The core process for mastering the art of relaxed and controlled engagement is a five-step method for managing the ever-present flow of experiences.
In every setting, there are five discrete stages that we transition through as we engage in reality and its consistent changes.
Getting into life, whether that’s in and around our living compartments or in nature, will include the five steps. Each of these has its own best practices and tools, and need to harmonize together with the rest, as a whole. This produces that wonderfully productive state of presence in progressing towards a worthy ideal.
Getting organized and setting priorities then happen as a result of applying these steps.
These procedures function together as a whole and using them to produce results, happens with ease.
The method is straightforward enough in principle and it is how we go about our work.
We (1) collect what has our attention; (2) clarify what each item means and what to do about it; (3) organize the results, which presents the options we (4) prepare to choose from and (5) engage with.
This is what we do when we need to get something under control and stabilize it for productive action.
The quality of our workflow management is determined by the weakest link in this five-phase chain. We strive to integrate all these links and support the process with consistent standards.
This is what each step means:
- Collect is about releasing mind stuff and recording it into the physical.
- Clarify exactly what each thing represent or decide what action, if any, to take about them.
- Organize the results to promote the value of thinking to be available in the appropriate context.
- Prepare using the contents consistently to keep lists and plans current, functional and accessible.
- Engage is about choosing what the next action is to progress towards completion .
This method gives that timeless sense of meaningful doing that is the essence of pleasant productivity.
The dynamics of these five steps requires understanding, satisfying techniques and the proper tools implemented to facilitate their functioning at an optimal level.
It’s important to know what needs to be collected and how to do that, so we can review and process it appropriately. We need to know that everything is truly thought through. Things to collect is stuff that generates actions to perform or represents something to decide about.
We collect and gather placeholders for, or representations of, all the things we consider to complete – that is, anything we think need to be different than it currently is. A purpose that we have any level of internal commitment to attain.
This is utilizing the human response ability.
Whatever we may notice, we have been a part of making it as such.
In order to manage this inventory of open loops appropriately, we need to collect it into placeholders.
These incubate desires until there is time to decide what, if anything, to do with them.
The purpose is that everything needed is collected somewhere other than in the short-term memory.
This is the process we go through to clarify what something is and what to do about it.
The outer ring of the workflow diagram shows the seven discrete categories of reminders and materials that will result from processing all stuff. Together, these make up a total system of organizing just about everything that is already in, or could be added to, our involvement with life, on a daily and weekly basis.
Next action categories
The next-action decision is central. That action needs to be the next physical, visible action for every possibility.
Awaiting reply: Everything we are waiting for others to do.
Calendar: Actions that need to be done at a specific time or on a specific day.
- Time-specific actions – appointments.
- Day-specific actions – things that require action on a certain day.
- Day-specific information – reminders.
Next actions list: Things to complete at our convenience. Any longer-than-two-minute action we have identified needs to be tracked somewhere. All the kinds of action reminders that need to be kept in appropriate lists, to be assessed as options for what we will do at any point in time. @Tool @Human @Place @Season
Active goals list
Desired results that can be accomplished within a year and requires more than one action step.
A target needs to be set up to remind us that some action is yet required to attain completion.
Rather than doing a project, we can only do action steps related to a goal. An active goal consists of certain marks to reach.
When enough of the necessary action steps have been specified, some situation will have been reached in alignment with our initial outcome, closely enough that we may call it “done”.
The list of goals is the compilation of targets we review to keep our next actions moving appropriately.
Plans and materials
For many of our projects, we will accumulate relevant information that we will want to organize by theme, topic or project name. Our active goals list will merely be an index. All of the details, plans and supporting information that we may need as we work on our various projects should be contained in separate file folders, computer files, notebooks or binders.
The best practice is to keep our set of references as simple as possible, consistently reviewed and clear.
It can be useful and inspiring to maintain an ongoing list of things we might want to do at some point. This is for everything that require something outside our current scope to attain. We’d like to be reminded of our possibilities at regular intervals. Skills to learn, things to try, places to experience, achievements to attain.
Other useful things to keep track of are: Books to read, recipes to try, seminars to take, weekend trips to take.
Things may have value as information without being actionable.
Plans, drawings, vendor information, menus .
These should be kept for retrieval as needed.
What’s important to know here is that reference should be exactly that, information that can be easily referred to when required.
