I read David Allen’s Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity about two years ago. Yes, it is a guru-ish productivity system, but it also helped me, a fundamentally lazy and disorganized person, to become extremely organized and productive.
Lawyers are at their best when they are free to think, and GTD is all about getting rid of the noise—all the things you have to do—so you can think. After two years, here are the bits of GTD that I find the most useful.
No, not just the plastic tray sitting on your desk, overflowing with paper. Capturing everything you have to do is central to GTD. I find it helpful to think in terms of inboxes, or collection points.
David Allen says to use as many inboxes as you need, but as few as you can get away with. I use two: a physical inbox (where I can dump index cards from my Hipster PDA, mail, and anything I have to scan, sort, file, or act on) and my email inbox. If you look around the web, you will see people using everything from notebooks to text files. Call me traditional.
The key to inboxes is to use them only to collect stuff. Once you take something out of the inbox, it never goes back.
The two-minute drill
When it comes time to process your inbox—that is, sort its contents into lists or file them where they belong—the two-minute drill comes into play. Anything you can do in two minutes or less, do it. If your inbox is full of emails that need two-sentence replies, send those replies.
For everything else, sort it into an appropriate to-do list.
Now, later, and waiting
GTD focuses on making smarter, more useful lists. Instead of a to-do list filled with things you cannot do now, separate your tasks into now, later, and waiting lists. In order to make sure that your now list is filled with things you can actually do, divide it up by contexts (home, computer, office, phone, etc.).
I use a combination of my weekly work planning template and Remember the Milk to keep track of my to-do lists. Remember the Milk is especially effective for deadlines, since it sense a useful reminder when I need it. However, I still like to be able to scribble on a paper to-do list, which is why I still have a paper work plan.
Why you should still read Getting Things Done
Those are my favorite parts, but Getting Things Done is well worth a read. Where many productivity systems are clogged with wishy-washy capital words (Personal Mission Statement), GTD is a practical guide for getting organized using nothing but pen, paper, and a few other basic office supplies, with as little effort as possible.
Just search “my GTD system” to see how flexible it is. People have implemented GTD using everything from Outlook to index cards. Once you work GTD into your workflow, you will be able to leave your office every day (or for a vacation) without worrying about what you have to do next, since your to-dos will be stored in your trusted system.
Then when you come back, you can get to work without missing a beat or wasting time “getting up to speed.”