Life at the project level

Date: Wednesday, May 11, 2011 by GTD Times Staff

David Allen received this email from Ben, an enthusiastic GTDer who has been customizing his home and work system for greater productivity. This is a terrific example of how GTD can be adapted to suit your needs, using the combination of digital and paper that works for you.

Hello David,

I wanted to let you know that I listened to your CD recordings about “Getting Things Done” earlier this year. Since then, I applied many of the things that you suggested and have found myself to be much more efficient at home and at work. You might be interested to know a few of the ways that I have applied your suggestions.

Originally, I created a 3-ring binder with tabs organized by what context I was in (home, office, computer, etc). Although that was very helpful, I have moved toward doing as much as possible on my computer.

1. Collecting things

  • I used to have two e-mail addresses, but I canceled one and redirected people to the other. Now all my e-mails are in one place. This requires less mental energy since I don’t have to worry about checking both accounts.
  • I carry a small paper notebook in my back pocket wherever I go. If I think of something important at dinner, I stop to write it down. I anticipated that my wife would be offended that I am thinking of work stuff at home, so I explained to her in advance that writing these things down actually helps me focus more on home life.
  • I created a Word file called “Someday maybe,” but the list of things got so long that I subdivided it into several files and put all these files in a folder called “Someday Maybe.”

2. Identifying information

  • If a certain e-mail has an actionable item for me to do, I move it to the Actionable e-mail folder.
  • If I send someone an e-mail and I want a response, I also send a copy to myself. When I receive that copy, I move it to a folder called “Waiting for.”
  • I look through my Actionable and Waiting For folders a couple of times a week. If someone has not replied to a “Waiting For” item, I hit “Reply All” and follow up with them.
  • In all my face-to-face meetings, I make sure to clarify what the next steps are and who is responsible for them.
  • I have separated the reference material from the actionable material. It’s amazing how much that helps clear my mind

3. Tickler system

  • I am using Microsoft Outlook’s Task feature to remind me of things that I will want to do in the future, but I don’t want to think about now. For example, a month from now might be a special event where I’ll have volunteers helping out. I can create a task in Outlook reminding me to show appreciation for them afterward.
  • Outlook can schedule tasks to recur at various intervals. I have taken advantage of this for many things, and it really frees up my mind by not having to juggle so many details.

4. Primarily looking at life at the level of “project”

  • I have a paper card for each current project and each one for the near future. The title is the name of the project, and below that I have the specific action steps needed to accomplish the project.
  • I have arranged these cards in order of importance (not urgency). Each day, I must work on the most important project until it is done or until I have done all I can for the day. Then I can move on to the second most important project. I fight the urge to jump to something that is urgent so that I can focus on what is most important. Occasionally, a less-important thing does need to happen today, so I first spend an hour or so on the more important ones, then move to the urgent one. That way I am at least making progress on the important ones.

Thanks for all your suggestions. I look forward to getting more efficient each year.


4 Responses to “Life at the project level”

  1. Jennifer I says:

    My Thanks to Ben for taking the time to elaborate on your system!!! I have been using GTD for some time now, and I’m in the process of updating and reviewing how I use GTD. (My success with GTD is why I’m updating my system.)

    I think using Microsoft Office to lists my Projects and printing them on INDEX Cards will really work for me.

    Another GTD user mentioned Microsoft OneNote which I am also trying out as an overall “notebook/filing system” for GTD.

    In the distant future, after saving for an IPad I would experiment with using the iPad with “THINGS” (by Cultured Code).

  2. Louise Hardy says:

    “Become a part of the solution or get out of the way and let others through”
    Harley Lovegrove

  3. Elizabeth Saunders-Time Coach says:

    Way to go Ben!

    I love how you took the basic concepts of GTD and then figured out how to make them your own.

    With any system, true success comes from consistent implementation and lasting behavioral change. Because we’re all so unique, adjustments need to be made to get just the right “fit.”

    To your brilliance!
    Elizabeth Saunders

  4. Tom says:

    What happened to taking one next action from various projects to make sure that all projects are being moved along? Working on one project all day sounds like the old way. Rather, I thought context is the guide for working a list, not project.

    Conceptually, next actions related to contexts seems to be the prominent part of the new way, GTD.


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