Thursday, January 19, 2012

How To Improve Your GTD System To A Black Belt Level

Over the last few days I've started building a daily review checklist. To get it started, I've been taking a close look at exactly all the steps that I take to do that and getting them down on paper. I've also streamlined my email a bit by setting up a bunch of filters to get things that I don't need to look at right away out of my inbox and into my Read/Review folder. My email inbox is empty. The first step in mastering my email is complete.

Let's take a closer look at my folders in my email. I refer to them as folders but in gmail and google apps they are called labels. I will use those interchangeably. Here are my labels.

  • Inbox (0)

  • Sent Mail

  • Drafts

  • Spam

  • Trash

  • 3775 (0)

  • 5151 (0)

  • 5726 (0)

  • 7636 (0)

  • Action (202)

  • Calendar (21)

  • Faxes

  • Read/Review (9)

  • Someday/Maybe (3)

  • To Print (0)

  • Waiting For (43)

I want to point out that I added a label called "Reference". I was using the Starred feature in gmail to do that but I decided that I don't like to use the stars. I use this for emails that have information in them that I frequently referred to. Once I moved the starred emails into the Reference label, I then hid the Starred label from view in my settings since I won't be referring to it anymore.

In addition, the number in parentheses is the number of items that need to be dealt with at some point. You'll notice the inbox is at empty.

If you remember from yesterday, I mentioned that I look at each of the files above as just another inbox. Once I get the main email inbox to empty, then I start working on the next one.

What I try and do is to do them in order from easiest to hardest. The idea here is to get momentum and push everything down into my system.

What I mean by that is that I start at the very beginning of my GTD system. I call it the front end. I get everything working at the front end of my GTD system and slowly move improvement down to the end.

I take the very easiest things to do. Do them first. Since they are easy they create momentum. And then use that momentum to help give me additional mental strength to get more of my system in shape.

Let's take these folder as an example. If you look above you'll see that there are 202 emails in that folder that need some sort of action. These are things that I already know will take more than a couple of minutes because of the two minute rule I applied in when I was processing my inbox. That means that folder will take a lot more effort to empty than say the "3775" folder because that is just a voice mail box. That is one that is extremely easy compared to the action folder.

What I do then is put them in order from easiest to hardest to process. Now before I move on, I know that if you have several thousand email in your inbox, that it will seem like a pretty hard folder to get to zero. But once you realize the inbox is just a place to make a decision on where to put it, that inbox becomes a lot easier to empty. Why? Well if it needs extended action, it immediately gets put in the action folder. The engine starts with the inbox as well so we have to put it first on the list to do for that reason anyway.

So here are my folders arranged by difficulty:

  • Spam - always easy to scan to see if anything was misfiled that should go into inbox

  • To Print - if at printer, easy to print

  • 3775 - voice mail messages

  • 5151 - voice mail messages

  • 5726 - voice mail messages

  • 7636 - voice mail messages

  • Inbox

  • --- The Bar of My Mental Strength --- (also my Black Belt level)

  • Calendar

  • Waiting For

  • Read/Review

  • Someday/Maybe

  • Action <-------Hardest folder to empty

  • Faxes - Reference only, no action

  • Reference - Reference only no action

What I want you to picture here is that everything above my mental strength bar is at a black belt level. It's running perfectly. Everything below the bar is not yet. Imagine if you will pushing that bar down the list smoothing perfection down one level at a time.

Another way that I like to look at this is you can tell exactly what level of Black Belt GTD'er you are. Right now, I'm a Black Belt to the Calendar folder in my email system.

This is easier to do if you put all of the easier stuff at the top and the hardest stuff at the end.

Get in the habit of pushing improvement down through your GTD system like this and before you know it, you will be doing weekly reviews consistently because you will finally have clarity to understand how it all works together..

The reason this is important is because the next step for me is to start organizing my daily review checklist. The way I want to organize it is an easiest to hardest order.

All the things I've been putting getting out of my head and into my checklist have to be organized in a logical fashion. Thinking along these lines will help you organize your checklist in a way that creates momentum, helps you see exactly where you get stuck and provide you with a method to break through that wall.

My checklist is available to members as I build it. If you are not a member, you can join now.

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Michael Kuhn

Black Belt Project: Build Mental Strength

1 comments so far

I am trying to get to the point where my ACTIONS folder doesn't bother me if it has 50 or 100 items in there. I would love it if I could get ALL my folders to zero, but there will always be items in the Action and Waiting For folders . That just can't be helped.

I think this system is so effective because the main inboxes can actually be empty. You mentally feel freer knowing that the actions folder has only files in there that have to be dealt with...they are not spam or other clutter. The Inboxes are clean, the actions folder holds only things you need to deal with and the TRASH!

I do have an ARCHIVE folder. Anything that I might need to reference one day (things that are derived from my Action Folder and completed) I drag there, not the Trash. Every 4-6 months, I back the oldest ones in an archive file and delete them from my email program. I leave the latest 6 months in the folder. I guess you could do the same with Google but it works great with iMail/ iCloud. This system really seems to work for me!