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How a 3×5″ Card Helps Me Get Things Done

I am a huge fan of David Allen’s approach to productivity.  If you haven’t already, I’d urge you to read his classic book “Getting Things Done.” I must admit that I’ve adapted his techniques to my way of doing things, but his concepts have been beneficial to me.   I will write more about my journey with GTD in another post. 

One of the basic tenants of GTD is to write everything down.  This especially applies to tasks you need to accomplish.  Like you, I have a very long list of ‘to-dos”.  I keep them on a digital platform, although a paper log works just as well. 

Once a week, I review my entire list to make sure all of my tasks are still important. You’d be surprised how many issues resolve themselves without much attention.  I highlight the things that I ‘must’ do in the week ahead.’ 

Each evening, I open up my very long list and select three items that I promise myself I will get done during the next day.  I write them on a 3″ x5″ card.  I also review my calendar to see what meetings I need to be ready for.  If the next day looks hectic, I might select three items that won’t be difficult to accomplish.  If I have a very light day ahead, I might pick five things to work on or keep it at 3 with one of them that will take a long time to complete. 

I also use that card to record other things that come up during the day that I need to remember or add to my list of to-dos. 

It’s such a wonderful feeling to cross off a completed item on the card and an even better sense when I cross it off my master list. 

But before I take an item off my master list, I think about whether additional follow-up is required in the future.  If so, I add it to my list for future action. Let’s say I ask someone on the staff to do something.  Once it is assigned, I make sure that I have something on my list that reminds me I need to follow-up. 

Sometimes completing one action is only one part of a bigger project. Allen’s GTD book stresses not losing track of what you need to do next to accomplish the larger project.  Suppose I consult with legal counsel about an item and once it is clarified for me, my next action might be to write a memo to staff.  In all instances, the next action is added to my master list. 

That little 3″ x 5″ card holds me accountable like a long list never would. 

Oh, and there are days when I can’t complete all three items. It’s never a good feeling.  But, they are still on my master list and won’t be forgotten about. 

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