According to David Allen in When Office Technology Overwhelms, Get Organized we need “a system that creates space to think, to reflect, to review, to integrate and to connect dots” to put ourselves into “a productive state — the feeling that you’re doing exactly what you should be doing, with a sense of relaxed and focused control?” This allows us to sort out the “chaos of the workplace” and stay “focused on the most important things, as they relate to your goals, direction, values and desired outcomes. You must constantly recalibrate your resources to generate the best results, and to say “not now” to what’s less important.” However points out Allen, we must learn how to do this by following a “sequence of five events to optimize your focus and resources“:
• Capture everything that has your attention, in your work and your personal life, in writing. Maybe it’s your departmental budget, a meeting with the new boss, an overdue vacation, or just the need to buy new tires and a jar of mayonnaise. For the typical professional, it can take one to six hours to “empty the attic” of your head. It may seem daunting, but this exercise invariably leads to greater focus and control.
• Clarify what each item means to you. Decide what results you want and what actions — if any — are required. If you simply make a list and stop there, without putting the items in context, you’ll be stuck in the territory of compulsive list-making, which ultimately won’t relieve the pressure. What’s the next action when it comes to your budget? The next step in arranging your vacation? Applying this simple but rigorous model puts you in the driver’s seat; otherwise, your lists will hold your psyche hostage. And keep in mind that much progress can be made and stress relieved by applying the magic two-minute rule — that any action that can be finished in two minutes should be done in the moment.
• Organize reminders of your resulting to-do lists — for the e-mails you need to send, the phone calls you need to make, the meetings you need to arrange, the at-home tasks you need to complete. Park the inventory of all your projects in a convenient place.
• Regularly review and reflect on the whole inventory of your commitments and interests, and bring it up to date. As your needs change, what can move to the front burner, and what can go further back? Make these decisions while considering your overall principles, goals and accountabilities. Schedule a two-hour, weekly operational review, allowing space to clean up, catch up and do some reflective overseeing of the landscape, for all work and personal goals, commitments and activities.
• Finally, deploy your attention and resources appropriately.
Remarks Allen, “I have never seen anyone apply these practices, with some degree of commitment and application, and not find significant improvement in focus, control and results. The technology, the organizational goals, the quirkiness and turbulence of external realities — these become things to manage, not a hoped-for source of productivity itself.”