GTD For Legal: Capturing and Transforming “Stuff” into Next Action Items

Legal_GTD_Day_3.pages.jpgIn order to provide a wide range of information to our wide ranging audience, I like to from time to time post different information and not just on blogging. As a way to provide information I was very pleased that Larry Port from Rocket Matter agreed to provide the follow guest post. Enjoy.

By Larry Port:

As part of our weeklong legal efficiency-fest, we’re discussing the Getting Things Done productivity system in the context of a law firm. Each day this week, we’ll write guest posts at prominent legal blogs exploring the system in more detail.

Yesterday we painted an overview of Getting Things Done for the legal practitioner. As GTD adherents will say, becoming an organizational “black belt” takes a lot of time. And utilizing all components of the system may not work for you. But several of the techniques, such as the ones I’m presenting this week, are those that by themselves can really impact your productivity.

Dealing with “Stuff”

In GTD, “stuff” has a specific definition: “anything you have allowed into your psychological or physical world that doesn’t belong where it is, but for which you haven’t determined the desired outcome and the next action step” (from “Getting Things Done”, Chapter 1).

In other words, stuff is anything you have to deal with that requires a plan of action, from the trivial to the complex. The problem most people encounter when they attempt to get organized is that they don’t think about their stuff and transform it into actionable plans. For example, recording a to-do called “work on matter” will not help you move forward with your work, as there’s no clear result from the activity. It’s too vague.

Capturing “Open Loops”

To achieve the stress-free part of the GTD system, one of the most vital components is capturing information. If you don’t get your stuff out of your head and collected into a capture system, your mind, consciously or sometimes less that consciously, keeps track of all of the incomplete items in your life. These incomplete items are referred to as “open loops”, and can distract you from the present moment, sap energy, and cause stress.

A huge part of GTD is embracing a capture system and eliminating all “open loops” from your psyche. Find a system that inspires you, whether a 3×5 index card system, portable notebook, dictation device, (or shameless plug, Rocket Matter’s beautiful new task functionality) and get everything out of your head.

GTD recommends a process called a “Mind-Sweep”, where you spend twenty minutes to an hour writing out each thought, idea, or project that is in your head. Capture everything from the mundane “need more dental floss” to the wishful thinking “reduce carbon footprint”.

A Well-Written Next Action Item

Once your stuff is captured, it needs to be described so that acting on it will have a measurable outcome. Before, with the “work on matter” vague to-do item example, a task with a cloudy description will not drive you forward. “Review Westlaw for similar case precedents”, however, will.

The Next Action is the “next physical, visible activity that needs to be engaged in, in order to move the current reality towards completion” (from “Getting Things Done”, Chapter 2). Other examples might be “Call client to discuss amendment to operating agreement”, “Research web-based legal software tools”, or “Draft Motion to Dismiss for Smith Matter”.

Using action verbs to describe physical steps are crucial to describe your Next Action items. Verbs like “Call, Draft, Review, Find, Print, Email, Research” – all of these are ideal ways to describe your stuff, so that it transforms from the vague blob of an idea to a results-oriented description.

Stay Tuned

Stay tuned for tomorrow, where we’ll explore organizing, the “two minute rule” and “Do it, Defer it, and Delegate it.”

Purchase “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity” at

Larry Port is a Founding Partner and Chief Software Architect for Rocket Matter, LLC.  You can follow him on Twitter @rocketmatter

About The Author
Grant Griffiths is founder of Blog For Profit and co-founder of Headway, the first Drag and Drop WordPress Theme Framework. You can follow Grant on twitter at @grantgriffiths
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