Skip to main content

Getting Things Done: A 21st Century Competency?

David Allen sharing how to get things done in Edina.
David Allen, author of the book, "Getting Things Done," came to Edina on January 20 to help kick off a "Work-Flow Institute" in Edina Public Schools. For the last 4 years, our district has been looking at workflow and is ready to move forward. Is "Getting Things Done (GTD) a 21st Century Skill? Allen says that it is, and that it is something that we are all students of. It is a constant learning process. I'll be honest here, that I bought his book 3 years ago, but haven't taken the time to read it. Given my work flow, I know I need too, thus I decided to attend the session!

GTD is a life-long process. Something you engage in, with multiple methods of mastery. It's "best practices for appropriate engagement with your world, no matter what!"

  • Makes explicit what we all do implicitly to be effective
  • Magnifies that ability exponentially if you understand the principle
How many have made a list and felt more focused and in control?
How many decidded what specifically to do next on something?
How many commiitted to something?
How many keep a calendar to keep track of things?

The Flow:
  1. Capture potentially meaningful things
  2. decide what to do
  3. park the results
  4. review
  5. overview of committments
  6. make trusted choices
When should and can you learn this process? Allen isn't sure, but he knows kids who have known it their whole life, and they are "smokin the world!"

The Horizons of Committments include:
  • Purpose and principles-what really matters
  • Vision-best manifestation of success
  • Goals-objectives to achieve
  • Accountabilities-key areas to maintain
  • Projects-things to finish
  • Actions-things to do now

Ideally, we would all see a list like this, but in the real world, it looks more like a scrambled wordle with
When this shows up in a crisis, we have to jump in to high performance mode. 

The productive state is when we are in control, relaxed, focused, inspired and engaged.

High performing athletes are relaxed in order to do well.

The key is to not always been in the productive state, but to know how to get back into it! Often people don't realize they are falling out of it, and don't know they need to get back.

Anything on your mind can block getting things done.
Is your attention under your command, or is it being held hostage?
Allen says that our "head is for having ideas, not for holding them."
You can switch rapidly between tasks, as long as you have a good placeholder system and focus on the individual task at hand, like a martial artist fighting 4 people at once.

There is a close relationship between focus and control, though they are 2 different dynamics. 

A victim has no control or perspective. Micro-managers have a lot of control but no perspective.  The crazy maker has lots of perspective but little control. It's the "master and commander" who has both! The "knowledge-worker ninja!"

Why do we not approach our inbasket as a place for new opportunities and creativity? (Situation Awareness training is something the military has started training junior officers)

The secrets of the knowledge-worker ninja:

  • Collect what has your attention
  • Proccess: outcome, next action
  • Organize the inventory
  • Review from a higher perspective
  • Engage, intuitively

  • Identify what has your attention
  • What doesn't belong in your office? (Reference, In basket, )
  • Mind sweep to get things out of your head
He asked us to write down as many things that are on our mind for a few minutes. Get as much info as we can in 3 minutes. For me:

dinner party tonight, planning a trip for spring break, oil change in the car, prepping a blog post for Open Online Experience, checking my kids grade portal, planning a Super Bowl party, organizing for work tomorrow, checking up on my folks, checking Twitter (A shock!), paying bills...

Allen-"The brain is for having these ideas, but not holding on to them!"

Thinking doesn't happen by itself. 
Collection has to go into
  • trusted buckets rather than in your head 
  • collecting devices/tools 
    • Low Tech, Mid-Tech, High-Tech
    • Notepads, lower the barrier to entry for when the thought strikes. Allen uses a "note-paper wallet." Sophistication not senility is when thoughts strike and need to be captured.
    • File folders is really low tech
    • Evernote/Doc SOMEWHERE!
  • Collect it ALL! (For me blogging at a session like this is my collection bucket...") 
  • In minimal places
  • Which get emptied regularly (Oh, you mean 1500 read e-mails isn't a good idea?)
Decide what to do with the stuff collected.
Allen showed a messy desk and said, "It's really the mind of someone with a clean desk!" 
Often to do lists are incomplete. Listing things that still require decision making is not beneficial. You need to focus on whether something is actionable. It's important to "incubate" things that need later action, or need to be parked as a reference.

If it is actionable, you need to know what is true for the item to be done.

Is it a project?
Where does the item need to take place?

Anything that can be done in one sitting is actionable, multi-step needs to be parked in a project location.

Things like laundry, groceries, etc. don't need to live in your head because external triggers will remind you.

