have built to store some specific piece of information.
If the item is actionable, three options are available:
If multiple steps are required, in a particular sequence, I use a full-blown project management extension to Salesforce.com called DreamTeam, which I featured in a past article. It gives me the ability to manage complex projects through Gantt charts, which is the best way I know to graphically depict complex multistep projects. The reason why goals are called ‘goals’ instead of ‘projects’ is that DreamTeam already uses the term ‘project’, and it is important to make a clear distinction between the two.
If multiple steps are required, but in no particular sequence, I create a goal (same as above) and attach multiple tasks to it. A goal usually has a long-range timeframe but tasks have precise deadlines, and the combination of both makes it easier to manage projects that should be completed within a certain timeframe but with no specific deadline. In other words, each step along the way has fixed deadlines in order to ensure steady progress, but the timeframe is kept open on purpose.
Finally, if only one action is required, I either do it, delegate it, or defer it. I use email to delegate tasks, but I make sure to send such emails from Salesforce.com instead of my regular email client, for two main reasons: first, it attaches a contextual trail to the object the task is related to; second, it allows me to create a follow-up task right after I click on the ‘Send’ button in order to remind me to later ping the person I delegated the task to, within a timeframe that
I can specify. This pretty much ensures that nothing falls off the cracks. When I decide to defer the task instead, I attach a task to the object it is related to, usually with a specific deadline in order to keep things moving.
Last but not least, in cases when I am not sitting in front of a computer equipped with an Internet connection and the item cannot be trashed, I defer the overall item by sending an email to myself through my BlackBerry device. That way, I ensure that nothing is forgotten and that I will process the item as soon as I get access to the Internet. One could use the mobile edition of Salesforce.com to achieve the same purpose, but it only gives access to a limited set of standard objects and no access at all to any custom objects or extensions such as DreamTeam, therefore cannot support the whole workflow process.
Here is how I manage the seven primary types of things that the GTD helps you keep track of:
Projects List: Projects are listed in my DreamTeam projects and my goals stored in Salesforce.com. I usually have a lot more goals than projects, mainly for the reason that few projects actually require the precise sequencing of tasks.
Project Support Material: I attach a lot of documents to projects, goals and other objects they relate to such as a sales opportunity, a meeting, or a trip. For managing my traveling, I have created a ‘travel’ custom object in Salesforce.com where I store PDF copies of flight, hotel and car reservations made over the Internet and I use my personal weblog to record and publish reviews of hotels and restaurants. I also use Flickr to share pictures with friends. My ‘travel’ object in Salesforce.com includes departure and return dates, from which I automatically compute a custom link to the corresponding posts on the weblog. Also, the WordPress powered weblog integrates seamlessly with Flickr, therefore everything is connected together without any duplication of information and I can navigate from one application to the other seamlessly.
Calendared Actions and Information: I use Salesforce.com to manage all my events. No Microsoft Outlook, no PDA, just Salesforce.com. I tried to keep it synchronized with my BlackBerry device, but the inability to synchronize over Bluetooth convinced me that it was not worth the effort. When I cannot get access to Salesforce.com through a regular computer, I just connect to it through GPRS with my BlackBerry device. If I go to a place where no GPRS connection is likely to be found, I just email my appointments for the day to my Blackberry email address, so that I can carry a copy with me but no unnecessary email shows up in my regular email inbox.
Next Actions List: I use Salesforce.com’s Task List, which can display tasks within the following categories: ‘Overdue’, ‘Today’, ‘Today + Overdue’, ‘Tomorrow’, ‘Next 7 Days’, ‘Next 7 Days + Overdue’, ‘This Month’ and ‘All Open’. I spend most of my day using the ‘Today + Overdue’ category and switch to ‘Tomorrow’ and ‘Next 7 Days’ toward the end of the day when most of today’s tasks have been completed. Needless to say, because documents can be attached to tasks and related to any object in Salesforce.com, I use the very same Task List as my tickler file.
Waiting For List: I use the same Task List in Salesforce.com as for my next actions.
Reference Material: For information available in digital form and contextually related to objects stored in Salesforce.com, my reference material is managed in the exact same way as my project support material. For information available in digital form but not easily related to objects, I tend to use Gmail as a file repository. I have described my use of Gmail in a previous article and find its searching abilities to be invaluable. For information not available in digital form and that cannot be easily scanned, I create references into Salesforce.com objects. For example, I have created a custom ‘book’ object in Salesforce.com where I store information about books I read and attach related PDF summaries that I get from Soundview. I also create custom links to Amazon, using the books ASIN and QID numbers, 0142000280 and 1116101749 respectively for the paperback edition of Getting Things Done. Finally, I link a book record in Salesforce.com to the review I might write about it on one of my weblogs. Same as for travels, all pieces get linked to each other without any duplication, making it very easy to manage and share relevant information through the right communication channels.
Someday/Maybe List: Goals custom object in Salesforce.com as described above.
Random Project Thinking
For random project thinking, I am starting to make extensive use of social bookmarking tools such as del.icio.us or Diigo, as described in a previous article. After some practice, I actually believe that the networking thinking enabled by tags and bundles as defined by del.icio.us is more effective for brainstorming than the hierarchical thinking enabled by outlining tools such as Microsoft Word or OmniOutliner (for Mac users). Nevertheless, I really wish that a full fledged mind mapping tool such as Mindjet’s MindManager was available as a web application. I guess I will have to wait a little bit more for this.
My application of the Getting Things Done methodology through Office 2.0 services is only nine months old and I have a lot more to learn and experiment with. Nevertheless, I found David’s approach so effective that I really made it a way of work. That being said, for all the bells and whistles offered by web applications or other software tools, nothing will ever replace some key principles that David Allen never forget to emphasize: the power of the collection habit, the power of the next-action decision and the power of outcome focusing. So feel free to use some of my tricks and the tools that work best for you, but never lose sight of the end goal, which for me is to get more time to do all other important things in life, such as taking care of my loved ones. In fact, that’s what I’m going to do right now.