Let’s look at one of the most simple, yet effective, to-do list management and productivity systems; David Allen’s Getting Things Done. With this system, you will have four sections on the page. One for “In”, “Next Actions”, “Waiting For”, “Projects”, and “Someday Maybe”. First, let’s talk about the “In” list.
This is where you write every task, thought, or thing that’s taking up brain space. The rules to get on this list is pretty expansive but don’t worry, we’ll narrow it.
When you’ve gotten each task in the Inbox, start processing each of them from the first, to the last. Ask yourself, “Is this actionable?”. If it’s not, if you can’t do anything about it, throw it off the list. If it’s a reference to a book or article you need to read, add it to the “Someday Maybe” list.
If it is actionable and will take less than 2 minutes to do, do it right now. If it’s actionable and will take longer than two minutes you can either (1) Find someone to delegate the task to or (2) add it to your “Next Actions” list. If you delegated it, add it to the “Waiting For” list so you still have an idea of what’s going on with that task. If something takes more than two actions to fully complete, add it to the “Projects” list.
It’s very important to make sure the task item is actionable. It can’t say, “email 10 clients”. Instead, it should say, “Email John, Suzan, and Marie the new IPO framework.” This ensures when it gets moved to the “Next Actions” list, it’s very specific and you know exactly what to do.
This list has all of your next to-do items. There is no ranking order or level of importance here. Whenever you get bored, or finish one task, you can check this list for specific details on what needs to be done next.
If you do an action and requires you to wait for a reply, cross the task off from here and add the task to the “Waiting For” list. This ensures all tasks on here have a direct action.
This is for stuff you have ordered and are waiting on or you need a reply from a co-worker, or email response. Always add the current date to this, so you can see how long you’ve waited for something.
For this list, start out by writing the project name. Underneath the project, whether it be a toggle or bullet points, add every task that needs to get done to have the project succeed.
Underneath the project, add mini “Next Actions” and “Waiting For” lists. Take the same approach for the earlier lists, and use them here. All next direct actions go under “Next Actions” and any replies from an email, meetings to have, benchmarks to make before moving on go under the “Waiting For” list.
Things you want to do sometime, but don’t have the ability to do right now. These can be big things like ‘Write a Book’, or smaller scale items such as 'Watch Silicon Valley’ on Hulu. Great show by the way.
That was just a small overview of the GTD framework. I hope this helps in your task management and project pursuits.