Welcome, everyone, to Day 4 of "Organizing the Writing Life."
If you're joining us again, welcome back! If you're new to the series, I want to introduce you to guest blogger Sharon Sarmiento, an Online Business Manager whose work "involves managing the daily operations of online businesses and streamlining processes to maximize personal and business productivity." She also writes an inspiring blog, eSoup, and her passion for helping people thrive in their lives through better organization has landed her in the Boston Globe and more than twenty other newspapers.
In addition to running her own e-business, Sharon is a painter and writer who is familiar with the organizational struggles that creatives face. For today and the following two Tuesdays, Sharon will generously share her knowledge and insight to benefit us all. Today's topic, based on blog-reader questions, is:
The Best Organizational System (Part 2) — Continuation of last week's post on "Getting Things Done" (GTD)
Reader question: Is there one catch-all system under which writers can organize everything related to a writing project?
Also, one reader asked in a comment from last week's post: Is GTD something you buy?
Sharon's answer (part 2):
1) GTD is not something that you buy, it's just a system for organizing. So, you can just use a notebook or plain loose-leaf paper in a binder to do the system, or whatever works for you. There is a book, called Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen. I bought it used for about $9 at Amazon, but if you don't want to buy it, you can just read my blog :-).
2) I've heard that the GTD mantra is "mind like water". What the heck does that mean?
What happens when you toss a stone into a completely calm pool of water?
Ripples emanate from the center in perfect response to the impact of the stone. The water neither under-reacts nor overreacts. It simply reacts appropriately to the situation, then it returns to calm.
The "mind like water" concept is that our ability to be productive is directly in proportion to our ability to relax. The better we're able to react appropriately to situations and return to a state of calm, the more we'll be able to get done.
It's a state of mental focus where you're completely relaxed, in control, completely aware of your surroundings, yet 100% focused on the task at hand.
You are not overly exerting yourself or "gutting it out" or straining in any way. You're simply relaxed, focused, and able to exert minimal effort while still operating at optimum efficiency. This is what we're shooting for with the GTD approach.
3) What are the main concepts behind GTD?
Let me refer you to Merlin Mann's wonderful wiki on Getting Things Done, in which he states:
The core of GTD consists of a sequence of routines for dealing with incoming claims on your time. These routines are intended to provide a system for dealing with tasks that takes things off your mind by being external and trust-worthy:
a) The Collection stage is where all stuff is gathered together in an unstructured manner. This stage involves writing down whatever things one can think of that needs doing (possibly using trigger lists), and all places where relevant information might accumulate, such as in folders and drawers, are emptied into one place.
b) The Process stage is where these items are sorted, and the further activity needed by them is decided. For each item, one asks:
--- Does the item require further action? If so, we can either (i) do it now, recommended for tasks that can be completed in under 2 minutes, (ii) delegate it and place it on a monitor list, or (iii) defer it, by assigning a next action to it and placing it on an action list.
--- If not then we should look for any value the item has. Might the item suggest future action given further thought? Then we should incubate it, putting it on a sometime/maybe list. Does the item have archive value? Then file it.
--- If the item demands no action, is not a spur to future thought, and does not have reference value, then it is junk and you can junk it.
c) The Organize stage takes these sorted items and puts them together in a form than can be used through the day for allocating tasks to time.
d) Regular Reviews ensure the organization is a system that can be trusted, by scheduling collect & process stages to ensure that nothing escapes, ensuring that projects are associated with sensible next actions, pruning action lists of irrelevant actions, and looking over sometime/maybe lists for new spurs to action.
e) Finally, through the working day, the Do stage uses the organized task lists to get things done.
Whew--Great synopsis by Merlin!
When you're trying to start a new time-management system, it can feel overwhelming because you think it's going to up-end your life (and your desk), wanting you to buy lots of fancy organizing tools and stuff, but you really don't need any fancy devices (unless you'd like to go for a fancy pencil and fancy paper :-)). If all of the steps seem overwhelming, you can make a huge impact on your productivity simply by taking the first baby step of getting a binder with tabs or a divided notebook and doing a mind sweep of all the things that are floating around your head.
For anything that is on your mind, whether it's your mother's upcoming birthday, the book you're writing, or the overall meaning of life, get that information out of your head and into one of your lists. The lists are pretty simple, but they have the potential to make a powerful impact in your ability to relax, which improves productivity and creativity.
For me, I think the two life-changing ideas behind GTD are the "mind like water" mentality (the more you can relax, the more you can get done), and also the idea of "stop trying to store information in your brain".
Here are some additional Getting Things Done resources:
1. "GTD Recap"
Any questions or comments for Sharon? We want to hear from you — drop a comment, and let's keep the conversation going.
Next week's topic (May 1st): Delegate tasks to save time
See you then!
Bonus links: Here are all of the "OWL" series posts so far —