This is where we take a look at all the outstanding projects and open loops, on a weekly basis. We need to have the opportunity to step back and review the entire picture of our lives and work from a broad perspective, as well as focusing in on details of concrete actions to perform, as needed, at appropriate intervals. This is the chance to overview all the defined actions and options we have to make decisions from. This methodology creates a coherent model for current and reviewed items in a coordinated way.
The weekly review
All projects, active project plans, next actions, agendas, waiting for and desires lists should be reviewed once a week. This enables the opportunity to ensure that our mind is clear and that all the loose strands of the past few days have been collected, clarified and organized.
This is the time to:
- Gather and process all stuff.
- Review of the system.
- Updating all lists.
- Getting clean, clear, current and complete.
The weekly review is a master key to maintain a standard of completeness, which brings confidence. This is done weekly, so we gain presence towards life.
The basic purpose of this workflow-management process is to facilitate good choices about what we’re doing.
This allows us to trust in our activity, which brings confidence, energy and effectiveness.
Three models for making action choices
When we have collected, clarified, organized and reflected on all our current commitments, our intuitive choices are better founded.
The four-criteria model for choosing actions in the moment
At any moment there are four criteria we can apply, in this order:
Context, time available, energy available, priority
The first three describe the situation we operate from and the fourth provides the values of the actions.
Context is what we have the capability to do at this time. Some actions require a specific location or having some productivity tool at hand, such as a phone or a computer. These are the first factors of what we can do in the moment.
Time available is essential to consider, so that the chosen action is actually completed.
Energy available decides what can be effectively completed. Some actions require a reservoir of fresh, creative energy, while others need more physical power.
Priority . Given the context, time and energy available, which action is most valuable? This is where we need to access our intuition.
The threefold model for identifying daily work
When we’re working in the universal sense, there are three different kinds of activities we can be engaged in:
- Doing predefined work
- Doing work as it shows up
- Defining the work
Doing predefined work means working from the next actions lists and calendar, completing what has previously determined to be done, or managing the workflow.
Doing work as it shows up:
When following these leads a decision is made; that these things are more important, than anything else, to complete now.
Defining the work entails clearing up the inbox, digital messages, meeting notes and defining projects into actionable steps. This activity will include identifying things that need to get done at some other time. Trust comes with the completeness of the lists containing things to complete.
The six-level model for reviewing your own work
It's required to know what the work is, to know what the priorities are. There are at least six different perspectives from which to define that. To use an appropriate analogy, this has a lot to do°with levels of perception.
Let’s start from Level 0
Level 0: Current actions
This is the accumulated list of all the actions available to complete.
Level 1: Current projects
Generating most of the actions are currently ongoing projects. These are the relatively short-term outcomes to achieve that requires multiple actions to complete.
Level 2: Journey
What we want to be experiencing in various areas of life, one to two years from now, will add another dimension to defining the work. Often meeting the goals and objectives will come with areas of focus and commitments. This is the journey that comes with our vision.
Level 3: Vision
Projecting three to five years into the future generates thinking about areas such as environmental trends, career and lifestyle, family, financial and quality of life aspirations. Decisions at this altitude generates goals and affects what the work is on many levels.
Level 4: Purpose and principles
This is the existential level which is the eternal perspective. This includes why all visions, goals, and actions exist. All activities derive from this and leads toward it.
The five phases of project planning
Relaxed control consist of three elements which are:
- Projects with clearly defined outcomes.
- Next actions required to move them towards completion.
- Reminders placed in a trusted system that is reviewed continuously.
The natural planning model
We’re intimately familiar with the most brilliant and creative planner available to us: the human brain.
When we’re planning, our mind goes through five steps to accomplish virtually any desired outcome:
- Defining purpose and principles : Clarify the primary purpose of the project and communicate it to everyone who needs to know it. Agree on the standards required for its actualization.
- Visioning completion : Envision success and consider everything that may result with the achievement.
- Generating ideas : Get all possible ideas, everything needed to take into consideration for completion.
- Organizing : Identify the important components, goals and deliverables.
- Recognizing next actions : Define all project aspects that can be moved on immediately, what the next action is for each part and who is responsible for what.
It’s beneficial to ask the why question. Most of the current activity can be enhanced at this top level of focus.
Here are some examples:
Why are you going to the next meeting?
