I don’t remember who suggested it, but I first picked up David Allen’s Getting Things Done in 2013. It offered a very simple framework for managing work, reducing inefficiencies, and increasing productivity.

I’m often surprised by how many project managers, life coaches, and people who use other work management methodologies have never heard of this. It was written in 2001 and I find it referenced in productivity articles over and over. It has many of the same principles you’d recognize from other work management systems. I’m sure Allen didn’t event it out of thin air- but he broke managing the seemingly unmanageable down into a very basic system.

I have a few ways I apply these principles when I am managing my own work lists, and when I am working with teams and find myself in a really complex JIRA system, I like to remind myself of these simple basic principles:

  1. Get everything out of your head.
    If it’s not recorded somewhere externally it will remain as a distraction/burden on your mind. You need a quick, reliable place to put tasks so you don’t have to waste cognitive energy remembering to do it later. Reduce your cognitive load! Free up that brainspace and energy for doing your work awesomely.
  2. Groom your task list.
    What’s the most important thing to do next? If it’s really old and keeps getting bumped down does it really need to be done at all? Can you delete it? Or maybe it can be moved to a gardening day list.
  3. If it’s a really tiny thing does it belong on a list?
    Sometimes it might be faster to just do a thing right when it comes to you rather than add it to a list and deal with it later. If you’re a manager in a hyper-connected environment this can be very tricky because tiny things are always coming at you, so you have to be judicious.
  4. Your list will center you.
    Refer to it in the morning and throughout the day. Groom it at the end of the day so you know what you have on deck for tomorrow. When I walk away at night I can completely forget about my list, I can relax because I know I am ready.
  5. Your list can help you constructively fill in gaps.
    If you finish a task and find yourself with some time before the next thing, use the list to find a time appropriate item rather than browsing on Amazon.

Find the tool that works for you.
The Getting Things Done book focuses on paper and physical file folders, but this can be adapted to anything. Notebooks, sticky notes, web based tools, phone apps, whiteboards, project management software, etc. And the tool that works for your personal list might not be the same one you use with your team.
Over the years I have found two super-simple and free tools that work for my personal task management. It took a lot of exploring and experimenting to find them. The first is a super-simple app called Checkvist, and the second is a methodology called


I’ll go into more detail on these in a future post.