I am reading Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, by management consultant David Allen. I have only read one-third of the book. I want to finish the book. I want to finish the book because I want to write a review on my blog about it. Applying Allen’s method, here’s how I proceed:
1. Collect things that command my attention. Writing a blog post is one of many things — including getting new glasses, developing a student survey and preparing the 2010-11 budget for my department –commanding my attention right now. I collect them all in a little application called NoteBook. But you could use any “bucket” to collect all your stuff — as long as it’s all in one place.
2. Process all that “stuff” in the bucket. This is where I, and I’m sure many of you, get bogged down. So in this case the item is “Write review of David Allen’s book.” I ask myself: “Is this item actionable?” – If the answer is “yes” (which it is), then I determine what the next action item is. The next action might be: Read Chapter 4. If the action takes less than two minutes, I just do it. Right now. But in my case, reading Chapter 4 will take more than two minutes. So I have two choices: 1. Delegate it. Um, not really an option (although admittedly I do occasionally pretend to have read books that really my partner has read and summarized for me. This, by the way, is a totally legitimate form of non-reading according to Pierre Bayard’s How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read.) But in this case, I really am going to read the book myself. But not in two minutes. So I defer it. I can defer it to my Calendar (to do at a specific time) or make it my Next Action (to do as soon as I can.)
3. Organize all those actions. In this case, my action item – Read Chapter 4 of David Allen’s Book — is not something I can actually schedule. So it goes on my “Next Actions List”. There are other lists — an Incubator (for stuff that’s just not going to get done in the near future, but you don’t want to lose), a “Waiting For” list, etc But in this case, we have a longer-than-two-minute, non-delegatable action that needs to be tracked. So it goes on the Next Action List.
4. Review your list. There’s a lot of stuff on your list. How do you decide what to do right now? (see #5, below) Allen gives us a few models but I like this one: consider your context (what can be done…in the bathtub?), with the time available (…in about half an hour before somebody kicks me out of the bathroom), and energy available (…while I have enough caffeine in my system to focus) and is a high priority (…i.e. will give me the highest payoff?) Answer: Read Chapter 4 of David Allen’s book.
5. Do. So I read Chapter 4. Check.
And then the process starts over again. Next Action: “Write witty review of David Allen’s book, without actually finishing it!”. Done.
So, two questions linger: (1) if I can apply the method after having ready only four chapters, what are the other nine about? and (2) what does this have to do with student affairs?
Answer to the first: I’ve given you an overly simplistic explanation of the method. The rest of the book gives you much more depth on issues like project planning (how to get that idea off the ground), managing e-mail, or how to deal with your “someday/maybe” list. I do intend to read the rest. But my goal was to write a new blog post. That was the source of my stress – and it’s been dealt with (in a pretty ingenious way.)
On the second question: productivity is critical in student affairs. We have to be accountable to both students and the public and we simply cannot afford to operate in a reactive manner, waiting for the next issue, conflict or crisis to come across our desk. Yet, there’s a skill set involved in moving projects forward that is not typically delivered as part of student affairs training and education. We’re just taught to understand student development, to coach and mentor, to take direction, and to respond to situations. If a book called “Productivity in Student Affairs” existed, I’d have read that instead. But as far as I know, it doesn’t.
Getting Things Done seems to work perfectly well for me. I’ve just knocked off a major stress factor (keeping this blog up-to-date!) using Allen’s method. Now on to that budget.
— Deanne Fisher.