What is the purpose of your task?
Why are you having friends over for dinner?
This is sensible reasoning, to know and to be clear about the purpose of any activity are prime directives for appropriate focus, creative development and cooperation.
The value of thinking about why
The purpose is probably specific enough when there is motivation, clarity, decision-making criteria, alignment and creativity.
Knowing why defines success
With clarity about the purpose of what is being done, comes knowing what success looks like.
It’s the primal reference point for any investment of time and energy.
Creates decision-making criteria
Given what is to be accomplished, when the purpose is defined, decision-making criteria is possible.
In each case, what to invest available resources towards comes down to what is to be accomplished.
Motivation requires knowledge of why something is to be done, a reason that it’s worth doing.
With knowledge of the real purpose for anything to be cone, it makes things clearer. A few minutes invested in defining the primary reason for doing something gives clarity of vision.
With knowledge of the underlying reason for any activity, it expands thinking about how to make the desired result happen.
Of equal value as prime criteria for success with projects are the standards and values.
A great reason for focusing on principles is the clarity and reference they provide for progress, how we want and need to cooperate to succeed. Where purpose provides the direction and energy, principles define the parameters of action and the criteria for excellence of conduct. This completes the statement "This will be successful as long as everyone…"
In order to most productively access our available resources, we need to have a clear picture of what the experience of success is like. Vision provides the actual state of the final result. This answers the question “What will the situation really be like when this project reaches completion?” and completes the statement “It would be amazing if…”
The power of focus
We know that the focus we hold in our minds affects what we perceive and how we perform. When we focus on an outcome, that focus may create ideas and thought patterns associated with the outcome.
Humans have the ability to envision images of success even when we have few reference points about what an event might actually look like and little experience of our own ability to make it happen. It’s easy to envision something happening if it has happened before, or when we have experience with similar achievements.
When we visualize a desired outcome, our minds work to generate and recognize solutions and methods to make it happen. Therefore, an important skill to hone is creating clear outcomes. To develop this powerful life skill, we need to continuously define what we’re trying to accomplish, on many levels, and consistently allocate resources toward completing the tasks. When we have the focus on a successful scenario, we usually experience enthusiasm and think of something unique and true about it.
A great way to get a good idea is to get lots of ideas. Once we know what we want to happen and why, the situation is ready for our creativity to generate ideas. When we focus on an outcome which is different from the current reality, we automatically start filling in the gaps. Ideas begin to come up in a seemingly random order. When writing things down or otherwise collecting them in some external way, we can gain a boost to the thinking. It also makes it possible to cooperate to reach the outcome together.
The great thing about generating ideas externally is that in addition to collecting the original ideas, it can help in generating many new ones. When we're actually doing something with the ideas, even if it's recording them for later evaluation, they usually come more freely.
This also helps to keep focus on a topic.
- The volume of thoughts available is the context for finding options and trusting the choices.
- Collect everything, even if something seems to be off topic.
- Go for quantity, the flow of ideas is most important.
- The primary criteria is inclusion and expansion.
- Let everything come that comes.
- Analysis and organization is handled when all the ideas have been collected.
There are some graphics-oriented techniques to help develop creative thinking about projects and topics.
They have been given names such as mind mapping, cubing and fish boning.
The basic premise remains the same:
Collect and express any idea and then later on figure out how it fits in and what to do with it.
Mind mapping is when you begin with a core idea presented in the center, with associated ideas connected as topics in a sort of free-form fashion.
When all ideas have been thoroughly generated, we will notice a natural organization is emerging.
Once we have all the ideas out and in view, we automatically notice natural relationships in the structure.
A plan identifies the smaller outcomes which can be naturally planned and structured.
This includes seeing components and subcomponents, sequences of events and priorities.
Questions to ask are:
What events need to happen to reach completion?
In what order do they need to occur?
What is the most important element to ensure success and completion?
Final stage of planning comes down to decisions about the allocation of physical resources to actually get the project moving.
The question to ask here is: What's the next action?
This kind of grounded reality-based thinking combined with clarification of the desired outcome forms the critical components for defining and clarifying what our work is and who is doing what.
A project is sufficiently planned for implementation, when every next action step has been decided on every front that can actually be moved on.
If the project has multiple components, each of them should be assessed appropriately by asking:
Is there something that anyone could be doing with this right now?
