Clearing the Clutter

January 30th, 2007

by

Originally published in MarketingProfs

Marketers, by the very nature of their job function, must juggle numerous campaigns, a range of portfolios, multiple channels, and various corporate, political, and personnel issuesâ??all simultaneously.

Do you have multiple action lists running concurrently in your brain? Or great ideas buried within files, folders, emails, Post-It notes, and to-do lists? If that sounds like you, join the club! But I have to warn you: This is one club I’ll be resigning from soon.

Like so many folks, I made a New Year’s resolutionâ??to get organized, to get the clutter out of my head and into a system where I don’t have worry about it on a daily basis, but where it will pop up when the time is right for action. And I have discovered how to do it.

Perhaps you saw my post on the MarketingProfs Daily Fix blog on January 1, when I resolved to transform the way I work and live, to get everything out of my head and into a system. That system, if you read my post, is Getting Things Done, orâ??as it’s known among practicing aficionadosâ??GTD.

Getting Things Done is a best-selling book by productivity guru David Allen. It is also a process and a philosophy. Once you stop using your brain as the holding tank for all the important things that you need to do today, tomorrow, next week, or even further into the future, the sooner you become clear and your mind will be open to wander, unfettered. Only then can your creativity truly be unleashed, and you reach a state of flow that David Allen refers to as “Mind like water.”

I am a creative person, so reaching that state of flow is very important to me. I get bogged down in details, my head cluttered with to-do’s.

If this sounds at all familiar to you, then you may be an excellent candidate for a Getting Things Done overhaul.

The first step in the process is to get everything out of your head and into one place. You may have to set aside several days for this step. It involves culling through all the Post-It notes, backs of envelopes, lists, active files, mail, and so forth that have not been fully processed and organized. I, for one, had a number of Word documents full of a mish-mash of ideas, to-do’s, and reminders.

Once you have aggregated it all into one place, you can begin to process it. A simple but critical trick here is to act on anything that can be dealt with in two minutes or lessâ??right then and there. Don’t move it around on to other lists. Just get it done. That approach alone has been hugely valuable to me because I tended to touch the same email over and over again even though it would have been a less-than-two-minute task to reply to it, forward it, delegate it, or do whatever needed to happen to get it out of my face and acted upon.

Each of your to-do’s requires a decision. Do it, defer it, delegate it, or delete it. If it must be done on a particular date, then it goes into Calendar, otherwise it goes on your Next Actions list, but only if it truly is the next action. If it is an amorphous project with multiple actions required (in fact, the definition of a project according to David Allen is anything requiring more than one action), then it does not go on your Next Actions list but on your Projects list. But you still have to ascertain what the next action is to move that project that next small step forward, and so you place that on your Next Actions list.

Each of your Next Actions also needs to have a context assigned to it (e.g., “at the office” “at home,” “errands,” “phone,” “email,” “read/review,” etc.). That way, you can group to-do’s by context and do them in batches, thus gaining efficiencies.

For example, if you are in a phone mood, you can easily view all your to-do’s that are to be done over the phone. Say you have some dead time while you are waiting at the dentist’s office and you have your cell phone with you, your PDA (or “hipster PDA” if you aren’t into handheld gadgets) can reveal some of the phone calls that you can make while you are waiting.

When you are in a holding pattern, waiting for a response from another party, then you track that “open loop” by putting it on to your Waiting For list. Then, in your Weekly Review, your Waiting For list can serve to remind you of who owes you what and then you can ping them if they are tardy.

During that Weekly Review you can also review your Someday/Maybe list and see if there is anything that you want to move off that list and on to your Next Actions list.

This is just a taste of the GTD process. I certainly don’t do it justice compared with David Allen, so I encourage you to read his book and listen to his podcasts.

As I mentioned in my post on the Daily Fix, choosing the right electronic or paper system is a crucial step in implementing GTD. A Mac user, I chose a Mac program called Journler after much research. I quite like Journler because, even though it is not designed specifically for GTD, it can be easily customized to meet your GTD needs.

Furthermore, if you are an avid blogger like me, you can even send posts directly to your blog from within Journler. Just log in the category and publish it without having to log into your WordPress admin.

Other Mac options I seriously considered were kGTD and DevonThink Pro.

For those of you on Windows, you may want to look at the GTD Outlook Add-in, ClearContext for Outlook, MyLifeOrganized, TimeTo, Easy Task Manager or ThinkingRock (note that those two run on the Mac, too), or a web-based system like Tracks, GTD V2, Backpack, MonkeyGTD or ActiveCollab. Or, better yet, just switch to a Mac…

A system such as any of these will help you be more organized, more efficient, and focused on what is really important, while setting aside but not necessarily completely losing track of potential ideas for the future that may not make sense or not have value right now.

As for me, I’m making great progress on my New Year’s Resolution. How about you?

One Comment

  1. [...] Search Engine Marketer” (my PowerPoint is here). Also be sure to check out my articles on GTD here and [...]

  2. by In The SEO Game, It’s All About Strategies And Systems — January 21, 2010 @ 12:28 pm




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