Getting things done... in teams
You've probably heard of "Getting Things Done" (commonly abbreviated to GTD), the now-famous productivity system invented by David Allen.
While there's a lot of important context surrounding the system, it boils down to a small handful of core practices:
- Collecting all of the things you want to achieve into a handful of lists (i.e. "repair the shed", "book vacation", "file tax return" or "write this blog post");
- Processing that list to figure out what the next actions are. "Next actions" the next concrete step you can take to get closer to achieving an item on your list. If there's no next action, or if you're waiting for something before you can make progress, move them to another list.
- Doing the next thing: take one of concrete things from the list of next actions, and actually do it.
That's only a rough overview; to get a deeper understanding, Merlin Mann has a great introduction.
It's a powerful but simple system, built on three fundamental principles:
1. Decluttering your mind
By capturing all of the goals, projects, tasks and chores into a system that you trust, you don't need to keep them in your head anymore.
This means you will be worrying less about tasks that you can't actually make progress on right now, and will have more mental energy available for things you can work on next.
2. Generating tangible "next actions"
The success of GTD depends entirely on being able to distil concrete, physical actions that move you one step closer to completing a task, project or goal.
Simple as it might sound, it can actually be very difficult to tackle a nebulous, vague task like "book vacation" in a single attempt. There are so many different aspects to consider — pick location, find accomodation, book activities, clear vacation time with your boss, and more — that it can be incredibly easy to get lost or distracted trying to do everything, and spending much longer on this task than it deserves given the other important tasks you also have to complete.
By breaking out the "next action", and focussing only on that, it becomes clearer to see what you need to do, how to do it, and most importantly, when you are finished, letting you start focussing on something else sooner rather than later.
3. Actually doing the next most important thing
One underestimated aspect of the GTD workflow is that once you've reviewed your lists and prioritised your next actions, you must commit to actually picking up the first "next action" and actually do it, rather than picking and choosing what to work on as your whim or mood might suggest.
If you let yourself cherry-pick what you work on next, some of your goals and tasks are going to be ignored. This is particularly true for tasks that are hard or less fun. Keep doing this, and you can expect a major panic when that boring-but-very-important tax return is suddenly overdue!
By trusting in the system and faithfully performing the next action you can, you'll steadily make progress with all your goals, not just the easy ones.
This is so important, so fundamental, that I'm going to write it again, in bold:
By sacrificing a little bit of your personal autonomy to choose what you work on next, your overall progress will be smoother, faster and ultimately less stressful.
If you cannot sacrifice that small bit of autonomy and pick up the next "next action", you're only getting a fraction of the benefits that GTD can bring.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is also the hardest part of the GTD system to maintain, because it's working against our natural tendencies: to work only on things we enjoy. After all, if staying focussed and being productive came naturally to you, you wouldn't need a system to help you, right?
GTD for teams?
Just like individuals, most teams have tasks they need to complete, some of which are harder or less enjoyable than others. It's easy for people within a team to become distracted by work that's more fun, or more interesting, and for the team as a whole to ignore or postpone important tasks until they are urgent, or even overdue.
What's worse, in a team the consequences for forgetting some tasks can be much more significant. Delay repairing your shed for a couple of weeks, and the worst case is that your spade might get rained on; accidentally put off sending invoices for a couple of weeks, and you might not be able to pay anyone this month!
Harmonia can help your team get things done
Harmonia is a tool which excels at managing the kind of tasks that teams tend to postpone or ignore. It makes it very easy to apply some of the core principles of the GTD workflow across your team. Here's how:
1. Declutter your team's mind
Harmonia's flagship feature is capturing recurring tasks and knowing when they need to happen next.
Nobody need to remember that invoices need to be sent this week, because Harmonia will remember for you, and automatically assign someone to complete the task when it's due.
2. Tangible next actions for everyone in the team
By providing clear and repeating task instructions as part of your Harmonia task, it becomes much easier for people in the team to quickly perform them and then get back to the fun work they actually enjoy.
It also becomes easier for other people to work on the task, which has a wide range of benefits, from helping your team deal with new members or absences, to building a better company culture by sharing responsibility and increasing empathy.
3. Actually get things done
Let's be clear: this isn't easy to do. Sometimes, you'll be assigned a task that you won't particularly want to do. Sometimes you'll feel too busy, and you'll want to put it off.
However, just as with personal GTD, if you surrender that small piece of autonomy and tackle the task sooner rather than later, you'll start to reap the benefits both individually and as a team:
- You'll be motivated to refine the task so it requires as little cognitive overhead as possible, with more automation and clearer instructions;
- The task will take less time to complete, letting you get back to the more enjoyable parts of work sooner;
- Because the task is being done consistently, there's less chance of mistakes, avoiding even more time wasted in the future trying to fix them.
For that small sacrifice, these benefits and more start to accrue. Seems worth it, right?
Help your team get things done
Using systems like GTD isn't easy, and it isn't for everybody. But, if you're prepared to really give it a try, you'll almost certainly get better at handling tasks and achieving your goals.