Tips on getting personally organised for 2010

by 12 Jan 2010

One simple project HR managers might want to tackle in 2010 is improving the personal effectiveness of HR staff by helping them with their methods for organising and prioritising work, writes David Creelman

Getting organised is a never-ending challenge and many people are not good at it. Proven methods exist for improving personal effectiveness and if you adopt these in HR, then you will have a better-performing department

Methods for improving personal productivity

There are hundreds of books and seminars on getting organised and being more productive. Almost all of these have useful ideas that you’ll come to value. I’ve picked up many useful tips over the years, such as: “If you have an unpleasant task on your to-do list, do it right away and get it off your mind.” However, there is only one system that I’ve come across that provides a truly excellent solution for getting work under control and that is David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD). The book is widely available and not expensive so you can easily get a copy for everyone in the department.

What makes Allen’s GTD system special is that its core aim is to get rid of stress rather than simply to get more work done in a given period of time. The success of his system at reducing stress is what provides the motivation to stick to the system. As you will have experienced, there are many good ideas for improving your life but unless there is a built-in motivation to follow-through, people usually don’t stick with the program.

Key ideas

This article is not meant to be a substitute for reading the book, but let me share a few key ideas of the GTD system. One is that stress comes from having “open loops” in your head; these are those nagging feelings that you need to prepare for a meeting and you ought to be reading some reports and, oh! isn’t there a conference coming up … all these real and possible to-dos run around in your mind, creating an endless tension.

Allen’s solution is to get all those to-dos into the system. Once you have collected all the to-dos you are not spending energy worrying about “What is it that I have to do?” It’s all down on paper where you can begin to deal with it. A second key is that rather than simply writing down that task, you need to take a moment to think what the next action step is and write that down. If you are worried about an upcoming presentation don’t just write “prepare for presentation” instead think through what you will actually do next, such as “Call Marie to talk about what she did last year.” Having clearly identified the next step will take a load off your mind.

These simple ideas turn out to be powerful in getting work (and life) under control, reducing stress and increasing productivity. The book is a few years old, so there is too much emphasis on handling paper for today’s increasingly paperless office, but that is a minor flaw.

The conditions for learning

There is a lot to be said for getting as many people as possible committed to learning the system. First, the more people who get organised, the more productive people will be in your department. Second, there is a network effect in that it makes it easier for you to be productive if the people around you are well organised. Finally, it’s easier to learn as a group than just as an individual. Instead of reading and applying GTD as a solo activity it can be a team sport where other people motivate you, and you have people to discuss the ideas with.

Return on investment

It doesn’t take a lot of time to learn and adopt the system. If your team reads a few chapters a week you’ll be through the book in less than two months. Once you’ve done the basic organisation, then using the system is a daily part of life that is making your people/department more productive right away, so it’s saving time – not taking time. The biggest investment in time is the initial organisation where you are emptying the in-box, sorting through the piles of paper on your desk, and, perhaps, reorganising your filing system. That can take a day or two depending on the extent of the chaos in your office – but you don’t need to do it all at once.

As a businessman there are all sorts of ideas and tools I use for learning, marketing, delivering results and so on. However, there is no single tool that has been more useful to me than the GTD system. If you are looking for a low-cost way to make the HR department happier and more productive I can’t think of a more simple and reliable project than getting the team to learn the GTD system.

David Creelman is CEO of Creelman Research, providing writing, research and commentary on human-capital management. He is investing much of his time in helping HR VPs report to the board about human capital. He works with a variety of academics, think tanks, consultancies and HR vendors in the US, Japan, Canada and China.