Thursday, May 28, 2009

How To Get Your GTD Voicemail To Zero

Today's post is about how to get your GTD voicemail to zero. I don't know about you, but lately, I've been letting things slide abit within my own system and I wanted to walk you through how I get things going again. So, with my first post, I wanted to start a GTD Thirty Day Challenge that takes you through the steps required to clean up or implement your system. If you haven't read Getting Things Done by David Allen, you should do that right away. And, if you haven't set up all the organizational "buckets" he recommends, you should do that as well. When I get stuck, I start with the easiest thing to get to zero and that is by clearing out my voicemail messages. How do you empty your voicemail? Here is what I suggest when it comes to your voicemail messages. This is a quick way to empty your voicemail box.

  • Make a list of voicemail boxes

  • Make a list of steps to check your voicemail

  • Have a capture tool and pen handy

  • Have your calls list handy

  • Have a way to delegate

  • Review your voicemail personal options

  • Review your voicemail greetings

  • Make a checklist of steps you take to process your voicemail to zero


[caption id="attachment_60" align="alignright" width="160"]GTD Voicemail GTD Voicemail[/caption]

Make A List Of Your Voicemail Boxes I always recommend to people when I talk to them about GTD that you start with the front end of your system and that is with your inboxes. The easiest inboxes to empty are not your paper inboxes, they are your digital inboxes. Probably the easiest of your digital inboxes to empty to zero are your voicemail boxes. That's why I start with them. The first thing that I would do is make a list of all of your voicemail boxes. Here's mine:

  • Voicemail 8582

  • Voicemail 9693

  • Voicemail 6328

  • Voicemail 3775

  • Voicemail 6116


In my case, you can see that I have five voicemail boxes. I've listed them by just the last four numbers of the phone number. After I make my list, I then reorder my voicemail boxes in the order of easiest to hardest to get to zero. While all voicemail inboxes are basically the same, there's more work involved in some messages I get on say my work voicemail as opposed to my personal voicemail. I would them reorder my inboxes in the following manner:

  • Voicemail 6116

  • Voicemail 3775

  • Voicemail 6328

  • Voicemail 8582

  • Voicemail 9693


[caption id="attachment_62" align="alignright" width="160"]Getting Things Done Tools Getting Things Done Tools[/caption]

Make A Checklist Of Steps You Take To Process Your Voicemail To Zero After that, I would then think about the steps I need to take to empty my voicemail boxes to zero. I know I used to check my voicemail message and a lot of times what I would do is save the message on my voicemail for later. Get into the habit of making sure that once you listen to the message that you write it down. When you get done checking your voicemail boxes they should all say you have no messages at this time. The first thing that I know I need is a capture tool. In my case I use a spiral-bound 3 x 5 index card capture tool. I will also need a pen to write down my messages. So, in making my checklist of steps I need to take in order check my messages, my first order of business would be to grab a pen and my capture tool. Here's my checklist of steps to empty my voicemail:

  • Get my pen

  • Get my capture tool

  • Go to computer

  • Check voicemail

  • Write down message

  • Delete message

  • 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


Personally, I like to process the actions in my voicemail when I receive them. You basically have two choices. One, process all the actions from your voicemail now when you download them, or two, throw them in your inbox for later. The latter works fine if you are emptying out your paper inbox each day. If not, for now, I would opt for method one for sure. Once I've downloaded all my voicemail messages, I then return the calls or delegate the things I can and process the things I can do. Once I decided what to do with the message, I cross it off as done in my capture tool. When I am finished, I tear the index cards out and shred them because of the personal information they contain, but you could choose to keep them as a record.

Voicemail Zero: Putting It All Together


Today, I just caught up my voice mail. I had about 20 messages. The messages were categorized as follows:

  • Blank messages

  • Sales calls

  • Wrong #'s

  • Informational

  • Things I need to do or delegate

  • Return calls for more information


[caption id="attachment_64" align="alignright" width="150"]I check unknown numbers as part of my GTD voicemail process. I check unknown numbers as part of my GTD voicemail process.[/caption]

I then went through my checklist for each voicemail. I checked any unknown numbers in google, forwarded some information to my wife via email, delegated some items to my assistant and returned a couple of phone calls for more information and then delegated a couple of more things to my assistant. When I was done, all of my voicemail boxes were zeroed out and all of the tasks were complete or delegated. I recommend that you check your voicemail twice a day at the same time each day following a similar checklist. A checklist streamlines your processing because it eliminates the need to think about the next step and what we are actually doing is building a daily review checklist to follow. Because voicemail is one of the easiest things to do, I think that it makes sense to put it at the front of the list of inboxes to empty. While it's a small victory, accomplishing something when you are overwhelmed or behind in your tasks, creates a mental victory and momentum to accomplish more things. Now, that I have my voicemail to zero, I will process it each day so that it doesn't get behind anymore.

Other Phone And Voicemail Tips



  • Check your voicemail greetings to make sure they sound great. While funny voicemail greetings might be appropriate for personal use they probably wouldn't for business voicemail. Make sure you are careful with those. A voicemail greeting should also be quick and to the point. If you are going to be out of the office, indicate when you will return and alternate contacts during that period of time

  • Check your voicemail setttings to make sure you are familiar with them all. For example, my voicemail has an expert mode that expedites the instructions

  • Ask the phone company for a nonpublished number and do not give that number to anyone

  • Get a voicemail service that goes straight to voicemail and give that number to everyone you deal with that deals with your personal information. This would include banks, doctors, insurance companies, etc. I do this for my small business as well.

  • Make it a best practice to return all voicemails the same day or within 24 hours. If you can't complete the request, let the caller know what the hold up is and let them know what is going on.

  • Some people use services that forward voicemail to email. I do not use them, but would consider it if it was the actual voicemail message and not converted voicemail to text for fear of accuracy problems.

  • Review each phone number that you have and ask if you really need it and if it can't be streamlined into another line.


A Voicemail Video


I also took the time to walk through this post with a video about how I work through getting how to process your voicemail to zero. You can view it below and learn to empty your inbox now.

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