Monday, June 15, 2009

GTD Email

OK. Let's try and pick up where I left off the other day. Right now I've got everything collected and am ready to start with my GTD email. It's been a few days since I last posted about getting my getting things done system back into tip top shape. I've been able to maintain my current level of black belt GTD which is at the voicemail level and reduce my inboxes to items that are just actionable. But, I'd not been able to get any further down my GTD checklist.

If you remember what I emphasized last time then you know that once you get your system in shape to a certain point, it's important to keep it that way and at least get it to that level each day. I think for a lot of people this kind of thinking might be kind of basic. But, if you have had problems getting things moving through your GTD system, or getting yourself moving for that matter, taking small steps at a time is a great way to create some momentum for yourself and get a mental victory. Those are very important.

At this point, I've got everything collected except for probably some mental notes I've maybe not captured yet. This leaves me with inboxes, both electronic and my physical inboxes. If you have done what I suggested in an earlier post, you will have a list of those on a sheet of paper now so you won't forget to process any.

It's at this point that I move onto my next phase of mastering my GTD worflow and that is by processing stuff into my GTD system. So, I've moved out of the collection phase. This is an important distinction because now I must be in a different frame of mind. That's the hat of a processor.

What I want do is get my GTD inboxes to zero. I've already got my voicemail to zero and what I usually do at this point is get my email to zero. If you want to start with a different one that is ok too, just remember to do it in the same order each time and include it on your GTD daily review checklist. The other thing that I think is important is to do is leave your physical inbox as the last one that you master. Why? I use it to force stuff into to get other inboxes empty to again gain a mental victory. I've got a good size stack of paper so I know that I have my work cut out for me.

Back to my GTD email processing. Right now, I've whittled my inbox to zero in my email account and now have 174 messages in my action folder. The next goal I have is to get that folder to zero and to keep processing my email each and every day.

These are some tips:

  • Optimize the way you have your folders set up for processing email

  • Make sure you have your email account, calendar and lists manager open

  • Sort the email by sender and process them by sender. You might find that you can delete many at one time.

  • Get rid of as much of the easy stuff as you can to make the email list as small as you can

  • Print out the David Allen's workfow diagram. You can get it at his site davidco.com

  • Open one email at a time and take it through the workflow diagram.

  • Any email that you have problems with deciding on, print it out and throw it in your paper inbox to act on later. This will help you get the satisfaction of getting your folder to zero.

  • If you can't get it to zero today, then get as far as you can. Look to improve your processing skills each day by getting a little farther each day.

  • If you find it difficult to move stuff into your system, it could be because you haven't got that part of your setup in place. Make sure you have all the lists, reference filing, waiting for etc. in place. Otherwise, you'll be making an additional stack or leaving it in your inbox.

  • Extend the two minute rule to whatever it takes to get that item to move to improve your processing strength.


The goal is to get your email account to zero. When I first started it didn't happen right away. It took a while, but once I got there, it was quite a feeling. Once your email is at zero, it will be easier to get the next time. For me, setting up an action folder was a key ingredient to getting it there.

My email system got in shape by:

  • Creating a folder setup I was comfortable with

  • Creating an action folder to empty my email inbox

  • Spending time focusing on keeping it empty

  • Taking steps each day to get the action folder to zero by processing it or moving it my paper inbox.

  • Creating a checklist of steps I took to streamline my processing.


So, I'll check back in when my GTD email processing has gotten my email account AND my action folder to zero.



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Thursday, June 4, 2009

GTD Getting Things Done

A few years back, I picked up a book at the bookstore called Getting Things Done by David Allen. At the time, I'd never heard of the book. It seemed interesting so I purchased it and took it home. I didn't know it at the time, but this book profoundly changed the way I would look at my work and my life. I'd later learn that there were many people who were into this system and they had a nickname for it called GTD.

Where I Started With GTD


The first thing I did was read the book all of the way through. I really liked the concept of stress-free productivity and so that hooked me in right away. Because I am self employed, I have a lot of stuff that I am responsible for. I was in a state of mind where the content of the book really hit home with me and I started to think about how I could put it to good use.

After I read the book, I put my first focus on getting my email cleaned up. My inbox was cluttered with about three or four thousand emails. Many of them had been processed, many were trash and spam and some had some tasks in them that needed to be done. They were all mixed together and while I did manage to get things done, it was a chaotic system at best.

