My intray overfloweth! I've been merrily capturing everything on notecards and flinging them into my cool-retro-hipster intray and forwarding gleefully to Things. I even sat down and made a conscious effort to get any and all tasks, thoughts and open loops out of my head. Commonly, somewhat excruciatingly called a "braindump". My email inboxes are empty. Phew! I feel better. I can't wait to do it again sometime.

In fairness, there is a genuine feelgood factor about the capture exercise. I do feel better having transformed vague worries and nagging thoughts into tangible notes. However, the big pile of paper in my tray and notes in Things hasn't actually helped me get anything done.

David Allen has a flow chart. (In fact, until I specifically inform you otherwise, big Dave always has a flowchart.) In order to clarify all "the stuff", I must first ask myself "Is it actionable?" If it's not, then one of three things can happen.  It can be binned, filed or putting into a holding file, which is delightfully called "a tickler". We'll return to the tickler at a later date. I mean, you couldn't not, could you?

If something is actionable then it either belongs to a project or is a standalone. Projects are simply collections of actions required to get the thing done. An example. I need to complete annual returns for my companies. Yes, that's plural, because I'm just so fancy. I could write down a task that says "Do annual return for Nero's Notes." However, doing return isn't quite that simple. Multiple actions are required, so I have a project. That project contains each individual step required to get to "done".

  • Print P&L
  • Print Balance sheet
  • Review printouts (sanity check)
  • Correct any errors
  • Logon to submission portal and enter figures
  • Submit return
  • Ringfence cash for liability
  • Schedule payment
  • Schedule next return

How detailed you get is up to you. If you find yourself typing, "turn on the computer" then you might be going a little OTT on the granularity, but breaking the work into smaller, actionable items really does make the whole thing less initimidating. I might not have the time (or more likely the inclination) to do my company returns, but I can surely print the P&L.  Anyway, I digress. Whatever I find in my inbox, I clarify whether it's an actionable item and whether it should live in a project ot not.

Once I've done that, I have a list of actionable items. Some in projects and some all on their lonesome. "Reserve table for lunch" for example. At this point, I again have three choices:

Do it, Delegate it or Defer it. Now we're talking. Getting stuff done. Literally.

If it takes less than two minutes, just do it. Get that table booked. Print that P&L. If it takes more than two minutes and you're lucky enough to have an assistant, consider whether the task might be be delegated:

"Dear Carruthers, please print off the draft P&Ls and Balance sheets for all companies for the last financial year. Iron the print outs and place them with the Financial Times on my afternoon tea-tray, there's a good chap."

Finally, defer it. If it's longer than two minutes, and you are the best person to do it, then it will need to go live on a next action list - more on which, later.

Next - organising

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