Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Getting Things Done

If you are not interested in micro-details about logistics, skip this post! I’m writing it out as a kind of narration because executive function is always the area that trips me up. I have been reading a book called The Mislabeled Child which clarified the problem for me a bit.
Last week I printed out some calendar forms from DIY Planner and made some booklets. A lot of the DIY forms are based on the system of Getting Things Done
created by David Allen. I read his book last year when I was in an efficiency immersion mode, and liked it.

GTD is a “bottom -up” organizational system. The way I understand it is that instead of categorizing items by priority, like the Franklin Covey system, it offers a process for dealing with incomings as they come in. Here is a diagram that explains the process. Basically, you decide whether to act on it or not — if it’s actionable, you put it in one of three categories: DO (less than 2 minutes), delegate, or defer. Under Defer, there are two options — setting a calendar date, or putting it into an Action list.

If it is NOT actionable, then you either throw it out, put it in a “someday/maybe” file, or file it for future reference.

The system also has a process for taking projects in and putting them into actionable steps, which is the part that I recently noticed I have the most trouble with. All the things that Stephen Covey calls “Important but Not Urgent”. …. things that take several steps to complete. (one system for dealing with sorting out priorities is described here)

One GTD strategy is to create a file system called 43 folders. There is 1 folder for each month of the year and 1 folder for each day of the month. This attracts me because I used a somewhat similar system to keep track of my job index cards. The idea is that you have a “hard-copy” reminder of what is going on in that time frame. I wonder if I would use such a system or if it would just sit there? So hard to tell. Presently I have a liturgical year binder and a reference/notes binder, plus my calendar books. I don’t know if I have a real need for a physical folder system for my things, but I like the idea.

But this is what I am definitely getting out of the system:

  • Get a “project” process (I need to find out more about how to do this and pin it down in time sequence — this definitely is not intuitive to me).
  • Have some kind of reference file (I do have this but it could use some regular organizing).
  • A someday/maybe file (index cards?)
  • A place to write down “to-do’s” (I use my calendars for this) and some sort of symbol to show whether they are “defers” or “delegates” — the “do’s” I can just check off.
  • Regular times for looking through it and updating — GTD suggests daily and then a weekly time period for the big-picture type thing. (I do daily and weekly checking but probably could use a bit more organization for HOW I do it)

Anyway, what I was REALLY going to say was that when I started listing my projects in my head, I found out why I often feel so overwhelmed and scattered. There are a lot! Plans for each of the kids (with varying degrees of collaboration and co-planning — for instance, my oldest is largely steering his own ship by now but still could use a bit of encouragement and little interventions like, you know, phone calls, care packages, the things that I could easily let slide). The house maintenance and repair (my husband and I collaborate on this). Kitchen stuff — health and hygiene. Outdoors things. Various volunteer projects and homeschool activities here and there. Whew. There is probably more, and some of them overlap. I think this is where Covey’s prioritizing comes in. You can decide what projects are more crucial than others and give first place to the more important ones.

As for breaking down the projects or goals into steps, here are some articles:


The visual image I am getting when I consider all these areas is that of a tree, like the liberal arts taxonomy diagram. Or maybe a web, considering that many of the different types of plans would interconnect.

OK, all done! It probably sounds much more complicated than it needs to be….