Gutless Estimating

burned omeletteIn Fred Brooks’ book on the perils of software engineering The Mythical Man-Month he tackles (back in 1974, mind you) the reasons why many IT systems are delivered late or, worse still, on time but full of bugs. The recent problems with the apparent premature release of Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed are a case in point.

Brooks refers to the need for individual managers to produce better estimates and to defend them with the assurance that their poor hunches are better than their bosses wish-derived estimates.

In a few paragraphs headed “Gutless Estimating” he uses the analogy of a chef making an omelette to illustrate his point. I will paraphrase his words in the way I have often done when I have needed to defend my own estimates.

For the programmer, as for the chef, the urgency of the completion of the task may govern the scheduled completion of the task, but not the actual completion of the task.

An omelette, promised by the chef in two minutes, may be progressing nicely, but when the two minutes has passed and the omelette has not set, the customer has two choices – wait or eat it raw – and those waiting for IT systems, game software and the like have the same choices.

The cook has another choice (as has the software manager); he can turn up the heat. The result is often an omelette nothing can save – burned in one part, raw in another.

Despite the passage of forty years, the problems with Assassin’s Creed indicate we have learned little.

DIS ISO 9001:2014 Documentation Requirements


In my summary of the new DIS version of ISO 9001 I outlined the change to the documentation requirements brought about by the need to align this management standard with other management standards.

This article explores this change and provides a checklist for the “documented information” required by this new version of ISO 9001.

Documented Information

Documented information replaces the requirement for procedures, records and other items of documentation in the new version of the standard.

Documented information can be of two types:

  1. Documented information that needs to be maintained. This will cover procedures, policies, etc. that would have been referred to as “documented procedures” or just “documents” in ISO 9001:2008
  2. Documented information that needs to be retained. This will cover what ISO 9001:2008 called “records”.

Control of Documented Information

Just as in ISO 9001:2008, documented information needs to be controlled and ISO 9001:2014 clause 7.5 gives the requirements for this.

It applies to two sets of documented information:

  1. Documented information required by ISO 9001:2014
  2. Documented information that the organisation has decided is necessary for the effective operation of the quality management system. This includes documented information of external origin that the organisation has decided is also necessary for the effective operation of the quality management system.

The controls required are essentially the same as in ISO 9001:2008:

  • identification and description (title, author, date or reference number)
  • format and media
  • review and approval
  • change control
  • availability
  • storage and preservation
  • distribution, access, retrieval and use
  • retention and disposition

Documented Information Requirements

In the following table, the documented information requirements from ISO 9001:2014 are listed with the relevant clause number and whether they are to maintained (M) as they are essentially procedural or retained (R) as they are records.

In some cases the requirement is to maintain procedural information and records – these are marked (M+R).

Also, some of the requirements are overarching generic requirements and these have been denoted with an = sign.

Note that an organisation will need to decide for itself what type of documented information they need to produce over and above the standard’s requirements to ensure “the effective operation of the quality management system”.



ISO 9001:2014 Draft International Standard


International Standards are reviewed every five years and the next version of ISO 9001 Quality management systems – Requirements  is due to be published in 2015. The revision of the standard has now reached the DIS (Draft International Standard) stage. Following comments on this version there will be an FDIS – F for Final – when only typographical changes and changes to improve understanding and facilitate translation into other languages will be permitted before the publication of the approved version of the standard.

ISO 9001 is often, wrongly, considered on its own. ISO 9000 Quality management systems – Fundamentals and vocabulary is, as its title suggests, the basis from which the requirements in ISO 9001 are derived. For this reason ISO 9000 is also being revised and the DIS is being released for comment at the same time. Anyone considering the implications of the revised standard needs to read both ISO 9001 and ISO 9000.

In the UK, these DIS versions are available from BSI via the following links:

There is a small discount for BSI members but not the usual 50% reduction.

Comments on both standards need to be submitted to your local standards body, in the case of the UK this is the British Standards Institution. If you do not wish to purchase the standards from BSI (they cost £40 each with no discount for BSI members) then you can read and comment on the standards using this link and giving the standard’s number (9000 or 9001).

