Getting Things Done


A colleague recommended this book to me because I was seeing an adult client with ADHD. He also shared that he used the principles in this book to run a skills-teaching group for teens with ADHD, and that he uses this system himself. This recommendation came at a time when I was feeling particularly overwhelmed and overloaded at work, so I figured I would try to see if there was anything here that I could adopt so as to better inform my client about how it works while engaging in my own

A colleague recommended this book to me because I was seeing an adult client with ADHD. He also shared that he used the principles in this book to run a skills-teaching group for teens with ADHD, and that he uses this system himself. This recommendation came at a time when I was feeling particularly overwhelmed and overloaded at work, so I figured I would try to see if there was anything here that I could adopt so as to better inform my client about how it works while engaging in my own self-improvement.According to David Allen, we feel overwhelmed and distracted because we have too many commitments on our minds rather than taking action on them and/or filing them away in a system where we can revisit them as needed. These commitments remain in the category of unfinished business, or "open loops," which torture us and stress us out because we haven't figured out how to get rid of them. The first step, says Allen, is to take all the things we're supposed to be doing and collect them into a small number of physical or virtual in-baskets (e.g., a wire tray that sits on your desk plus your e-mail inbox). The number of receptacles for collecting unfinished business should be small, and the information in them needs to be processed regularly.Processing involves going through the items, one by one, and deciding what the next action step is on these items. Although it seems obvious, lots of stuff we need to do stays in never-never land because we never figure out, concretely, what the next step is. Sometimes there is no next step, in which case the item should either be trashed or filed (as reference, or as something to be taken care of at a later date). If there is a next step, you need to decide whether to do it (if it can be done in 2 minutes or less), delegate it (if someone else can do it), or defer it. Deferring an item may include placing it onto a category list, e.g., "calls," "at computer," "errands," "at office," "at home," "agendas" (for people and meetings), or "read/review." You should also keep a list of your ongoing multi-step projects, to be reviewed weekly, with "next steps" categorized into the above categories. Another system is a "tickler file" for things that need to be done on certain days. The tickler file is a drawer full of file folders that is subdivided into months of the year, with a file folder for each day on the calendar. This allows you to file tasks that will be done on days other than today. Your calendar is used only to mark appointments; if you clutter it with task reminders, it will get overwhelming.Once everything you have to do is thus organized, you start each day by looking at your calendar to get a sense of your appointments and what windows of time you have in between. You then review your tickler file for that day and your general lists of next actions (e.g., calls to make, things to do at the computer, errands, etc.) to think about what can be done today, where, and when. There's also the issue of choosing which actions to take in the moment, which involves evaluating your context (e.g., are you near a phone? are you near your computer? are you in the car and available for errands?), time available, energy available, and priority (i.e., out of all the options you could take now in this context, with this amount of time and energy available, which is the most important?). Another important aspect of this system is the weekly review. A time and place must be set aside once a week to gather loose papers and put them in the in-basket for processing, process any notes, action items, etc., review past calendar dates for actionable items, review upcoming calendar dates, document and categorize all open loops and their next actions, review project lists and evaluate what needs to be done, review next action lists, and review any additional checklists.Basically, this book felt like FLYlady for the office. It was an interesting experience for me, because whereas I can be a total slob at home and found FLYlady invaluable for working on changing that (with admittedly inconsistent commitment and progress on my part), I'm actually pretty on top of things at work for the most part. Although I wasn't formally following David Allen's system, I was intuitively using some of his ideas and applying them in my own way. That being said, I found many of his suggestions quite useful and even went out and bought myself a four-tiered tray to keep on my desk for in-box, processing, and out-box. This small change was surprisingly helpful and went a long way toward increasing my sense of control over what I have to do and decreasing my overwhelm. I also think that, for people who are struggling with staying on top of all the things they have to do, this system could be very helpful. But like any system, you need to be committed to following it. Sometimes, it comes down to whether you'd rather stress over making sure to take all your preventative steps to stay on top of things, or stress over having to scramble.

I think that adults who struggle with ADHD could consider trying this system out and seeing if it works for them. But I know that aspects of the system, and even the system as a whole, have been helpful for individuals without a diagnosis who simply want a system that keeps them organized.

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