Book Club Jan Week 1: Getting Things Done

by Diane Wolf in Blog, Book Club
January 3, 2017 0 comments


Okay, I won’t leave you in suspense any longer. Here is the first part of David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” workflow strategy!

Let’s start with email. Many of us end up feeling overwhelmed when we sit down to deal with our inbox. (Note: these strategies apply to paper piles as well!) David’s basic philosophy is that we need to get anything that is cluttering our mind, out of our heads and into a plan of action. The inbox is a primary source of stress, so we’ll use that as our first example of applying David’s workflow strategy. NOTE: I’ve included an image of the workflow below, as well as a link to it. If it looks confusing now, I promise it will make sense by the time you finish reading this article!

When you encounter an email (or piece of paper) the first question you ask is: Does this require action? Not everything that comes in requires us to actually do something with it. It might be something we don’t need, something we need to hang on to for future reference, or something we need to think about.

So, an email comes in, and we ask, “Does this require action?” If the answer is no, we have three choices. Do we toss it, do we put it in a reference folder so we can find it later, or do we put it in a someday/maybe tickler folder or file?

For example: If I order something from Amazon, they send me an email when my item has shipped. I discard that email immediately. If I can’t remember if it has shipped, I can always look it up on my account. Done.

If someone sends me directions to their house for a party in three weeks, I put it in a reference folder. Likely ‘personal’. Or if the bank sends me mortgage documents. (Okay, I’m a bit old-school… I probably print them as well, sigh). But I can either put them in a reference folder in my email, OR I can save them as a pdf and then file them on Dropbox in my financial folder. Lots of possibilities, but again, they do NOT need to stay in the inbox. Finally, if I’m thinking about going hiking in Spain, and someone emails me about some places to stay, that goes into my ‘someday/maybe’ folder. I would have a sub-folder for ‘travel’ under someday/maybe.

I will confess that my inbox got to 10,000 emails in 2016! (No judgement please… my mother grew up during World War II in Europe, and as a result, I have an almost pathological resistance to getting rid of anything, ‘just in case’. I’m working on it…. My Inbox is down to about 1,000 and will be empty by the end of January. Why? Because David’s system showed me that NOTHING needs to stay in the inbox, where I just ended up forgetting about it anyway.

The big secret is to have a PLAN for regular review of the folders to make sure things are NOT forgotten. More about that later. But if you are worried that filing emails into folders means they will get lost, we’ve got you covered!

Okay, so that is how you handle emails that don’t need action. They just need to go live somewhere where you can find them when you need them.

If the answer to the question about action was ‘yes’, then you have another question to ask:

What is the NEXT ACTION I need to take with this item?

Again… being a procrastinating perfectionist, far too often I just said, “I don’t know” and left it in my inbox. (That’s how I got to 10,000!) No more! We’re not talking about the big picture, just the very next action I need to take. If this is part of a multi-step action, it’s called a project. I don’t need to do the whole project right now, but I do need to decide what action to take with this email (or paper). I need to put it into a project file if it isn’t something that has a tangible single action to take right now. (Clear on flowchart below). I need to have a folder for each project (and David defines a project as something that has many steps to completion), and then I need to develop a plan to tackle that project in bite-sized pieces. Again, regular review is scheduled so nothing is forgotten.

If it does have an identifiable action, then the next question to ask is:

Will it take longer than two minutes to do?

If no, DO IT NOW! And poof. It’s done, and can be filed in the appropriate folder or discarded.

If yes, it takes longer than two minutes, then I need to delegate it or defer it.

If I delegate it, I send it to someone else, perhaps with a quick email giving them instructions, and I file the actual email (or paper) in my WAITING FOR or PENDING folder. Again, I need to schedule a regular time to review my pending folder to make sure I’m on top of what is coming in, and when. BUT, it doesn’t just sit in my email inbox getting forgotten. I may make a note in my calendar a day or two, or week later, to “follow up with Person A about that item”.

If I defer it, I put it in one of the following folders:

Calls to make

Emails to write

Articles to read

Errands to run

Snacks to eat… (okay, so I add my own categories…)

One more tip: David recommends starting your action folders with the symbol “@” so they will always live at the top of your folders. So, “@calls to make, @emails to write, @articles to read etc.

But, you get the idea. I like to batch tasks together that I would do together. You can batch them however you like. But I schedule a time to either make calls, or write emails, or read things, and then everything is in one folder, waiting for me! I can’t tell you how much I LOVE this system!!!! No more sitting down at the desk for 20 minutes not knowing what to do. Just open one of your folders containing actions, and start working!

Some actions will be time-specific, and those you can put on your calendar. Others, can wait until your next regularly scheduled time to do them. Again, regularly scheduled review of those folders is very important.

Okay… I think that is enough to absorb in Week One! I know it’s a lot, but take time to absorb the info and review the flowchart. Then, go to the Facebook groups, where we will share our tangible examples for these categories, and if you are not sure what to do with something, we’ll all help you decide how to apply this strategy! If I can do this, anyone can!

In the meantime, feel free to invite your friends to join our Book Club by sharing this link with them:



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