To Do Lists become much more detailed and specific, and include the projects as well as the next actions. The projects get looked at maybe once a week. The next actions get looked at during the week and attacked based on priority. All next actions are little things, but when they get checked off, it's a good feeling.

Best practice:

  • Decide when it shows up where to put it vs. when it blows up
  • Frontal Cortex is the only tool you can use for this.

Need to park things that don't get done in a location that makes sense. THIS leads to...


  • Put things where those kinds of things go (vs. mixed meanings) 
  • List manager+files

What needs to be reviewed and when.
How often should the horizon of committments be reviewed?
How often should you look at your calendar? 

  • Regular over-viewing from higher perspective vs. latest and lowdest reactivity
  • Working blueprint of committments

Engage intuitively

  • Refreshed inventories vs. oout of date and incomplete
  • These habits installed.

Instant workflow sanity:

  • Next actions
  • Agendas
  • Waiting for...
  • Projects

The next step is putting it into practice

  • Next action decision-making (The 2 minute Rule)
  • 30-90 minutes per day for daily processing
  • Daily Processing Time-Zeroing IN 
    • Delete
    • File
    • Handle the less than 2-minute ones
    • Greater than 2 minute items go to your Action Box
  • Build in Review time
  • Integrating life and work

A peer-reviewed paper on cognitive research showed that this stuff really works.

Some people suggest splitting the work and personal list, others combine. 
The GTD Workflow Map shows what this looks like:

Given that I am a pack-rat by nature, I struggle with implementing some of these ideas. But at the same time, my inefficiencies make me realize I need to do something. Over the next few weeks, I hope to implement some of the GTD ideas to see what impact it has.

GTD is not about getting things done, but about "creating the conditions to flourish!"


Popular posts from this blog

Educon 2.1: Panel Discussion on Educational Change and Reform

The Sunday panel moderated by Andy Carvin, National Public Radio , focussed on Education Change. The panel included: David Bromley -- Regional Director, Big Picture Schools Chris Lehmann -- Principal, Science Leadership Academy Marc Mannella -- Principal, KIPP Philadelphia Bette Manchester -- Former State Educational Technology Director, Maine Gary Stager-- Executive Director of the Constructivist Consortium Mike Wang -- Executive Director of Teach For America Greater Philadelphia January 29-31, 2009 Educon 2.2 announced Save the Date!! Here is a clip from the session . Carvin asked each on the panel give an "Opening Statement". What does School Reform Look Like now that we have a new President in the White House. Lehmann -"I am hopeful", That data driven decision making recognizes that the best data we have on our students is the work that they do in the classroom every day. Mannella -Explained that KIPP schools fundamental belief that "All of us WILL Learn

Notes on EduCon 2.1 Opening Panel Discussion: What is the Purpose of School?

The "Official" opening to Educon 2.1 featured a panel discussion on "the purpose of school" at the Franklin Institute. Panel Members included: Joel Arquillos -Executive Director of 826LA (Writing workshops) -his boss has now started “ Once upon a School ”, a program paring classroom teachers with adult community members. Dr. Molefi Asante -Professor, African American Studies, Temple University (1st African American Studies program in U.S.) Kendall Crolius -Founding Partner, The Sulevia Group, also affiliated w/Heifer International Jeff Han -Founder, Perceptive Pixel and inventor of the Multi-Touch Screen (iPhone users were genuflecting in his presence!) Prakash Nair -Co-Founder, Fielding Nair International- Archetects and Change Agents for Education Dr. Steven Squyres -Principal Investigator, Mars Exploration Rover Mission Diane Castelbuono Deputy Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education PA Department of Education Moderator-Frederic Bertley -Vice Pr

Nos Chemins vers la paix: Award Winning Video!

Valley View Middle School French Imersion teacher, Heather Palmer created this award winning video, Nos Chemins vers la paix , for the Tel.A.Vision " Vision For America " Contest. Photo and video editing at Powered by One True Media , allows students to create videos that share their vision for the future. Heather wanted to use this video to promote the Wiki she and her students created for "6 Billion Paths to Peace." On the wiki, Palmer states: Our project was inspired by the program " Six Billion Paths to Peace ", an initiative of the Shinnyo-en foundation. We like the challenge the program offers us: commit to making a difference in this moment, in this day, in this lifetime! Palmer received her award last week at the National Service Learning Conference, in Nashville, TN. Way to go, Heather! NOTE: A few weeks ago while looking at the copyright free music available on the site, I notice a cover of the "Spin