David Allen spends lots of his time trying to change people's minds about how they spend their time. But he doesn't just preach new ideas - he also teaches little tricks: "How many times have you put something in front of the door before you went to bed, because you had to bring it to work in the morning? That's a trick." Here are four of Allen's favorite tricks to save time.
1. Make (certain kinds of) lists.
Lots of people have a To-Do list. Allen has five lists. The "Projects" list tracks big-picture outcomes: Conduct performance reviews. Install new tires on the Volvo. The "Next Actions" list itemizes next steps on all active projects: Read research report. Call Elizabeth about next week's meeting. The "Waiting For" list records activities that depend on someone else. The "Calendar" tracks time-specific appointments and day-specific actions. The "Someday/Maybe" list records discretionary tasks: Go scuba diving in Fiji.
2. Don't let your inbox box you in.
An inbox is a place for capturing the chaos that comes across the transom. But that doesn't mean you should treat it as a black hole. Get to the bottom of your in-basket once a day. Take just one thing out of it at a time; don't look at the second item until you've determined an action for the first. And once you remove an item, never put it back in.
3. Remember the two-minute rule.
Any time you're confronted with an action item that will take less than two minutes to complete, do it immediately.
4. Always do a weekly review.
Take 30 minutes every Friday afternoon to review and update your lists, process loose papers and notes, and think about upcoming events.
A version of this article appeared in the April/May 1998 issue of Fast Company magazine.