The other day, Celia and I were walking in Boston’s beautiful Arnold Arboretum when she asked me who’d responded to an email I’d sent. When I pulled out my phone to answer her question, she said she felt she was walking with a third person, a stranger.
Your web browser has eight windows open, and each window sports at least half a dozen tabs. Your monitor is festooned with Post-it® notes. Hundreds of handwritten reminders, business cards, file folders, magazines with slips of paper peaking out, and unread articles litter your office desk.
Are you, perhaps, feeling a little overwhelmed by your personal work environment? If so, and this is a habitual state rather than an occasional, acceptable occurrence, read on!
Here is what I have found to be the most powerful tool that will help to restore your sanity when workspace chaos has expanded beyond your comfort zone. (You do have a comfort zone, I hope?)
Let’s start with a key question. Why is your personal working environment habitually and unacceptably out of control?
Answer: Because it’s reflecting a way of working that isn’t working for you.
So making changes in your physical environment, by buying twenty plastic filing trays, dumping sixteen piles of paper into file cabinets, switching to an iPad, or even setting fire to your office is not going to solve your long term problem.
What you need to do is change the way you work. And change, as we all know, is hard.
Luckily, a lot of smart people have spent a lot of time thinking (and written a lot of books) about how to make changes in how you work. I’ve worked for myself for the last 27 years, read many of these books and tried their techniques, usually with limited success.
Getting Things Done
Five years ago I read David Allen’s Getting Things Done (known as GTD by devotees). Published in 2001, it’s still Amazon’s best selling book in the categories of Time Management, Health & Stress, and Self-Esteem. This doesn’t surprise me, as the book is brilliant. Unlike other productivity methodologies, it doesn’t prescribe a complete system for organizing your life. Instead, David explains clearly:
The essential workflow processes you need to follow to clear and organize your work-life; and
What you need to understand in order to choose tools and procedures that work for you.
Implementing GTD does not involve throwing out or changing all the ways you work now. Rather, Allen’s approach gives you both a powerful lens to see what is functional in your work-life, and a comprehensive framework for making improvements.
Each person’s implementation of GTD is unique. One person may use file trays and 3 x 5 cards to capture “stuff”, another, GTD software running on a personal computer or mobile device. If email messages are piling up in your inbox, there are GTD approaches to keeping your head above water. Ultimately, you’re responsible for doing the work you need to do. GTD just provides a practical way to create the system that works best for you.
Am I 100% successful at implementing GTD in my work-life? No. Sometimes I find it difficult to maintain the necessary discipline. I also have some reservations about David Allen’s approach to reviews. But I have integrated GTD’s key features into how I work, and have obtained a significant increase in productivity. More importantly, I understand why my work environment can deteriorate and what to do if it does. Possessing this understanding is empowering for me.
I hope it is for you, too.
Do you use Getting Things Done? What’s been your experience? Or do you prefer another methodology to organize your personal work environment?