If the next action is someone else's, it still needs to be clarified and categorized as awaiting reply.
Time to collect all the stuff
There are very practical reasons to gather everything before you start clarifying it.
- It's helpful to have a sense of the volume of stuff you have to deal with.
- It lets you know where the end of the tunnel is.
- When you're clarifying and organizing, you want everything collected. Once you have all the things that require your attention gathered in one place, you'll automatically be operating from a state of enhanced focus and control.
It can be daunting to capture, in one location, at one time, all the things that don't belong where they are.
May even seem a little counterintuitive because for the most part most of the stuff was not and is not that important. That's why it's still lying around.
It wasn't an urgent thing when it first showed up and probably nothing's blown up yet because it hasn't been dealt with.
It's the business card you put in your wallet of somebody you thought you might want to contact some time. It's the little piece of techno-gear in the bottom desk drawer that you're missing a part for or haven't had time to install properly.
It's the printer that you keep telling yourself you're going to move to a better location in your office. These are the kinds of things that nag at you but that you haven't decided either to deal with or to drop entirely from your list of open loops.
But because you think there still could be something important in there that stuff is controlling you and taking up more of your energy than it deserves. So it's time to begin grab your in tray and a stack of plain paper for your notes and let's go.
The first activity is to search your physical environment for anything that doesn't permanently belong where it is, the way it is, and put it in your in tray
You'll be gathering things that are incomplete, things that have some decision about potential action tied to them. They all go into "in", so they'll be available for later processing.
What stays where it is
The best way to create a clean decision about whether something should go into the in tray is to understand clearly what stays where it is. Here are the four categories of things that can remain where they are, the way they are.
Includes anything you need to keep because you use it regularly.
Everything you can simply keep for information as needed
All tools and gear which is as it should be. Everything else goes into "in".
Many of the things you might initially interpret a supplies, reference material, decoration or equipment could also be have action associated with them if they are different than exactly as they need to be. For instance, materials and information that either are out-of-date or need to be organized somewhere else.
Those should go into “in”.
Likewise, if your supplies drawer is out of control, full of lots of dead or unorganized stuff. That's an incomplete that needs to be collected.
Are the mementos really something you still want to keep?
Is the furniture precisely the way it should be?
Is the computer set up the way you want it?
Is the artwork that you want on the wall?
Are the photos current ones?
Are the plants alive?
If you can't physically put something in the in tray, then write a note on a piece of letter sized plain paper to represent it.
For instance, if you have a poster or other piece of artwork behind the door to your office just write "artwork behind door" on a letter-sized piece of paper and put the paper in the in-tray.
If your initial gathering activity will collect much more than can be comfortably stacked in an in-tray. Just create stacks around the entry and maybe even on the floor below it.
You may already have some lists and some sort of organization system in place. Treat those lists and items as things to be processed, like everything else in. You'll want your system to be consistent and it'll be necessary to evaluate everything from the same viewpoint to get it that way.
Often in the capturing process you will complete some quick actions.
Start with your desktop.
Start piling those things on your desk into "in". Start at one end of your work space and move around dealing with everything you can come across.
As you go around your workspace, ask yourself if you have any intention of changing any of the tools or equipment there.
If anything needs changing, write a note about it and toss it into in.
Next tackle the desk drawers, if you have them, one at a time.
Is there anything that needs to be someplace else?
Any attention on anything in there?
Any actionable items?
If the answer to any of these questions is "yes", put the actionable item into "in" or write a note about it.
Continue working your way around your office, collecting everything sitting on the tops of cabinets or tables or counters that doesn't belong there permanently. Soon there will be stacks of reading material, mail reports and miscellaneous folders and support material for action and projects, collect it all.
Maybe there is reference material that you've already used and just left out. If that's so and if you can return it to the file cabinet or the bookshelf in just a second go ahead and do that. Be careful to check with yourself though about whether there is some potential action tied to the material before you put it away.
If there is, put it into in so you can deal with it later in the process.
Inside the cabinets
Now look inside the cabinets. What's in there?
These are perfect areas for stashing large supplies and reference materials, and equally seductive for holding deeper levels of stuff.
Sometimes there are collectibles and. nostalgia without meaning.
And if some of these areas are out of control and need purging and organizing write that on a note and toss it into "in".
