Friday, December 18, 2009

Ready For Anything: Chapter 2--You Can Only Feel Good About What You're Not Doing When You Know What You're Not Doing

This is second in a series of 52 posts using David Allen's Ready for Anything: 52 Productivity Principles for Work & Life as a prompt for reflection, writing, and ultimately, action!

Since last week's post, I've begun to implement David Allen's Getting Things Done principles.

I find Allen's principles can be remembered easily by using the mnemonic CoPORD: Collect, Process, Organize, Review, Do!

First comes the brain dump: Collect all your "need to dos" in a notebook, a file, word doc, etc. Just put them all down. Any and all goals, jobs, from taking the car in for an oil change, to changing the litter box, to re-purposing blog posts, to writing a new vocabulary list for my Let's Play SAT! blog, to creating an innovative new reading program, to winning the Nobel Prize for Literature.

But I haven't put down everything I need to get done in the next, oh, 30 years or so, God willing. Still need to put down EVERYTHING. Allen hypothesizes that many of us don't do this because we're afraid we'll find too little in our inner lives.

Not my problem: I simply haven't sat down long enough to get it all down, or to add new data to my old list. Think I'll give myself 5 full pages and see if that works.

Not to mention a couple more hours this weekend.

And yeah, I don't need to win the Nobel for Literature, but Allen doesn't distinguish between needs and wants. Just put 'em all down. Both ultimately come under the heading "to do," and come with concomitant "next actions."

Processing refers to finding those next steps for every item on one's "To Do" list.

When deciding which to do next, you first must figure out what the actual doing looks like, a step most of us miss. Even as we begin to adopt these productivity principles, we'll miss.

But figuring out just what the next step looks like for every one of our to-dos is liberating. It makes Organizing so much easier.

Organizing what to do next is the natural next step in any process of organizing oneself for greater productivity. Seems too obvious, but most of us organize before figuring out exactly what next actions we're organizing.

Allen's insistence that we see our next actions for each goal first is what makes his principles so potentially galvanizing and liberating. Life changing. For by assessing what action attaches to each of our goals, we free our minds up to come up with our next great idea.

Don't forget to write it down then and there.

This is an idea Allen emphasizes again and again, and the focus of the first 13 principles of Ready for Anything.

Because many of us easily fall back into the modality of "Do something, anything! Just stay busy. Organize my daily "busy"-ness, sure, but perspective and reflection? Later. Tomorrow, 'at Tara'."

Which is fine as long as it gets done.

But what needs to get done, and shows the importance of the first three steps most clearly, is Reviewing your goals, next actions, and proposed order for doing them.

At least weekly.

Penelope Trunk, whose Brazen Careerist network I'm a proud member of, does it daily. I'm beginning to. But not only do the next actions get reviewed, the goals and next steps themselves are re-collected, re-assessed, reorganized and kept current, ensuring that one's most essential goals are the ones worked on first and most often.

Longer term projects are put into separate folders. They're incorporated into the big picture, because some things can't be accomplished in two minutes, Allen's plus or minus time-frame for taking immediate action on a to-do.

I give myself 2-5 minutes, because I know myself well enough to know there aren't too many things I can do in two minutes, but keeping administrivia under 5 minutes per action is a goal worth pursuing, while at the same time keeping the concomitant pressure to perform each in under 2 minutes at bay.

Cut yourself some slack. Know yourself. but make Getting Things Done in a systematic way a goal of yours.

'Cause step 5 is Do!

So do Do! your CoPORDing!

When you're really doing it everyday, trust me, you'll be very happy with your new perspective on it all.


  1. Hey Jay!

    I'm starting this today-wish me well and thank you.

  2. You bet, Heather. And Happy 2010 to you.

    Be back again tomorrow, so stay tuned.