Getting Things Done is all about moving from gathering information to taking action on that information. David Allen advises that once a task comes on your radar, you have three options: Do it, Delegate it or Defer it. He does not mention an option that comes up repeatedly throughout the book–Ditch it. Let’s go through each option:
“Do It”: Finishing a task will make you feel much better. Of course, that’s easy for a hamster to say, and a dissertation or a job application is a different matter altogether. Allen recommends that, whenever you gather up and process your tasks for the day, you do anything that can be done within two minutes. Otherwise, you’ll never get around to it.
“Delegate It”: So you’re a grad student or an underpaid academic. “Delegate it” is off the table. Your school doesn’t have the funds for delegating.
“Defer It”: You’ll want to defer the task, especially if it is a big one. But before you defer it, ask yourself if there’s a chunk of the task that you can do in under two minutes. See Post Academic’s past entry on breaking large tasks into small chunks.
Read about the “ditch it” option after the jump! Image from the German Federal Archive, Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.
If it isn’t easy, people won’t do it.
It doesn’t matter how cool the widget you’re promoting is. It doesn’t matter how important your product is or if it is genuinely beneficial to someone. If the item isn’t easy to find or if the form isn’t easy to fill out, people will not do it. By extension, you’re not going to get organized if you don’t make it easy on yourself. Many of David Allen’s GTD ideas revolve around making filing systems easy.
Filing papers sounds as exciting as being dipped in a vat of boiling oil, and you went into academia so you could avoid being a lameass paperpusher. But Allen’s theory is solid–you won’t mind filing as much if you can file an item in under a minute. If it’s hard to file, you will let your papers get scrambled.
More after the jump! Image of a file cabinet by Elizabeth Roy from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.
“So You Don’t Have To” is a series inspired by financial blog The Simple Dollar, in which author Trent Hamm reads books on finance, reviews them and sums up their most helpful points. I’m reading books that are useful to academics and post academics in particular. You guys already have enough to read, anyway.
I’ll cover Getting Things Done over a few posts, but I recommend buying the book, not because I don’t think I can cover everything but because this book is valuable and worth the money. The Simple Dollar also goes into GTD in great detail. For Post Academic, I’m covering the main concepts and not the exact items you need to purchase or methods to follow because you’ll need to adapt GTD to your own work day.
Now, on to the overall principles of GTD and how they relate to academics and post academics. Author David Allen offers many examples of how to implement GTD, but his strong suit is boiling everything down into three points that thread their way throughout the book:
Point #1: First of all, if it’s on your mind, your mind isn’t clear. Anything you consider unfinished in any way must be captured in a trusted system outside your mind, or what I call a collection bucket, that you know you’ll come back to regularly and sort through.
In academia, it seems as if everything is unfinished. That paper can always be revised. You could always add more comments to student papers. You could read that book that doesn’t really relate to your research … but if you don’t, someone will ask you a question about it at a conference, and you won’t get a tenure-track job PANIC PANIC PANIC … and so forth. Nothing seems to finish, but you can trick the system if you trick yourself into gathering up all the tasks you need to do (that means all of them, even the ones that don’t seem important) and getting tasks out of your head so you aren’t gnawing on them. Then you can focus on the tasks at hand and get them done faster.
More after the jump! Image of an old-school electronic organizer from Wikimedia Commons, by Satmap under a Free Art License.