Time management is becoming an increasing concern around the office, with a number of us turning to David Allen’s highly addictive Getting Things Done methodology. Some basic, seemingly-obvious productivity tips I have picked up over the last few weeks:
- Don’t sit beside Mark.
- One of the fundamental tenets of GTD is to get everything out of your head and onto a todo-list. For me, that todo list needs to be web-accessible so that entries can be added from wherever you are. I use Basecamp, which is almost exactly what I need. Though I’m sure when I’m procrastinating about something or other in the future I will decide to write my own, better version ;).
- Rationalise the mailing lists you’re subscribed to. Some of the ones I’m on (like our internal SRG-members list) need to be always-on, but others, like the list for Gallery developers, is now delivered to me at the end of the day as a digest of the day’s discussions. This has saved me a lot of time.
- Clear your inbox. I’m a big fan of Merlin Mann’s “Inbox Zero” series (and basically his whole site). It warrants re-reading again and again. Using the two-minute rule and systematically whittling your concerns down mail by mail is highly rewarding, and spares you from having to keep your mail client open all day.
In terms of email management, I’ve found that a lot of the habits I’d gotten into actually resulted in me spending more time hopelessly wrangling messages. For instance, there is little point in creating a folder for mail from a certain person, or filtering based on words in the subject. I’ve noticed some people in the labs with gigantic hierarchies of nested folders. The time it takes to decide on these partitions, set up filters or manually place mails into these folders, and then maintain that arrangement over time where requirements and priorities are constantly in flux is frightening.
With the search capabilities of modern email clients, these filtering steps become redundant, as email is much easier to find again by simply dumping them all into a single place and then performing a keyword search on a large folder. There are loads of strategies you could try, but right now I’m trying to minimise the amount of folders I use. The only mail I keep in my inbox are those that I need to reply to, or the ones I’m waiting for a reply on.
- In a similar vein, I’ve been realising more and more that GMail is remarkably well designed, once you understand how best to use the “archive” button — which unfortunately seems to have passed a lot of people by. Once you’re finished with a mail that doesn’t require any action on your part, just hit “archive” and you don’t have to think about it again unless you need it in future, by which time it’s nestled safely in your “All Mail” view. You can get similar archiving functionality in Thunderbird with an extension.
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