Bonjour! Here’s our summary for the last Girls Club event, which was at the Royal Melbourne Hotel on Sunday 4 May.
The Theme: Getting Things Done
At the beginning of Girls Club, we asked everyone what sorts of topics they’d be interested in, and “productivity” was one of them. So for our May event, we picked that topic and pulled together a ream of information for our activity sheet.
We started out with some personal questions, to get everyone thinking about what they wanted from the session, and how they felt about themselves in relation to productivity. You can see these questions in the Activity Sheet.
The Concept of GTD
After having some chats about the questions, we moved onto some tactics, starting with the concept of “Getting Things Done” (GTD) and its definition.
Summary of GTD by Merlin Mann:
So how does GTD work?
This is a really summarized version, but here it is, PowerPoint-style:
- identify all the stuff in your life that isn’t in the right place (close all open loops)
- get rid of the stuff that isn’t yours or you don’t need right now
- create a right place that you trust and that supports your working style and values
- put your stuff in the right place, consistently
- do your stuff in a way that honors your time, your energy, and the context of any given moment
- iterate and refactor mercilessly
So, basically, you make your stuff into real, actionable items or things you can just get rid of. Everything you keep has a clear reason for being in your life at any given moment—both now and well into the future. This gives you an amazing kind of confidence that a) nothing gets lost and b) you always understand what’s on or off your plate.
Also built-in to the system are an ongoing series of reviews, in which you periodically re- examine your now-organized stuff from various levels of granularity to make sure your vertical focus (individual projects and their tasks) is working in concert with your horizontal focus (side to side scanning of all incoming channels for new stuff). It’s actually sort of fun and oddly satisfying.
We also talked about one of the key principles of GTD, which is to make actions even smaller.
Again, a summary from Merlin Mann:
See, I’m an inveterate list-maker, and I’ve always thought I was actually pretty good at it, but when I look back now, I can see how my typical TODO list was littered with land mines.
- Get new work
- Lose weight
- Buy Christmas presents
I’ll bet you have (or had) a similar running list of all the nagging stuff that was littering your mental landscape, right?
The thing is, I now see how items like these can’t really be “done” at all; each one of those things is actually a complex, multiple-item project with built-in dependencies and waiting time. To look at any of them as a single thing I need to do is to buy into the anxiety-inducing premise that my goals and behaviors should somehow mirror each other on a one-to-one basis. If you think about it, that’s plainly ridiculous.
A more reasonable approach using GTD would be to focus just on that next physical activity needed to undertake each project; even if it seems like a trivial activity. In order:
- Find old résumé in file cabinet
- Call gym to see when membership expires
- Start a running list of everyone I need to buy Christmas gifts for
A project is anything that has more than one action.
Is that item on your to-do list an action, or a project? If it’s a project, break it down into actions.
Next, we went over a couple of checks that you can do, which can be super helpful.
Mind Sweep – Clear your mind, write everything down.
Reality check – Do you really want to do this thing?
If a task has been on your list for ages and you haven’t started it, maybe it’s time to give yourself a break and say: I don’t really want to <go camping> <redo all the work templates because no one else will>, etc.
Another tactic is to reframe the way you think about tasks. For example, instead of thinking tasks are boring, annoying, stupid, waste of time, self-indulgent, etc… you could think about what they really mean for you and your life.
Focus & Distractions
Tactics for managing focus and distractions are, of course, integral to GTD. We thought these tips were worth sharing.
- Remember that priorities are only priorities if there are very few!
- Only have 3 priorities per day, then draw a line, then put any lesser tasks under it (see above for my example of a To Do list)
- Eat the Frog – Do the most gross task first
- To gradually work on your distractions and staying-power:
- Turn phone on airplane mode sometimes
- Turn notifications off on iPhone apps and computer
- Try a detox – A week of no reading (it’s really something!)
- Set Distraction Days and Focus Days:
- Assign distraction days e.g. Tue, Thu, Fri, and focus days e.g. Mon, Wed, to focus on the thing you want (e.g. creative projects).
- Mark these in your calendar
- By doing this, you can give yourself permission to ignore something all day long. For example, if it’s a “Focus Day”, you have permission to ignore emails and household chores and personal errands and pesky administrative tasks, and you can work on your main focus all day.
