How I Get Things Done – Part 4

Be very sad, this is the last post of the How I Get Things Done series.


I am combining two parts into one post, because they are both fairly short. So, here is a recap:

We captured all the open loops

We processed the captured item

Into our organization system


The next piece is the Review process. The review process for me happens every week and once a month. Every Monday morning the first thing I do is run through my review checklist. I accomplish lots of stuff with this meeting. The main point of the review meeting is to check in with my systems, and make sure that everything is running smoothly and that things are updated:


Any unprocessed items get caught. I empty all my inboxes and capture tools completely, which can be hard to do in an ongoing way. I also have lots of tasks that reoccur every week that I add to my to-do list during this meeting. I review every project sheet, and decide which of the next actions for each needs to be worked on this week. I also plan out the week. Once I have all the tasks created that need to be done for the week, I assign them to a day when they can get done. The best examples of this are:


-Work outs


-Budget reviews


Things that need to be done every week, but I can change when they happen each week, based on what is going on that week.


I also do this process once a month. It is the same process, but at a different level. There are tasks that I only do once or twice a month and I schedule those out on the first Monday of each month.


After all this organization, it is time to DO.

The biggest benefit to an organization system like this is that, it allows you to forget what you have to do, so you can focus on doing. This phase is where the whole process comes together. David Allen says it best:


Capture everything that has your attention (Collect)

Make decisions about what it means and what you are going to do about it (Process)

Park those decisions in trusted places (Organize)

Step back to reflect on those choices from a clear, current, and creative place (Review)

So that you can make the best action choice (Do)


There are three types of work that we all do each day, and it is useful to mention them to get you thinking.


Doing Pre-defined Work

This is going to your to-do list, selecting the next item in line, and doing it.


Doing Work as it Appears

These are new things that show up. The most common is the things that take two minutes or less, so they never make it your system, because you just DO it when it happens.


Defining Work

This is working in your organizational system. Defining work is when you are capturing, organizing, or storing open loops.


I have said it before and I will say it again: Organization, and the subsequent productivity, is a mental process. The main idea I want you to understand about the DO phase is all about controlling your brain. All the cool apps, programs, and planners won’t do anything without the mental discipline to use them in a cohesive format.


I hope this has helped you, or at least made you start thinking about that, when you stop letting work control you and you start controlling it, AMAZING things can happen!

How I Get Things Done – Part 3

Today we are going to ORGANIZE! My favorite past time…


You might be asking yourself, “Andrew, I have captured all this data and am processing it regularly, but I am still confused on where I am processing items TO?”


Excellent question my friend, let’s discuss that! Here are the places that literally ALL of my data is stored. If it isn’t in one of these places, it doesn’t exist to me (or at least, it’s not my data, e.g. client files are stored in another system that isn’t mine).



Yes, Outlook is a capture tool AND an organization tool. I use email, contacts, tasks, and calendar functions in  Outlook to manage my day to day to workflow. But I use them all differently:



The calendar obviously is where I store things that happen at a specific day and time, like appointments. This is the obvious move and seems like a “duh” thing to say. But I challenge people to think about an appointment as an open loop, which is exactly like a task. The only difference between an appointment and a “to-do” item like ‘Prepare Joe Blow’s Tax Return’ is that, the appointment HAS to be done on a particular day at a specific time. That is what the calendar is for. Maybe you have tasks like “Run Payroll”, which would normally sound like something that you just add to your to-do list each week. But guess what, that has to happen on a specific day of the month, so that your employees get paid on the right day. So this item does not go in your task list, it is stored on your calendar.


Short version: Appointments and tasks are both open loops, the only difference is, how much flexibility you have in accomplishing.