I started to apply the five phases of managing my workflow I learned about in the book. These were collecting, processing, organizing, reviewing and doing and I started to apply them to my email. Slowly, but surely, I started getting it cleaned up and low and behold, one day, it was at zero.

I don't have to tell you that it was a really good feeling and it created the momentum I needed to implement GTD even more to other areas of my work. I began to study the book and put into practice the remaining components to the system he outlined.

I discovered that there was some good GTD software and as is customary for most GTD'ers, I began to tweak my system in an effort to put together the best possible system for me. Through trial and error, I worked out the kinks to my GTD setup and began the process of collecting all of my stuff into the organizational "buckets" as he calls them.

Every weekend, I would make an effort to make sure that every possible paper, thought and next action was collected into my system. At first, I had stacks and stacks of paper that I had to go through. I got out my workflow diagram and took each piece of paper through the steps until one day, my physical inbox was empty.

Wow! Talk about an even better feeling. I can't tell you how rewarding it was at that moment. Once I tasted what zero base looked like, I knew that I could do it again. And, I knew that this David Allen Getting Things Done dude was for real.

Once I got those two things in shape, I then moved onto the other parts of my system. With further progress, David Allen GTD was on my mind 24/7. I scoured the forums on his website and the rest of the internet for any GTD tips that I could find. I purchased a set of cd's that evidently were from one of his seminars. I think it was called Getting Things Done Fast. I listened to them in the car, while I walked on the treadmill. I even bought extra books to give to other people to get them hooked on David Allen GTD just like me.

It wasn't long before my system was working like a well oiled machine. I was doing weekly reviews, I was processing, I was doing. It was great. And, while I would occasionally fall off the GTD bandwagon, I could quickly get things back into shape.

The GTD Missing Link


In the Getting Things Done book, Allen referred to the state of mind of a martial artist, ready for anything. As I dug deeper, I discovered a concept about having a black belt GTD setup. It was discussed on his and many other websites. I became driven to put together a set of best practices and a strategy to determine just exactly what a system like that would look like, how you would define it and how you could achieve it.

In my quest, I discovered that there was a crucial component that was missing in his book and elsewhere. That component is total and complete collection of not just our tasks but also our activities. I don't think it's enough to just get our tasks out of our head, I think we also need to define a system that also gets our activities off our mind as well.

Of all the GTD tools out there, there is one simple tool that can help us accomplish this.

The GTD Checklist - Defining What Done Looks Like


If you have read David Allen's book, you know that he does talk about checklists. In fact, he focuses on his GTD weekly review checklist in a major way. But to me, that stops short of our ultimate goal and that is complete mastery of our workflow.

What I think is needed is a checklist for all of our daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual activities and analysis of all of our work in an attempt to think and plan for everything that can be thrown our way. In the end, I am talking about defining what done looks like so that at the end of the day, you know you completed all you needed to do, reviewed everything and nothing was left to chance.

I am talking about breaking down all of our stuff into simple GTD checklists.

The Getting Things Done Project Begins


So, that is why I created this site. To give you an insider's view of what a black belt GTD system looks like and how you can create it for yourself. I encourage you to set a goal to become the best at Getting Things Done that you can be and elevate your work to the next level.

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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

GTD Email And Other Electronic Inboxes

OK. Now I've been working through my Getting Things Done GTD Thirty Day Challenge and now I am on to working on my GTD email. If you've been following along, I've gotten my collection caught up, I've my voicemail and text messages to zero. Now, it's time to move forward a little more by moving onto my email inbox.

The key here is now that things are moving, it's important to draw a line at your current progress and not fall back. For me then, I should get to the same point on my GTD checklist that I have already reached and try and get farther. I should continue to process everything up to the point I am on my to do list.

While I could work on my paper inbox, I process my physical inbox last. I do this because I find this to be the hardest inbox to zero out. What I am trying to do is create momentum from easiest to hardest tasks to complete. The other advantage to doing it this way, is if something is to difficult to get out of my inbox, I can print it out and put it in my paper inbox to keep it moving.