Floors walls and shelves
Any catalogs, manuals or binders that are out of date or have some potential action associated with them?
Any attention on your pictures artwork plaques or decorations?
Anything tacked on the walls that doesn't belong there?
Anything on bulletin boards that needs action?
Any books that need to be read or donated?
Any piles or stacks of things on the floor?
How about the open shelves?
Add it to your in-tray.
Equipment, furniture and fixtures
Is there anything to do, or change about your office equipment, furniture or the physical space itself?
Do you have all the lighting you need?
Does everything work?
If there are actionable items, make a note and put it in "in".
If you're determined to get to a really empty head it's imperative you do it everywhere.
Once you feel you've collected all the physical things in your environment that need processing, you'll want to collect anything else that may be residing in your mental space
What has your attention that isn't represented by something already in your in-tray?
This is where the stack of plain paper really comes into play. I recommend that you write out each thought, each idea, each project or thing that has your attention on a separate sheet of paper.
Given how you will later be processing each item individually it's effective to collect each thing on a separate sheet. There is a discipline required initially to stay focused on one item at a time as you process it. So giving each thought its own placeholder, as trivial as it might seem, makes it that much easier and your first thought will seldom be the final content you’ll want to track about it , the desired outcome and the next action for it will be.
It will be handy to have these as discrete items to deal with as you're processing.
It will probably take you between 20 minutes and an hour to clear your head onto separate notes after you've gathered everything else.
You'll find that things will tend to occur to you in a somewhat random fashion.
Little things big things personal things professional things in no particular order. The intent is to go for quantity, you can always toss the junk later.
You've probably created quite a stack of paper in "in" during this procedure.
Mind collection list
To assist in clearing your head. You may want to review the following list, item by item.
Often you'll just need a jog to unearth something lurking in the back of your mind. When something occurs to you, write it on a piece of paper and toss it into "in".
Project started, requiring completion
Projects that need to be started
"Look into" projects
Commitments and promises to others
Others in organization
Communications to make/get
Initiate or respond to:
Social media postings
Other writing to finish/submit
Rewrites and edits
Conversation and communication
Meetings that need to be set / requested
Who needs to know about what?
Significant read / review
Forecasts / projections
Planning / organizing
Goals, targets, objectives
Current projects (Next stages)
Changes in facilities
Installation of new systems / equipment
Marketing / promotion
Policies / procedures
Hiring / letting go/ promoting
Filing and reference
Office / site
Space / arrangements
Maintenance / cleaning
To be set / requested
Training / seminars
Things to learn
Project started requiring completion Projects that need to be started
Projects, other organization
Commitments / promises to others Things to find out
Skills to practice / develop
Books to read / study
Licensing and degrees
Delegated tasks / projects
Completions critical to projects
Answers to questions
Decisions of others
Partner / spouse
Communications to make / get
Cards and letters
Social media postings
Home office supplies
Audio / video media
Filing and Records
Data storage / backup
Places to visit
People to visit
Family project / activities
Partner / spouse
Home / household
Heating and air conditioning
Lights and wiring
Kitchen supplies / equipment
Coaching / counseling
Answers to invitations
Projects / tasks
Completed by family / friends
Time for processing
When your head is empty of everything, personally and professionally, then your in-tray is ready for processing.
In addition to the paper-based and physical items in your in-tray, include any resident voicemails and all the emails from the inbox. Include also any items on your organizer lists, for which you have yet to define next actions.
Capturing is complete when you can easily see the outer edges to the inventory of everything that still has some of your attention in any way. I usually recommend that people transfer their voicemails onto paper notes and put those into their in-trays, along with any organizer notebooks they may have used, the contents of which often need significant reassessment.
If you've been given a digital application for anything other than calendar and contact information, I suggest you print out any task and to-do lists and put them in your in-tray. Emails are best left where they are, because of their volume and the efficiency factor of dealing with them within their own subsystem.
Getting the in-tray to empty
When you've done all the above, you're ready to take the next step. Of course, one of the main factors in liberation through collecting stuff to complete, is a processing and organizing methodology to handle it.
Your job now is to look at each item, decide what it is, what it means and what to do with it.
To get an overview of this process. You may find it useful here to refer to the workflow diagram:
The center column illustrates all the steps involved in processing and deciding your next actions. You will immediately see the natural organization that results from following this process for each item.
