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GTD: Processing

From the first step - collecting - you have your GTD "in" set up - as many as you need, and as few as you can get away with - and you understand that you need to empty "in" regularly to be effective.  As a reminder, you don't need to act on the items from "in", other than deciding what it is, and what your next action is.

That's where Processing comes in.  As you read through the processing steps, have a few things from "in" in front of you, whether some emails, voice mails, items in your physical inbox, or anything else you're working on.


Since a picture's worth 1000 words:

GTD WorkflowDavid Allen's GTD workflow diagram briefly summarizes the Processing and Organizing steps.  Before reading any further, either click on the image to open it as a PDF in a new window, or right-click to download it.  Go ahead....I'll wait.....

Got it?

It doesn't matter if you're going through your emails, listening to your voice mail, or thinking about your next project.  As you're emptying "in", start by asking yourself, "What is it?"

Next question:  "Is it actionable?"

If it's not actionable, than you can either:
  • Eliminate it - hit the delete key, erase it, throw it away...
  • Add it to a someday/maybe list, or 
  • File it for future reference
If it is actionable, then first decide if it's a project.  What's a project?

GTD defines a project as anything that takes more than one action.

You'll keep track of your projects on a "project" list, so you'll always have a current list of what's going on.  More about projects when we get to the organizing step....For now, simply decide what's the next physical action. This is the key to all of GTD, so I'll say it again:  

Decide what's the next physical action

So what is a physical action anyway?  It's something you can actually do.  

As an example, let's say you want to join a health club.  Unless you already know the club you want to join and are standing there, your next action is going to be something other than joining the club.  

Your next action could be:
  • Research local health clubs online
  • Ask 2 friends for their opinions
  • Look up phone number of club
  • Search for health clubs near me on google maps
See the difference? Instead of leaving yourself with an action that you can't actually do, you now have something you can act on.

As an aside, this one step has made a profound difference in the results of meetings I've been in.  Asking that one simple question, "What's the next action" transforms meetings from wasted time to productivity.  Try it in your next meeting and see what happens.    If it's as transformational for you as it has been for me, I hope you'll share your results at the Contact Us page.

Once you know your next action, either:
  1. Do it, if it will take less than 2 minutes
  2. Delegate it, and keep track on a "waiting for" list
  3. Defer it, and keep track on your calendar or a "next actions" list
To summarize so far, we now know what "it" is, and whether it's actionable or not.

Next step:  Organizing - getting "it" into a trusted system, so you don't have to think about it again until the right time, and you know you won't lose track of it.

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