Imagine you’re the CEO of a huge corporation. You’re naturally very busy, and your time has to be carefully managed from moment you get to the office in the morning to the moment you leave at night. But you have the best PA in the world, at your side at all times. If, when you are sweeping through corridors between meetings, you think of something that needs to be addressed, you have only to mention it, and your PA notes it down.
When anything crops up in a meeting that you might need to give some thought to later, your PA notes it down. Your PA is so perfect at their job, that once you see them note something down, you can completely forget about it, knowing it’s securely recorded for when it will be needed.
Your PA also keeps track of your calendar. At any time you can ask what’s next today, and the information is there at your fingertips. When you want to take some unplanned time to focus on something that has just arisen, your PA knows immediately what discretionary time you have available before coming up against a genuinely immovable appointment.
When it’s time to make a few phone calls, your PA hands you a list of all the people you have to call, with the phone numbers and a reminder of what you’re planning to discuss. When you enter a meeting with someone, your PA hands you a list of just the things you need to talk to that person about. And when someone presents themselves at your desk, your PA ensures there’s a list to hand of all the things that person is expected to have done for you.
This is how you, the most important person in the room, get so much done. It’s how you always know the best thing to be doing next at any given moment. It’s how you are so effective. Other people secretly envy you. “If I had a PA like that”, they think, “maybe I could achieve a similar amount with my day”.
And as a result of having this PA, you don’t need to carry anything round in your head. When you’re in one meeting you’re not thinking about the next meeting. You’re fully present concentrating on what’s in front of you right now. And although you’re very busy, you’re not stressed. You’re doing one thing at once, and when you finish that you move to the next thing.
Having your PA by your side is like having an external brain that frees up your brain to concentrate on the important stuff. And they seem to be infinitely “scalable” – you can throw any amount of stuff their way and they stay calm and deal with it. Whether they are keeping track of a hundred things for you or a thousand things for you, you experience the exact same relationship. Meanwhile, you get to work on the most important things, one at a time, and to perform at your best.
Of course, this fantastic assistant of yours isn’t psychic. The only way your desires as CEO can be accurately reflected in all the lists of calls and tasks that the PA presents to you work through, is that once a day, for about 30 minutes, you sit down together and go through a simple exercise.
Your PA collects the notes they took throughout the day as you flung out ideas, and all the messages for you that have been handed to them from other staff members, and one by one you go through the pile together. For each item, your PA asks you some simple questions:
– what does this mean?
– what exactly needs to be achieved to resolve it?
– what is the very next action that will move it forward?
In some cases you’ll choose to delegate an action to someone (in which case your PA keeps track of it so the delegate can be reminded later), in some cases you are able to dictate a simple reply or perform an action there and then that takes less than two minutes, but some of these issues can’t be put to bed there and then and so the response will involve adding something to your list of calls to make, or your lists of things to bring up next time you meet with a particular staff member.
Note that the decisions are all yours – your PA merely assists with what is actually a quite mechanistic process. When you’ve been through all the list of recently arising stuff, you’re ready to rejoin the fray and go back to meetings, calls, or generally being maximally effective.
That half hour you spent going through all your stuff with the PA was when you were in “executive decision making” mode. Because you have the routine well-rehearsed, and you keep it disciplined, you and your PA can fly through a days’ worth of stuff answering the key questions in 30 minutes or less every day. Of course, this takes a bit of practice, but you’ve been doing it for a while now and you know exactly how it works. You’re a team.
Once a week you have a more in-depth meeting with your PA. Just the two of you, shut in a room for two hours with no disturbances, and together you stand back and look at the big picture:
– Are you getting through your tasks OK?
– How has the last week gone?
– What have you got coming up in the next couple of weeks?
– What about your goals – are you moving your overall agenda forward?
– Anything we need to tweak a bit? Things to put back so we can bring others forward?
This weekly review session is crucial for ensuring that your PA’s version of events matches your current thinking and the state of all the things you have going on.
When your workday comes to an end, you head home to enjoy a peaceful evening with your family. All the loose ends from the day are recorded, you know that tomorrow will be similarly under control, and it’s now time to unwind and just “be present” for the evening.
Just before you step through the door into your home, your PA hands you two lists and says goodnight. One list shows the things you wanted to remember to talk to your spouse or other family members about. The other is a list of things you thought you might like to read or take a look at this evening, your “at home” list. Neither of these lists have been on your mind at all during the day (you’ve been focused on the work of the day).
If any “work thoughts” do cross your mind during the evening, you simply note them down on a sheet of paper which you hand to your PA first thing next morning.
Can you imagine what it would be like to have a PA like that helping you to do your job? Maybe even being there at weekends to help you deal with domestic stuff too?
Imagine how clear-headed you could be, making decisions, knowing everything was captured so you didn’t need to carry anything round in your head.
Imagine how effective you’d seem to others if, in every situation, you always had a list to hand of just the things you needed to do in that context.
Imagine if you effortlessly kept track of all the things you’d delegated to others.
Imagine if nothing ever fell through the cracks.
But what if you didn’t actually need a PA by your side to have all the things described above? What if you could be that effective with nothing but a note pad, phone or laptop by your side?
Of course, you can. A well set up GTD® system, if used consistently, will support you in all the ways described above. It’ll take some practice, and some of the behaviours you’ll need to adopt may feel a bit strange at first, but over time you’ll come to trust your “external brain” to look after the things you don’t want to have to remember, and to make exactly what you need available when and where you need it.
Don’t you owe it to yourself to see how much better your day could be with this kind of support in your camp?