Thursday, January 26, 2006

Getting Things Done with Gmail

I've been long fascinated with David Allen and his "Getting Things Done" methodology. David has spent the last 20 years coaching executives on how to get their lives organized and more productive. Life in the information age requires the dual skill set of coping with an overwhelming amount of incoming data and managing a large volume of critical activity. A quote from the book sums up the challenge:

A paradox has emerged in this new millennium: people have enhanced quality of life, but at the same time they are adding to their stress levels by taking on more than they have resources to handle.

David's methodology, abbreviated as GTD, involves the following disciplines:

  • collect everything explicitly, outside of your head
  • process your inbox quickly, regularly and thoroughly
  • decide outcomes and the next actions every time you review new information
  • do quick actions immediately
  • delegate, schedule or defer tasks to appropriate contexts
  • break complex tasks into projects
  • do a weekly review of all actions

Although this appears to be an unhealthy obsession with tackling the daily grind, it has an amazing side effect. By getting the maelstrom under control, you create time for innovation, learning and framing larger goals. These activities then reinforce the impact of not only "Getting Things Done" but "getting the right things done".

The Right Tools for the Job

Although Dave uses a low-tech implementation example in his book, GTD is much more fun when you mix in a variety of high-tech tools. I have experimented extensively by combining handheld devices, Wikis and various software packages to optimize my GTD experience. The key is not to get lost in the technology, but to consider the context in which you primarily work.

Since I spend most of my time interacting with e-mail, I was quite excited to find this innovative article by Bryan Murdaugh. Bryan demonstrates the power of Gmail deployed as an effective information and activity manager. After reading it, I migrated my implementation and am quite pleased. A few items in the document are somewhat obscure and a bit confusing, but the concepts are very effective.

If Gmail is one of your significant workspace contexts, I recommend using this map for an exploratory productivity excursion of your own.

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