Getting Things Done

When organizing events your to-do list seems endless. Your mailbox overflows and you don't know what to do first. How to handle all those tasks on time? Kevin asks it to bestselling author David Allen who wrote the book 'Getting things done'.

Kevin Van der Straeten
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When organizing events your to-do list seems endless. Your mailbox overflows and you don't know what to do first. How to handle all those tasks on time? I ask it to bestselling author David Allen who wrote one of my favorite books 'Getting things done'.


Hi David! Welcome in our studio!


Glad to be here Kevin.


As an event organizer you have a huge to-do list. And it’s hard to manage everything on time. But can you explain how to make sense of all the mess in that to-do list?


Well, a key element is to get all the mess out of your head and to get it out in front of you. If you feel like if you are still missing something but you can’t remember what it is then it is very hard for you to be trustworthy in terms of your choices about what you are doing. So getting that inventory getting clear and out of your head, you know you head is for having ideas not for holding them. If you are still trying to manage any of your worlds with your psyche instead of assistance, you are going to be lost.


And how do you handle that? How do you get it out of your head but don’t forget about it?


Write it down. You know, that’s simple. Or you can type it out. You know, somehow you need to get it out of your head. The scientists now call that “distributed cognition”, fancy word for “get it out of your head”, get it somewhere else. Now that’s step one. But that’s a very important step which is to do, what we call the “capture” or “collect” mode, which is to get everything that has your attention. Anything that is not on as we say “cruise control”, anything at all, I mean “buy cat food” or “I got to call this vendor” or “I need to handle this”, all of that stuff as well as all of the emails and all of the inputs and things that you’ve collected. And if you haven’t yet decided about the process, all that needs to be you know, cohesively kept or captured in some trusted place.


That’s the first step. And what’s next?


Next is to go through each one of them and say what exactly I am going to do about it if anything. What’s the outcome and what’s the action? Type in to this. And you know, that doesn’t… those don’t show up by themselves. Next actions as well as what you are trying to produce don’t show up as nice clear things. You actually have to think. I know that’s bad news but you actually have to think. And thinking is hard. It takes time to actually think. That’s why it takes a good hour a day on the average for people just to collect and to then process or clarify all the new incoming stuff that’s coming up them. And when people don’t take time to do that you have this big map backlog of unprocessed stuff that you start to accumulate and that just sucks energy out of your brain and it sucks energy out of your life and it makes it very difficult to feel confident about the choices that you do make.


And if, for example, email that’s a clear example, if an email comes in, how do you decide whether to keep it on your to-do list or just do it directly?


Well, the old two minute rule, if you can finish something in two minutes when you first look at it you can do it right then because it will take you longer to organize it and then look at it again and you would be actually finishing it. But anything longer than two minutes, you might want to make a choice about how long I really need to part that in to action folder or somewhere that I get it out of the in basket so I’m not confused in having to rethink it again but I do know that I do need to take action on it. So a very simple way to do that is to create some sort of an action folder in your navigator or reference files in your email and move it over there. That’s dangerous though of course because out-of-sight, out-of-mind and often time people don’t open there action folder. And you never get one or two screen folds in your email find. You can just use it as kind of a reminder if you think you are not going to get to them soon enough. But most people have hundreds if not thousands of backlog emails and that starts to become, it’s like kind of having a house with plumping that just backs up on you. And you don’t find it and you don’t want any more to be there.


Indeed. What are the other problems to dos is: “I’ll do it tomorrow” and you put it away and then tomorrow in your inbox it pops up again.


If I coach people and then it’s nothing but things and flags and whatever and you know they lose the value of it pretty fast because you don’t really pay any attention to it. The problem is when you are thinking about things you are only thinking about one thing at a time. And when you are only thinking about one thing it’s seems not clear, it seems not what I need to do with it but what most people don’t have is a system that they can see all of the things that they haven’t finished thinking about and that represents what we call “open loops”. So getting that whole inventory, back to what I said to begin with, is really really critical to begin with. And everybody if you haven’t captured and then objectified and then have in front of you, all of your projects and all of the actions you need to take, you will always overcommit. And once you get that inventory it’s still not easy and you still have to make hard choices about, “ok which one of these is going to be the highest pay off if you actually do it?” So you still have to make priority choices but it comes from a very different place that is much more controlled and much more focus when you have the whole inventory in front of you.


And what about people who keep postponing things?


You have to be careful about that because if the reason you didn’t do it was because other things showed up that were unplanned, if those happened to be more important than what you had on your list that’s just good smart self-management. If you are avoiding it because you just don’t want to look at it or you are scared or you are afraid that you don’t know how to do it well, sure that’s procrastination. And then it comes back to well, how important is the thing? What’s the risk of not doing it? You know, it’s always good to ask yourself, what’s the pay off if I do this or what’s the risk if I don’t do this? And then you know, deal with that, you know, self-management issue.


But there’s no problem with taking things in? And then work as they go?


No. Life’s like that. You know, many times I have hold days, I don’t do anything on my action list because you know, I’m surprised, usually is good news. You know a funny thing showed up or I want to take a nap or I want to have a beer or whatever they are not in my calendar and not on my list. You know I just feel like doing them when I feel like doing them. The good news about maintaining the system I maintain is that I can do those safely because I say: “I want to take a nap and can I afford to do that? Or I want to take a beer; can I afford to do that? Let me look”. And so I look at all the stuff that I could potentially be doing and I say no, beer is better or nap is better. Then that’s a good choice. So it’s really all about how conscious are you about all the things you are committed to. You can only do one at a time. So either feels good about what you are doing or you feel bad about all the things that you are not doing. But you are still doing one thing at a time so it depends on your attitude and your altitude. The way to get that right is to make sure you can see the whole thing and then just ask yourself those kinds of questions. See there are no interruptions Kevin, there are only mismanaged inputs.


And what do you mean with that?


You either should be getting that input or you shouldn’t. If you shouldn’t don’t get it. Stop it. If you should, you should. You just need to then evaluate that against all the other stuff you have to do. The problem is most people don’t trust their own systems to be able to put place holders or bookmarks on all of their work at hand so then they can focus and then you can rapidly focus. You can multitask but you can refocus quickly as long as you have place holders at some part of your trust. I’ll know where to pick that up when I turn back to it. So most people don’t trust their own system so they feel like they have to handle the interruption right then and then they feel bad that the interruption disturbed their lives. Now, that’s their accountability.


If people want to know more about this subject they can read your books I suppose or you also give trainings?


We do trainings, we do coaching, and we have lots of stuff on our website: Lots of stuff on internet.


Ok. So we can overlook on your website. We will put a link below the video so people can easily find it. So David, we really like to thank you for your time and for this interview.


It’s my pleasure Kevin. Good luck!


And you at home, thank you for watching our show. I hope to see you next time.