How to Use GTD to Work with Your CollaboratorsAUTHOR: Francisco Sáez
GTD is primarily a personal management tool, but that doesn’t mean that the methodology doesn’t cover your relationship with other people or entities from an organizational point of view. It does, and it does it very well.
In reality, there are only three types of issues that you need to manage in your relationship with others:
- Someone asks you to do something.
- You need someone to do something.
- You need to address some issue with someone.
GTD allows you to deal with this kind of inputs in the most effective way possible, without either overreacting or overlooking them when they appear, helping you maintain excellent relationships with your collaborators. Let’s look at the cases one by one.
1. Someone asks you to do something
Your partner asks you to buy something at the supermarket when you leave the office, a friend asks you to do him a favor, your boss asks you to solve a problem, a customer asks you for an improvement in a service you offer, a colleague asks you for help in a Slack conversation… That’s how your days are, right?
These types of things happen all the time and your reaction to each of these issues should be to capture it immediately (it may not be necessary because some things capture themselves, such as requests sent by email) and continue with what you were doing.
This is a capture like any other. The item is already in your system and you will clear it up at another time soon, so don’t pay too much attention to it at the moment.
When the time to clarify it comes:
- You will define exactly what the next action to be performed consists of in order to have a clear idea of the scope of the work, in case you want to do it.
- Decide whether you are committed to doing it or not. If you aren’t going to commit, you remove the item from your system (and communicate this to the requester, which may be another action to capture if the refusal requires some writing and argumentation work, or if it’s something you’re going to do at another time).
- You may not want to or be able to commit to doing it now, but you may be able to do it later. In this case, you will incubate the request in the Someday/Maybe list (the requester should also understand and accept this decision, as you may need another action to respond). You will review this list every week (in the Weekly Review) and evaluate whether it’s already a good time to carry out the work, or you should continue to keep it on hold, or the time has come to reject it definitively.
- If you commit to doing it, you should put a reminder in your Next Actions list to do it as soon as possible, or in your Calendar, if it’s something that must be done on a certain day.
- It may be that you commit to doing it, but you’re not the one doing it personally. Then you will delegate the action to someone else (we will go through this in the next section).
If you have committed to do the work and with the action you defined you’re still not going to achieve the desired outcome, you will have to add a new project to your Project List to remind yourself that there are still things to do. Remember that in GTD your projects are the results you want to achieve, they are not your company’s projects (they probably correspond more to a task assigned to you in a company project).
2. You need someone to do something
It may be something that someone has previously asked you to do, or it may be your own need that is better fulfilled by another person or entity. You have bought a piece of furniture online that needs to be delivered by a home delivery company; a client has asked you for something but, as you lack the necessary resources at the moment, you are going to outsource the job to a freelancer; your accountant needs to calculate the tax payment for this quarter, etc.
The first thing is to capture it (in GTD, everything starts with a capture). In this case, you have already committed to carry out the action so, at the moment of clarifying you only have to write down a reminder in the Waiting For list indicating the person or entity responsible for completing the action and the date you delegate the action.
When you put the reminder on your Waiting For list, write down all the information you need for when it’s time to follow up on the task (at least, the responsible person’s phone number or email, and the due date, if there is one). You should review the Waiting For list at the appropriate frequency (at least at the Weekly Review), check that the tasks are progressing properly, and reclaim anything that has stalled.
If the task to be delegated is somewhat complex, before putting it on the Waiting For list you will probably need to effectively delegate the task. To do this you will need one or more actions in which you will collect, detail and send all the necessary information to the person or group of people who must carry it out.
3. You need to address an issue with someone
If you use GTD, you don’t bother a person every time you need an answer or want to comment on an issue. That would be an ineffective management of your work, which would be plagued by interruptions, and also would be to the detriment of the other person, who would see their workflow constantly interrupted. That way of working, often disguised in the corporate misuse of communication tools (email, Slack etc.), is too widespread and anything but productive.
When something comes to your mind that you need to ask or discuss with someone, you capture it (surprise!) and at the moment of clarifying it, you note down a reminder in that person’s Agenda list 1. This list contains the subset of your Next Actions to discuss with the same person, so that when you meet with them (formally or at the coffee machine, in person or via Skype), you can have all the pending issues at hand and get them completed.
This is a clear example of batch processing where interactions with others are managed effectively.
1 If you use a software tool such as FacileThings, you would add the reminder to the Next Actions list including a person’s tag, which will allow you to generate that person’s Agenda automatically.
Collaborative work at the company
When you hear about “collaborative work”, you usually think of software tools designed to allow a team to share projects, tasks and documents related to them. Your company probably uses a communication tool such as Slack or Teams, and a project management tool where company projects can be defined and shared, and tasks can be assigned to the right people.
Although you may be tempted to “take advantage” of these tools that your company makes available for you to implement your GTD system, this is generally not a good idea. These tools are not designed to support the GTD methodology or your personal needs. They cannot replace your GTD system, nor do they disable it. You just have to integrate them properly as part of your personal productivity system.
In the end, GTD is what allows you to clearly identify your desired outcomes, define the next actions that will help you achieve them, and organize your personal reminders so that you can be doing what you should be doing at every moment.