Classic book with near-cult following. How to manage every last itty bitty tiny thing in your life. Keep your inbox empty. Re-read 16 years later. Still great.
TWO KEY OBJECTIVES:
1 - Capture all things into a logical and trusted system
2 - Make decisons about all the inputs you let into your life, so that you will always have a plan for next actions
Almost every project could be done better, and an infinite quantity of information is now available that could make that happen.
If you could keep life in general more in check — no residence moves, no relationship changes — you might be able to create a rhythm and system of managing it that would allow for some relaxed stability.
We’re allowing in huge amounts of information and communication from the outer world and generating an equally large volume of ideas and agreements with others and ourselves from the inner world.
Distracted by your mind wandering to other things going on in your life, impelled to check e-mail for potentially meaningful new input.
You’ve probably made many more agreements with yourself than you realize.
Most stress comes from inappropriately managed commitments you make or accept.
Anything that does not belong where it is, the way it is, is an open loop, pulling on your attention.
It calls out psychologically, “Decide about me!”
And if you do not have the energy or focus at the moment to think and decide, it will simply remind you that you are overwhelmed.
As soon as you tell yourself that you might need to do something, and store it only in your head, there’s a part of you that thinks you should be doing that something all the time.
Thought is useful when it motivates action, and a hindrance when it substitutes for action.
Managing action is the prime challenge.
What you do with your time, what you do with information, and what you do with your body
You can’t do a project at all.
You can only do an action related to it.
Define (1) what “done” means (outcome) and (2) what “doing” looks like (action).
There is usually an inverse relationship between how much something is on your mind and how much it’s getting done.
Make intuitive choices based on your options, instead of trying to think about what those options are.
You should have thought about all of that already and captured the results in a trusted way.
Don’t waste time thinking about things more than once.
Your mind will keep working on anything that’s still in that undecided state.
(1) Capture what has your attention
(2) Clarify what each item means and what to do about it
(3) Organize the results, which presents the options you...
(4) reflect on, which you then choose to...
(5) engage with.
Most people have major weaknesses in their (1) capture process. Most of their commitments to do something are still in their head.
Many have collected lots of things but haven’t (2) clarified exactly what they represent or decided what action, if any, to take about them.
Separate these stages. Don’t try to do all five steps at one time.
As soon as you attach a “should,” “need to,” or “ought to” to an item, it becomes an incomplete.
Capture into containers that hold items in abeyance until you have a few moments to decide what they are and what, if anything, you’re going to do about them.
As well as those things on which you’ve done everything you’re ever going to do except acknowledge that you’re finished with them.
Empty these containers regularly to ensure that they remain viable capture tools.
It is better to be wrong than to be vague.
You can’t organize what’s incoming - you can only capture it and process it.
Instead, you organize the actions you’ll need to take based on the decisions you’ve made about what needs to be done.
No action required? Three possibilities:
1. It’s trash, no longer needed.
2. No action is needed now, but something might need to be done later (incubate).
3. The item is potentially useful information that might be needed for something later (reference).
What’s the Next Action? This is the critical question for anything you’ve captured.
If the action will take longer than two minutes, ask yourself:
Am I the right person to do this? If the answer is no, delegate it to the appropriate entity.
If the action will take longer than two minutes, and you are the right person to do it, you will have to defer acting on it until later and track it on one or more “Next Actions” lists.
To manage actionable things, you will need:
a list of projects
storage or files for project plans and materials
a list of reminders of next actions
a list of reminders of things you’re waiting for.
A project is any desired result that can be accomplished within a year.
Every action that has to happen at a specific time or on a specific day, enter those on your calendar.
Those that need to be done as soon as they can, add these to your Next Actions lists
All those that you are waiting for others to do, put these on a Waiting For list.
Three things go on your calendar: time-specific actions; day-specific actions; and day-specific information.
Subdivide your next actions list into categories, such as calls to make when you have a window of time and your phone, or computer action items to see as options when you’re at that device.
Similar to Someday/Maybe but that probably need a review only when you have an urge to engage in a particular kind of activity.
These would be lists such as:
Books to read
Recipes to try
Movies to rent
Weekend trips to take
Things my kids might like to do
The item you’ll probably review most frequently is your calendar, which will remind you about things truly have to be handled that day.
Everything should be reviewed once a week.
Ensure that all the loose strands of the past few days have been captured, clarified, and organized.
The Weekly Review is the time to:
Gather and process all your stuff.
Review your system.
Update your lists.
Get clean, clear, current, and complete.
