Today, I am pleased to present another Guest Post from Larry Port, "How and Why a Lawyer Should Implement a Getting Things Done System":
Yesterday, as part of our weeklong Legal efficiency-fest, we introduced the Getting Things Done productivity system at a high level, including its advantages and general ideas. Each day, from here to the end of the week, we’ll write guest posts at prominent legal blogs exploring the system in more detail.
In a profession such as law, where time is quite literally money and losing track of tasks and events incurs significant penalties, an organizational system such as GTD is key. The current economic downturn places even more emphasis on streamlining operations and gaining efficiencies.
Granted, you may have your own system that works wonders. But if “the art of stress-free productivity”, as the GTD book is subtitled, seems compelling, and you’re wondering what exactly GTD is, take a look at my first post here. But let’s say you’re ready to take the plunge. How do you start?
The good news is, you don’t need your entire firm’s buy-in. You can come up with your own GTD system just fine.
For stress-free productivity, you need a capture device. Get all of the noise out of your head out and into a system that can be reviewed. This means capturing anything you have to do, whether it’s prepare a motion, send a fax, call a client, or lookup a case on Westlaw.
The whole trick is to organize your to-do’s as a series of “next action” items. They can’t be vague or unclear. According to GTD, you want to write down the next possible step you can take to execute the task. It’s not enough to write “Do Research”. Instead, write “Research related case precedent for relevance to bankruptcy case”, a specific and concrete action you can perform.
Next action items need to be categorized for easy reference. This sounds obvious, but here’s the interesting twist: you might not want to label them as you have in the past. Instead of organizing your tasks by what they are, organize them by where you can perform them. If you have a list for “Courthouse”, “Phone”, or “Computer”, then you can always know what to work on based on where you find yourself.
Schedule a Weekly Review
Getting organized is one thing, but staying organized is another. It’s easy and invigorating to roll up one’s sleeves every once in a while and organize the office and write up a to-do list. The hard part is maintaining that level of focus on a day to day basis.
The GTD weekly review is designed to keep practitioners on course. Once a week, block off a an hour or so on the calendar. Make sure all lists are updated and reviewed. Like most things in the system, the weekly review is a simple yet powerful technique.
Law firms, whether they realize it or not, use tickler files as a matter of necessity. They constantly calendar ahead court appointments and deadlines. But usually, that’s as far as their advance calendaring goes. GTD is a big proponent of maintaining tickler reminders, which is a very powerful technique for following up with prospective customers or referring attorneys.
What Organizational Tool Should I Use?
One of the cool things about GTD is it’s more of an idea that anything, and is “platform agnostic” as we say in technology circles. You could invest in technology, 3 x 5 index cards, Moleskine notebooks, or any other organization tool.
We designed Rocket Matter, with its new task functionality, for attorneys to leverage a full-blown GTD system. Tasks are quickly added and organized, can be associated with matters, and funneled into invoices.
On the other end of the technology spectrum is the Hipster PDA, a 3 x 5 index card system. Take a look at DIYPlanner.com for some cool templates to get you started, and Levenger sells a great leather index card holder to give it a little class.
The David Allen Company, in addition to providing educational material, offers their own paper-based organizers here.
We’ll be delving into these topics in further detail throughout the week. So stay tuned for tomorrow, where we’ll explore how to turn your “stuff” on the horizon into Next Action items.