One thing which I was expecting to find in the GTD book, but didn’t, was some sort of version of Standardized Work. This is an idea that I’ve seen in lean: it says that, if there’s a task that you do repeatedly, you should write down the best way you know of to do that task. From then on, you should either follow your standardized work guidelines when performing that task or be consciously experimenting with a new way to perform that task. (And then, depending on the results of the experiment, either updating your standardized work or going back to the old way.)

This is, of course, not an idea that is original to lean, and, in fact, I have heard David Allen mention it (either in a podcast or in another book, I can’t remember), under the term “checklist”. But I still think its absence in the book creates a gap; here’s why.

One of his quotes in that book is “There is no reason ever to have the same thought twice, unless you like having that thought.” (p. 22) That’s perhaps a bit of an exaggeration, but it is true that GTD trains you to capture certain kinds of thoughts (worries, ideas, …) as they flit through your mind, and write them down.

So: if the thought is a next action, it goes on your next action list. If it’s related to a project, it goes on your entry for that project. If it’s something you’re thinking about but haven’t yet committed to, it goes on your someday/maybe list.

But what if it relates something that you do repeatedly? You may be able to place that in one of the above categories, but, for me, they’re not a particularly good fit. That may sound a bit abstract (or wrong!), so let me give you an example as an explanation: sometimes, I am hiring. When I hire, I bring candidates in for interviews. And setting up an interview involves several steps: the candidate and I have to agree on the time, I have to reserve a conference room, I have to register the candidate with the visitor system, I have to make an entry in my calendar, I have to e-mail the candidate driving directions. And probably other steps that I can’t think of right now, which is exactly my point: I can try to hope that I’ll remember all of those steps, but they’re exactly the sort of thing that GTD teaches us not to keep in our brains, to keep instead in some trusted location.

But where? If I’m hiring, I’ll have a ‘hiring’ project, so I could keep it there. If I’m not hiring, I guess I could shuffle it over to the someday/maybe list. But that sounds like a lot of busywork for no particular reason; instead, I find it simplest to have a ‘checklist’ folder where I keep stuff like that. (If you’re curious, the GTD directory on my computer contains my tickler file plus four subdirectories: ‘projects’, ‘someday’, ‘reference’, and ‘checklists’.) So, at work, this is more or less my current set of checklists: a couple of hiring-related ones, one for when somebody leaves, one giving the steps of my weekly review, and my favorite ones, the checklists for when I get to work and leave work. (I created the “get to work” checklist the second time that I realized that it was almost lunchtime, that I’d been too busy to eat breakfast at home, and that I’d gotten distracted and hadn’t eaten breakfast at work; so I created a checklist whose fifth item is “have I eaten breakfast?”.)

Incidentally, my GTD system is settling down pretty well. I’ve made peace with the e-mail sorting issues that I mentioned earlier; once I’d added short keystroke commands to file an e-mail as action/waiting/scheduled (along with keystrokes for various reference folders), I found that having separate folders for those categories worked fine. I’ve instituted weekly reviews at both home and work; they haven’t had any big effects yet, but seem to be a positive occurrence as a whole. My personal next action list has been getting out of hand recently, but I made some progress in taming that this weekend, and it’s been a successful feedback mechanism in preventing me from taking on more personal projects that I really don’t have time for; my work next action list has remained pleasantly manageable. In fact, while I plan to continue tweaking the system indefinitely, I’ve declared the “adopt GTD” project at work a success, and I only have a couple of action items left on the home version of that project.

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