The Weekly Review is whatever you need to do to get your head empty again and get oriented for the next couple of weeks.
Block out two hours early in the afternoon of your last workday for the review.
When you (invariably) uncover actions that require reaching people at work, you’ll still have time to do that before they leave for the weekend.
Clear your mental decks so you can go into the weekend ready for refreshment and recreation, with nothing else pulling on you.
What do you do the last week before you leave on a big trip?
You clean up, close up, clarify, organize, and renegotiate all your agreements with yourself and others.
You do this so you can relax and be present on the beach, on the golf course, or on the slopes, with nothing else on your mind.
I suggest you do this weekly.
Bring this kind of “being present” to your everyday life.
Think about the big things while you’re doing small things, so that all the small things go in the right direction.
Five phases of project planning:
Have an urge to make something happen.
Imagine the outcome.
Generate ideas that might be relevant.
Sort those into a structure.
Define a physical activity that would begin to make it a reality.
Clarify the primary purpose of the project, and communicate it to everyone who ought to know it.
Agree on the standards and behaviors you’ll need to adhere to in order to make it successful.
Envision success and considered all the innovative things that might result if you achieved it.
Get all possible ideas out on the table - everything you need to take into consideration that might affect the outcome.
Identify the mission-critical components, key milestones, and deliverables.
Define all the aspects of the project that could be moved on right now, what the next action is for each part, and who’s responsible for what.
You stress when others engage in or allow behavior that’s outside your standards.
To think about what your principles are, complete this sentence:
“I would give others totally free rein to do this as long as they...”
What behavior might undermine what you’re doing, and how can you prevent it?
One of the most powerful life skills, and one of the most important to hone and develop for both professional and personal success, is creating clear outcomes.
How would the ideal head of finance do his job?
What would your Web site really look like and have as capabilities if it could be the way you wanted it?
What would your relationship with your son feel like if this conversation you need to have with him were successful?
Once you get all the ideas out of your head and in front of your eyes, you’ll automatically notice natural relationships and structure.
Natural organization is emerging.
Sequences of events, and/or priorities.
What is the most important element to ensure the success of the project?
What, specifically, you would do about something physically if you had nothing else to do?
A project is sufficiently planned for implementation when every next-action step has been decided on every front that can actually be moved on without some other component’s having to be completed first.
Is there something that anyone could be doing on this right now?
Often all that’s required is to allocate responsibility for parts of the project to the appropriate persons and leave it up to them to identify next actions on their particular pieces.
Flesh out as much detail as you need to get the project off your mind.
If the project is still on your mind, there’s more thinking required.
Most projects need no more than a listing of their outcome and next action for you to get them off your mind.
Assess each component with the focus of “What’s the next action, and who’s got it?”
Plans get you into things but you’ve got to work your way out.
You can’t cross a chasm in two small jumps.
Take a big step.
Until you’ve captured everything that has your attention, some part of you will still not totally trust that you’re working with the whole picture of your world.
Stuff was not, and is not, “that important”; that’s why it’s still lying around.
The little piece of techno-gear in the bottom desk drawer that you’re missing a part for.
Because you think there still could be something important in there, that stuff is controlling you.
Record the date on everything that you hand off to others.
There are seven primary types of things that you’ll want to keep track of and manage from an organizational and operational perspective:
Project support material
Calendar actions and information
Next Actions lists
Waiting For list
It’s critical that all of these categories be kept pristinely distinct from one another.
Your calendar should be only things in there are those that you absolutely have to get done, or know about, on that day.
What do you find yourself complaining about?
Does anything need improving?
A problem is always a project.
It might make better sense to create a “Projects - Delegated” list to track them.
Projects that you are directly responsible for but have handed off to people who report to you.
Honestly say, “I absolutely know right now everything I’m not doing but could be doing if I decided to.”
The most important thing to deal with is whatever is most on your mind.
Projects started, not completed
Projects that need to be started
“Look into...” projects
Commitments/promises to others
Others in organization
Communications to make/get
Initiate or respond to:
Social media postings
Other writing to finish/submit
Rewrites and edits
Conversation and communication tracking
Meetings that need to be set/requested
Who needs to know about what decisions?
