Looking to give your small business — and yourself — a productivity makeover? You may want to consider using David Allen’s Getting Things Done, a popular time- and task-management system.
Allen’s streamlined process requires a bit of reading to put into practice, so pick up his classic book, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, or check out some of his free articles. Lifehacker also features GTD concepts in many of its posts.
Here are some tips for using Getting Things Done to make your business more efficient:
- Get everything out of your head. Allen believes most entrepreneurs are distracted by the dozens of ideas and tasks swirling around in their minds. For instance, you may be working on a client proposal, but in the back of your mind you’re also thinking about replacing your office printer or redesigning your website. According to Allen, carrying around uncompleted goals or tasks in your head, without writing them down for further action, clutters your brain — and this mental clutter makes it tough to be creative or truly effective in your work. Instead, jot down any and every task, idea, or worry related to your business, either on paper or digitally. As you start using GTD, you’ll learn how to keep this information organized, so you can come back to it later, but the immediate goal is to clear your mind of clutter. You can then devote all of your creative energy to the task at hand.
- Don’t use your email inbox as a “to-do” list. Instead of leaving emails in your inbox until you’ve taken action on them, Allen advocates processing your inbox until it’s empty. This step alone is a huge “aha” moment for many small-business owners. (Read Allen’s free article about email here.) Merlin Mann, creator of the 43 folders website and a GTD fan, explains in detail how he “processes to zero” in this videotaped speech. Essentially, the idea is to act immediately upon emails that require two minutes or less of your time and then delete or file them. Emails that require more time should be: 1) delegated to a co-worker or employee, 2) put on your calendar to be dealt with at a specific time, or 3) written on a “next actions” list that you review regularly.
- Make to-do items action-oriented. This step is perhaps the biggest game-changer for many entrepreneurs. Allen suggests that every to-do item on your list be worded very specifically, as the next physical action you need to take to get the task done. So, instead of writing down “Look for new clients,” re-frame the task in a pro-active way, such as “Call for reservations for the June 15 Chamber of Commerce meeting, 999-867-5309” or “Email Amanda for names of the two restaurant owners she said need a new supplier.” You’re more likely to complete a task if you don’t have to stop and think about how to tackle it.
- Use your calendar only for scheduled events. This step is as basic as it sounds: If you have a client appointment on Wednesday at 9 a.m., put it on your calendar. At the same time, avoid noting to-do list items, such as “Call Elizabeth Friday to see if she needs revisions on the proposal.” Keep unscheduled events (those without a specific date and time) off your calendar; put them on your master to-do list.
- Build in review periods. Many small-business owners skip this step, because they feel they don’t have time for it. But Allen says that conducting daily, weekly, and monthly reviews of your work projects and lists (and he explains how to set up several lists, not just one “to-do” list) is the only way to stay on top of crucial business tasks. Perhaps even more importantly, a few minutes of regular review can make sure you’re guiding your business in the strategic direction you want it to go, instead of just floating along with the current.
Not sure if you’re ready to commit to a whole new system? Test the waters by checking out Allen’s GTD Times blog.