Processing your “Stuff”

Now that you have completed your initial capture you should have lots of unprocessed items in your “- Unprocessed” notebook and now it is time to figure out what to do with all your stuff.  When processing start at the top and decide what to do with each unprocessed item until you have completely processed your stuff to zero.  In GTD this is called processing and your goal is to always process your unprocessed queues to zero.  This could be your inbox on your desk, your email inbox, your unprocessed items in Evernote, your RSS feeds or any other queue of unprocessed incoming inputs.

The first thing you need to do is to decide if it is actionable or not.  If it is not actionable you do one of three things: delete it, file it as reference in your Reference notebook or “tickle” it for possible later action in your Someday/Maybe notebook.  “Reference” and “Someday/Maybe” notebooks are for stuff that has no immediate next action.  Sometimes you will process items that do not have any immediate next actions but you want to keep them around for future reference.  Reference files are great for storing information you don’t have to act on right now but are not ready to delete or archive.  They can be physical folders for paper or digital items that you want to refer to on an ongoing basis.

Someday/Maybe lists are great for deferring ideas that you’d like to work on someday, but you’re not committing to right now.  I have ideas about fun new things do to every day – way more than I have time or energy for.  Sometimes you think of tasks you’re just not ready to do yet.  Maybe learning a new language – while an eventual goal – just doesn’t fit into your life right now.  There are many things that fit into this “I intend to do this someday” category.  Some examples: Go to Griffith Observatory, Build CIO Dashboard, Learn Spanish, Build a deck in back yard.

If it is actionable, decide if you can complete the task in less than two minutes then you just do it. This is called the “2 Minute Rule” because there is no need to categorize or further thinking about the item if you can accomplish the task in less than two minutes, just do it!  Writing down every little thing you have to do takes more time than it’s worth – if you need to send a 30-second reminder e-mail to someone, there’s no sense in taking 20 seconds to write it down and put in one of your notebooks when you could just get it done.  Your goal is to get things done, not to flawlessly capture each and every little thing in your perfectly designed system.

Apply the 2-minute rule to all aspects of your life

If it is actionable and it will take more than two minutes to complete then it is most likely a Project.  As IT professionals, we generally struggle with the GTD concept of a project.  We are conditioned to think of projects in the classic PERT or GANT CHART sense of big projects.  In GTD, “Projects” are desired outcomes that require more than one action to complete or said another way, projects are “stuff” that require more than one action to complete.

Almost everything you need to do is a Project.  Projects are nothing more than a series of actions necessary to be “done.”  The best way to avoid completing items on your to-do list is to make them vague.  Put a task like “Clean out office” on your to-do list and that is the last thing you’re going to actually begin working on.  In fact, “Clean out office” isn’t a task at all – it’s a Project.  Projects are not tasks; they are a collection of tasks – an important distinction.

So go thru all of the stuff you captured in your initial capture and do it if it takes less than two minutes to complete or make the items you captured projects.  When you describe the project it is important to define what done looks like.   When describing your projects include the desired outcome as the first word in projects.   Use the following words:  finalize, implement, research, publish, distribute, maximize, learn, set up, organize, create, design, install, repair, submit, handle, and resolve.  Do this for everything on your initial capture list in your – Unprocessed notebook.

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About Michael Keithley
Digital Transformation CIO and Public Speaker. Previously, CIO at Creative Artists Agency

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