Profit and loss
Formal planning (goals, targets, objectives)
Current projects (next stages)
Changes in facilities
Installation of new systems/equipment
Filing and reference
Needing to be set/requested
Things to learn
Things to find out
Skills to practice/develop
Books to read/study
Formal education (licensing, degrees)
Completions critical to projects
Answers to questions
Decisions of others
Projects started, not completed
Projects that need to be started
Commitments/promises to others
Communications to make/get
Cards and letters
Social media postings
Home office supplies
Filing and records
Places to visit
People to visit
Heating and air conditioning
Lights and wiring
Purging, organizing, cleaning
Everyone feels they have too much to handle, and not enough time to get it all done. Taking on more than they have resources to handle.
Work : anything you want to be different than it currently is.
How much available data could be relevant to doing these projects "better"? The answer is, an infinite amount, easily accessible through the web.
We're allowing in huge amounts of information and communication from the outer world and generating an equally large volume of ideas and agreements with ourselves and others from our inner world. A huge number of internal and external commitments.
The ability to be successful, relaxed, and in control during these fertile but turbulent times demands new ways of thinking and working. There is a great need for new methods, technologies, and work habits to help us get on top of our world.
Your ability to generate power is directly proportional to your ability to relax.
Clearing the mind and being flexible are key.
Anything that causes you to overreact or underreact can control you, and often does.
Most of the stress people experience comes from inappropriately managed commitments they make or accept.
Learn to control the "open loops".
1. If it's on your mind, your mind isn't clear. Anything unfinished must be captured.
2. Clarify exactly what your commitment is.
3. Keep reminders of actions organized in a system you review regularly.
Write down the project or situation that is most on your mind at this moment.
Describe, in a single sentence, your intended succesful outcome for this problem or situation.
Write down the very next physical action required to move the situation forward.
WHY THINGS ARE ON YOUR MIND:
You want it to be differently than it currently is, and yet:
- you haven't clarified exactly what the intended outcome is
- you haven't decided what the very next physical action step is
- you haven't put reminders of the outcome and the action required into a system you trust
It's a waste of time and energy to keep thinking about something that you make no progress on.
There is no reason to ever have the same thought twice, unless you like having that thought.
We need to transform all the "stuff" we're trying to organize into actionable stuff we need to do.
Get in the habit of keeping nothing on your mind.
You can't DO a project. You can only do an action related to it. Many actions require only a minute or two, in the appropriate context, to move a project forward.
Lack of time is not the major issue, though you may think it is. The real problem is a lack of clarity and definition about what a project really is, and what the associated next-action steps required are. Clarifying things on the front end, when they first appear on the radar, rather than on the back end, after trouble has developed, allows people to reap the benefits of managing action.
I capture and organize 100% of my stuff in and with objective tools at hand, not in my mind. That applies to everything - little or big - personal or professional - urgent or not. Everything.
Your mind will keep working on anything that's still in that undecided state.
STAGES WE GO THROUGH AS WE DEAL WITH OUR WORK:
- collect things
- process what they mean and what to do about them
- organize the results
- review as options for what we choose to...
- ... do
Collect and gather together placeholders for all the things you consider incomplete in your world. Anything you think ought to be different than it currently is and that you have any level of internal commitment to changing.
Stuff --> In Basket --> What is it?
Is it actionable?
What's the next action?
Will it take less than 2 minutes?
YES: Do it now.
NO: Am I the right person to do this?
YES: Defer it (Keep track in Calendar or Next Actions)
NO: Delegate it. (Keep track in "Waiting")
Reference (retrievable when required)
A project is any desired result that requires more than one action step.
The next-action decision is central. That action needs to be the next physical visible behavior, without exception, on every open loop.
CALENDAR: every action that has to happen at a specific time or date.
NEXT ACTIONS LIST: those that need to be done as soon as they can
WAITING FOR: all you're waiting for others to do
Subdivide your Next Actions into categories, like Business Hours or With Assistant - so that next time you're at a phone or with your assistant you can do them all at once.
Scan all the defined actions and options before you, radically increasing the efficacy of the choices you make about what you're doing at any point in time.
How will you decide what to do and what not to do? By trusting your intuition.
- gather and process all your stuff
- review your system
- update your lists
- get clean, clear, current, and complete
- 3-5 year vision
- 1-2 year goals
- areas of responsibility
- current projects
- current actions
Think of your purpose. Think of what a successful outcome would look like. Where would you be physically, financially, reputation-wise, or whatever? Brainstorm potential steps. Organize your ideas. Decide on the next actions. Are you any clearer about where you want to go and how to get there?
People love to win. If you're not totally clear about the purpose of what you're doing, you have no chance of winning.
