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Getting Organized to Get Things Done

How to Get Things Done, tips featured by Shannon Sperati of SROA.

By Shannon Sperati

Do you ever feel like there is too much to do and not enough hours in the day?

I do. I bet most of us do. If you’re anything like me, you’re juggling projects at work and at home. As the work piles up, you can feel paralyzed. Take this blog post, for instance––I promised to complete it an embarrassingly long time ago. On top of that, it’s based on David Allen’s book, The Art of Getting Things Done: the art of stress-free productivity.

Yeah, the irony isn’t lost on me either.

I am always looking for ways to improve my organizational skills and increase my productivity. An SROA member recommended it to me and after reading it, I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to be more organized and efficient. Allen’s book offers helpful insights on how to organize all the to-dos for both home and work.

Allen starts with something we all have on our desks, an in-tray. He advocates using a physical try and recommends strongly not using email for organizing. He suggests maintaining as many physical trays as you need but using as few as possible. Starting with two in-trays, one for home and one for work, I took everything I needed to get done and put them in the appropriate tray. Items in the in-trays can be anything from the mail you haven’t gone through to a remote control that needs new batteries. It’s important to note that for this to be successful, you must be prepared to go all-in and trust that nothing will be left out or forgotten—the only way to do that is to truly put everything into the in-tray.

Once everything is sorted into the appropriate in-tray, it’s time to go through items one at a time and determine what to do with them.

I will admit, this sounded daunting. I have a lot of things that needed to be done, and no idea where to start. Allen cautions that when you first get started the in-tray will be significant, but as you continue with this method, it becomes increasingly manageable. To begin sorting, take the first item on the pile and decide if it is actionable or not actionable.

If that item is not actionable, it’s one of three things:

  • Trash
  • Something you’ll need later, but not necessarily right now
  • Reference material

For example, I receive trade publications that have useful articles in them. I probably want to save these for future use, which makes them reference material. Allen recommends you have an easy file system for this information. I bought a magazine box to keep them close, but organized. My “not now but will need in the future” items are things like events I want to attend in the future, but I am not sure of my availability, or an idea I had to improve a process. These items are moved to a physical pending folder to be dealt with later.

One thing I found most helpful in dealing with my actionable items was the 2-minute rule––if you can do it in under 2-minutes, do it now. Respond to an email, return a call, make an appointment to take the cat to the vet—these all fall under the 2-minute rule. If something needs to be done and it will take longer than two minutes, move it to a physical “next actions” folder—another physical in-try or a section of a file holder or desk organizer. “Next actions” are things that need to be completed once you finish with in-tray sorting.

The primary rule with the in-tray is that nothing ever goes back in it. This is critical. These items must be dealt with when you pick them up, even if it’s just to move them into the next actions folder.

Another tip Allen offers is to write each individual task on its own piece of paper that is stored in the physical in-tray. I have found this to be very helpful as it makes the sorting process go much smoother.

Once my in-tray was empty and all I had in front of me was my next actions folder, I felt so much better. It was still a lot, but now I had a clear idea of what I needed to get done. It helped me to feel much more focused and a lot less like I was the only person standing on my side of a dodge ball court. I now go through this ritual daily, but you can repeat the process as often as you feel is necessary.

David Allen outlines a great method for not only getting organized but staying that way. His book offers in-depth information about each step in the process and tips on how to best accomplish those steps. While I can’t yet speak to the long-term success following this method, in the short term, it helped me to finally get my blog post written!

I chalk that up as a win!

We want to hear from you!

What have you done to get organized to get things done? 



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