ISO 9000:2014 Quality Management Systems – Fundamentals and vocabulary

As mentioned above, this is a key document to aid understanding of ISO 9001 although the elements of the vocabulary relevant to ISO 9001 are repeated in ISO 9001. Before you get to the vocabulary (Clause 3 Terms and definitions), the fundamentals (Clause 2 Quality management principles) give the background to the changes in the standards driven by an “an environment that is profoundly different from that of just a few decades ago” including:

  • accelerated change
  • globalisation of markets
  • limited resources, and
  • the emergence of knowledge as a principal resource

The ISO standards dealing with quality management have come a long way from the 20 clauses of BS 5750 that resulted in 20 procedures and quality manuals that filled one or more shelves and reflected a much more stable environment than modern business has to deal with.

The 2008 (and 2000) versions of ISO 9001 famously, but were wrongly interpreted as, “only requiring six procedures”. The new version doesn’t require any (or at least some will believe it doesn’t because it never refers to any).

Another failing, if it can blamed on the standard itself, was that many didn’t understand the “process approach” that was introduced in the 2000 version. Whole books have been written on it.

This revised version of ISO 9000 attempts to explain the process approach using the analogy of the human body, which is novel and helpful. The problem that most people have with the process approach is it requires them to think about how their organisation works to achieve quality. Many still don’t seem to see the value of this. They, and many consultants advising them, still see ISO 9001 as a system of documents for managing quality and that’s how they go about implementing it – design a system of documents to ensure quality and then try to get the organisation to follow it.

Wrong! ISO 9001 is a set of requirements for defining the processes for ensuring quality. The documentation that is required to control those processes is a part of such a quality management system but not the reason for it.

So, reading ISO 9000 Clause 2 Quality management principles and fundamental concepts is essential to understanding ISO 9001. Clause 3 Terms and definitions isn’t so important at this stage because they are just reference material to help understand ISO 9001 (and ISO 9004 when it also gets revised).

The key changes that you need to be aware of are listed in an Annexe at the back of ISO 9001 and from there you may need to refer back to ISO 9000 to understand the terms being used and their relationships.

ISO 9001 Quality management systems – Requirements

As noted above this version of ISO 9001 contains an Annex clarifying the structure, terminology and concepts  embodied in this revision. In a couple of months time a matrix showing the correlation between the clauses of this version and the previous version (ISO 9001:2008) will be available. This should be a great help to those organisations needing to transition there quality management systems to maintain their ISO 9001 certification. Such organisations are likely to have up to two years to transition to the new version of the standard.

Some of the major changes from ISO 9001:2008 are:

  1. Structure and terminology
  2. Context of the organisation
  3. Risk-based approach

1. Structure and terminology

The Annexe lists four areas of change that I have pulled together as, fundamentally, two of them are caused by ISO’s approach to aligning this with other management system standards.

So many of the changes in this version of ISO 9001 are structural – the names of clauses and how they are sequenced – but many of them are changes of terminology. The Annexe points out that this does not require an organisation to change the structure or terminology of its existing quality management system, though I think it may be useful to compile a concordance document that explains how an existing quality management system addresses the restructured requirements and interprets the new terminology.

The most striking example of the change in terminology is that any reference to a “documented procedure” or “record” in ISO 9001:2008 is now replaced by “documented information”.

There is a helpful definition of how to determine whether this “documented information” might be a “procedure” or might be a “record”.

If the “documented information” needs to be maintained then it is what would have been a “documented procedure” in the 2008 version.

If the “documented information” needs to be retained then it is what would have been a “record” in the 2008 version.

I will be producing a list of what “documented information” the new version of the standard requires and whether this is to be maintained (procedure) or retained (record).

As with the 2008 version the specific requirements, in this case for “documented information”, a listed in the relevant clauses, but there is still an overriding requirement to “maintain documented information to the extent necessary to support the operation of processes and to retain documented information to the extent necessary to have confidence that the processes are being carried out as planned”.

The smaller changes include a reversal of the use of “products” to mean “products and services”. The previous version of ISO 9001 sought to have us understand that “products” included all manner of outputs including hardware, software, services and processed materials. This caused problems with some of the ISO 9001 requirements where, for example in services, conformity to requirements cannot be determined before delivery to the customer. So now in this new version of ISO 9001, products and services are separate again.

The standard no longer refers to specific exclusions when determining the applicability of the requirements to a particular organisation. This has been open to abuse in the past where organisations have tried to exclude parts of their operation from the requirements of the standard. The only exclusions allowed would be where an organisation does not carry out an activity covered by an ISO 9001 requirement (for example, it does not design the products it manufactures) but it cannot exclude the requirement if it could result in a failure to achieve product (or service) requirements.