As usual, if you know me by now, you know that I am going to first suggest that you make a list of all your electronic email inboxes. Here are mine:

  • Email grouplifeguy

  • Email glgamerica

  • Email thirty


I think it's appropriate to include all of the other accounts you might have as well. Things like:

  • Facebook

  • Twitter

  • Youtube

  • Myspace

  • Comments blackbeltproject

  • Comments on other website

  • Check blogcatalog

  • Check adsense account

  • Check statcounter


One way you can stream your getting things done email is by having these third parties send you alerts when you have an email. Then when they need checked, you'll be emailed.

So I haven't been processing my email since I went on vacation a few weeks ago. I am behind on it somewhat. In fact, here is the status of my email right now:

  • Inbox 538

  • Spam 211

  • Action Items 44

  • Yahoo reminders 207


You can see that I have my email is backed up a little bit. Usually it's a zero everyday. I have a process that I go through each and every time I check my email. Here is my checklist:

  • Open email

  • Open calendar

  • Open basecamp

  • Check inbox

  • Delete all trash

  • Mark all spam

  • File all informational email in reference file (archives)

  • Do any quick emails

  • File longer task emails in Action folder

  • Review spam folder for misfiltered email

  • Mark email misfiltered as such

  • Reprocess inbox

  • Empty trash folder

  • Review read review folder

  • If time permits read or review those emails

  • Review waiting for

  • Delete items received

  • Items that need action go to action folder

  • Review Yahoo reminders folder

  • Delete or file reminders that are completed

  • Move actionable reminders to action folder

  • Review action folder and treat it as a new inbox

  • Work through emails in action folder until they get to zero

  • Repeat for each email account

  • Process notifications in Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, etc.

  • Clear out Blackberry email to zero

  • Clear out alerts in Blackberry


I walk through my process of getting my GTD email to zero in the video below. There is also one below that summarizing this post.



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GTD Daily Review Checklist

OK. So, now we've wrote down some things we want to review each day and it's time to go over how to set up your GTD daily review checklist. Over the past three posts, I've been working through developing a list of things that I want to do to lay the ground work for what will end up being my GTD daily review checklist which you can basically use as your to do list template. Let's review where I am so far.

My GTD Checklist (The To Do List)



  • Get mail from 11650

  • Get mail from 1508

  • Get mail from 12814

  • Pick a nice spot to put everything

  • Make sure I have a trash can

  • Gather all stuff from the car (my largest inbox)

  • Check glove compartment

  • Check trunk of car

  • Collect all papers from inbox and all supplies from butler's pantry

  • Remove all papers from inbox and supplies from from briefcase

  • Make sure I have all capture tools and put in my inbox

  • Look around house or hotel for loose items

  • Separate all supplies and non actionable stuff

  • Put all actionable stuff in a stack back in the inbox

  • Throw away all trash, shredding as needed

  • Put away all supplies, reference material and other miscellaneous items

  • Sort out all trash and throw it away

  • Sort out all items that need to be shredded and shred them

  • Sort out all things that can be filed

  • File all items that need to be filed

  • Put all papers that require action in my inbox

  • Empty voicemail 6116

  • Empty voicemail 3775

  • Empty voicemail 6328

  • Empty voicemail 8582

  • Empty voicemail 9693

  • Get my pen

  • Get my capture tool

  • Go to computer

  • Check first voicemail box

  • Write down messages

  • Delete messages

  • Repeat for the next voicemail

  • Open google

  • Open email

  • Open basecamp

  • Return calls

  • Check unknown numbers in google

  • Put any calls I can't return now on my calls list in the format RET: Caller Phone Number RE: Subject

  • Delegate items

  • Do any items I can do now and if not put them on the appropriate next action list.

  • Tear out and shred cards

  • Clear the voicemail alert on the phone if necessary

  • Empty text message 8582

  • Empty text message 9693

  • Check text messages inbox

  • Reply to any unreplied text messages

  • Delegate any next actions

  • Note any next actions I need to do on the appropriate next actions list

  • Clear any additional sent folders, draft folders and pending folders as well as picture mail and other sms mail

  • Clear alerts from phone

  • Repeat for next text message inbox


The best way to create your list is to ask yourself one simple question which is: What's next? And then put it on your list. Don't worry about making it perfect the first time. You will tweak it. You will add to it, move things around, etc. That's exactly what I am going to do here as we are just now developing the foundation for it.

