Lessons I’ve Learned: Get Organized

“You can fool everyone else, but you can’t fool your own mind.” David Allen

Next to ownership, the most important job a knowledge worker does is organization. I thought I was good at managing my to do list until I had a huge annual conference added to my plate. I needed help. I was struggling to remember all of my commitments. As one of my favorite proverbs goes, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”

My teacher was David Allen and the GTD (Getting Things Done) system. I was listening to the 43 folders podcast by Merlin Mann and he interviewed David Allen about GTD. It had such a profound affect on me, I still remember where I was: my wife, Rose, was shopping at a bead and jewelry expo in San Antonio and I was pacing around the parking lot, smoking my pipe, devouring the podcasts. (It’s a good memory!)

GTD is a systematic process of capturing all of the variety of things you need to do (from other people and your own ideas), making a decision about what those things mean to you, planning how you are going to accomplish them, and reviewing everything until it is done. David calls these steps: collect, process, organize, review, do.

Here are some of my favorite ideas from GTD I’ve come to think of as my own:

  1. Your mind is great for creative brainstorming and generating ideas. Your mind is like a drunken uncle when it comes to remembering those ideas. Free your mind and write ideas down so you don’t have to remember them.
  2. Almost everything you do is a project (most tasks are actually a series of tasks). Outcome based thinking will help you be more productive. Defining the finished project will help you figure out the details that get you there. No one can do a “project”, you can only do smaller tasks that lead to the outcome you defined.
  3. Dividing your work by contexts removes stress. A context is a noun–a person, place, or thing. At work is not the place to think about something I have to discuss with my wife, just like driving in the car is the wrong time to think about the phone calls I have to make. That is how our minds work, but putting those tasks into the proper context, and following through, trains your mind to stop obsessing at the wrong time and place and trust the system.

Although it is common sense, GTD breaks down the barrier between what you know you should do and what you are actually doing. Like any skill, it takes discipline. It is easy to fall off the wagon, but it is easy to get back up and keep going, too.

It can be helpful for everyone on your team to have the same system, but it is not necessary. You need a system to keep track of all of your commitments. You cannot be successful if you are not executing your responsibilities. To do that well, you must be organized.

Here is a short summary of GTD by David Allen with some helpful links on the side.

Here is the Productive Talk Compilation podcast with Merlin Mann and David Allen.


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