2. Context of the organisation

Two new clauses have been added again to ensure alignment with other management system standards but they not extend the scope of ISO 9001. They require an organisation to determine how the quality management system should be designed to meet the requirements of the organisation.

This requires the organisation to define and document the scope of the quality management system. This has always been a requirement of a certification body carrying out the assessment of an organisation’s quality management system but it is now one of the items of “documented information” required by the standard.

3. Risk-based approach

ISO 9001 has always taken an implicit risk-based approach as one of the key purposes of a quality management system is the preventative. This is now explicit with a clause being added to the planning of the quality management system to address risks and opportunities at this stage.

There is now no clause referring to “preventive action”.

Some uninformed comment has suggested that formal risk assessment and a documented risk management system are required. This is not the case but if the organisation already has these then a link to the design of the quality management system should be evident.

I will address the extent of the new requirements for “documented information” in a later article.




My GTD System (2014)

This post and all other posts relating to GTD have moved to a new site.


Around April each year I review my GTD System as it’s my birthday month and therefore a new year for me. Also it’s seasonally appropriate to do a Spring-clean!

I’m still with my paper-based A5 Filofax system but late last year the David Allen Co (the originators of GTD) revised their Setup guide for Paper Organisers so this was the main trigger for this year’s “system review”.

There are two key points from the revised Setup Guide for GTD and Paper Organizers that I have tried to take account of:

1. Avoid the use of pre-printed forms

This includes fields, columns, etc. that most times you won’t need as these will become a distraction.The 2014 GTD Organizer, produced as an editable PDF in Letter and Junior size by the David Allen Co illustrate this principle by ensuring that the only forms that have columns with titles are the right column on the Next Actions, Waiting For and Projects forms. All the other forms are completely free format (Agendas and Someday Maybe).

2. Additional sections

Ten sections are suggested including, for the first time, a Focus & Direction section to cover the Horizons of Focus of GTD above the runway (Next Actions) and 10,000 feet (Projects).

This has always made me smile because the GTD system originated in the USA so it has Imperial measures that make so much sense to me. In the rest of Europe do they convert 10,000 feet into metres (3,048) to centimetres (30,480) or just elevate projects to 10,000 metres (10 kilometres)?

The PDF 2014 Organizer does contain forms for this section but as yet I have not seen (or worked out for myself) how to use them to best effect. There is some guidance in the Setup Guide to help with this.

GTD Filofax 2014 Sections

So, taking these into account, my 2014 GTD System looks like this (the forms are available as editable PDFs on the Resources page):

1. Notes/In

For capture of of notes and ideas that I don’t yet know what to do with – just so I don’t lose them.

2. Calendar

The hard landscape – day-specific and time-specific actions and information. In addition to a standard calendar (one week spread over two pages) I also have an Annual Events checklist covering all birthdays, anniversaries and other key events.

3. Next Actions Lists

List of all the next physical actions to complete both project and non-project related. One page per context and I typically use the following contexts:




@Errands (sometimes with a separate page for particular stores – for example @Errands Amazon)


@Office (in my case this is my office in my home)

@Waiting For

4. Agendas

Lists of reminders of items that need to be discussed with key people (sometimes with a separate page for key people – for example @Agendas Anne Marie).

5. Projects

Lists of projects – outcomes that will take more than one action step to accomplish.

I hold three Project Lists – one for Business Projects, one for Home Projects, one for Personal Projects. Used to have a Current Projects List but this effectively made the other three lists Someday Maybe Projects and I decided that didn’t fit with GTD so now there’s a separate list of Someday Maybe Projects that is in the Someday Maybe section.

6. Project Support

Any supporting materials for projects. I use a number of forms to help with this. One is a form that outlines the purpose and goal (outcome) of a project with space for notes and possible Next Actions. The other is simply a form to set out a sequence of Next Actions. Whichever form I use (if any) Project Support material (notes, etc.) is filed behind the form.

7. Someday Maybe

Those Next Actions and Projects that I might want to do at some point but not at present. I have learned to be more ruthless about Projects in particular that I haven’t yet started (that is, there’s no Next Action identified).

8. Focus & Direction

This, as noted above, is a new section and although I have made an attempt before to deal with the Horizons of Focus above 10,000 feet (above Projects) nothing has been successful so far.

