Organize Yourself In 2015–Improving Your Information Review System


“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”   Dwight Eisenhower

This series of posts is designed to take the traditional time management system, best exemplified by Brian Tracy’s system in his books “Goals” and “Eat That Frog”, and to go to the next level by developing a more “agile” time management system that can cope with the fact that your workplace, your home life, and everything in between is in a constant state of flux.   You need a system that is robust enough to withstand the changes that modern life can throw at you.   David Allen’s organizational and time management system as described in his book “Getting Things Done” is a great example of such an agile system.

His core concept of the book is that you need to develop a system to manage your workflow with the following five stages.

  1. Collect pieces of information that commands your attention
  2. Process what these mean and decide what action to take about them.
  3. Organize the results efficiently.
  4. Review your options
  5. Decide what to do

The last post described how to improve your information processing system, the second stage of his system as outlined above.  This post covers the next step of his organization system, that of improving your information review system.

1.   The Information Processing Workflow Diagram

The workflow diagram below is a a presentation of the five stages of managing your workflow.   Please refer to it in the following discussion.

2.  Periodic Review

Let’s say that from Monday through Friday you go through your Inbox (stage 1), and then you process the information (stage 2) into the eight information bins (stage 3) that are on the outside edge of the flowchart listed above.

Every once a while, and David Allen recommends once a week, you need to review four information bins, in particular, your “Next Action” (or “Action Items” list, depending on what you call it), the “Pending Actions” lists, the Project List, and the Calendar.   Let’s talk about each of these reviews.

a.   “Next Action” (or “Action Items”)

Are the action items from the following week all completed?    Are there any from previous weeks that are still hanging around?   Maybe you should consider delegating some of these to others, or at least enlisting some help from others, if there are.

b.  “Pending Actions”

Are there any items for which you requested information from someone else and you haven’t received it yet?   Now is a good time to fire off a reminder to those people.

c.  “Project List”

Are there any projects for which you have not created a project plan or schedule?   Even just decomposing the project into its component tasks or activities and the deliverables or results of those tasks is enough to proceed.   Of course, if you have done a project plan or schedule, and you see that you are falling behind, just like with the “Next Action” list, you should consider delegating some of those action steps to others, or at least enlisting some help from others to get them done.

d.  Calendar

Are there any pending deadlines, appointments, or meetings that are coming up in the following week for which you are not prepared?   Now is the time to add to your “Next Action” list to make sure those preparations are done before the event!

If you do a periodic review, then David Allen says you can eliminate what many people do, which is the creation of a “Daily To-Do List.”   He says this for the following reasons:

a.   Between the processing and organizing of information you do on a daily basis, and the review which you do on a weekly basis, you can capture everything you need to do.

b.  Creating a daily list would be okay in a static world, but in a fast-moving workplace, if you create a to-do list for the next day, the first half-hour of your workday may contain information in your inbox which obviates that well thought-out plan you spent doing the night before.

c.  Another problem about daily lists is the compunction that you must finish EVERYTHING on that list or you will be guilty.  Again, if other things come up with higher priority and you take care of those instead of all of the items on your to-do list, you will still be able to say that you have done everything you could in the time you had available.

What I do is review my “next action” lists that are divided into categories on a weekly basis, and then I keep my diary for “day-specific” tasks.   If there are no day specific tasks, I just look on my “next action” list, see what needs to be done with greater priority, and start at it.   In reality, I never get my “next action” list completed emptied, because it is always filling up.  However, I do review the date when I enter the items on my “next action” list, and I pay attention to those that have stuck around the longest.   Then I go ahead and delegate them, delete them, or start doing them!

In this way, I can say that the David Allen “Getting Things Done” system is really “agile” meaning that it is robust and can handle any changes that occur on a day-to-day basis.

The next post talks about your information decision system.

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