Be More Effective – Week 26: Make Quick Decisions and Execute them


I really like the Getting Things Done (GTD) framework. However, I think it’s a little bit excessive in many parts. Here’s my simplified version that I use every day.

Write it all down in one place. Prioritize and then block time to focus on the tasks that are most important. Rinse and repeat.

Write every task down as it comes to mind

Write everything down so you don’t have to worry about it anymore and won’t spend mental energy on remembering it.

Use only one list, otherwise you will spend all your time looking for your task lists. I prefer electronic lists (Omnifocus) since they are easy to group, reprioritize and rearrange. However paper works just fine as well. Your Choice.

Putting everything down right away frees your mind, saves you mental energy and lets you focus on what you’re doing right now, not what you will need to do in the future.

It’s also a nice feeling to tick off the things you have accomplished. Looking at a long list of completed and ticked off tasks is much more gratifying than hustling all day and really being sure what you have done at the end of the day.

Do quick things right away

There’s the 2 min rule: if something requires less than 2 mins to complete, do it right away. Don’t write it down, don’t postpone it for later, just do it.

The quick email response that only requires a short sentence – write it right away as you triage your emails. The grocery purchases that you bring into the kitchen – put them away, don’t let them sit on the counter. Your dirty dishes – just put them in the dishwasher right after you finished your meal.

Prioritize what needs to get done now

I’m sure there is a lot on your list. All is important, but not all is equally important, and of the important things only few are urgent.

Don’t just do what you stumble upon on your list. Prioritize what needs to get done NOW. What is the most important thing right now? What can wait.

Also be sure that you understand the difference between ‘urgent’ and ‘important’. We can spend our whole life doing urgent stuff, but only little of that is really important looking back. Understand the difference. Spend most of your time on important things, not the ones that seem urgent.

Block time to focus on important tasks

Block time for the things that require time and focus. The things that you marked as important on your list. Pick the most important ones, assess how much you can achieve in a given time and then block that time. Don’t just rely on doing them “some time this week”. They are important, block the time.

You did the easy tasks right away (2 min rule), which means the remaining important task will require dedicated time. You will not magically find that time, you will need to make room for it.

Revisit and update your priorities

You tick off a lot of things from your list. At the same time the importance or urgency of others will change. Your circumstances will change. If you’re lucky some of your tasks will even get solved by themselves.

As your priorities change, make it a point to revisit your list on a regular basis. Update priorities as needed. Pick the list of things you want to accomplish in the next day or week and block time for them.

I do that exercise every Friday morning and go into the weekend with a clear plan of what’s coming the next week. That frees my mind to focus on family and hobbies on the weekend rather than having to worry what I might have forgotten at work.

Here is my checklist for you: ‘Best of GTD’

Organize and plan out

  • Write down your tasks right away so you don’t need to worry about them anymore
  • Prioritize once a week and decide which ones you’re going to tackle

Do it, don’t procrastinate and revisit (the 4Ds):

  • Do – do it right away if it takes less than 2 mins or else plan some time to do it
  • Delegate – if someone else should do it, delegate it right away, give the other person the opportunity to have time for the task
  • Defer – if it’s not important, defer it to a place that you revisit infrequently; chances are you will discard it the next time you revisit
  • Drop/discard – if it’s not important, just discard the taks; and don’t feel bad about it

My own additon: Get clean Fridays

  • Get to inbox zero on Fridays
  • Schedule your calendar for the next week
  • Prioritize your to do list and pick what you want to tackle the following week

Then stop worrying for the weekend. Start the weekend clean and without work obligations.


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Reflection: What’s on Your Worry List?


We all have a to-do list (I assume), but do you also have a worry-list?

We are usually pretty good at tracking the things we need to do, but we often miss paying attention to risks. Those risks have a tendency to turn into issues at the worst moment and often prevent us from achieving a goal (or at least require last-minute fire fights).

Think about all the things that could go wrong. What are you worried about. Then find solutions or mitigations for each and burn down that list to zero.

It’s a good practice to start a worry-list when you start a new project. Probably even before you start a to-do list.

Get a handle on all things that could go wrong

Start listing the things that could go wrong. Look at that list from all different angles (e.g. resourcing changes, stakeholder alignment, changing assumptions, ambiguity on details and data) to make it as comprehensive as possible.

Keep adding to that list as you go deeper into the project, learn more and discover new risks and challenges. Think about all the possible worst-case scenarios and what they would mean for your goal (Special Forces teams do a similar scenario-play exercise before going into a mission).

Your worry list should contain:

  • Big risks for your goal
  • Upcoming or anticipated challenges
  • Big open questions and any areas of ambiguity

Get on a glide path to bliss

Once you have your list, make it a point and recurring check to burn down that list. Treat it like a bug list – burn down issue by issue and make sure you have a glide path to zero way before your project is due.

Be clear and understand which items on your worry list need to be resolved first and by what time. What needs to come next? What project steps do need which items to be resolved? What are the long poles that take more time to figure out?

Track risks closely so that you will spot early if a risk turns into an actual issue (dependencies to other people or teams are a great example for this).

If you don’t have one, start a worry list for your key priorities today.