Having read David Allen’s last book, Making It All Work, I have a better idea of what’s needed and the 2014 GTD Organizer has some suggested forms to help with this and the Setup Guide has some advice. As yet though, I have not made any further progress and I need to consider whether I need to design my own forms to help with this.

9. Reference

This holds any non-actionable information, lists, checklists, etc.

10. Contacts

Details of names, addresses, telephone numbers, email addresses, etc.

This is now starting to hold other types of contact information such as web sites.

11. GTD Guides

This contains a copy of the Setup Guide for GTD and Paper Organisers and the GTD Workflow Processing and Organizing diagram (from the GTD System Guides)

Other GTD reference information may be added from time to time – for example the Weekly Review guide (also from the GTD System Guides) and selected pages from the  2014 GTD Organizer.

12. GTD Forms

This holds spare copies of my GTD forms.


GTD System goes large!

This post and all other posts relating to GTD have moved to a new site.


Having stopped working on contracts that involved travelling from home, I have reverted to a paper-based GTD system. This continues to be based on an A5 Filofax as I have described in previous posts. But for those wanting a larger system, there follows the construction of an A4 version.

Choosing an A4 Binder

Any A4 binder would do – though it would have need to be a 4-ring binder for stability – but I have a few TMI A4 binders from the days when my system was based on the Time Manager philosophy. Of these binders, two are “system folders” in the sense that they were designed to augment an existing TMI system with additional A4 materials. These binders, as well as the very good Time Manager ring system, have a folder over flap, four pen holders and an array of pockets for cards and other small items. They also have a set of 12 dividers complete with a customisable index.

The closed binder looks like this (click image to enlarge):

2014-03-27 17.14.10

Inside it looks like this (with the right flap folded over (click image to enlarge):

TMI A4 Binder RT Flap closed

One of the pockets down the left of left flap actually allows you to remove the ring mechanism (along with its backplate) of an A5 or Traditional-size Time Manager binder and insert it here within the A4 binder. This isn’t possible with a Filofax as they don’t have this facility – it would have been very useful when it came to moving from the A5 system I had.

With the right flap open showing how the index (see below) is used (click image to enlarge):

TMI A4 Binder RT Flap open


These binders are still on sale from TMI and have the advantage of using the standard 4-ring binder spacing so that a normal hole-punch can be used.

Setting up the binder

In setting up this paper-based GTD system, I have used the GTD Setup Guide for GTD and Paper Organizers which was revised last year.

Around the same time that this latest edition was published, they also produced an editable PDF organiser which contains most of the forms needed for a paper organiser including calendar pages for a year which means you can also have a paper calendar as part of the system.

This editable PDF is in American Letter Size (8.5 by 11 inches). Although an A4 version has been suggested this has not yet been produced. Nevertheless, A4 size forms can be producing either by “scaling-up” the forms to A4 for printing or just printing them as they are (as the size difference isn’t significant). If you are sticking to the A5 size that I used in a Filofax previously, then there’s an American Junior Size (8 by 5 inches) that can be “scaled-up” to A5.

For this A4 system, you could use the forms from the editable PDF but I have now produced A4 forms (based on the original A5 versions). These are available for download in as PDFs on the Resources page.

I am working on producing my own calendar pages for my A5 system and if there is sufficient interest I will produce A4 versions.

GTD System

Although the Setup Guide only requires 10 sections, this binder has 12 sections, so I have set them up like this:

  1. Notes/In – inbox for capturing notes and ideas
  2. Calendar – day-specific actions, time-specific actions, and day-specific information
  3. Next Action Lists – next physical actions, listed by context, for project and non-project items
  4. Agendas – reminders of items to discuss with people and at meetings
  5. Projects – list of all current projects
  6. Project Support – support materials for projects
  7. Someday Maybe – items to be done at some point but which have no current commitment
  8. Focus & Direction – higher horizons of focus – 20K, 30K, 40K and 50K feet
  9. Reference – simple reference list and checklists
  10. Contacts – key contacts, names, addresses and numbers
  11. GTD Guides – key GTD guides (including the Setup Guide)
  12. GTD Forms – blank forms

Next Actions

The following actions have been completed but are included here to help you if you decide to take this approach.