Tasks are used to create a to-do list or ‘next action list’. I group my tasks in Outlook based on the due date. In my world “due date” is a misnomer. It is not the date that the task must be completed; it is the day that I am planning to do the work. I never have over-due tasks. If you have an overdue task, what you are basically saying is, “I didn’t do this, and I don’t have any idea when I am going to do it”. That is an open loop that will rob your brain of energy. This is not to say that I always complete every task on my list for the day. In fact, I rarely do. But at the end of each day, and throughout the day, I change the due dates to reflect when I think I will have time to get it done.


When this is done properly, you end up with a simple to-do list each day. So when you finish a task, you can very quickly and easily figure out what to do next. No more searching, remembering or deciding what to do. All the processing was already done, which means you can focus on cranking through tasks! And you can do it without worry, because you know your system captured and processed all your other tasks and you have faith that, because of the systems, when it needs to happen it will appear on your to-do list!



I use Workflowy to store my weekly and monthly review checklists (more on this later) and my project sheets. It is a create outline type format that is very intuitive to navigate. Anything that is an idea or another step on a project, as opposed to a one-off task, those items get moved to Workflowy. A project is going to be anything that requires more than one task item, or has precursors. You can’t track projects on your to-do list. My project sheets are very simple. I have three sections: Vision, Notes, and Next Actions. And yes, they are each exactly what they sound like. The Next Actions is basically a list of tasks and during my weekly review meeting, I will move whatever items that need to get done that week to my to-do list.



DropBox is amazing and I love it. You should use it, seriously. I use DropBox in a pretty simple manner. It is my primary project reference folder. This means that, while the project sheet is stored in Workflowy, any supporting documents (pdfs, word docs, excel files, media files, etc) for a project is stored in a folder on the DropBox. I have a folder for each project and everything is just dumped in there.


This is also my permanent archive for personal files. Old pictures, files, and every piece of digital flotsam I have accumulated in my life are stored in another archive folder there as well.


Server Drive

We have a server at our office that we can all access. I use this as the primary storage for anything non-project specific. Tax reference manuals, marketing materials, procedures manuals, etc. are all stored in this area. It is also where I have my  long-term work archive folders.


And that is pretty much it! Some things to note: Evernote is a capture tool for me, not a work organization tool (yet). Which means that, while I capture and clip things from all over into Evernote, they typically get moved somewhere else. Currently I only keep personal items stored and organized in Evernote.

How I Get Things Done – Part 2

In my last post I explained the capture tools I use to make sure I capture all the ideas, tasks, and information that I come across. But without a robust processing methodology, the capture tools would be useless. Capture tools only work as a quick way to get ideas down. They cannot be used to organize or sort items. Often there isn’t enough time to take an idea and assign a due date, or add it to the proper project sheet or to completely flesh the idea out. This is why capturing and processing must be done separately.

I use the processing method described specifically by David Allen:

What is it?

Is it Actionable?

Less than 2 minutes – Do it

More than 2 minutes – Defer it, delegate it

No? – Archive it or trash it


Mr. Allen goes into great detail on the ins and outs of this processing; this is just the simplified version. I don’t want to go into all the details here, as this is meant to be a summary of what I do, not GTD itself. I highly encourage you to buy, read and use David Allen’s book.

More important to my personal system is, how and when I do the processing. The main purpose of capture tools is to quickly get things out of your head so you can stop interruptions and stay focused. This is why processing must also be done at intervals and not on an ongoing basis; otherwise, the whole process of capturing to stay focused fails. Here is how and when I do processing of my capture tools.

Physical Inbox

Once a day, typically at the end of the day, I empty and process my physical inbox. I open the mail, deposit checks, pay bills, sign documents, review statements, etc. It usually takes less than 20 minutes for me to process my physical inbox. Occasionally, my physical inbox will generate tasks or information for projects, which I will add to my to-do list or project sheet as appropriate. It is important to note that “processing” is not the same as doing the work.

