The ever-popular productivity book Getting Things Done, by David Allen, caught on fire within the last few years through the power of blogs. And while many a blogger has fallen in love with GTD, and in fact many GTD blogs have been created, it’s time that a “GTD for Bloggers” was created.
In this post we’ll look at how bloggers, one of the quintessential types of web workers, can use GTD to get themselves more organized, get more done with their work day, and stop letting stuff slip through the cracks.
The first step in GTD is collecting everything that comes into your life. In the full GTD system, that includes paperwork, mail, ideas, phone numbers, email, tasks, assignments, voicemail. Bloggers, however, do just about all of their work online, and that affords them the opportunity to achieve the Holy Grail of GTD:
One Inbox. If everything is done online, you should consolidate everything coming into your life into one inbox, greatly simplifying your work and making everything more organized. And my recommendation is to use your email inbox as your inbox — I prefer Gmail, but you might have your own favorite.
- If you have multiple email addresses, have them forwarded to a single inbox.
- If you have ad notifications, and notifications from the different blog services you use, have them sent to your single email inbox.
- Reader comments? Have WordPress (or whatever system you use) send the comments to your inbox.
- Bookmarking stuff to review, or have ideas for posts? Email them to your inbox.
- Have tasks that need to be completed? Email them to your inbox.
Now that everything goes into one inbox, you’ll need to work on the next phase — processing. Here are some tips for doing that.
- Set aside 1 or 2 processing times. If you’re processing your inbox throughout the day, you won’t have much time for much else. I recommend two processing times — one in the morning, and one in the evening. I’ve actually been moving to just one processing time, and it hasn’t hurt me at all.
- Process to empty. When you do process your inbox, process it to empty, as GTD recommends. Start at the first email, and dispose of it: do the task (if it takes 2 minutes or less), reply, add it to a Context List (if it takes more than 2 minutes to do), delete it, forward it, or archive it. If there’s a task that you’re not going to do right now, don’t leave it in your inbox, and don’t use a separate folder or label for your to-dos. Separate your tasks (aka Next Actions, in GTD terminology) from your inbox. See the next section for more.
- Reader comments. If you get a reader comment sent to your inbox, reply to it right away (if you plan on replying). Don’t let them pile up. Whether you decide to reply or not, delete the notification in your inbox.
- Reader emails. I’d recommend replying to reader emails right away (well, not as soon as they come in, but while you’re processing email). Otherwise, they could really pile up, and then you’ll never get to them. When you’ve replied, just archive.
- Advertising stuff. Notifications of new ads, or payments? Act on them immediately if they take 2 minutes or less, or add it to the appropriate Context List.
- Blog maintenance. You probably also receive notifications from WordPress, or your site’s host, or other services you might use. Act on them immediately, or put them in your Context Lists to do later.
- Fellow bloggers. I also recommend responding to emails from fellow bloggers right away, if possible. These can result in great opportunities to help each other grow in the long term. Keep your message short, so it doesn’t take all day to process your inbox.
You need a system to organize all the stuff in your life. As you are doing everything online, you don’t need a physical filing system. I recommend that you keep everything organized by putting all your information in one place. My suggestions? Backpack works well for lists, or use an online GTD app such as Vitalist or Nozbe. Here’s how you’d use them to organize all the information that relates to your blogging:
- Context lists. As you only work in one context (online, at your computer), you could just have one long context list. However, you might find it useful to break them up into different types
- Other lists. You’ll also want to keep a list of your current projects, a follow-up list (“Waiting For”), and a Someday/Maybe list that contains items you aren’t going to do now, but want to do later.
- Reference system. I like to keep lists of post ideas, a schedule for posting (including posts for my blog and other blogs), reference info related to my blog, and other information, all in one service (again, such as Backpack, Vitalist, Nozbe or others).
- Ticklers. These are basically reminders of things coming up, such as a guest post you promised to write for another blog, or a blog carnival you want to participate in. Here’s where you could use another service — actually, the services mentioned above can give you date-based reminders, or you could use an online calendar such as Google Calendar or 30 Boxes.
One of the problems with the way people implement GTD is that they spend too much time fiddling with the system and their tools. You’re a busy person — you don’t have time to do all that. Pick a tool, and stick with it. Now spend your time actually writing your posts, and responding to comments, and making your blog better. Some suggestions for this phase of GTD, as it relates to bloggers:
- Posts as projects. Each post you write is a small project. You could call it a single task, but in reality, writing a post usually consists of a few actions: research, writing, linking, finding an image, and any other things that go with posting. When you work on a post, focus on one of those actions at a time, do it quickly, and then focus on the next action.
- Defined outcome. For each post or project, it helps to write a defined action. For bloggers, that could be the post’s headline: write the headline first, to define exactly what you want the post to be. Don’t write a vague headline, but one that will tell your readers (and you) exactly what to expect from the post.
- Next actions. A next action, in GTD, is a physical action, not a series of actions. So instead of writing “Add XYZ Ad Service to my blog” (this is a project, not an action), you would focus on the next physical action required to move that forward, such as, “Read XYZ Ad Service instructions” or “Get code for XYZ”. When you’ve completed that next action, cross it off, and write the next action required to move the project forward.
Once a week, you should do a review of your system to make sure it’s all in place. That means doing the following:
- Process your inbox to empty. Any things that remain in your email inbox should be processed as outlined above.
- Check your calendar. See if there are any past or upcoming events that trigger things that should be added into your system.
- Brain dump. Get everything out of your head. Things you want to write about, ad stuff, maintenance stuff, things you want to do with your blog, things you want to check out. Write it all down, and process it.
It might also be interesting to do a weekly review post on your blog. Each blogger could handle this differently, but you could do a review of your week’s posts, or a review of your life or your work, or a review of some of the best reader comments.