I used to take pride in how much information I could keep in my head. I would use mnemonic devices and take courses in increasing memory retention. I did not realize how misguided my efforts were until I read Getting Things Done by David Allen. (See here and here). That book and system changed the way I organize my life. By keeping “open loops” in my head, I was actually crippling my ability to be efficient while increasing stress in my life. See Getting Things Done Facebook Page.
The basic goal in David Allen’s system is to be able to handle and process information as it comes into your life. The problem is that, for most of us, that’s like drinking water from a firehose. You have to be able to master workflow as it comes in. David has developed a basic workflow system that identifies a five stage process. See chart here.
I’m not going to go through the five stage process in great detail in this post. For those of you who are not familiar with David Allen’s system (known as GTD), I highly recommend you buy and read his book and check out his site (David Allen Company). I want to share two programs that I have come to use and rely upon in collecting data and information as it comes in, and then processing and organizing that data into a system that I can work from.
David makes the analogy to psychic RAM (random access memory) for the mental energy that is used when trying to close an open loop. An open loop is an unfinished task or piece of information that hasn’t been adequately addressed or completed. It may be that the idea has not been thought out in order to determine what action needs to be taken, or it is an action that is poorly defined and cannot be taken without additional steps occurring first. David defines an open loop as “anything pulling at your attention that doesn’t belong where it is, the way it is”. Mental energy needs to be devoted to the task at hand to close those open loops and should not be used to try to remember all the necessary details. Those details need to be placed on lists that you will trust to review on a regular basis.
You need to get things out of your head and onto manageable lists that will be regularly reviewed by you as needed. But in order to keep things out of your head, you must trust the system that you are using. If there are any leaks in the system, you will feel insecure about how you are storing information and that information will crawl back into your head.
The first step in mastering workflow is collecting all the things that command your attention (anything personal or professional, big or little, that you think should be different than it currently is and to which you have any level of internal commitment to change). You need a tool to collect this information. David refers to this tool as a “collection bucket”. This can be a low-tech tool such as a physical in basket or paper pad. You can also use an electronic notetaking device, e-mail, or auditory capture device (answering machines, voicemail, or dictating equipment). You should use as few collection buckets as possible. You don’t want to rely on writing notes on napkins, edges of envelopes, or case folders. My preference is for something that I take with me wherever I go which is usually a mobile device such as a cell phone and or iPad.
You want to get everything out your head into the collection bucket as soon as you can if not immediately. And you want to empty the collection bucket on a regular basis by processing and organizing that information into next actions or projects (actions that require more than one next action to complete).
I have found two excellent online programs: one that first helps me collect information as it comes in, and then one to store the results of processing that information in multiple lists that I find useful. I like how these programs are easy use, sync automatically on the Cloud (which makes the information available on all my mobile devices and any computer or laptop that I’m in front of) and best of all; they are FREE.
The program that I use to collect the raw data and information is Upvise (Register for free account here). I only use the notebook function. I love the user interface available on my cell phone and iPad. The program can be downloaded for any operating system you may need to use. If you are a salesperson, you may like some of the other programs within Upvise. I limit my use of Upvise to capture immediate information that I need to retain. It’s no different for me than taking a physical note to process later.
My favorite program to store and organize the tasks that I need to complete and the projects that are currently underway is Toodledo (Register for free account here). The free program is sufficient for most users, I like a few extras and pay for the premium plan. Toodledo just improved their online interface which is beautiful to work with. It will download and sync to most programs you may have on Android, Windows 7, iOS or other mobile devices. There is a fairly decent desktop program known as Task Angel that syncs with Toodledo but I have found that I like to work directly online with the Toodledo program from any browser since the interface has been improved.
The nice thing about the GTD method is that you can adapt it to your own needs, style and available tools. I used to prefer low-tech capture tools such as a notebook I would carry with me wherever I went. I now have replaced that with a program that works on the cloud (Upvise). This program works nicely and gives me the ability to print out the collected information making it easier to process and store in my lists contained in Toodledo.
Check it out and have some fun while you’re Getting Things Done.
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