The Best To Do List Software


I keep my daily getting things done to do list in Microsoft Word. I use checkboxes instead of bullet points. This gives me the ability to make a printable to do list that I can refer to easily and write on to revise as necessary. For some of my lists, I also use Basecamp for alot of my online to do list but for my actually GTD daily review, I like Word because of the formating options it provides. It just makes it look nicer.

How To Use The Daily Review To Do List


Each day, start your work with your to do list. This is your roadmap to successfully accomplishing more each day. The beauty of making this kind of checklist is that you have already thought about exactly what it is that you want to accomplish each day and you won't have to think about

I think the process of making a checklist as we are doing here, is a crucial step to what is really Black Belt GTD. The reason I feel that way, is because part of Getting Things Done is getting everything out of your head. A huge amount of what we do each day is remember all of the tasks we need to do. All of these activites when boiled down to a checklist, reduce the amount we have to remember.

Once set up, here is what I do:

  • Each day, I start at the beginning of my checklist.

  • I make any modifications to my to do list, adding, deleting and reorganizing it as I see ways to optimize it.

  • I work my way through the list one step at a time and get as far as I can.

  • I try and get farther each day.

  • I get my to do list complete with all of the activities I want to do each day

  • Once I get through the list, I then work on improving my speed


This type of development of your to do list accomplishes to things:

  1. It helps you define what black belt GTD looks like for your system.

  2. It tells you at exactly what level of black belt you are.


Let's say I start my list out for the day and I get through getting my voicemail to zero each day without fail but I fail to clear out my text messages or get any further down my list. At that point, I would be a black belt at the voice mail level in my system.

Your goal then in deciding how to set up your to do list, is to create it so that it is complete and in the most effective and efficient order you can make it. Then, work through it each day, improving the depth and the speed at which you get through it.

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How To Get Your GTD Text Messages To Zero

Today I want to talk about how to process your text messages to zero. After I check my voice mail, this is the next GTD inbox that I zero out. Because text messages are a casual form of communication, they're often forgot about as an additional inbox. In many cases people that use text messaging are not familiar with just how valuable it can work for you.

If you completed the exercise in the previous lesson you have started to compile a checklist that will form the basis of your daily review. You'll be adding to that checklist today.

As with your voicemail, you also want identify each place you receive text messages. In my case I have two. They are:

  • Text message 8582

  • Text message 9693


In this case I've already listed them in the order of easiest to hardest process. I don't get very many text messages on 8582 and the ones that I do are more easy to process. The text messages that I receive on 9693 are more work-related and integrated with my tickler file. Because of this I get many text messages each day.

In addition to the text messages, each phone also has missed alerts that I like to delete as well. These alerts are things like missed call, voice mail etc., that just alert you to things that happen on your phone. They also have to be deleted.

While it is self-explanatory on how to clear out your text messages, I still like to break down each of the steps required to empty my text message inbox. In my case I like to make sure I have all the tools I need to process any action I might need to take as a result of checking my text messages.

So here is my checklist for checking my text messages:

  • Get a pen

  • Get capture tool

  • Get to computer

  • Open e-mail

  • Open base camp

  • Check text messages in inbox

  • Reply to any unreplied text messages

  • Delegate any next actions

  • Note any next actions I need to do on the appropriate next actions list

  • Clear any additional sent folders, draft folders and pending folders as well as picture mail and other sms mail

  • Clear alerts

  • Repeat for next text message inbox


This is my checklist for how to get my text messages to zero. Text messages are pretty easy and probably a little bit easier than even emptying your voicemail. When you get done you should have no text messages on your phone except for those items that you use as a reminder from your tickler file. Once those items are complete you would then complete those.

Additional tips on how to get the most out of your text messaging:

  • Make sure you get an unlimited text messaging plan

  • Use an online calendar such as Yahoo calendar to send reminders of items on your calendar to your text messaging inbox

  • Use your text messaging as a capture tool when you don't have it with you. I know on many occasions I didn't have my spiral 3 x 5 index cards with me but I always have my phone and it was just as easy to send myself a quick text with the information I needed to capture.


I make it a best practice to process my text messages to zero each time I check it.
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