Staying Present: I come to embrace “Getting Things Done”

Staying Present: I come to embrace “Getting Things Done”

“We live in a moment of history where change is so speeded up that we begin to see the present only when it is already disappearing.” ~ R. D. Laing

I  was introduced to, and strongly encouraged to read, “Getting Things Done” a few years ago. The book came so highly recommended that I didn’t question the importance of it and dove right in. It wasn’t long before my resistance to the message started to creep in and the more I read the more distant I became to the material. My first take with GTD, as it is loving referred to, ended with me, quite literally, throwing the book across the room… truly.
At the time,  I was a more than full-time working wonder woman  – desperately passionately trying to build a business – balancing being available to my small kiddos and giving my design clients all the creative mojo I could conjure up. So, when I read David Allen’s suggestion to stop all work for a few days in order to structure my life in his suggested way… well that was it for me and the book chucking started.
I will admit today that my reaction to David Allen’s suggestions on how to increase productivity, in particular the bit about no work for a few days with an administrative assistant or the author himself posed to run interference, says a lot about where I was at at the time  – maxed out completely. I didn’t get paid if I didn’t work – and I chose to divide my time into segments devoted to work and to family… I didn’t feel like I could bring the whole  system to a screeching halt. I do have to say that just thinking about the bit where the author describes helping the many executives he has worked with by field calls and blocking interruptions still gets my goat. I don’t have a secretary to review and log my phone calls for me and I don’t imagine David Allen is going to show up at my home office to help – that would be totally cool, don’t get me wrong… just thinking… hmmmm… probably not happ’nen.
And so, my relationship with “Getting Things Done” stayed in a very cold and disdaining space for a few years. We agreed to disagree and go our separate ways – the book to the shelf and me to focus on the business at hand.
“Getting Things Done” came back into the spotlight when a friend reminded me of my habit to see things in total black and white. He shared that he used the pieces of the book that worked for him. He did not adhere to the system to perfection (what a novel idea!) – but he did do things like “close the loop.” I began to almost sub-consciously weave bits of the “Getting Things Done” philosophy into my life… making sure emails got put into clients folders rather than my in-box actually did make it easier to find things… the little bit of time invested did save me time in the end.
There has been a renewed energy around “Getting Things Done” in my life recently and I have taken a moment to step back a bit and observe my life and how it is different from when I was first introduced to the book. Over the last few years I have done some growing up, some evolving spiritually, some work in the area of self awareness and conscious living – I have also experienced the ups and downs of owning a business, had a few hard knocks life lessens.
My biggest take away from “Getting Things Done”  today is to be present. I am committed to living my life consciously… present and experiencing each moment. The most important piece of “Getting Things Done” for me is to create a system of working that allows me to place the pieces of my work into their designated spaces so my mind can focus on the task at hand. This way of being with the data in my life also works in my relationships with family and friends. If I have an out-standing to-do item hanging out there and I don’t know if I have taken care of it… that’s the thing I will obsessively think about during dinner rather than listening to my son talk about his day. The time I have with my boys is a particularly powerful reminder of how important it is to be present in the moment… they really do grow so fast, if I don’t pay attention, I will miss it.
The organizational system is the logistics of the “Getting Things Done” philosophy. David Allen has put together a suggested system he has seen work for himself and his clients. I just got lost in the logistics and couldn’t see the forest for trees. I have created a system that works for me. I believe the most important part of whatever kind of organizational system you come up with is to be consistent. I have to keep doing something long enough until my brain actually trusts that things will be taken care, balls will not be dropped and no, I don’t have to worry about when the field trip is while I am in a meeting with a client, because it’s on my calendar – color coded in the boys designated shade – with a reminder set for 24 hours in advance – with the what to pack list on the fridge at home.
That’s all well and good, you say – but what the heck does that look like? Well, here a few things I do:
At work:
  1. Outlook is my best friend! If it’s not in Outlook – its not happening.
    1. I use Outlook categories like a fend. Everything is color coded and sorted into categories
    2. Tasks kick-ass! I don’t take little posted sticky note reminders… if that little ping pong ball thought sneaks in while I am working on something – I make a quick task to take care of it later… and get back to being present to the work at hand.
    3. Emails always get sorted. If it is something I need to do something with – I color code categorize it. If its just data, I file it. If some thing need to be done around it… I make a task or schedule an “appointment” on my calendar.
    4. If I am in the thick of a client project, with lots of emails back and forth – I make a short cut to their folder. Then I don’t have to drill down to their email folder – I just click the Shortcuts tab in the side pane.
  2. Surfing the web
    1. If I want to find it later – I bookmark it. Right now I am using Diigo – cause they have a very quick, one click, bookmark plugin for FireFox
    2. If I read a blog I want to check back on it- I add it to my Google Reader – right then and there… no “I’ll get to it later”
    3. I also “star” posts in twitter I want to refer to later or that have links I want to find
  3. Paper work for clients – file it, file it, file it… now!
    1. I put the phone number on the outside of the folder, so when I need to call a client… I just look at the folder sitting in my tiered folder rack.
    2. Notes from meetings get torn out of my notebook and put into the folder
  4. Meetings
    1. If I am organizing I try to keep it under an hour and half. Preferrably an hour
    2. I love to have an agenda – I want to know what the goal is and what we are walking out the door with
    3. Action items – write ’em down, dole ’em out
    4. Action items get made into tasks in Outlook ASAP!
At home:
  1. Mail – I open and sort it every day when I get it out of the box.
    1. Trash gets trashed
    2. Shredded – goes straight to the shredder (one of the boys fav jobs)
    3. I have 2 file folders – to pay and to file – the mail goes in accordingly
  2. Gifts – I buy things as I find them, preferabbly on sale and when the event comes around – I don’t have to scramble
  3. Stuff – I am not above actually labeling counters, shelves, containers with what supposed to go there… keeps everyone on the house clear that everything has a spot, now PUT IT THERE!
  4. I schedule a time, the same time every week to do money maintenance.
    1. I use for categorizing and budgeting
    2. We are currently using a free snow-ball program to work towards being free from credit cards (its AWESOME! Thanx @brandius for sharing)
    3. I set up EVERYTHING, down the pediatrician, in my online bill pay.
    4. Due dates are… you guessed it – put into Outlook!

