Join Dave Crenshaw for an in-depth discussion in this video Processing question 1: What is the next step?, part of Time Management Fundamentals.
- Let's take a close look at the first question of the processing system, which is: what is the next step? When processing, it's critical you figure out just the next action step. Just the next thing you must do to move this item, this piece of paper, this email, whatever it is you have in front of you, forward toward completion. Take the time to think about this and make a clear decision. It usually takes only five to ten seconds of mental effort to make a clear decision about what the next step is.
However, many people jump over determining the next step, which is a big part of the reason why items get perpetually stuck in the inbox. Many people have conditioned their minds to have such short attention spans, that if they pick up an item and are uncertain in any way about the next step, they put it back in the box and skip over it to something easier. Please don't do that. Hang in there, and maintain focus on answering this question: what is the next step? Don't worry about answering this question perfectly.
Just give it your best guess. Once you've decided what the next step is, you may want to consider briefly, is this something I want to be doing with my life? That may sound like an abstract question, yet it has value. Many people, particularly in an information overloaded world, find themselves in a pattern of just doing stuff to fill the time. Yet, this stuff has little meaning or value to themselves personally. This means the person didn't make a conscious choice to participate, but just did it because it was there.
Someone asked you to show up or help with something, and you just said "yes" without thinking about it. If the item you're processing doesn't line up with what you want out of life, disengage from it. Disengage means find a way to get out of it. Find someone else to fulfill the obligation, or just plain tell yourself, "I'm not going to spend any more time working on this thing". Perhaps, instead of disengaging completely, you want to delegate the action to someone else.
Many of the steps you take, no matter how important they are, are better handled by others. Perhaps someone else is better qualified to do them, or perhaps, it's a more valuable use of someone else's time, where your time is more valuable when spent focused elsewhere. For instance, creating this training program was something only I could do, but proofreading it was delegated to someone else. Also, be aware that the next step may be waiting for, meaning you're waiting for something to come to you.
Waiting is an action, and is sometimes appropriate. Waiting is especially appropriate if you delegate that step to someone else. I remember this concept with a little rule of thumb: a delegate out is a waiting for in. Whenever you delegate, create a step for yourself, reminding you that you're waiting for them to complete it. The next processing question, "When will it be done?", will help you determine how long to wait.
So, in summary, when considering one unprocessed item, you ask yourself what the next step is, and stay focused until you decide on that step. If it isn't something you want to be doing with your life, then disengage from it. Sometimes, the best step is to delegate it to someone else, and waiting is an action which may be appropriate. Let's move on to the "when" portion of "what, when, where" processing.
Learn how to get more done in the shortest time possible and avoid the obstacles and distractions that can get in the way of good time management. Dave gives practical strategies for increasing productivity in three main areas: developing habits to be more organized and reducing clutter in your workspace; staying mentally on task and eliminate the to-dos you have floating in your head; and developing a time budget to get the most done during your workday and focus on your most valuable activities.
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- Finding your productivity style and motivation
- Understanding the principles of time management
- Avoiding the pitfalls of multitasking
- Narrowing your gathering points
- Consolidating email and voicemail accounts
- Practicing mind-clearing techniques
- Choosing and using calendar software
- Saying no with tact
- Mastering the what, when, where processing system
- Processing email vs. checking email
- Maintaining productivity gains