Organize Yourself in 2015–Improving Your Information Decision-Making 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 review system, the fourth stage of his system as outlined above.  This post covers the last step of his organization system, that of improving your information decision-making 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.  Summary of Previous Four Stages

First of all, the information collection system collects all the information in a series of collection buckets or inboxes, as seen in the top of the flowchart.    Then in the information processing system you place them in one of eight collection bins, depending on the answer to the questions “Is it Actionable?” and “What’s the Next Action?”.     These eight bins comprise the information organization system  which you review at least once a week, and then once a month, in the information review system.

3.  Information Decision-Making System

So what does one’s typical day look like for an organization system based on the model in Getting Things Done?   I have three in-boxes, my personal e-mail, my work e-mail, and my regular personal mail (that comes in the post).   Since I work from home, I don’t have a physical regular mail for work, but you probably do if you work in an office.

My first half hour is spent on taking what is in the electronic in-boxes and sorting them into the appropriate collection bins.   Then comes the decision-making process. This has three components.

a.  Doing Work as It Shows Up

If there were action items that can be done in 2 minutes or less, then I do them right there and then.

b.  Pre-Defined Work

If there were action items that can be done that day, they were put in the “Next Action” or “Action Items” list.   Of course, items that were put previously on the list and were not yet completed before that particular day are still on the list, so David Allen refers to this as the “Pre-Defined Work” category.    These are items that are defined in the sense of being single-action items.

c.  Defining Your Work

If there is an action item which requires multiple steps, then this is by definition a project and will require you to create at least a project plan (a decomposition of the goal of the project into tasks and activities) and possibly a project schedule.  So the process of defining your project work is also important.

These three categories will essentially define your work day.   The reason why I call this system an agile organization system because it is robust.   If you get a phone call asking you to do something immediately, well then you switch to category a above.   When you are done then you go to your b list of action items or you work on your c list of project items.  You can go with the flow and, if you are interrupted, you always know where to pick up where you left off.

The rest of the David Allen book is that of refining the techniques in each five of the stages.   You can buy the book and start improving your system but you must implement the system in order to be able to figure out how to shape it to the rhythm of your own life.

Organization is not a spectator sport–like a garden, you have to dig in and get your hands dirty to plant seeds, water them and nurture them.   Don’t worry, it’s worth the sweat and toil when you see what beautiful things start coming up out of the ground!


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