For instance, if you pick something and find you need to do something on a specific day, then immediately enter it in your calendar for that day.
The best way to learn this model is by doing.
These are the basic rules to follow:
- Process the top item first
- Process one item at a time
- Always process each single item.
Process the top item first
E ven if the second item down is seriously important and the top item is a piece of junk mail, you've got to process the junk mail first.
That's an exaggeration to make a point, because this principle is an important one:
Everything gets processed equally.
The verb process here means "decide what the thing is, what action is required and then dispatch it accordingly." You're going to get to the bottom of the tray as soon as you can anyway .
And you will process everything in there.
Process one item at a time
You must get into the habit of starting at one end and just cranking through items one at a time in order. As soon as you keep this rule and process more than what you may feel like processing, in whatever order, you will reach liberation.
Then you will have a functioning funnel which brings further liberation. When we trust everything incoming will be totally dealt with every day or two, we are free from incessant checking.
As long as you go from one end clear through to the other, within a reasonable period of time, it's the same.
The in-tray is a one way processing station.
Always process each single item
You may find you need to let go of a tendency to pick something up, without knowing exactly what you want to do about it, and then wander to another item further down the stack.
That item may be more attractive to you, because you immediately know what to do with it.
Thinking about the stuff we have accumulated may require a conscious effort to get ourselves to think.
The focus on just one item allows the decision-making to get through all the stuff.
This also liberates us from accumulating junk, because we attain awareness of it.
When we have cleared our incoming stuff from such items, it's easier to keep ourselves free from accumulating it.
Always process each single item
The first time you pick something up from your in-tray, always decide what to do about it and where it goes.
The in-tray is a one way processing station.
To decide on each item is to make sure that our mind and our energy is always set to live with presence.
The fundamental processing question: What's the next action?
You're going to deal with one item at a time and you're going to make a firm next-action decision about each one.
This is easy, it is a mindset to attain and it requires you to do some hard thinking.
Some of the time, the action will need to be determined.
On one item, for example, what is the next action?
Is there a need to get information from somewhere?
Does something need to be filled out?
To talk, call or send an email to someone?
To buy something?
If there's an action, its specific nature will determine the next set of options.
If there is no action
There will be three types of things in this category:
- Items to incubate
- Reference material
Y ou will have likely already tossed out a big pile of stuff. It's also likely that you will find items in "in" that include things which belongs in the trash, as you process your stuff. Processing all the things in your world will make you more conscious of what you are going to do and what you should liberate yourself from.
It's likely that, at some point, you'll come up against the question of whether to keep something for future reference. There are two ways of dealing with that:
- When in doubt throw it out
- When in doubt keep it
Either approach is fine.
You need to trust your intuition and apply some realistic thinking about your space.
You can easily keep as much material as you can accommodate.
Information needs to be what you need, when you need it and in the way you need it. Reference material needs to be specific and functional for the work that's important for you to do.
It deserves regular reviewing and cleansing, as well as more conscious filtering on the front end, as the input is being processed.
There will probably be things in your in-tray about which you will say to yourself "There might be something to do about this later."
Something you'd like to be reminded of when the time comes to start planning for it.
There are two options here:
- Write them on a someday / maybe list.
- Put a reminder of them in your calendar.
The point of all these incubation procedures is that they give you a way to let the items rest with some reminder of the possible action, at an appropriate time.
There will be things in the in-tray without an action, which may have value as potentially useful information about projects and topics.
You'll probably discover that there are miscellaneous things that you want to keep.
It needs to be easy quick and fun to file something away. For reference at a specific time. For reference when required
If you need to prepare a proper reference system, create a project and next action for it and decide when to do it, by putting it in your calendar.
Deciding the next action
This is perhaps the most fundamental practice of this methodology. If there's something that needs to be done about the item you have picked up then you need to decide what exactly the next physical action is. Next action means the next physical visible activity that would be required to move the situation toward completion.
Again, this is a mindset to attain. It's a skill. There will be some quick analysis and planning steps that need to occur in your mind before you can determine precisely what has to happen to complete the item, even if it's a fairly simple one.
The action step needs to be the absolute next physical thing to do.
T hese are physical, visible activities.
Until you know what the next physical action is, more thinking is still required before anything can happen before your appropriately engaged.
If you think the next action is to decide what to do, you need to think some more.