  • Obtain Setup Guide for GTD and Paper Organisers – @Errands
  • Read Setup Guide – @Anywhere
  • Obtain appropriate A4 binder – @Errands
  • Obtain 10-part divider set – @Errands
  • Obtain divider index – @Errands
  • Decide whether to use own forms or GTD PDF Organizer – @Anywhere
  • Obtain GTD PDF Organizer (if required) @Errands
  • Produce own forms (if required) – @Office
  • Set up dividers and index – @Office
  • Transfer existing lists etc. to new binder – @Office
  • Use and review operation as part of Weekly Review – @Weekly Review

In the meantime, Filofax has just released a new type of binder – the Clipbook – and I will be reviewing this to see if it provides a less-cumbersome replacement for my full-size A5 Filofax. I will, in any case, be reviewing the contents of my A5 Filofax against the updated GTD Setup Guide for GTD and Paper Organizers.

GTD – The Story So Far

This post and all other posts relating to GTD have moved to a new site.
As part of the preparations for the revamping of this website, I have consolidated all my writings on David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) as links into a few new entries. This one summarises the five phases of mastering workflow at the heart of GTD.


Would you like to have more energy, be more relaxed, and get a lot more done with much less effort? Who wouldn’t? If the answer’s “yes” then David Allen’s Getting Things Done systematic approach to the “game of work” and the “business of life” is for you.

When I first came across David’s work in 1987, he was still, I believe, refining the practices that he later synthesised into Getting Things Done which he published in 2001 and remains an international best-seller. In 2001 I bought the book and started implementing, or rather transforming, the time management system I was then using into what is now known as the GTD systematic approach.

It was 2006 before I was able to attend one of David Allen’s seminars, which by then had become the GTD The RoadMap. At this I met David and was pleased to find him friendly, approachable and inquisitive about how I came across GTD and how I’d implemented the system.

Since then David has published Ready For Anything (in 2003) and his latest book, Making It All Work, was published in 2008. He is reported to be working on a revision of the original Getting Things Done book that will incorporate what he has learned over 12 years of experiences with the original approach which is largely unchanged.

What is GTD?

GTD is shorthand for Getting Things Done, a systematic approach to achieving higher productivity and reducing the stress in you life.

The approach was first explained in David Allen’s book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity and there’s no better first step than getting his book and then working systematically through it.

However, here’s a simple guide to his five step process:

  1. COLLECT everything that has your attention
  2. PROCESS what has your attention to define what each means to you, what outcome you want to achieve and the next physical action you need to take to move it forward.
  3. ORGANISE reminders in an appropriate way so that you’re reminded what needs to get done, when and where you need to be reminded.
  4. REVIEW your whole system on a regular basis (at least weekly) to keep it current.
  5. DO the next physical actions you’ve processed and organised, according to the context, time and energy available, and priority.

To get started you’ll need to:

  • Set aside the time (particularly for the initial COLLECT phase) – a couple of hours should get you well on your way.
  • Set up the space – a nice clear area, desk, kitchen table, the bench at the bottom of the garden or even a corner down your local coffee shop!
  • Get the tools you need – you don’t need any sophisticated software or other expensive tools – just pen and paper.
  • Get everything else out of the way – make sure you’ve got no interruptions!

In the meantime, get an overview of the Five Phases of Mastering Workflow from David Allen’s site for free


COLLECT is the phase where you need to capture everything that has your attention in leakproof in-baskets.

Your in-baskets can be:

  • physical in-trays
  • email inboxes
  • voicemails
  • notes
  • your head!

Get one physical in-basket and put them all in there. For your emails, print each single email off and put it in your physical in-basket.

The rule is – one item per piece of paper. No lists! Break them down into single items and one per sheet of paper. I know this sounds wasteful but you’ll find it easier to process them that way – trust me!

What you may find is that you need to do what is called a full mindsweep. There may be things on your mind that you don’t know are on your mind. What’s in that cupboard? What’s in that box? What about all that stuff in the garage? If you need help with this try going through this trigger list to remind you of things you need to deal with.

Take a walk round your house. Start in one corner at the bottom, left-most corner near the front of your property and cover the whole house until you’re at the top, right hand corner. Write everything down that you see needs your attention.

You will end up with a very long list but that’s the only way to get everything that’s cluttering up your mind out of your head and down on paper.

You’ll start to feel what it’s like to have nothing on your mind.

Next we can start to PROCESS what you’ve collected!


