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Ideamatt on GTD with support staff

Matt's Idea Blog: Best practices for GTD and administrative assistants

Matt Cornell has posted some useful notes on emerging best practices for doing GTD with an administrative assistant. There's some practical and thoughtful stuff here, and I recommend having a look.

While I have a gut feeling most 43f readers probably don't have/are not a dedicated admin, I know that most of you do work on teams and do have support staff (or are support staff). And one of the constant themes I hear from people is the need for more advice on how to implement GTD practices outside one's own half-acre (here's my interview with David Allen about just that issue). Articles like Matt's can be useful in considering how information might flow with less friction in your workplace. Great way to get the conversation going, for sure.

I think the theme I like best here may have virtually nothing to do with GTD, strictly speaking, but has everything to do with informal standards, team culture, and divisions of labor. As David said numerous times in our recent interviews, you want to get to the point where you don't need to interrupt one another to trust that any new input makes a responsible entry into a team member's world. But that requires certain shared expectations and, in many cases, a physical external system that everyone understands and utilizes.

To this end, I like Matt's notes on collection:

  • AA answers phone, takes messages. exec gives personal # out to those requiring direct access. NB: 'phone logs' not recommended
  • similarly, AA might process email. controversy: possibly better for exec to see all emails herself (only she knows importance)
  • exec has an OUT box on desk that is AA's IN box (AA checks regularly during day)
  • AA and exec communicate using inboxes (helps reduce interruptions - for non-urgent items)
  • exec dictates notes, AA transcribes
  • use secretary to filter reading material (should know preferences) when exec's away: AA sorts mail into three priorities. look at in first hour after getting back

I suspect that bringing back the physical inbox -- and then (importantly!) deriving a shared set of team expectations about how to use it -- might be the most profound and least costly thing that could be done to improve productivity in the physical office workspace.

And some of the tips under "Final points" can be useful as best practices in any team workplace.

  • Grab-and-Go Strategy #25 (from Morgenstern): "Create a clear division of labor - specify who is responsible for what."
  • get AA up-to-speed on own process, e.g., GTD. Might use a simplified system, since the AA's project is the exec. for example, create file folders for mail passing: urgent, to do, to approve, to sign, to read, to file, to toss.
  • give the AA some interrupt-free, private time blocks - have someone else cover the phones
  • let others know your AA is your surrogate
  • keep each other informed - where you're going, when you'll be back, etc.
  • don't interrupt AAs unless urgent
  • if giving too much to AA, prioritize it

How are you implementing GTD on your team? Whether you are or have support staff, talk about how you delegate work and use inboxes -- both physical and digital -- as a trusted system.

About Merlin

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Merlin Mann is an independent writer, speaker, and broadcaster. He’s best known for being the guy who created the website you’re reading right now. He lives in San Francisco, does lots of public speaking, and helps make cool things like You Look Nice Today, Back to Work, and Kung Fu Grippe. Also? He’s writing this book, he lives with this face, he suffers from this hair, he answers these questions, and he’s had this life. So far.

Merlin’s favorite thing he’s written in the past few years is an essay entitled, “Cranking.”




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