MCSMN Blog

June 13, 2018

Getting Things Done

By Taryn Offenbacher, Senior Communications Specialist

In Dr. Stephen R. Covey's book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Habit 7 is Sharpen the Saw.

"We must never become too busy sawing to take time to sharpen the saw."

The principle is that we can become so busy doing the work, we forget to tend, repair, and maintain the doer. In theory, it's an easy concept to understand and agree with. In reality, the urgency of emails, meetings, deadlines, projects, and the responsibilities of home life can overwhelm the importance of seeking improvement and renewal.

This week, the Social and Digital Innovation team "sharpened their saws" during a two-day retreat Getting Things Done. Really. We took the time to take the Getting Things Done course that helps individuals create a behavior and process to enhance productivity.

A key philosophy of the program is that your mind is for having ideas, not holding them. Humans weren't created to "remember" the hundreds of inputs (tasks, projects, requests, events, etc.) that claim our mental space. By creating and maintaining an organized and productive list process, we can redirect our mental energy from storage to creativity.

The five steps of the process:

  1. Capture: Collect what has your attention. Write down everything that is taking up mental space or energy—personal and professional.
  2. Clarify: Take all of the items you listed in the "Capture" step and determine if they are actionable. If so, what is the immediate next step to move the project forward? This clarity can help you combat procrastination because the next step is understandable and actionable. For example, instead of writing "Board Meeting" create two tasks "Book Conference Room G" and "Create an agenda for Board Meeting and email to Lisa."
  3. Organize: Sort all tasks based on context. The context for a task includes the tools, space, and resources you'll need to accomplish it. Picking the next task can be intuitive—ask: what action makes sense with the context (tools and resources), focus, energy, and priority you have available right now. For example, during a cross-country flight you might not be able to make all those calls on the list, but it might be the perfect context to tackle that long writing project. So group actions based on categories like work computer, calls, errands, home, etc.
  4. Reflect: Review your lists frequently to determine what to do next. Plan a 90-minute weekly review session (Tip: Friday mornings can be a great time to plan this so you can leave for the weekend knowing you accomplished what you needed and are prepared for the week ahead.) Update your list: capture, clarify, and organize again. Clear your mind.
  5. Engage: Get things done! Now that you've aligned your behavior and process to help you effectively manage your actions, focus on getting the work done.

One month from now, I'll share lessons about what I learned Getting Things Done for a month so stay tuned!

Has anyone else tried this or another productivity system? What did you learn?

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Tags: productivity, project managment, Strategy, Tactics & Best Practices

Thanks for this write-up, Taryn. GTD was hugely influential for me a dozen years ago, and I was glad we could have our team go through the training together. Thanks for sharing with the broader network. I would definitely recommend everyone to get the book, and if you can take the in-person training it's even better to increase your understanding and likelihood of making it stick.

Great summary, @toffenbacher I've been a fan of Steve Covey and 7 Habits for many years. That course focuses primarily on thinking deeply about your life and relationships, along with some excellent advice for getting things done. GTD teaches a practical and actionable process to boost your daily productivity. I found it's a really nice compliment to 7 Habits. I'm especially excited to use the tips to manage my inbox and make sure I'm working on getting the right things done each day. See you in 30 days!

I have used GTD daily for the past decade. Although it certainly can by used as a simple productivity system, it can also help someone clarify their deeper purpose and mission in life. ( there is a definite emphasis on being very present in the moment – whether it is something as simple as cleaning out a desk drawer, or creating a multi-million dollar business plan, or receiving a diagnosis of a possible cancer).

If I had to summarize it I would say it is a practical method of clearing your mind so completely as to allow for spontaneous creativity at any given moment.

@matthewrehrl

I have used GTD daily for the past decade. Although it certainly can by used as a simple productivity system, it can also help someone clarify their deeper purpose and mission in life. ( there is a definite emphasis on being very present in the moment – whether it is something as simple as cleaning out a desk drawer, or creating a multi-million dollar business plan, or receiving a diagnosis of a possible cancer).

If I had to summarize it I would say it is a practical method of clearing your mind so completely as to allow for spontaneous creativity at any given moment.

Jump to this post

Well said! It's about keeping all of the "stuff" from overwhelming your ability to be present and creative.

Liked by Matthew Rehrl

Thanks for the great summary for the rest of us! I follow most of the GTD method but find the organization by context to be one area I could probably improve on personally. Would love any extra tips if someone has them!

Two things I find useful. I use Omnifocus for my iPhone and iPad ( the principle place work my projects, though occasionally I use the Mac ), and I put Contexts as my first element – so it is the first thing I see. Of note, on your weekly review of projects remember that even if you project has 40 tasks, you only need to assign the next 1-2 tasks to a context to make it useful.

The second little trick I have for capture is zI have connected my iPhone's Reminders list to my OmniFocus Inbox. Then, when I have an idea or tasks I want to to capture , I just say, " Siri, add Check Mayo Clinic's conference dates" and it goes directly to my Omnifocus Inbox for later review.

I know that GTD is platform agnostic, and in theory I could just use paper, but i have found my iPhone to be the capture device and the iPad and my physical inbox to be the Review devices.

@matthewrehrl

Two things I find useful. I use Omnifocus for my iPhone and iPad ( the principle place work my projects, though occasionally I use the Mac ), and I put Contexts as my first element – so it is the first thing I see. Of note, on your weekly review of projects remember that even if you project has 40 tasks, you only need to assign the next 1-2 tasks to a context to make it useful.

The second little trick I have for capture is zI have connected my iPhone's Reminders list to my OmniFocus Inbox. Then, when I have an idea or tasks I want to to capture , I just say, " Siri, add Check Mayo Clinic's conference dates" and it goes directly to my Omnifocus Inbox for later review.

I know that GTD is platform agnostic, and in theory I could just use paper, but i have found my iPhone to be the capture device and the iPad and my physical inbox to be the Review devices.

Jump to this post

Thanks, Matt. I use Omnifocus as well and like how I can sync between iPhone, iPad and Mac. I also like an app called BrainToss that sends a voice message right to my email inbox as my main capture tool. It's $1.99 but well worth it.

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