Dr. Peggy Marshall

Getting Things Done

Peggy_cropIt’s the beginning of March and many of us have begun to falter with our goals for the year.  I was with a client group last week who reached out to me because they were feeling challenged by the multiple demands placed on them daily without time to meet all the demands resulting in being off target with goals.  As they framed the issue, I they might be contending with saying no to some things rather than simply needing organize the day.

Often, it is not the simple process or organizing our day that is the challenge, it’s how we prioritize the activities based upon what is included in the prioritization and more importantly-what is excluded.  When I hear this challenge I typically refer to David Allen’s work “Making It All Work.  David’s book addresses this challenge as well as revisit his process introduced in an earlier book “Getting Things Done”.

A critical element to successfully staying focused is the determination of what is grabbing our attention.  Frequently, it is not simply the task at hand we focus on as we have a number of things running through our minds and those things are grabbing our attention as well.  Allen advises us to run a “personal mindsweep” to determine what is taking us away from our focus.  Included in this mindsweep are both personal and physical attention grabbers such as projects to start and/or finish; commitments; administration; meetings; communications; upcoming events; and a host of other distractions.  Many of my clients try to deal with all of the attention grabbers by simply trying to remember what needs to be addressed.  What happens is that the demands stay in their heads and keep them from being able to think creatively about anything else, instead triggering anxiety and frustration especially when something is forgotten.

Thomas Leonard, founder of Coach University, called some of these attention grabbers “tolerations”.  In the Personal Foundation Program,  tolerations are addressed in the beginning of the program and are discussed in terms of aspects of life that drain our energy, things we put up with and become victims to, and things that do not lead us into our best self.  Removing the tolerations makes space for the projects, commitments, and communications-allowing us to refocus on the tasks that can be completed.

The most effective way to deal with these attention grabbers is to write them down.  This allows for not only creating space in our minds but also a way for us to prioritize our tasks and demands.  Allen has a five stage process for mastering our workflow.  First we have to collect everything that has our attention.  A solid capturing process will assist in ensuring that the most critical tasks are accounted for.  Think about how you might group the tasks into “buckets” that can be addressed later in the process.  The “buckets” can be file folders within your email, actual file folders, or any other system that helps you organize your work.

Next, process the items that have been captured.  This step was extremely enlightening to the team I was working with.  The question to ask in processing is whether the task is actionable or not.   If something is actionable, you have to decide the next action-not simply write the task down.  For example if the next action is to call someone to discuss a part of a project, you write down “call John to discuss engagement scores”.  Many people I have worked with simply write down the to-do not the action.  Designating the next action, helps to clear the mind and remove attention grabbers.  If something is not actionable, you have to decide whether it’s trash, filed as a reference, or put in a tickler file for later action.

The next step is to organize your “buckets” into projects, calendar entries, next actions (done as soon as possible) and more information needed.  You can also create sub-groups such as calls, communications, general reference, etc.   Once you have your tasks organized you move to the fourth step of reviewing.  In this step you review your calendar and action lists daily to determine your focus for accomplishing daily tasks.  Many people time-block in this step to ensure that there is ample opportunity for successful execution of tasks.  Jack Campbell, in “The Principles of Success”  suggests that chunking the tasks down into smaller part may make the process go more smoothly.

The final step is to take action.  I often laugh during this step because what I had planned to do is not always what I do.  You have to be open to not only the work that has been previously defined but also open to what ever shows up.  This phenomenon creates the issue.  However, it you can take the same approach in the second step to determine if something is actionable and needs action today you can ask yourself what can be delegated to another day or another person.  You might even decide that something on your list for today was not that important and can wait another day.

Tracking is important to the success of this process.  Because you have created lists and written down the actions to be taken, you can track your success.   One of my clients used to cross off the lists with green, yellow and pink highlighters.  Green represented tasks done, the yellow delays until the next day, and pink indefinite delays.  She could tell how productive the day was by the number of green lines she had.

Hopefully some of the ideas in this blog will work for you as you get back on track with your 2014 goals.

To Your Success!

Dr. Peggy