Outlook and outlook Inbox

My Outlook tasks do double duty as a capture tool, as well as being my active to-do list. As such, I occasionally must process it. If I have captured several tasks that need to be done during the day, I might not be able to complete them all that day. I process my to-do list a dozen or more times a day, typically after I finish any tasks. Before selecting the next thing to work on, I process my to-do list to make sure that I am doing the highest priority item first.


I try to process my email inbox as little as possible during day, but this is the most distracting item in my entire system, which I am sure you can all relate to! One thing I did was, turn off the system tray pop-ups that let me know when an email comes in. I try to stick to a five times a day schedule: first thing in the morning, mid-morning, mid-day, mid-afternoon, and just before the end of the day. I use just three folders in my outlook, which greatly simplifies the process. If the item needs a reply that takes less than two minutes, I will reply immediately. If the reply or task takes longer than that, I will create a task and move the email to the “follow-up” folder. If it is something that I might need for a project in the near future, but does not require an immediate action on my part, I will move it to the “Hold” folder. If the email is from an employee, client, or someone I know I move it to the “Archive” folder. Everything else is deleted. I have recently started the system of using one large Archive folder and simply searching it to find things when I need them. I have found this is DRAMATICALLY more efficient than pretending my inbox is a file cabinet and making dozens and dozens of folders to try to store old emails in.


I process my Evernote inbox two to three times a day. I follow a system similar to my Outlook inbox. If it takes less than two minutes, I do it immediately. Other items I will either create a task for add it to my project lists. Evernote also captures a great many things that I simply want to review or read, so I tag them ‘Need to Read” and move them out of the Inbox Notebook to be read when I have quiet time later. I do have a great many more tags and about five other notebooks in Evernote to store my personal items, but in the interest of keeping this post more simple suffice it to say that I do not always apply the same rigor to things that interest me personally as I do to my job. If I forget to read or look at a post about a cool car, it really isn’t the end of the world. I make it a point to never forget to do client work!


That pretty much does it for how I process items. Next post I will cover the organizational tools I use.


How I Get Things Done – Part 1

In the coming weeks I will be teaching a couple different groups of people how to stay organized and be more productive. To make sure that I was on point in these lessons, I gave my systems a thorough review and brushed up on my GTD knowledge. I figured since I did all the work to review it, I would share the updated version of my personal organizational system here. Business owners have so many demands on their time, staying organized (and therefore productive) is probably the single greatest skill they can learn. All the other things that make a business successful come as a by-product of having the time, energy, and mental clarity that focused and organized work provides.


My personal system is based on the GTD model (Capture, Process, Organize, Review and Do), so I am going to lay out the tools and methods I use for each of the GTD steps one by one.



The first part of the GTD system is to capture all the information, ideas, tasks, and projects that you encounter during the course of the day. I use several tools:



I use Evernote as my primary capture tool for personal things and as my primary capture tool when I am not physically in my office. I keep the android App on the home screen of my phone so, a voice note, picture note, or typed note are all only one tap away. The work tasks are processed out to my Outlook Task list regularly, but the personal items I keep in Evernote for my personal review. I also use different tags and notebooks to keep my personal hobbies and reading organized.



At my office, we use an Exchange server (I know, I know…) and use Outlook to manage the workflow. I use the tasks in Outlook religiously to govern all my tasks and next actions. I use it to organize my work by the day I plan to get the tasks done. The Ctrl+Shift+K shortcut is my best friend at the office. Whenever someone stops by my office with a request or I get an email, or an idea I immediately Alt+Tab to Outlook and use the Ctrl+Shift+K shortcut to create a task to capture it.


Physical Inbox

I do have a physical inbox in my office, but I almost never use it. My staff will put my mail there and things that I need to sign, but I very rarely use it to capture anything myself.


Outlook Inbox

I do keep some emails in my inbox, as a secondary “to-do” list. I typically only allow emails to accumulate here if creating the tasks for the follow-up will take longer than the actual follow up. I always clean out my inbox to zero at the start and end of the day.


That does it for my capture tools. Next we will look at processing methods!