Last Friday at the Silicon Valley Bootstrappers Breakfast an attendee mentioned they were considering investing two days to adopt David Allen‘s “Getting Things Done” approach to organizing their work. This led to a “lightning round” question: “What tools and techniques do you use to keep yourself organized and getting work done?”
This in turn triggered a lively discussion around different approaches, books, and courses to consider. Everyone offered some very practical advice for how they organized their work. What follows is a summary of our conversation. I have grouped the suggestions into five categories:
- Capturing Ideas
- Getting Started vs. Procrastinating
- Organizing the Work
Random Thoughts Document: keep a “Random Thoughts” document (or “Good Ideas” if you are more optimistic) to get the ideas out of your head so that you don’t forget them–and you can get back to what you should really be working on. It’s probably best to have a primary scratchpad document that you can review periodically to sort and re-assign different ideas to more specialized documents.
Use Paper: sometimes paper is handier: carrying a few 3×5 cards to jot down ideas can be done in a way that doesn’t break the flow of a conversation in the way that typing on your phone or opening your laptop might. Paper is also devoid of the cornucopia of distractions that any Internet connected device keeps only a few clicks away. Keep a few sheets of paper and a pen on your nightstand: now you can record those brilliant insights that occur just as you are falling asleep or persist as memory fragments from dreams.
Voice Notes: some people are more comfortable capturing their thoughts as voice notes on their phone or in a pocket recorder–again, the pocket recorder does not tempt you to check your mail where picking up your phone might. Some folks keep a small rubber duck or other ceramic spirit totem on their desk that they can talk to when they are stuck. If your office allows pets or emotional support animals, you can explain your confusion to them if a sympathetic or incautious co-worker is not available.
Morning Pages: before your start work in the morning, take ten minutes to write down a stream of conscious to capture what thoughts you have so that you can get started on the real work you need to do. Sometimes useful insights get captured that can be transferred to your “good ideas” file upon a later re-reading.
Save Context Before Quitting: write a short “context capture” document when you are at a stopping point on a task, you will need to continue later. If you are putting aside an incomplete task, it’s a good idea to capture the state your thinking so that you lose as little of the context you will need to be productive when you pick it up again. This approach also argues for making your to do list for tomorrow at the end of the day, not first thing the next morning. You can always revise it in the clear light of day, but you are less likely to forget something.
For the Full Recap see Getting Work Done: Leveraging Calendars, Task Lists, and Project Plans