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How I learned to ‘Get Things Done’

David Allen chats with a seminar attendee during a break

I’m usually a nose-to-the-grindstone kind of gal — I rarely take lunches out of the (home) office, tend to avoid schmooze fests (no matter how good for business they might be) and am usually too busy earning a living the hard way to take the time to learn how to earn a living the smart way.

Not so smart, I know!

But yesterday, I was fortunate enough to hear international “Get Things Done” guy David Allen speak at New College.  It was a four-hour affair, and that’s a pretty big commitment for someone with four press releases going out and a to-do list of 42 items to be crossed off before 7 p.m. But still… the whole “work smarter, not harder/longer/forever” dynamic appealed to me way back in November when I registered, and miraculously, today, no client emergencies (or cat or Mom emergencies) arose before I left the house at 7:45 a.m., and so I was scooted into my free seat by 8:15 a.m., courtesy of the lovely Zonta Club of Sarasota, and the club’s just-as-lovely partners and sponsors who made the whole thing happen.

The Rev. Fredrick A. Robinson from Church of the Redeemer; Susan Burns, editor of Biz(941) magazine; and a tablemate review the materials and a free copy of Allen’s book “Getting Things Done,” provided to attendees

In the crowd, I saw Susan Burns, editor of Biz(941); Janice Zarro of the Women’s Resource Center; Veronica Brandon Miller of Goodwill Manasota; the Rev. Fredrick A. Robinson, rector at the Church of the Redeemer (one of my longest-term clients in Sarasota); Ann Fowler of Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe; and a whole host of other folks in town who work for nonprofits and related organizations. Could it be they all too felt in need of a little (or a lot) fine-tuning in the seemingly never-ending game of Can I Get This Done Not Just By Deadline But By the End of This Century?

So, what did I learn?

I learned that I’m actually doing pretty good on the time/information/project management continuum. What I’m horrible at, it seems, is a) responding promptly to emails that aren’t strictly about work or business; b) allowing myself to be too easily interrupted during the workday by people who think the word “freelancer” means I basically sit around watching Katie, Oz and The Chew all day in between waiting for the opportunity to work for someone for free (oh, and a couple of cats who think I only work at home in order to serve their whim for cat treats and litter box scooping); and c) not following the two-minute rule.

The two-minute rule is basic: If you receive an email, phone call, snail mail, etc., or have an item on your to-do list, any of which could be accomplished in two minutes or less, do it right then and be done with it and move on. I’ve always tended to read an email when it comes in, no matter what I’m doing, and then respond later (I’m sure my friends would say sometimes never). Nu-uh, says Allen. E-peeping is a big no-no when you’re supposed to be working!

First of all, don’t interrupt your own work by checking what that ding-dong email that just arrived has to tell you (unless you’re on fire waiting for that final jpeg to send out with the press release). Then, set aside dedicated time periodically (however often needed for your own business/personal comfort level) for actually reading and dealing with your emails — which requires always, always, doing one of the following: 1. delete whenever you can; 2. respond immediately if the response takes two minutes or less; 3. file it into an email folder with perhaps a note on your to-do list to take specific action at some future point (which may be an hour or a year from now); or in some rare cases, 4. print out the email and put it in your physical inbox!

Um, I don’t even have a physical inbox! Or at least I didn’t until I returned home and carved out a shelf next to my desk that will henceforth be known as “Place de la Naïveté.” Wish me luck with that. But Allen says it’s an essential component of the Get it Done ethos.

Anyway, after clearing a space for an actual inbox, I cleared my calendar of all non-urgent to-dos, and spent the next two hours (yes, unbelievably, it took that long) — clearing out both of my email inboxes. Allen calls it “zeroing out.” And, it’s a shockingly good feeling to see NO EMAILS IN MY INBOX — personal and professional. And, seriously, I’m going to try to keep it that way. I’ve made a list of all the projects and to-dos that resulted from the e-box sweep, and I had a lot of fun deleting stuff I truly didn’t need for any reason. I also now have a massively long list of personal contacts to whom I owe apologies for my delinquent ways!

I SWEAR I’m going to respond to those two folders marked “Personal Emails I Must Respond to Before My Friends Write Me Off Entirely” in a timely fashion. Well, timely is subjective, I know. So I’ve got those folders on my to-do list — something that never occurred to me to do before, and one thing I know about me — when it comes to my to-do list, I “Get it Done” Allen-style, every day, pretty much no matter what.

Let the “art of stress-free productivity” begin!

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Posted on January 31st, 2013Comments RSS Feed
One Response to How I learned to ‘Get Things Done’
  1. Thanks, MC. I wasn’t able to attend, so I’m really glad you shared some helpful nuggets…and as always, your own very welcome personal experience perspective!

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