Get More, of the right things, Done

I was remembering the other day about my first couple of years working professionally.

It was in the early ’90s. Email was just being introduced into the workplace. I received around ten emails a day, only about half of them requiring an answer. Most of the time, if a co-worker had a question, they would walk down the hall to ask it.

Get More, of the right things, Done 1

Contrast that to today’s work… I work both as a professor and as a business owner. During the school year, I receive about 100 emails a day from students or related to the business of the university where I work. As a business owner, it can fluctuate, but my non-university email can get another 100 or so when we have a lot of classes or projects going on with our clients.

Regardless of how we started, most of us today have to fill the role of what Peter Drucker coined as “the knowledge worker.” Industrialized nations today have shifted the majority of their workforces from using our bodies to build things, to using our brains to produce something of value to another. This is not necessarily a good thing in every aspect, as illustrated so well by the book Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work, by Matthew Crawford.

The pace of work today is rapid. We’re confronted with all these forces, pulling on our time and attention. How then do we manage it all? How can we prioritize what’s important and not become overwhelmed?

Time management authors and course providers have been capitalizing on these questions for decades now. One such guru who is providing great tools and ways of working at our peak performance is David Allen, author of Getting Things Done.

Getting Things Done

If this is the first time you’ve heard the phrase ‘getting things done,’ Trent Hamm of the Christian Science Monitor’s The Simple Dollar, clearly articulates what this system is and how to apply the various principles in your work in a series of posts, listed below.

  1. A New Practice for a New Reality
  2. The Five Stages of Mastering Workflow
  3. The Five Phases of Project Planning
  4. Setting Up the Time, Space, and Tools
  5. Corraling Your Stuff
  6. Getting to Empty
  7. Setting Up the Right Buckets
  8. Keeping Your System Functional
  9. Making the Best Action Choices
  10. Getting Projects Under Control
  11. The Power of the Collection Habit
  12. The Power of the Next-Action Decision
  13. The Power of Outcome Focusing
  14. Five Key Things to Remember

I use a combination of David Allen’s GTD system, along with some of the classic approaches described in the Franklin Covey system, such as considering our various roles and prioritizing tasks around our roles. If you want a great training system to walk you through getting started with GTD, check out their GTD system product.

In this post, I’ll tell you about some of the tools I use in my own GTD system. One of the things David Allen emphasizes is that each of us needs to make the principles work within our own preferences and styles. Since I enjoy making use of technology to streamline my workflow, you’ll note a number of applications along the way that can assist you as you seek to live a knowledge worker’s life.

The Basics

While some of us have complex systems we use to accomplish our goals, you can start by ensuring you have the basics for your way of organizing.

A planner

Your planner can be a physical planner (Franklin Covey still tops my list of planners, though I’ve stopped ever carrying something physical around with me). You also can have something electronic that you use, though make sure it is something that can be with you at all times (such as via your smartphone).

Your planner / planning system should have both a calendar for time-based appointments and tasks, as well as a robust to do list. I use for my to dos and Outlook 2010 for my calendaring system.

A note-taking tool

Again, you can either carry note-taking tools around with you, or use an electronic one (assuming again you’ll have access to it via your smart phone). I use a combination of my LiveScribe Pulse Smart Pen (see video below), along with a great online notebook system called

Levenger has a fabulous Circa notebook system that I use which allows you to add and remove pages with ease, due to their unique punching system. The $58 for a Circa desk punch seemed expensive when I first saw it, but I can tell you now that I don’t regret my purchase in the slightest as I’m able to make notebooks/pages from any paper now (including the paper I use to record using myLiveScribe pen that I print from our laser printer).

Once you have the hole punch, you can create all different sizes of notebooks out of whatever printed material you want. Lifehacker has some terrific printable notebooks and planners that are highlighted on their site.  Best part is – – they’re free.

Workflow Processing and Organizing Tools

I highly recommend that you read Getting Things Done, if you haven’t already. It will help you see that it isn’t about using the right planner or having the correct smart phone. Rather, Getting Things Done is about a set of key principles and systems that help you live and manage by them.

