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Make every day the day before vacation

July 09, 2012

Do you struggle with getting things done? One of the most difficult things to do is to wade through a growing pile of to-do lists. Not to worry. There are ways to break down that mountain of tasks and be sure you are in control, not your to-dos. Peggy Rosser shares how.

Peggy Rosser, ASU-SBDC Business Development Specialist and Rural Business Manager (CBA IV)


SAN ANGELO, Texas — In David Allen’s book, “Getting Things Done,” he has taken us through the first two processes:

We have learned how to control our reactions so we don’t overreact or underreact. If we do either of these, we are not in control. Second, we learned to manage actions. We learned to manage all the “stuff” in our lives. It is through this management that we can determine where to place our energies.

Allen’s step three is mastering workflow, getting control of your life. He divided this stage into five steps: 1) collect things that command our attention 2) process what they mean and what to do about them, and 3) organize the results, which we 4) review as options for what we choose to 5) do. He labels this management as horizontal — “incorporating everything that has our attention at any time.”

Take for instance the task of deciding what needs to be done about your secretary’s birthday. If you do not decide, Allen states, that open loop will take up energy and prevent you from having a totally effective “clear focus” about all your tasks. He defines an open loop as this: “…anything pulling at your attention that doesn’t belong where it is, the way it is, as an open loop.” Let’s explore the mastering workflow process.

The first goal of “collecting” is important so that “your mind can let go of the lower-level of trying to hang on to everything. You have to know that you have truly captured everything that might represent something you have to do,” the author states. The goal is to collect everything you need somewhere else other than your head.

The “somewhere else” refers to collection tools which vary from a traditional in-basket to voice-to-text interface.

The collection device you choose must provide these three things:

Every open loop must be in your collection system and out of your head.

You must have as few collection buckets as you can get by with.

You must empty them regularly. Keep your choices of collection buckets as close to you as you would your eyeglasses.

Once you’ve collected the “stuff,” you then process it by determining one of two possible answers to the question: Is it actionable? — yes or no.

If you answered no, then you have three options: trash it, incubate it or reference it.

Take one these actions:

Trash it — delete.

Incubate — add it to a tickler file or calendar or

Reference — needs placement in a good filing system.

If you answered yes, then determine the outcome you have committed to and what is the next action required. Author Allen explains, “Once you’ve decided on the next action, you

Can do it — If an action will take less than two minutes, it should be done at the moment it is defined.

Delegate it — If the action will take longer than two minutes, ask yourself, “Am I the right person to do this? If the answer is no, delegate it to the appropriate entity.

Defer it — If the action will take longer than two minutes, and you are the right person to do it, you will have to defer acting on it until later.” You will list it on your calendar to do at a specific time or you will plan a next action to do as soon as possible.

Now that the processing has taken place, you are to organize actionable items and non-actionable items. Author Allen offers this guidance for a personal organization system structured into divisions including projects using the calendar, “The way I look at it, the calendar should be sacred territory. If you write something there, it must get done that day or not at all. The only rewriting should be for changed appointments.” This calendar information is supported with a collection of “Next Action and a Waiting For” items.

Only two more points remain, Review and Do. Allen likens the weekly review to your work level the week before you take vacation. “Consider this, you clean up, close up, clarify and renegotiate agreements with yourself and others. I just suggest that you do this weekly instead of yearly.”

To help “Do” your tasks you’ll analyze levels of importance. Allen offers this analogy, assess the task and determine where on a timeline of an airplane taking off, does it fall. For example, the runway is where all the current actions are located and need to be handled immediately. Then current projects are at 10,000 feet and yearly and long-term goals continue upward as the plane gains altitude.

The purpose of all this is simply to get work finished. Next installment from David Allen’s book, “Getting Work Done,” will explore project planning.

Business Tips was written by Peggy Rosser, Rural Business Development Specialist and Certified Business Adviser IV of Angelo State University’s Small Business Development Center. Contact her at

© 2012 San Angelo Standard Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. 


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ASU Small Business Development Center
San Angelo, TX
Phone: (325) 942-2019