Well, the end of the year is around the corner. Snuck up on you, did it? You’re not alone. The good news is that for many of us, as things slow down toward year-end, we can find the space between the holiday parties to refine our GTD® systems and practices. Here are the ones I’ll be focused on:
Celebrate your successes from the last year – one of the benefits of a solid GTD practice is the opportunity to acknowledge the things we’ve achieved. Have a look at the things you’ve marked off a done, say on your Projects list this year. It’s pat-on-the-back time. It was your focus and energy that made those things happen. Congratulations are in order.
Schedule some time in your calendar for a thorough annual review of your whole organisational system. If you’re already doing regular Weekly Reviews®, bravo. This will be a review on steroids. Block a few hours, or a day if you think you’ll need it. Make sure that, as far as possible, you’re not going to be interrupted. Look through everything and ensure that your system contains only reminders and information that are still helpful. Root out anything else. Be ruthless – if it’s not relevant, delete it or archive it. If it’s in the wrong place, move it.
Consider the way information is structured. Are your action lists not working for you? Consider making some changes. The point of having these lists is that when you’re ready to do something productive, you can quickly see reminders of only those things you could choose to do in your current context. @Computer list too long? How about subdividing it into @Computer – Offline and @Computer – Online? Or do you have the sense that you have too many lists? What would you consolidate? Maybe put the reminders on @Home together with those on @Errands to create a new list called @Personal.
Clean out your reference material. Anything you decide you’ll never need again should be deleted or archived (with your organisation’s retention policies in mind, of course). If you have the sense that your digital reference folders have become a bit dusty and hard to navigate, but you’re not keen to delete them, then try this trick: create a folder called “Old Reference Folders” and drag those dusty folders into it. You can then start over to create a fresh reference folder structure that works for you, safe in the knowledge that if you do need those old folders in the future they will be available.
If you have other people that do GTD in your organisation, you could schedule this review time as a joint exercise. Agree a time and place to gather, say in a conference room, and support each other by ensuring that your focus stays on the review. Here at NAA we’ll be doing this ourselves at our London office in December.
The more pristine your system is when the New Year rolls around, the better you’ll be able to operate with a sense of relaxed, focused control.
Your Projects inventory is key – make sure it supports you. In GTD we use the word Project to denote a multiple-step outcome you want to get done in the next twelve months or so. A complete Projects list, then is essentially a composite picture of the future you are striving to create. So, imagine yourself at the end of 2018. What would you like to be true as you look back on the year? Make sure those things are reflected in your Projects list. Make sure the projects are expressed as outcomes, not simply project names or keywords. “New seminar” is not a project; “Run our first successful Level 3 GTD seminar” is.
As you define projects, be ambitious. You don’t have to know exactly how you’re going to achieve an outcome, you just need to know that you’re committed to achieving it.
A projects list is a key element of a successful organisational system. While the things you “do” day-to-day are actions, the bigger things these actions help you “achieve” are projects. The more successful you are (or want to be), the more you get paid to achieve bigger outcomes. Define your projects well, and they will be more likely to come true.
Focus on the bigger picture. Finally, think out beyond the next year and consider your strategic landscape. Use the Horizons of Focus® model to give your thinking a bit of structure and as a way of documenting the results. What are your ongoing roles and responsibilities (Horizon 2)? How about your medium-term planning horizon, the things you would like to achieve by the end of 2019 (Horizon 3)? As you think really long term, out 3-5 years say, what would you like to achieve (Horizon 4)? And finally, what do you understand your purpose to be, and what principles do you live by (Horizon 5)?
If you’ve never done much work on your Higher Horizons, treat this as a brainstorm. If you’ve already got good lists at those higher levels, revisit and refine them.
As we get higher in the Horizons model, it usually makes sense to get input or feedback from other people. Involve those people, from your professional life or your personal life, that you need to.
As you consider committing to things that are longer term, you’ll be engaging with things you have less control over. As David Allen says, don’t be afraid to embrace the “risk of the visionary,” to commit to an outcome before you have any clue how you’re going to achieve it.
Be ready for 2018. The kind of fundamental reflection on your world, your GTD system, and your day-to-day practices as I’ve suggested, is the kind of thing that is difficult to do in the rough and tumble of the day-to-day. Commit to taking the time to do this more fundamental thinking before the world kicks off again in January. When the firehose of reality is switched on again in the New Year, you’ll be glad you did.