Before you can get ORGANISEd, you need to PROCESS the information that you have COLLECTed.

You need to decide what each item means to you by asking firstly – “Is it actionable?” – that is, is it something that you need to take action on, or do something about?


  • Is it reference material? If so file it as reference material in an A-Z Filing System. We will come back to the best ways to do this at a later date. For now if you don’t have a filing system put it in another in-tray labelled “Reference”.
  • Is it something you don’t need to do anything about just now but you’d like to be reminded of it at a later date? For example, menus for Christmas or New Year meal that you may want to book. These sort of items go into a Bring Forward (or Tickler File). Again we will talk more about these at a later date. For now put them in another in-tray labelled “Bring Forward” or “Tickler”.
  • Finally, in the Non-Actionable, is it something you no longer need? In this case bin it now!


  • Is this something you can defer until a later date – a reminder to pay a bill for example. This can then go into your Bring Forward file to be actioned on that date.
  • Is this something you can delegate to someone else to do? If it is put it in a pile labelled “Delegate to”.
  • Is this something you need to do? If it is you have two choices. 1. If it will take less than two minutes to do then do it now because it will take more time to write it down and pcik it up again! 2. If it will take longer than two minutes then what’s the next physical action you need to take on this to move it forward? Write this down on a list as an action, for example, “Call Fred about Jane’s school report”.

In dealing with the ACTIONABLE items, think about what outcome you seek for the item that you originally COLLECTed. What does DONE look like? The next physical action is about DOING something that will get something DONE.

If that one next physical action will get the item done then you can discard the item you COLLECTed. But if it will take more than one action to get something done then you have a PROJECT and as well as listing the next physical action on a list you need to put the PROJECT on a list of PROJECTs so that you’re reminded that it’s not finished yet. Then you can discard the COLLECTed item.

Next we’ll look at ORGANISE where you put the items you COLLECT and PROCESSed into a trusted system that will help you with Getting Things Done


Now that you’ve COLLECTed everything that was on your mind and PROCESSed everything so that you know what each item means to you (what’s the expected outcome and what’s the next physical action to move it forward) we can start to get ORGANISEd!

Most people, when they try to implement GTD, have a problem with separating PROCESSing from getting ORGANISEd. But this is a key step because in ORGANISE you build the trusted system that will allow you to release all the stuff that’s clogging up your brain and allow you to reach the GTD “nirvana” of being totally buried by the amount of things you need to do but having nothing on your mind – what David Allen calls a “mind like water”.

But you’re not there yet!

First you need to group all the results of what you’ve PROCESSed into appropriate categories so that you can retrieve and REVIEW them when you need to – remember that REVIEW is the next phase of mastering workflow.

The four key categories are:

  1. PROJECTS – projects you are committed to finish that will take more than one action
  2. CALENDAR – actions that must occur on a specific day or specific time
  3. NEXT ACTIONS – actions that need to be done as soon as possible
  4. WAITING FOR – projects and actions that you’re waiting for someone else to do

For each of these categories you need to make a list of each item you’ve PROCESSed that falls under that category. For CALENDAR items that’s easy – they go on your CALENDAR.

A list of PROJECTS is just that.

A list of WAITING FORs is also relatively simple to compile.

The lists of NEXT ACTIONS should be broken down into separate lists depending on the context in which the action will take place. This is a key principle of GTD that differs from other activity management systems – listing actions according to where they happen.

Typical CONTEXTS are:

  • AGENDAS – lists of the people you need to communicate with, and meetings planned, with the topics you need to discuss
  • ANYWHERE – list of actions that have no restrictions on where they can be carried out
  • CALLS – list of calls you need to make, by type of phone (mobile, landline, etc.) if that’s appropriate
  • COMPUTER – list of actions that require a computer
  • ERRANDS – list of things you need to do whilst you are out and about
  • HOME – list of actions that need to be done whilst you’re in your home environment
  • OFFICE – list of actions that require you to be in your office
  • READ – list of articles, books, etc that you’ve decided to read
  • SOMEDAY/MAYBE – list of items and actions that you might wat to do at some point but not now

So now, armed with your lists of NEXT ACTIONS for each of the CONTEXTs above plus your list of WAITING FORs and PROJECTs you’re ready to go into action. But before we do that, next we’ll look at the REVIEW phase that’s key to GTD – how you keep your lists up to date.


