Getting Things Done - GTD

Gaining Control Through Organization

AUTHOR: Francisco Sáez
tags Organize Work-flow
"For every minute spent in organizing, an hour is earned." ~ Benjamin Franklin

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Gaining Control Through Organization

Given the large number of things that can attract our attention throughout the day, and given their variable and often ambiguous nature — tasks, information, ideas, messages, emails, conversations, memories, thoughts, things to be determined —, it becomes necessary to have a kind of extended mind that allows us to release the pressure from our head so that it can devote itself to more productive things.

Achieving this extension of the mind is no easy task. It requires a good understanding of the different nature of the things we deal with every day and the configuration of an efficient system, with a solid organizational structure.

At this point, I think most people understand that being organized is a good thing. At the very least, we all sense that disorganization works against us in some way. In the long run, any inefficient system will easily drain our energy.

There are many things you can do at certain times and in certain contexts, with very little effort, that you won’t be able to do if you are not well organized. Most likely, at those times your priorities will be others, but if you don’t have a complete inventory of the things you can do in each situation, you won’t even have the option to choose (or, for example, to take advantage of the 20 minutes you’re going to be waiting in the car for your child to get out of school).

So what does it mean to be organized?

Being organized is not something that can be achieved with a one-time effort. As soon as you achieve good personal organization, you start to lose control again because the world keeps spinning and things keep happening. This needs to be understood because, for many people, not achieving a state of “permanent” good organization means a stress that makes them abandon any further attempts to improve their personal management.

A good organization needs a whole operating system in which you must first capture everything that catches your attention, and then you must determine its meaning and decide what you are going to do with it. Organizing things that you have not captured is impossible, and organizing things that you have not clarified correctly is a futile job.

According to David Allen, creator of the Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology,

“Being organized simply means that where things are suits what they mean to you”.

To manage your stuff most efficiently and with the least effort, you need things to be in the right place, i.e. where it makes sense to you for them to be. If an instruction document is not where you usually go to look for such documents, then you are disorganized. If the list of calls to be made is not accessible when you have time to make calls (for example, waiting for your child in the car), then you are disorganized.

Therefore, being organized is a very personal concept. Only you can define what “being organized” means to you.

According to this definition, tidiness doesn’t necessarily mean organization. A person can be very tidy and yet not have certain things in the right place. Similarly, another person’s office might be a complete mess and know that everything that has a specific meaning can be quickly located in a specific place.

The concept of organization implies establishing a relationship between the meaning of things and their location. The problem is that things change meaning over time. What was unimportant a month ago may be critical today. What yesterday was an interesting document, today is something that should be in the wastebasket.

Here’s a sad truth: Getting back to being disorganized is just a matter of time. You have to assume that being organized is not a one-time occurrence, but rather requires a sustained effort.

The meaning of things is key

If you try to organize things before you have clearly defined their meaning, then the results will be very frustrating. There is a reason why the first three stages of GTD have a strong sequential relationship: First you capture things, then you clarify what they are and then you organize them.

If you go to a meeting at work and end up with a sheet full of notes, how can you organize those notes? A sheet of notes is not something “organizable” by itself. It probably contains several things of a different nature whose meaning needs to be clarified. Some notes will be tasks you will have to perform (or delegate), there may be a new project to plan, and some of the notes will be information you will need to use later. There will also be notes that you can drop.

The same goes for your emails. They each have their own nature. Also, a single email may contain several different elements, such as meeting notes, which you will have to identify, define and extract.

If you want to be organized you can’t treat a sheet of notes as a whole. Nor can you treat all emails as items in the same category (the inbox of your email program). Nor can you use a to-do list where you put everything you have to do.

Being organized means having everything in its place, and for that, each place must have its meaning. This is the only way to be in control.

Francisco Sáez

Francisco is the founder and CEO of FacileThings. He is also a Software Engineer who is passionate about personal productivity and the GTD philosophy as a means to a better life.

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