The next steps of David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) system are Clarify and Organize. This section will be a little bit longer because these two steps are closely related, and I felt it made the most sense to discuss them together.
These steps are to take the things in your inboxes and process them to be useful. This is because if you just let things sit in your inbox, you won’t trust your system to let you know about work when it’s necessary. Also, every time you look through your inbox for things to be done, you’re going to have to think about what’s left to be done and decide what actions are currently available. This doesn’t sound like it would be stress-free productivity.
Allen uses this workflow diagram to illustrate the Clarify and Organize steps.
I define a project as any desired result that can be accomplished within a year that requires more than one action step.
To process your inbox, process each item one at a time.
- Start by asking the question: Is this actionable?
- If it’s not actionable, decide whether that item will be useful information. If it will be useful on a specific date or time (eg. someone’s birthday), put it on your calendar. If the information isn’t time specific, file it away in your knowledge management system (eg. hard drive, Google Drive, Dropbox).
- If it is actionable, the next question to ask is: Is it part of a project?
- If it’s part of a project, add it to your project list. Your project list is just a note that has a bullet-point list of all the active projects you have on the go.
- (If it’s not part of a project, don’t add it to your project list.)
- Finally, the last question to ask is: What’s the next action?
- If the next action is doable in less than 2 minutes, take the time to simply do it right now.
- If it’s possible to delegate this next action, delegate it to someone. Add this task to your waiting for list. Your waiting for list is just a note that has a bullet-point list of all the tasks you have delegated, and who you’ve delegated it to.
- When adding this task to your waiting for list, you may want to include a date as a reminder for when you want to follow-up with this person on the status of the task. However, this list will ideally be reviewed weekly during the Reflect step. Because these reminders will be regularly reviewed, you may not find it necessary to add a date to these reminders.
- If this next action is time or day specific, schedule this task onto your calendar. Only do this if that task has to be done at this specific date or time. Filling your calendar with events that get missed, moved, and ignored will lead you to not trust your calendar, even for the things that really matter.
- Otherwise, defer this task until later. Add it to a context-specific to-do list. These lists are used to gather the tasks that are available to you in any given context. Examples of these may include a list for the Office, a list for the Computer, a list for the Phone, and a list for running Errands. Because you can’t “Buy milk” when you’re at the office, it doesn’t make sense to include it on that list.
For an example, let’s suppose I pull an item from my inbox: “Developer All Hands Presentation”.
Is this actionable? Yes. I want to put together a presentation on something for the next Developer All Hands at work.
Is it part of a project? Yes–I will need to brainstorm content for my presentation, sign-up for a time slot, prep my slides, practice, etc. So I add “Present at the next Developer All Hands” to my list of active projects.
What’s the next action? Before I can sign-up, prep my slides, or practice, I need to decide on a topic, so my next action will be to brainstorm a list of potential presentation topics. This will probably take more than 2 minutes, isn’t something I want to delegate, and doesn’t need to take place at a specific date or time. So I’ll add an item to my to-do list for my Computer context to “Brainstorm a list of potential topics for my Developer All Hands presentation.”
And processing that item from my inbox is now complete.
Now we’re ready to move onto the Reflect stage of GTD.