VALUE OF ANSWERING "WHY":
- creates decision-making criteria
- aligns resources
- clarifies focus
- expands options, opens up creative thinking
A great way to think about what your principles are, is to complete this sentence:
"I would give others totally free rein to do this, as long as they... "
You won't see how to do it until you see yourself doing it.
1. View the project from beyond the completion date
2. Envision wild success! (Suspend "yeah but...")
3. Capture features, aspects, qualities you imagine in place
Asking what specific physical action you'd take next, if you had nothing else to do, will test the maturity of your thinking about the project.
A project is sufficiently planned for implementation when every next-action step has been decided on every front that can actually be moved on without some other components having to be completed first. If the project has multiple components, each of them should be assessed by asking, "Is there something that anyone could be doing on this right now?"
In some cases, there will be only one aspect that can be activated, and everything else will depend on the results of that.
The highest-performing people I know are those who have installed the best tricks in their lives.
Everything gets processed equally. "Process" means decide what the thing is, what action is required, then dispatch it accordingly.
Emergency scanning - looking for the most urgent, fun, or interesting stuff in your in box - is not processing.
Emails are more efficient to process last-first because of all the discussion threads that accumulate on top of one another.
Your CPA can provide record-retention timetables that will tell you how long you should keep what kinds of documentation.
SOMEDAY/MAYBE : "there's nothing to do on this now, but there might be later". An event in the future you're not sure if you'll be around for. Something you'd rather sleep on it for a week.
Until you know what the next physical action is, there's still more thinking required before anything can happen.
Deciding isn't really an action. You just need more information before you can make a decision. Is that information external sources or internal thinking?
Even if the item is not high-priority, do it now if you're ever going to do it at all.
Record the date on everything you hand-off to others.
If you put reference materials in the same pile as things you still want to read, you'll go numb to the stack!
You'll get a great feeling when you know that your "Waiting For" list is the complete inventory of everything you care about that other people are supposed to be doing.
Don't use support material for reminding! You'll go numb because they don't prompt you to do anything.
If you have a project that you don't really need to think about now, but deserves a flag at some point in the future, put it on your calendar.
If you have a list of calls you must make, the minute that list is not totally current with *all* the calls you need to make, your brain will not trust the system, and it won't get relief from its lower-level mental tasks. It will have to take back the job of remembering and reminding, which as you know it doesn't do very efficiently.
Review the lists of all the actions you could possible do in your current context.
Evaluate them against the flow of other work coming at you, to ensure that you make the best choices about what to deal with.
The weekly review is whatever you need to do to get your head empty again. Until you can honestly say, "I absolutely know right now everything I'm not doing but could be doing if I decided to."
Always keep an inventory of things that need to be done that require very little mental or creative horsepower.
One of the best ways to increase your energy is to close some of your loops. So always be sure to have some easy loops to close, right at hand.
Do ad-hoc work as it shows up, not because it is the path of least resistance, but because it is the thing you need to do, vis-á-vis all the rest.
All of us could be doing more planning, more informally, and more often, about our projects and our lives. If we did, it would relieve a lot of pressure on our psyches and produce an enormous amount of creative output with minimal effort.
The real need is to capture and utilize more of the creative, proactive thinking we do - or could do.
I'm on a mission to make "What's the next action?" part of the global thought process.
It would only require about 10 seconds of thinking to figure out what the next action would be for almost everything on your list. But most people haven't.
Because we procrastinate what we can imagine as being tedious, creative, sensitive, and intelligent people procrastinate the most because their sensitivity gives them the capability of producing lurid nightmare scenarios about all the negative consequences that might occur if it weren't done perfectly!
Who doesn't procrastinate? The insensitive oafs who just take something and start plodding forward, unaware of all the things that could go wrong. Everyone else tends to get hung up about all kinds of things.
Too many meetings end wiht a vague feeling that something ought to happen, and the hope that it's not their personal job to make it so.
Getting things going builds a more positive self-image than repeating affirmations in a mirror.
If it can be changed, there's some action that will change it. If it can't, it must be considered part of the landscape to be incorporated in strategy and tactics.
Complaining is a sign that someone isn't willing to risk moving on a changeable situation, or won't consider the immutable circumstance in his or her plans. This is a temporary and hollow form of self-validation.
When you start to make things happen, you really begin to believe you can make things happen. And that makes things happen.
There are only two problems in life:
(1) - you know what you want but don't know how to get it
... and / or ...
(2) - you don't know what you want
"Life affords no higher pleasure than that of surmounting difficulties, passing from one step of success to another, forming new wishes, and seeing them gratified." - Dr. Samuel Johnson