The REVIEW is the most important of the 5 phases of mastering workflow but it’s the one most people struggle to do.

However, it’s essential, once you’ve got all your open loops under control, that you keep them that way otherwise you’ll lapse back into your old ways and get completely out of shape!

How often you do a REVIEW is up to you but the oprimal frequency is weekly – it’s usually referred to as the WEEKLY REVIEW.

There are three parts to the REVIEW:

  1. Get CLEAR
  2. Get CURRENT

Get CLEAR means:

  • get all the loose papers, receipts, etc. that have accumulated since your last REVIEW into you in-basket ready to PROCESS (this is a mini-COLLECT!)
  • get anything that’s in your head out and written down an in your in-basket
  • PROCESS all outstanding items in your in-basket

Get CURRENT means:

  • review all your NEXT ACTION lists and cross off anything that’s done and add any new NEXT ACTIONs that this triggers
  • look back over your calendar since your last Weekly REVIEW for any remaining NEXT ACTIONs and add to your NEXT ACTIONs lists
  • look forward over your calendar for the next few weeks and capture any NEXT ACTIONs triggered by this
  • review your WAITING FOR list checking off completed items and look for any needed follow-up on these and other items and capture any NEXT ACTIONs on your lists
  • evaluate the status of all your PROJECTs making sure that you’ve at least one NEXT ACTION on each

Get CREATIVE means:

  • review your SOMEDAY/MAYBE list and transfer any PROJECTs that have now become active to your PROJECTS list and delete any SOMEDAY/MAYBE items that are no longer of interest
  • think of any new things you want to be doing that you can add to your GTD system

One of the key tricks with the REVIEW is finding the time and space to do it justice. Book a meeting with yourself or take all your lists to your favourite coffee shop and shut out the rest of the world whilst you put your world into order.

Next we’ll look at DO, the final phase of mastering workflow.


DO is the final phase of the Five Phases of Mastering Workflow.

Now that you’ve COLLECTed and PROCESSed everything that has your attention, ORGANISEd all the open loops to make sure that OUTCOMEs and NEXT ACTIONs have been decided on and REVIEWed everything to ensure that it’s current, you now have to decide what to DO.

To make the right choices, you need to think about where you are (CONTEXT), how much time you have (CALENDAR), how much energy you have, and what your priorities are.

If you’ve listed your NEXT ACTIONs according to CONTEXT as we discussed in ORGANISE, it should be easy to identify what actions you could accomplish by looking at the appropriate list. Pick something off the appropriate list that you have the time and energy to DO.

We will return to priority at some future date when we look at the HORIZONS OF FOCUS but for now we’ll just identify what these horizons are:-

  • RUNWAY – Your current NEXT ACTIONs (look at these daily)
  • 10,000 FEET – Your PROJECTS (look at these weekly)
  • 20,000 FEET – Your responsibilities (look at these monthly)
  • 30,000 FEET – one to two-year goals (look at these quarterly)
  • 40,000 FEET – three to five-year goals (look at these annually)
  • 50,000 FEET – career, purpose, lifestyle (look at these annually)


This has been a very quick run through the Five Phases, so feel free to post any questions as comments. In the meantime take a look at the Five Phases of Mastering Workflow from David Allen’s site for free and don’t forget the basic manual on how GTD works in David Allen’s Getting Things Done.

This post and all other posts relating to GTD are moving to a new site.

ABC of Effective Meetings

My old copy of Alec Mackenzie’s best-seller “The Time Trap” was written before email became the major time trap that we all know too well. The fourth version of the book now covers that subject but the following guidelines for making your meetings less of a waste of time are still largely valid.

A. Before the Meeting

1. Consider the alternatives:

  • is the meeting really necessary? If not cancel it.
  • could a decision by the responsible person eliminate the need for a meeting?
  • postpone the meeting and make the agenda part of another meeting
  • would a conference telephone call be just as effective?
  • if you have been asked to attend a meeting them consider sending someone else. It could give them valuable experience.

2. Limit your attendance. Attend only for the time needed to make your contribution.

3. Keep the number of participants to a minimum. Only those who need to attend should attend.

4. Chose an appropriate time. The necessary people and information need to be available. Schedule the meeting before lunch, before another engagement or at the end of the day. This will focus attendees on getting through the meeting agenda.

