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Get It Done!

Boost Your Productivity: The Five Phases of GTD

By Daniel Gold

Daniel Gold, our “Get It Done” columnist, writes about great ways to amp up your daily productivity—in a big way! Last time he overviewed a time management system that has taken on a bit of a cult-like following: Getting Things Done, or GTD. Today he runs through its five workflow phases and how you can use them effectively in your law practice.

In my last post I introduced you to Getting Things Done, and talked about the power of breaking all of your tasks down by context (i.e., where you need to be to get it done) and by project (i.e., when your action item requires more than one step to complete), and then deciding what should get done by balancing the appointments in your calendar, each task’s priority and your energy. In this post, we’ll discuss the five phases of GTD workflow.

1. Collection. All professionals have multiple “inboxes.” They include the physical inbox sitting in our office, the one our assistant or paralegal keeps for us and our email box, just to scratch the surface. That legal pad you’ve been jotting notes down on is also an inbox. If you’re involved with social media, you’ve got your Twitter feed, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and any other various email accounts you may own. And then there’s what you have at home, too! I believe that getting each of your inboxes down to zero is critically important (and a future post will give you five specific steps for doing that).

But most immediately, it’s important to collect everything and begin making strategic decisions as to where those things should ultimately go. Why is it so important to get down to zero? Because the act of accumulating “stuff” in each of your inboxes takes up excess mental energy and mental bandwidth. It’s distracting. Believe me, getting down to zero is cathartic and once there, you’ll want to stay there!

2. Processing. The emphasis here is that once you have collected stuffmessages, documents, whateveryou need to process and make decisions as to where those things should go. Look at everything and ask: Is it actionable or not? If it is not actionable, what do you do with it? Where should you put it? If you have a filing cabinet, try starting there! If it’s something you want to remember to act on at a later date, create a task on your action item list so you remember to review it when you have the time and energy. Freeing your physical space has a direct correlation with freeing you mental bandwidth as well.

3. Organizing. This is where the “fun” part begins. Create those context task lists using categories such as @computer, @email, @calls, @errands, etc. The “@” sign is important for your digital apps (also to be reviewed in later posts) as they allow these lists to surface up to the top above other lists or folders. Don’t forget to create a master list of all your projects, too, and be sure that each of your tasks has some designation so that you know it belongs to that project. For repeating tasks that happen at specific dates and times, resist the impulse to put those on your task listsplace those on your calendar.

4. Reviewing. If you’ve set this up right, you can scan through your inventory of tasks every day and begin making strategic decisions about exactly what you want to get done for the day. Understanding what you have on deck for the next day on your calendar will allow you to more fully understand what you can actually get done the next day, too. Be reasonable. Balance your task lists with the appointments on your calendar to understand how much time you really have to get things done.

Then, schedule a weekly review in your calendar as a repeating event every Friday at, say, 3 p.m. Block out one hour or two hours—whichever you think will allow you to fully leverage this time for your review. The weekly review allows you to empty those inboxes, reflect on the past week and prepare for the week ahead. There is so much value to the weekly review that to skip it would be to your own productivity detriment!

5. Doing. And now, the most important phase. Start to get things done! Once you’re on the right path, organizing what must get done—even when your day gets crazy—gives you far more control over your day, frees up so much mental bandwidth and gives you greater clarity in your days.

Daniel Gold is a productivity author, consultant and presenter. He works with individuals and corporations in three core areas: productivity/time management; social media brand recognition; and presentation content and design. He is the author of Evernote: The Unofficial Guide to Capturing Everything and Getting Things Done and Official Springpad eBook. Join him on Facebook and Google+ and on Twitter @degconsulting.

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Daniel Gold

Daniel Gold is a lawyer, consultant, technologist, speaker and author. Dan’s mission is to make a difference in the lives of professionals both at work and in life. He is known for his productivity e-books such as “Evernote: The Unofficial Guide to Capturing Everything and Getting Things Done” and “Make It Happen: How to Write, Publish, and Sell Your eBook.” He is also regarded as an expert in e-discovery and IT managed services. Follow him on Twitter at @DanielGoldEsq and @DEGConsulting.

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