Thursday, February 17, 2011

The GTD Daily Review Checklist

In my last post, I talked about my GTD Areas of Focus and how I plan on using them as black belt levels. The plan is to work my way through each one with the goal of mastering it. Today, what I wanted to talk about is the GTD Daily Review and how to start using it to begin designing your perfect day. While many people have a daily review in their GTD system, others have trouble even getting to the weekly review and still others can’t get their inboxes empty. Like I’ve mentioned before, I’m going to start from scratch here by first outlining the general idea and then how you can specifically apply it to your own situation.

For those of you who already have started developing your daily review checklist, you probably already recognize three valuable benefits to having one. They are:

  1. You get everything out of your head.

  2. You are less likely to forget to check something you need to - like your calendar.

  3. You have defined what “done” looks like.

For those of you who don’t have one, you take the chance of putting yourself in a position where you have to try and remember everything which reduces efficiency, take the chance of forgetting to check something and finally you might struggle with knowing when to quit working – especially if you work for yourself. While it might seem mundane to account for every tiny detail of your day, those who strive for excellence pay attention to these kinds of details and learn to account for them. This is truly how you get everything out of your head and also how you reduce stress. It will also at any given moment tell your progress towards black belt.

Getting a complete daily checklist won’t happen overnight but will evolve over time. I recommend that you develop it in the following manner:

  1. Start by adding the steps needed to process your GTD system. This would checking your inboxes, your calendar, your lists, etc.

  2. Brainstorm what the perfect day might look like and start adding those things to your list. For example, you might want to work out, eat at certain times or even eat certain things. The sky is the limit here. It’s your life and if today was a perfect day what would you want to accomplish. These things will change from time to time and so your checklist will probably evolve as you do.

  3. Refine the list and start moving things around to make things more efficient. Maybe it makes sense to check your voice mail before your email. Be a master of the process and record every step as if it was the only thing you ever had to do. Make sure you include steps like “log in to email” and be as detailed as possible.

  4. Break the list into sections. Maybe you’ll break your day into emptying inboxes, take a breather and then focus on doing. Divide your list into logical groupings. Feel free to reward yourself when you complete sections and make sure you add those things to your list too.

  5. Once your list starts taking shape, work on completing the list faster so you spend less time working. Record the time you start and finish and try and improve your time.

  6. Review the checklist to see what you can delegate. If you have broken down all the steps for a certain task, have written all the steps down exactly as you would perform them, then it makes it that much easier to delegate those tasks to free up your time to work on other important tasks.

By following these steps, you can really get a handle on your day. But a lot of people get stuck and may find it difficult to get going. You might find that you can only get through part of your list and get stuck. What do you do then?

Here’s what I suggest. Use the Basic Three Step Black Belt Training Program. Start small, make small progress and raise the bar. Start by adding one thing to your daily review checklist. It doesn’t really matter what it is. Make sure that you at least complete that task each day. If you do more, then great, if not your day is still a success. Then raise the bar and add one additional task so that you have at least two for the day and make the commitment to get those done no matter what else you do. Slowly but surely, you’ll develop better mental discipline to tackle more and more work.

Look at it like lifting weights. Start with five pound weights (a few tasks a day) and gradually increase the weight. If you can only get through part of your list and get stuck and can’t get further, the challenge is the same. I know that it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. You might be starting with a back log of papers or emails and you just can’t make any progress.

If that’s you, what I recommend is getting all of the urgent items out of your inboxes and setting everything else aside in a secondary inbox or holding area. Begin with today and make sure that anything that arrives today is processed today and you get through your list or farther through it. Then set an hour a week aside, to tackle the backlog. This technique will help you clear your head a bit and might help you gain the momentum you need to push through that wall.

With that, it’s time to take action. I will start working on my GTD daily review checklist over on my Black Belt Project Facebook page. You can join me over there by liking the page and I’ll start developing my list over there. I hope you will join me next time. Until then, take action.

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Michael Kuhn

Black Belt Project: Build Mental Strength


As a proud owner of an inbox containing 34,042 unread items, it seems I should have discovered your Black Belt Project a long time ago. The GTD system you're developing here is interesting. I like your analogy with lifting weights. Do you think I could delegate all the lifting, then spend the day enjoying my delegates' work? That could be a shortcut to getting things done :)

@Violeta, I think you are onto a great idea!