5. Pick an appropriate place to meet. Accessibility, size of room and the equipment available need to be considered.

6. Make sure you know what you want to get out of the meeting before you call it.

7. Distribute the agenda before the meeting to help those attending to prepare.

8. Limit the length of the meeting by allocating a time to each topic on the agenda according to its importance.

9. Consider the cost of the meeting. Multiply the number of attendees by the duration of the meeting and your hourly rate. Now double this figure (as those attending the meeting are not doing their own job whilst attending your meeting!) Is it worth it?

B. During the Meeting

10. Start on time. Waiting for latecomers rewards those who are late and punishes those who are punctual.

11. Take responsibility for timekeeping and taking the minutes.

12. Hold a stand-up meeting if appropriate as this speeds up the making of decisions.

13. Stick to the agenda. Ask at the start of the meeting if there is any other business rather than at the end. This way the other business can be timetabled just like the rest of the agenda rather than prolonging the actual end of the meeting.

14. Only allow interruptions for emergencies. If anyone needs to respond to a call, ask them to leave the meeting.

15. Agree actions with those attending the meeting. Do not action anyone not present at the meeting but action someone at the meeting to convey the action to them if necessary.

16. Make sure that you achieve the purpose of the meeting.

17. At the end of the meeting confirm agreed actions.

18. Finish on time so that other peoples schedules are respected. If the agenda was organised in order of importance then only minor items will be left unfinished.

19. Ask those present for their views on the meeting and the way it was conducted to improve future meetings.

C. After the Meeting

20. Produce the minutes the same day.

21. Follow up on the actions and report progress (or lack of it!)

A common framework for Management System Standards

ISO has produced a draft guide (ISO DGUIDE 83) setting out how it thinks the Management System Standards such as ISO 9001, ISO 14001, ISO 27001, etc. should be structured.

They set out the standard clause numbers under which the specific requirements of all management standards should be detailed.

These are (XXX is the appropriate Management System, such as “quality management”):

  • Introduction
  • 1. Scope
  • 2. Normative references
  • 3. Terms and definitions
  • 4. Context of the organisation (with sub clauses covering 4.1 Understanding the organisation and its context, 4.2 Understaning the needs and expectations of interested parties, 4.3 Determining the scope of the management system, and 4.4 XXX management system)
  • 5. Leadership (with sub clauses covering 5.1 General, 5.2 Management commitment, 5.3 Policy, 5.4 Organisational roles, responsibilities and authorities)
  • 6. Planning (with sub clauses covering 6.1 Actions to address risks and opportunities, 6.2 XXX objectives and plans to achieve them)
  • 7. Support (with sub clauses covering 7.1 Resources, 7.2 Competence, 7.3 Awareness, 7.4 Communication, 7.5 Documented information)
  • 8. Operation
  • 9. Performance evaluation (with sub clauses covering 9.1 Monitoring, measurement, analysis and evalaution, 9.2 Internal audit, 9.3 Management review)
  • 10. Improvement (with sub clauses covering 10.1 Nonconformity and corrective action, 10.2 Continual improvement)

At first glance, preventive action seems to have disappeared. In fact it is still there but in Annex E where the use of common terms is management system standards is discussed.  It points out that the term “preventive action” deal with under dealing with nonconformities in some management system standards (ISO 9001:2008 is a good example) but in other standards (ISO 27001:2005 is an example) it is dealt with under risk management.

My own experience is that the close proximity of the terms “corrective action”, “preventive action”, “occurrence” and especially “prevent recurrence” in the clause dealing with “corrective action” in ISO 9001:2008 has most people confused about the difference between “preventive” and “corrective” action. See here.

In ISO 9001:2008, preventive action is risk management – a preventive action is one take before something occurs – corrective action is taken after the event.

Following the standard clauses set out above, the guide has five annexes.

  • Annex A gives further guidance on the standard clauses.
  • Annex B provides general guidance on the use of common terms and definitions, concentrating on how they should be arranged.
  • Annex C will provide a concept diagram of the common terms and definitions (and is blank in this draft of the guide).
  • Annex D gives guidance on drafting and representing terms and definitions.
  • Annex E defines the common terms used in management system standards.

It will be interesting to see how this guide is applied as the management system standards are revised. It should make the integration of management systems easier and the auditing and assessment of organisations where more than one management system standard is being operated easier, and less time consuming, to be carried out. 


Burnley born and bred