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When my GTD system gets out of control, I always get things moving again by focusing on GTD collection. I find that by gathering everything together in one place it helps me focus. The other thing is that collecting stuff into your GTD system is easy and really doesn't involve any decision making. And, it helps get me moving stuff into my system.
In David Allen's book, Getting Things Done, he breaks down, the five phases of GTD workflow. They are collecting, processing, organizing, doing and reviewing. The great thing about the GTD system starting with collection is that it a rather easy thing to start with because it requires no action and no decisions except for should this go in my system.
The first thing I try and do is do the same collecting routine each time. For example, I usually start with my car. I check the front seat, the glove box, the back seat and then the trunk. After that I collect all the paper from my briefcases, mailboxes, my GTD ubiquitous capture tool and other places like the kitchen and finally my inbox of course.
I then make a GTD daily review checkist that I incorporate all of these places into and then I don't forget to check anywhere when I collect. If you haven't started using GTD checklist for more than just the weekly review, then you need to start to get into the habit of doing that.
As far as collecting all of your stuff into one place goes, this basically goes for all of your paper and notes and of course the mental notes that you need to get out of your head when you do a GTD mind sweep. As far as your electronic stuff, like email and voicemail, those things collect themselves automatically.
I still though include all of the places my work collects in my GTD system on a inbox checklist so that I don't forget to check them. While I might not process each inbox each time I go through it, at least I have a way to remember all of the electronic inboxes I need to check for all of my internet related activities.
So, once I get myself moving again collecting all of my stuff in one place, this provides momentum to keep doing more. Once I collect everything, I then sort out all of the stuff that I can throw away, all the stuff I can shred and all the stuff I can file out of the stack I end up with. I like to do this because first of all the stack of work is not as intimidating and secondly, when I start with my GTD processing, I know that everything inside of it is something that needs to be done. It's all actionable.
I know when I first started getting everything into my system, I had a ton of stuff I hadn't put into my inbox because I didn't have one. Collection of everything took awhile. The book gave me the impression that I could set up my GTD system in a weekend. In reality though, it took a period of months to get everything into my system and even then I have one box of stuff that I need to finish.
If you are just getting started setting up your system, I recommend that you start with an empty inbox. Then, collect all of your papers in one location. After that I would sort through everything for anything urgent and stick it in your inbox. I'd process the urgent tasks and make sure that anything new that arrives goes into your inbox.
Here's what to do with the backlog:
- Get rid of all the non-actionable trash, shredding, filing that you don't need so you have a stack of actionable items remaining.
- Take a little bit of your backlog each day or on some other regular basis like during your weekly review for example and process it.
I folowed this exact plan when I first started and eventually got my inbox and collection in to great condition. The other thing as far as collection goes, is make sure that you use your GTD capture tool to keep everything out of your head.
It's easy to not right things down and tell yourself you will remember them later and later comes and you forget. To help with collecting things on my mind, here are some tips that I use:
- I use spiral bound index cards as my portable inbox.
- I use my Blackberry to send me a text message or email for later processing.
- I also use a yellow legal pad for notes capture.
- If I am driving I will call myself and leave a voice mail message for myself or I'l ask that person to send me a quick note via email or call me right back and leave a message with the task in it.
I think that when it comes to GTD collection, you'll discover two things:
- It takes a little longer to collect everything than you think
- You'll have more stuff to collect than you think
- Once you have total collection, you will feel much better.
I am big believer in starting at the front end of your system first with GTD collection and perfecting it first and worry about perfecting the rest later.