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GTD getting things done - in Physics

There is not any physics here, but it is my interpretation/implementation of the GTD methodology using Outlook.

You can get a good introduction from the web, It is a way of working with lists and contexts independent of any particular software. Interesting to note that two members of staff use omnifocus. The book is not well recommended. For a few hundred pounds you can go to a seminar. GTD is trademarked and something of a money making machine for Dave Allen, branded guides, software etc is restricted and charged for. If you think this sort of seminar or similar help would be valuable to you then let us know. The courses are not cheap, but the hazards of stress are costly in all sorts of ways.

General tips for managing email are explained well on the web and may give most of the benefits of GTD. Our admin team has worked through these particular Outlook productivity guides together: email management, task management and calendar management. They are well worth a look at. In the spirit of GTD, you could do the following:

Switch off alerts

File>> Options >> message arrival Switch them all off. The idea is that you look at your in box once or twice a day at times that suit you. it is quite natural to do this first thing in the morning, but others would advocate an email free hour at the start of each day. That's an easy start.

Task View

Use task view as the main window. Arrange by due date, maybe have calendar showing on RHS. The outlook guides show you how.

Send yourself emails

The GTD system only works if all your tasks are in the right place, so that you have only one place to look for the next task and no baggage to keep a mental note of " must remember to do xyz on Tuesday". Most of my tasks arrive by email, when they don't I send myself an email with the right subject heading and any useful content thaat I need to complete the task.

From Intray to GTD lists

To deal with the Inbox using the GTD methodology, we need to do one of the following to each email and remove it from the Inbox. The process creates action items in the task list - either tasks, or emails with due dates. And it clears the Inbox ... completely.

  • Delete it
  • File it, if it does not need any action but may be useful as a record. File into an email file or on an ITS drive.
  • Do it. If it just needs a quick reply (less than 2 minutes, maybe less than 5 minutes) then do it there and then and remove the email. It is simply not worth sorting or categorising if it can be readily completed.
  • Delegate: simply forward the email, if you might need to chase it up then it also goes to the waiting list (see below) but its best to have the working relationship that your colleague is trusted to do what you ask and/or get back to you without reminders.
  • Waiting list. The GTD waiting list is for items that must not be forgotten but where you are waiting for other input before you can do it. I cheat here and just give the email a custom reminder flag for a suitable future date.
  • Action list. The GTD action list is for items that you can do now and complete in a relatively short timescale. I just set a flag with the appropriate due date.
  • Projects list. The GTD Projects list is for matters that are too long to be done as a single task. The idea is to use the projects list to generate the next action item for each project, then regularly review the list to see if the next action can go on the actions list. I implement this by dragging the email to the tasks heading. A task is automatically created with the email text. Attachments will be missing, beware of that - drag them into the task if they are needed to complete it. Also you can't reply to a task ,so in some ways it is not as convenient as an email with a flag. However you can edit it, and write in a list of actions that the project needs. I then set the date for the first item/action in the task. Unlike the actions list items, I don't mark it as complete, I just change the due date as appropriate for the next action on the task.

Contexts and Categories

GTD has the concept of contexts to help see clearly which actions should be worked on. The exemplar is @home and @work, which should be self explanatory. In outlook these can be identified using categories - the tasks will then be coloured, and can be sorted or filtered. You can be more imaginative with context classifications. @DrXYZ can identify tasks that you will look at when you have a regular meeting with Dr XYZ. Also consider @FreeDay for those longer, but often important jobs that should be top of your list when you have a clear day (or week ahead).