It must have been around the year 2000 when the bank I work for paid for David Allen to come to Switzerland and do a day's training session with us. It changed my life!
I came back to my desk and looked at it differently: For each paper I asked myself what is this? Does it have a right to live on the surface of my desk? Will I ever look at this again? Will I ever be asked to produce this for someone? By the end of the day the surface was empty.
After going through the drawers of my desk and repeating the same process at home I attacked my inbox. "Inbox Zero" is a great concept. In order to track all the things that need doing I had to get organized. Back in 2000 I was using the fantastic Lotus Organizer. Sadly IBM wasted 2bn to buy out Lotus and failed to retain the Organizer development team (if they even were at Lotus any longer). The tool just aged without any enhancements. I eventually had to switch to the Outlook Tasks at work. I set up categories: "1 Must do" (with the number 1 so it sorts on top) "2 Should do", "3 Might do", "5 Waiting for" and "9 Done". I have realised that I get frustrated and feel overwhelmed when there are more than 3 items in the "1 Must do" category.
One cool thing about categories is that a task can be attached to more than one category. So I have set up people categories such as "5 @John" for the "waiting for" items that I need to discuss with John when I have a slot with him.
For my private tasks I use Remember The Milk. A great product, all in the cloud with an attractive Android companion app. Todoist also seems to be a great product.
Recently I have started to use Evernote. At first it seemed a bit strange but I love it now. There were lots of little files and information lying around in a "stuff" folder. I was never too happy with that. OK, it wasn't in paper form any more (I scan everything) so the weight, storage space and flammable hazard were no longer an issue but it just isn't easy to search. With Evernote you upload the images, pdf files quotations etc. and attach tags to each note. Evernote even parse the text in the pdfs which really helps with searching. My notes are building up nicely and I find it hugely helpful to access this from any computer. Often I find I remember there was that snippet of information I filed but it's at home on the desktop computer in the "stuff" folder so "I'll look it up and email it to you when I get home". What's also really cool is the Android app integration with the camera. See something interesting in the newspaper, at a presentation, trade show etc.? Just snap it into Evernote and then file it or read up on it later!
There is a really cool video series on how to use Evernote called The Secret Weapon.
But, does it work?
At work my colleagues certainly know about David Allen's theory (they even made an on-line learning module with him). Looking around me many make a valiant effort at having a clean desk. I am, however, the only one with a Zero inbox.
I find David Allen's 2 Minute Rule ("If it takes less than 2 Minutes to do then do it immediately and skip the ToDo list") helpful. I can't handle a large list of "Must Do" items. This has to be cleared down to less than 4 items.
Recently the project I'm working on got really busy and I just could not keep up with the speed at which the mails came flying in. I had to set up a "ReadLater" folder and could only really achieve "Inbox Zero" by filtering the things that deserved attention into the ReadLater folder and getting rid of the rest right there. I then had to close down Outlook and do some real work every now and then before opening it up, sorting the next 58 unread emails, picking a next topic and shutting Outlook down to deal with that.
For me I think it generally works and there is no way back.