As a busy professional, your time is at a premium. Most successful businesspeople know that a well-defined organizational system is critical to staying on top of goals, tasks and priorities.
Many leaders have developed various systems to manage their to-dos and keep up with their deliverables. But one of the most popular systems has been outlined in the book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity.
Author David Allen outlines the Getting Things Done (GTD) system, a successful system that has been re-imagined and re-interpreted a variety of ways since it was first released in 2002.
Below is a breakdown of Allen’s s popular method, as well as interpretations from CEOs of major corporations and publicly-funded companies. This will give you a framework and the inspiration to re-interpret these guidelines to fit your needs.
Using the GTD System
Every day, make a list of every item in your inbox and all of your other to-dos. If the action takes less than two minutes to do, complete it immediately.
If not, think about what action it will take to complete the task. Then write down that action under one of the following lists:
Next Actions: Write out the specific actions needed to complete these tasks with enough clarity that all you need to do is follow the direction to complete it.
These actions are organized in areas depending on what’s needed to complete them. For example, if a computer is needed in order to complete a task, you would organize those to-do’s in a “Computer” section. Or if an action can only be completed outside the home, then there would be an “Outside” section.
Waiting For: This is the list of things you’re waiting for other people to do. List the person you’ve delegated the task to, the action you asked them to take, and the date you asked them to take it. Now you can easily scan your ‘Waiting For’ list and see what’s still outstanding. If need be, you can move older requests to your ‘Next Action’ list as a reminder to follow up with that person.
Someday/Maybe: This is a list of the things you’d like to do, but don’t need to do right away.
Agenda: People often waste time responding to one-off issues in real time. Instead, save time by batching your issues and talking points under an ‘Agenda’ list. Arrange them by the person you need to address them with so that the next time you speak to that person you can address the entire batch all at once.
Projects: This list is for ‘Next Actions’ that require multiple steps which must be completed in a specific order. Write out all the steps needed to complete the task, then add them chronologically to your ‘Next Actions’ list once the previous action is complete.
Review and Organize: Review everything you’ve written and then organize them into Daily and Weekly columns.
Getting Things Done: Your Way
While Allen’s book has become one of the go-to reads in the professional productivity space, you don’t have to stick to this system word for word. Check out how some of the most influential CEOs of our time interpret these steps to increase productivity.
Only hold it once
Eric Schmidt, Google’s Executive Chairman, uses a system called “Only Hold It Once” (OHIO).
By following the OHIO system, Schmidt will respond to emails that take less than two minutes to complete, but will continue to work on whatever he’s doing before responding to an email that requires more attention and input.
For example, he’ll immediately respond to an email confirming a meeting time, but he’ll wait to reply to an email that has multiple requests.
Have theme days
Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Square and Twitter, uses a different method to segment his time. He assigns a theme to each day of the week so that he can organize his to-dos and take care of them within a specific time window. For example, he’ll use Mondays for management, Tuesdays for product development, etc.
While this system may not work for everyone — you probably can’t just make calls for an entire day, for example — you can emulate Dorsey’s methods by assigning a “theme” to hours of the day, or blocks of hours at a time. That way, you’ll have uninterrupted time to focus on prospecting, emails, calls and other key tasks.
Maximize your productive hours
Kathryn Minshew is CEO of The Muse, a New York City-based online career source founded in 2011. She optimizes her time to make sure that she’s taking care of her most intensive tasks during the hours when she’s the most productive.
If you don’t already, start using a time-tracking tool like Toggl to monitor your own behaviour and determine when you’re most productive. Then, block out those two hours for your most difficult, least favourite or most mentally-taxing tasks.
Have “no meetings” days
Asana CEO Dustin Moskovitz keeps things running smoothly by clearing his employee’s calendars once a week with “No Meeting Wednesdays.” Not only does this give Dustin a full day to focus on his tasks, but it also frees up time within the company for everyone to focus on delivering the best product possible.
If blocking a whole day isn’t feasible within your organization, block off several hours, or a morning or afternoon each week where you never schedule meetings.
Increase your productivity today
There’s no one right way to become the most productive leader you can be. But by paying attention to what other leaders are doing and incorporating their strategies into your own workflow, you can develop a process that works for you and your company.