The Getting Things Done® (GTD®) methodology has helped countless busy people clarify their desired outcomes, make these concrete and visible, and hold themselves accountable to get the right things done. Groupware solutions attempt to foster the same objectives for teams. Unfortunately, they often create shared visibility at great cost to the individuals involved as they attempt to both find and update shared information in a fragmented landscape of web pages, files, and threaded conversations. Furthermore, this information is rarely clarified to the level of clear outcomes and next actions recommended by GTD.
As a result, it is critical to understand how one’s own GTD system can help maintain clear focus in an era of “digital climate change” as organisations increasingly shift the flow of information away from the email inbox and into groupware tools.
The following questions, as illustrated in the flow diagram below, can help to understand how the pieces fit together in a practical way:
If this is true, the groupware solution could constitute part or all of your trusted GTD system. Bear in mind having as few places to go as possible to answer questions like “What’s ahead on my calendar?” and “What should I focus on next?” as well as to conduct a weekly review is a key GTD practice.
If the groupware system can’t accommodate all of your needs for a personal productivity system, consider what amount of duplication you are willing to abide, and where the divisions might be between your personal system and the groupware system. For example, Salesforce opportunities might represent some or all of a Projects list for you.
Do people post information that is potentially actionable for you, which does not exist elsewhere?
If so, in GTD terms, this is an Inbox for you. You need to check this regularly to capture the raw inputs and create clarified outcomes and next actions in your trusted system. You may process this information directly from this into your system, or you may prefer to have an intermediary (such as emailing yourself or jotting a note and placing it in your physical inbox).
Do you engage in meetings or conversations that can result in next actions or projects for you or others?
Once again, this is an Inbox for you if so. Take notes or otherwise “extract” the actionable commitments from each meeting, then clarify the outcomes and next actions in your trusted system. Once again, you may process this information directly from this into your system, or you may prefer to have an intermediary (such as emailing yourself or jotting a note and placing it in your physical inbox).
Does the system contain information useful for completing one or more next actions you have on your next action lists?
This contains Action Support information for you if this is true. You need to reference this information in the next action you have defined in one of your context lists, in a similar manner to Project Support as above.
Do one or more teams to which you belong contribute shared information related to specific projects?
If so, this contains Project Support information for you. You need to reference this information in the outcome you have defined on your project list. This could be through an integration or simply by pasting in a URL or making a note (“see such-and-such folder in Dropbox”)
Do you make structured requests to others through this system (e.g. like a ticket tracker)?
If you do, this represents Waiting-For Support information. You need to reference this information in the waiting-for item you have defined in your waiting-for list, in a similar manner to Project Support and Action Support above.
Does the system contain information relevant to your time-specific activities?
If yes, this is a Calendar for you. You may want to find a way to consolidate or integrate it with any other calendars you keep, so that ideally you are going to as few places as possible to know what is coming up and to conduct your weekly review.
Do you hold regular meetings for which you would like to keep an ad-hoc agenda of topics to raise?
If you do hold meetings in groupware, these meetings can be aided by keeping an Agendas list in your GTD system, capturing topics you might want to raise as they occur to you rather than trying to brainstorm topics just before the meeting begins. Also, as above, any actionable next steps that result from the meeting need to get back into your trusted GTD system as clarified outcomes and next actions as soon as possible.
Do people contribute shared general information that is useful from time-to-time?
If so, in GTD terms this is General Reference. It is not tied to a specific project or action, but can be useful when needed. Agreeing upon some standards about how information is labelled and stored can help you to minimise time spent searching for reference information.
Having a greater understanding of how the pieces fit together between a trusted GTD system and a company groupware solution can help you make sense of how these two can interact optimally, and more importantly how you can meaningfully relate to them in a productive way.
In part two of this article, we will move on to look at best practices for managing information in a groupware system so that it is optimally compatible with your GTD practice.