Have you seen this portion of one of DA's newsletters? This is a great way to measure your progress.
“READY TO TEST FOR YOUR BELT?”
Lately some rather sophisticated people have asked me what I initially thought was a rather unsophisticated question: “How do I know what belt I’m at?” In other words, in the martial art of workflow, they wanted to know how well they were doing – how far they were from earning the coveted black belt in the Getting Things Done school of self management. One, a senior engineer, said, “David, you keep referring to ‘black belt’ and several of the attributes it signifies. There must be some way to determine how far along we might be in that continuum.” Though he excused his curiosity in the matter to his system-oriented mindset, I realized he had a good point. When I studied karate, the belt rankings were highly useful as milestones, often motivating me to keep going when I would hit plateaus in my training during which I wasn’t very aware of my progress. As I went from white to green to brown belt rankings over the course of four years, I could sense the next level up as a reachable step, when black belt would seem too elusive a goal.
So for those of you who may share that interest in some kind of marker for determining your rank, I’ll proffer a set of characteristics for the belts.
You’ve recognized the art of workflow management as something to get personally better at. White belt is actually a rank to be proud of – it means you’ve begun, which puts you ahead of those who are not conscious of, or not interested in, improving your game. You’ve had a taste of what it’s like to clear the decks, with perhaps a Mind Sweep and an initial gathering of things that have your attention in your work area and maybe at home as well. You’ve become more conscious of your in-basket as a place to toss still unprocessed stuff. You’re writing things down a little more than you previously did, a little more consistently. You’ve made a stab at setting up some sort of list-management tool and structure.
You’ve got some lists that you use regularly, and you’re comfortable with your system for some basic things. A self-management tool is with you most of the time. You’ve tasted the thrill of zero in your e-mail in-basket a few times. You’ve set up a workable paper-based filing system, and have a labeler you use yourself. You’ve purged and organized at least one major “black hole” storage area at work or at home. You’ve actually done one relatively thorough Weekly Review and tasted the accompanying on-top-and-in-charge feeling. You’ve started to swear by the Two-Minute Rule. You’ve got some sort of portable note-taking device you’re actually using now and then. You try to convince people around you how cool all this stuff is and that they should do it too. “What are we trying to accomplish?” and “What’s the next action?” are creeping into your operational vocabulary with others at work.
You don’t hesitate to write things down, even when old-fashioned people around you aren’t. You no longer need a reminder to get your head empty regularly. You’re doing “Monthly Weekly Reviews.” Home and office are equally under control. “List maker” is no longer a pejorative. No notes are left on legal pads. E-mail is a zero at least once a week. Processing your paper in-basket is actually fun, most of the time. You have a “Projects” list that is probably 75% complete and current. In the dentist’s office, you have your own reading material. You’ve stopped interrupting people around you for non-emergency communications, choosing e-mail or notes into their in-baskets instead. You’re feeling comfortable with a big list of undone actions. You’ve set up a Someday/Maybe list and have moved items there from your Projects lists, and vice-versa. You don’t share your labeler. All paper-based reference that won’t stand up by itself is in your files, and you actually like to file stuff. You’re somewhat intolerant of those who don’t exercise the same best practices. You’ve started some good checklists. You know what to do with almost everything. Your next-action lists are actually next actions, not small sub-projects. A majority of your focus is thinking about your stuff instead of of it. “What are we trying to accomplish?” and “What’s the next action?” are creeping into your operational vocabulary with others at home.
You have to look at your Calls list to know whom you have to call. You trust your intuitive prioritizing all day long. You can’t stand not doing a complete Weekly Review, and you’re operationally squeaky clean at least every couple of weeks. Your review time regularly takes you down constructive rabbit trails of creative thinking, decision-making, and idea generation. You no longer complain about lack of quality thinking time. You can leave a mountain of stuff in your in-basket and still have a good time, confident it’s all in a trusted system and will get tackled soon enough. You’re using speed keys instead of your mouse. You create useful temporary checklists on a whim. You’re willing to tackle thinking about any project or situation on call. All of your reference files have been reviewed within the last year. Your systems are completely accessible, functional and intact as you move from location to location. Others are highly sensitive to what they bring into your environment. There is little distinction between work and personal – there’s simply a positive focus on whatever you’re doing. You know how (and do) get yourself totally back into control by yourself, when you’ve slipped much longer than you’re comfortable with. You don’t need to convince anyone about the methodology – you’re usually not thinking about it, merely using it. You’ve stopped complaining about e-mail. You’ve lost only a couple of receipts this year. Friends no longer want you to see inside their offices or cars.
Black belt – 2nd Degree
Time has disappeared, most of the time. You often move fast, but you’re seldom busy. When you’re playing with the dog, you’re not thinking about any of the big stuff – you’ve already thought about it. You know what every key in your desk drawer is for.