Everything else – birthdays, parties, field trips, to-do, to buys… go back and read #1.
Final Note: Please, Please, PLEASE do not assume that I adhere to all the above to perfection. I am still a more than full time working wonder woman who believes in muddling through. The above list are goals… I will not beat myself up if I have to scramble for a Christmas gift or if a bill gets paid late every once in while – like when I move and everything I own is in a box and I can’t get the stupid internet to work in my house – you know, times like that…

  • Carolina
    Posted at 10:36h, 14 May

    I love this article! It’s great to see how others organize their day, their schedule and their life because you could always take something from it.
    I’ve been thinking of reading “Getting Things Done” after watching the Inbox Zero presentation by Merlin Mann of 43Folders at Google. Great Stuff!

  • Katie
    Posted at 11:33h, 14 May

    Totally awesome advice — I love the Outlook to Google calendar sync ( to make sure that both of my calendars stay in touch (I allow some familia to have access to my GCalendar to make sure they know what’s going on with me, so that works really well).
    Google Doc sharing has also eliminated some stress in my life as we can update (like bill payment schedules, etc.) once and know that we both have the latest info.
    Ah, the power of the Interwebs meets Dave Allen. LOVE!

  • Lyndia Haryanto
    Posted at 11:46h, 14 May

    I’m reading your blog post and got sidetracked by KITTENS!
    No really, I did. I came back to it though. Some great action items I can take away from this post. Thank you for sharing JJ.

  • qcait
    Posted at 13:05h, 14 May

    JJ, you are awesome.
    My biggest issues are keeping up with personal things, especially things with no real “deadline.” For instance, I don’t have meetings and Basecamp and Outlook reminders on the steps I need to take in being Maid of Honor in my best friend’s wedding in July. So those details are more likely to slip through the cracks. And those are the things that will bug me all day if I don’t get them documented SOMEWHERE.

    • admin
      Posted at 15:40h, 14 May

      I believe the cardinal rule of calendaring – is to just have one master – pull everything into it. Fab!Hubby and I share family items on a Google Calendar and I am interested to learn more about connected the 2. With today’s super-duper be-all-end-all cell phone personal mini computers – I can keep everything in one place. I know for me – wondering if I have clean green shirt for AK to wear for field day on Friday is just as distracting as whether I emailed that revised content to the client or not. Both will distract me – both will keep from being present to the moment.

  • MagsMac
    Posted at 13:56h, 14 May

    This is a great post JJ! I am going to start using some of your “at home” tips and trick for organizing. Hello!!