There's always some physical activity that can be done to facilitate your decision-making.
Often you just need some information before you can make a decision. That additional information can come from external sources, such as calling someone to get their input, or from internal thinking, such as drafting ideas about something.
Either way, there's still a next action to be determined in order to move the project forward.
Once you decide what the action step is
You have three options once you decide what the next action really is:
- Do it, if the action takes less than two minutes.
- Delegate it, if someone else is the most appropriate person to do the action.
- Defer it as an option for work to do later.
If the next action can be done in less than 2 minutes do it when you first pick the item up.
Even if the item is a low priority one, do it now if you're ever going to do it at all.
The rationale for the two-minute rule is it's approximately the point where it starts taking longer to store and track an item than to deal with it the first time it's in your hands. Adhere to the two-minute rule and see how much you get done in the process of clearing your in-tray.
If the next action is going to take longer than two minutes ask yourself. "Am I the best person to be doing it?"
If someone else is more appropriate hand it off to them and put it on your awaiting reply list.
This could be any of the following:
- Send the appropriate party an email.
- Write a note on paper and root the item out so that person.
- Send a text message or leave a voicemail.
- Add it as an agenda item on the list for your next real-time conversation.
- Have a direct conversation, either face-to-face or by phone, text or instant message.
It's likely that most of the next actions you determine for things in your in tray will be yours to do and will take longer than 2 minutes to complete. These actions will have to be written down somewhere and then organized in the appropriate categories so you can access them when you need to. For the moment go ahead and put Post-its on the pieces of paper in your in tray with the action written on them and add these to the pending stack of papers that have been processed.
You will now have dumped things, filed things, done a lot of 2-minute actions and handed off a number of items to others. You'll also wind up with a stack of items that have actions associated with them that you still need to do soon someday or on a specific date and reminders of things you're waiting on from other people. This pending group is made up of the actions you have delegated or deferred. It is what still needs to be organized in some fashion in your personal system.
Identifying the projects you have
This last step in getting to the bottom of "in" requires a shift in perspective from the single-action details to the larger picture, your projects.
Again, I define a project as any outcome you're committed to achieving that will take more than one action step to complete.
If you look through an inventory of actions that you have already generated, you'll recognize a number of things that are larger than the single action you have defined. There's still going to be something to do about it.
If the commitment requires additional action steps, then you'll need some placeholder to keep reminding you of actions you have pending, until you have reached completion.
So now you will need to make a list of projects. The purpose of this list is to ensure that you have got placeholders for all those multi-step Commitments
It just needs to be done at some point and it must be maintained. This is for reviewing where you are, where you want to be and to maintain a sense of control of your involvement with life.
Items to put on this list:
- Things to get or build for your home
- Hobbies to take up
- Skills to learn
- Creative Expressions to explore
- Clothes and accessories to buy
- Toys to acquire
- Trips to take
- Organizations to join
- Service projects to contribute to
- Things to see and do
Give yourself permission to populate this list with all the items of that type that have occurred to you so far.
You will probably discovered that simply having such a list and starting to fill it out will contribute to you coming up with all kinds of creative ideas. You may also be surprised to find that some of the things you write on the list will actually come to happen, almost without you making any conscious effort.
If you acknowledge the power of the imagination to foster changes in perception and performance, It's easy to see how having a someday / maybe list, could potentially add many wonderful adventures to your life and work. We're likely to seize opportunities when they arise, when we have already collected them as possibilities.
In addition to your in the tray, there are two rich sources for your someday / maybe list. Creative imagination and a list of current projects.
Make an inventory of current imaginings
What are the things you really might want to do someday if you have the time, resources and inclination?
Write them on your someday / maybe list.
Reassess your current projects
Now is a good time to review your projects list from a more elevated perspective.
That is, the standpoint of your job goals and personal commitments, and consider whether you might transfer some of your current commitments to someday / maybe.
If on reflection you realize that an optional project only has a chance of getting your attention in a few months or more, move it to this list.
Special categories of someday / maybe
Your interests Involve lots of possible things to do It can be fun to collect these on lists. For instance:
Food, recipes and restaurants to try
Things to do with your family
Books to read
Music to listen to
Movies to see
These kinds of lists can be a cross between reference and someday / maybe.
Using the calendar for future options
Your calendar can be a very handy place to park reminders of things you might want to consider doing in the future.