Some cool general apps that help with GTD:
- StayFocusd – Chrome browser extension that limits the time you can spend on time-wasting websites.
- Rescue Time – An app that shows you how you’re spending your time all day, and you can instruct it to remind you when you’re spending too long on something (available for all platforms)
- Pomodoro Technique – This technique is basically about having 25-minute blocks of focus. It can be a great way to build up your attention span, and reduce reliance on distractions. There are lots of pomodoro apps, add-ons and plugins available.
Other Ways of Thinking About It
- iDoneThis – A “Reverse To Do List” service, where you (and your team) can write down what you accomplished at the end of the day, for a sense of achievement
- Done is better than good
- Doing > thinking
(E.g. if you want to be a writer, you need to write; you don’t need to think about writing, read about writing, find the best writing software… you just need to write. If you don’t write, you’re not a writer.)
- What you do defines you – Is the way that you’re spending your days at the moment (e.g. constantly stuck in email) the person you want to be?
- Get in touch with yourself and what you really like, dislike, want, and need. Try these exercises:
- Morning pages – Write 3 A4 pages first thing in the morning, whatever comes into your hand, just keep the pen moving across the page
- Meditation – Best to go on a class for this
- Ideal day exercise – Write about your ideal day: if anything in your life could be changed and you had the ideal location, job, friends, family, lover, lifestyle, everything
Specific Tools & Systems
- For every email you send, you will get at least one in return, so be careful
- Use email to train other people how to deal with you (keep business hours) – RightInbox &
Boomerang plugins for Gmail let you schedule emails (so you can schedule emails to be sent in the morning – not late at night!) and let you easily follow up on emails
- Have a Triage system e.g.
- Every day, book in 30 minutes to do “Triage” – Just organise and prioritise your email, and only respond to the most urgent emails.
- Sort emails into folders: 1. Action, 2. Followup, 3. Misc, Archive (see screenshot above)
- Later in the day, go back into these folders and see which emails to action next
- Use email@example.com functionality to make email work in a smarter way. E.g.
“firstname.lastname@example.org” has a filter: skip Inbox, move to “Action” folder, so I can send myself emails and they will go straight into the Action folder.
- Get to know the filters and smart filters in your email program – they can do so much of your organising & administration work for you
- Inbox Pause – Gmail extension that lets you pause your inbox, so you can focus on the emails you are working on
- FollowUpThen – Very useful service for organising yourself, setting followups on emails, and setting email reminders
- Mailbox – This email app follows the GTD method – it lets you swipe emails into folders, swipe to archive, swipe to delete, and swipe to snooze emails (iPhone only, but coming soon to all platforms) – screenshots below
Trello is a project management tool that is incredibly useful for getting organised and GTD, whether for work or personal use.
- You can send emails to Trello – so you get tasks out of your inbox and in an organised system
- You can give each month a theme – so you can focus on a more overarching goal each month
- You can do goal planning – set columns for 1 year, 3 year, 5 year goals
- Use different colours and different calendars, so that your calendar is visually organised and clear
- Use placeholders to plan
- Day placeholders e.g. Tue/Thu are Distraction days, Mon/Wed are Focus days, Saturday is unscheduled, Sunday is for planning (to check Trello and plan the following week)
- Set other placeholders for things you need to do (marked with “***”)
- Time-block placeholders to plan your days
- Or… Use a paper calendar with Post-It notes to tentatively mark possible events and move them around!
To Do Apps
Whew! Hopefully that gives you something new to try.
(In related news… I saw this pretty book in kikki.K, and it has a bunch of productivity/organising tips and tactics, so I’m thinking about getting it!)
So… what’s next for Girls Club?
Coming up, we have…
Girls Club / Through Other Girls’ Eyes – This is a morning event, on Sunday 1 June. We’ll be covering our own philosophies and perspectives, and the experiences that have shaped us, as well as hearing from other girls who have potentially very different philosophies, perspectives and experiences.
To everyone for coming to the Getting Things Done event. Loved seeing you all and hearing about how you get organised, and your systems and tactics.