Now that you’ve been introduced to the GTD productivity method, and you’ve gone ahead and put that long list of things you need to do into a container, now it’s time to actually process the items on your to do list. In his Skillshare class, Get Stuff Done Like A Boss: Design Your Workflow and Double Your Productivity in 21 Days, productivity coach Tiago Forte offers the following guidance for processing your to do list.
The first step for processing your to do list is to ask yourself a series of questions about each item that you’ve listed in your task manager:
- What is it?
- Is it actionable?
- Is it valuable?
- What is the next actionable step?
Three options for non actionable items
First we’ll take care of the non-actionable items. There are three things you can do with the items that aren’t actionable:
- Put it in the trash – throw away things you won’t need to de-clutter your environment. One of the main places you’ll probably look to do this is in your email inbox, but it also includes files on your computer and errant papers on your desk.
- Put it on a someday/maybe list – the things you may want to do someday (i.e. plan your dream vacation), but that aren’t actionable right now, should go into a someday folder in your task manager (ToDoist is one possible task manager).
- Reference – things that are valuable but are not currently actionable. These items will go in a reference folder. Consider using Evernote for setting up your reference folders.
Now your to-do list is a little more actionable. Which is the point, to get yourself ready to take action.
Options for actionable items
Now that you’ve weeded out the no-actionable items and put them into separate containers, now you can begin to process the actionable items on your to-do list.
If you do decide an item is actionable, the next question you ask is what is the next physical action?
In practice it is hard to think of the very next thing you should do. As Tiago points out in his class, most people’s to do lists are made up of very vague tasks that are intimidating because each task is actually made up of several tasks. By focusing on just the very next physical action you make the tasks very much more achievable.
If you’ve been following along in this series, your next step is to re-write all of your open loops as a next physical action. Here’s an example, I’ll use my self as an example. Having recently moved to a new state, I need to get a new driver’s license. Reason might lead one to believe that get California driver’s license should be on my to do list. But in actuality before I can get my license, I have to study for the test. And before I can study for the test, I have to pick a study guide. So, I would re-write the open loop get drivers license, to be find study guide for California driver’s test. Make sense? Now, rewrite all of your open loops as a next physical actions. If this all sounds very promising, but you’re not fully following along, try Tiago’s Skillshare class, where he breaks it all down in video tutorials. Also, if you haven’t already, read post one and post two in this series.
Making project lists
One potential downfall of focusing on the next physical step is it becomes easy to loose focus of the big picture. To prevent this, create project folders in your task manager (for me, ToDoist).
You will also create folders for things that aren’t projects, but rather are areas of responsibility (these are items you tend to on an ongoing basis). Tiago explains it this way: Projects have goals and are time limited. Areas of responsibility have ongoing standards to be maintained and are indefinite. Health, finance, relationships are a few areas of responsibility.
Now, in your task manager, file each task in a project folder and then file each project folder in an area of responsibility folder. Now, that is serious organization! Now you have an organized, actionable to do list that you can really work from!
A few tips:
When processing your open loops consider these three rules:
- Process top item first
- Process one at a time
- Never put anything back into inbox. If you don’t have time to make a decision, then you shouldn’t look at it.
One place this type of processing will come in extremely handy is in your email. Many people’s email is an unmanageable mess. Apply this process to your email by following these steps:
- If its not actionable and not valuable, delete it immediately
- If you may want to do it someday, send it to your task manager
- If its non actionable but its valuable, file in reference
- If its actionable, send it to your task manager
Process on at a time, in order, and we must make a decision before moving on to the next one.
Coming up next, taking action!