Once you’ve finished the book, I recommend ordering a set of system guides from The David Allen Company. These guides are great for keeping close-at-hand in your workspace and include practical guides and checklists as follows:

  • Mastering workflow
  • Incompletion trigger list
  • Workflow processing and organization diagram
  • Weekly review
  • Natural planning model
  • Project planning trigger list
  • Horizons of focus

I reach for my system guides more often than I reach for an envelope or a stamp. Probably the best one is on how to process and organize workflow. Allen outlines how to take “life’s random inputs” (such as email, phone calls, ideas, incoming mail, and requests) and process and organize them all.

Below is a graphic of the tools I use for the various systems prescribed by Allen. After that, I briefly describe each tool and how it integrates with my own GTD system.

The first question asked in the GTD workflow system is regarding whether or not the item is actionable. If the answer is yes, Allen prescribes having systems for projects, deferring tasks, and delegating them.

When my projects involve more than just one or two people, my go to system is called Many Moon. It is an easy-to-use online project management system. You can add projects, milestones, tasks, and keep track of who has committed to what by when. It also integrates with Google Docs, making it easy for a team of people to comment on a document or spreadsheet that is related to the project from within Many Moon, keeping more of your information in one place.

You don’t attend too many project meetings in a company before you see a gaggle of notebooks being lugged along. I prefer to use a notebook system called Evernote. It is an application they refer to as being “in the cloud.” That means that all the items you put in this notebook are stored on a computer on the internet, as opposed to your local hard drive, so the information can follow you wherever you go. Need to access your notebook on a different computer? It’s there with a desktop application that syncs with your data stored “in the cloud.” Need to see your information while on the road? It’s there using an iPhone, Blackberry, or iPad app. At an internet cafe, without a smart phone or iPad? No problem. Just log in to your account using an internet browser and all your same information is there.

Evernote is great for project-related information such as ideas, meeting notes, and you can even record your thoughts via an audio note. After a meeting where you take notes on a whiteboard, fire up the Evernote iPhone application and take a photo of the brainstorming you did. Later, you can email the photo to the attendees and also have it on your Evernote notebook for storing and future searching. Evernote is so smart, that it can search text in photographs, even hand-written text.

I also use a cloud-based system called DropBox for all the PDFs and Word Docs that I want to have available to me for a project. Evernote makes for a great storage system, but if you have documents, such as PDFs or Word files that you want to change often, as opposed to just referencing, DropBox will likely make for an alternate solution. For a little more clarification on how DropBox can work for you, let’s turn to the folks at CommonCraft:

For tasks that need to be deferred or delegated, I use another web-based service called Remember the Milk. Remember the Milk is my favorite task manager – and trust me when I say I’ve explored many of them. I can access my to do list on my iPhone (regardless of whether or not I can get a connection to the internet at that time), over the web, as well as in print (I don’t use their print features, but a friend at work likes to have a hard copy to doodle on throughout the day to help her stay focused and she loves the design of the printouts).

I can also forward emails to my Remember the Milk to do list, including some added text to indicate which folder/list I want the tasks associated with, when they are due, and how they should be tagged (tags let you categorize things in different ways; so you might have tags around where you need to be when you complete a task – such as @computer or @phone, as well as what activity they relate to – such as research, course preparation, or eLearning creation).

If a task is not actionable, many of these same tools may be used for storing items for reference, incubation, or on what Allen calls the “someday/maybe” list.

One last tool not mentioned yet that I make use of for storing websites for future reference is called Delicious. It is a bookmarking service that makes it super easy to call up websites you want to view later on. It is also a “social” service, meaning that you can share categories of links with people that may have an interest in the same subject as the bookmarks you’ve stored. For example, here are all the bookmarks I’ve saved on my Delicious account that are related to GTD.

One of the best companies around at making things easy to understand is CommonCraft and they developed this easy-to-understand vision of what Delicious can do for you:

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