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Some thoughts from the book "Getting Organized" by Chris Crouch

As I grow into the reality of working for myself, I've noticed there's a rhythm to how much activity I can handle, and it ebbs and flows, often in unpredictable ways. A while ago I wrote about When inputs exceed your workflow system's capacity, a situation I'm currently in - I'm focusing more on managing existing commitments (I'm presenting a fair number of workshops this summer) than creating new work. This is especially evident in my reading - I have a candidates shelf of about forty books (see A reading workflow based on Leveen's "Little Guide"), but I'm just not making much progress on them.

That's why I keep a list of blog ideas (1396, according to my Big-Arse Text File), including books I've read but not yet reported on. Today I want to pass along some notes from Getting Organized: Learning How to Focus, Organize and Prioritize by Chris Crouch. This is known as the GO System, which has its own network of certified practitioners. (Note: Many of the book's chapters can be found on EzineArticles.com.)

Looking at my notes, the book surpasses my scribble test (see "Interesting, but not useful," or Does it pass the scribble test?) with a bunch of stimulating concepts. Generally it's very good, mainly because it is a comprehensive solution - like Getting Things Done - rather than a reference of tips and tricks.

Here are some of my favorites - apologies fore the long list, but there's a lot to like!
  • Crouch says "most people need a major overhaul, not a quick fix," which explains why most attempts to get organized don't work - the smorgasbord approach doesn't do it.
  • The author says six things typically hold us back, and claims we must address all six to make progress:
    1. efficiently handling incoming items
    2. prioritizing your workload
    3. time management
    4. project management
    5. personality issues
    6. psychological issues
  • The mental side of getting organized is significantly more important than anything else you do. His analogy: It's like buying a piano and thinking you can play it the next day. I like his quote about:
    If you want to stay highly organized, think in terms of habit-based solutions as opposed to gadget-based ones.
  • He recommends a "not going to do" list, the equivalent of GTD's Someday/Maybe list. (Note: I love having clients fill these out during workshops - clients come up with some great ones.)
  • He recommends we decide our most important task in the morning and do it before anything else - interruptions, email, or phone. Gina calls it your MIT (see Geek to Live: Control your workday). However, you must have a system in order to know what your MIT might be.
  • His summary of how to work most effectively: stay in the moment - totally focus on what you are doing and get closure on it ... then move on to the next thing.
  • He divides incoming work in to four phases: 1) gathering, 2) filtering, 3) prioritizing, 4) doing. He stresses it's important to keep them separate and do them in the proper order. (Compare to GTD's five worfklow phases: Collect, Process, Organize, Review, and Do.)
  • Similarly, his equivalent to GTD's Processing & Organizing diagram is "the five decisions:" discard, delegate, take immediate action, file for follow-up, put in reference file. (For reference see How to process stuff - A comparison of TRAF, the "Four Ds", and GTD's workflow diagram.)
  • I like his anti-example (what people typically do, but shouldn't): stack, stuff, spread, or any combination. I think of these as the three "Bad Ss" :-)
  • He covers two GTD FAQs I see regularly: OHIO (only handle it once) and OOSOOM (out of sight, out of mind).
  • Regarding reducing inputs and clutter, he has a great quote:
    The things that come into your life with little or no effort will rarely go out of your life without some effort on your part. This creates a natural imbalance in your workspace and your life. Understand this imbalance and will understand that you must have a system for moving things out of your life if you want to avoid being buried in clutter.
  • He recommends a "control point" drawer: A hanging file within swivel distance that acts like an airport control point (reminds me of The Instant Productivity Toolkit). Things that go into it:
    • Tickler file
    • follow-up forms
    • agenda (boss, spouse, each on-going meeting)
    • casual reading (read/review)
    • waiting for
    • purchases/errands
  • Two nice quotes on gadgets: The true test of a gadget: Is it easier than a pencil? also: Is it easier than something that is already working quite well?
  • Regarding follow-up, he says there are three types of reputations of an organization: sometimes, always, or never.
  • Some nice applications for the tickler file:
    • For big delegated projects put a reminder 1/2 way between now and due date.
    • To manage others' follow-up skills: put a tickler 1/2 way between now and the deadline, then ask how they're doing. Move sooner or later depending on how together they are.
    He says this sets expectations, which can lead to behavior changes.
  • I like his thoughts on meetings: He encourages us to have an agenda, but to try to learn others' perspectives - the more you know about their point of view (and they're important to your success), the more effective you will be when interacting with them.
    Listen carefully to their point of view, and try to understand the beliefs that drive their behavior. It's actually a lot of fun to ask questions and try to figure out what makes them tick.
  • He recommends two categories for reading: have to read (use your system, or schedule time), and would like to read (use read/review and rip-and-read). This is identical to what I advise clients, but with the optional addition of a Someday/Maybe category.
  • He says we shouldn't over schedule our day - More than 50% should be kept clear. Also, leave time after meetings to process &, plus leave time between meetings.
  • He talks about the overloaded and confused cycle, which "stuff" worsens. Be on the lookout for anxiety and confusion; these indicate overload.
  • On perfection and "too smart to start" (AKA "analysis paralysis"): Consider getting off to a chaotic start. He says many people try to get perfect at the beginning. Instead, start with an initial brainstorming session using 3x5 cards, then order by best way to start.
  • For planning large projects, use a simple table with columns for: category (people, products, sources), what is to be done, who will do it, when will they do it, general comments, status (in process, completed, ...). Then: sort the table by date!
  • His reasons we feel overwhelmed:
    • You are setting unrealistic time frames for what you are trying to do.
    • You are procrastinating too long.
    • You are spending too much time working on things that do not matter.
    • You are over-promising what you can do for someone.
    • You do not have the profound knowledge needed to do the task.
    • You do not know when and how to say No.
  • He lists these causes of procrastination:
    • Perfectionism - the paralyzing need to get it right the first time
    • Impulsiveness - taking on too many things to do and overloading yourself
    • Fear of failure - rather be seen as lacking in effort than ability
    • Perception of task - seems too hard or too boring
    • Uncertainty - not sure what to do
  • Three things to do to master your work: Read, hang around masters, and make sure you are passionate about your job. I love his quote:
    Stop making excuses and start learning more about your job than anyone else within a 100-mile radius of your workspace. When you accomplish this, move your radius out another 100 miles. Keep this up until you don.t have anymore room to expand your radius.
  • He makes a great point regarding "To Do" lists - most people make it too easy for things to get on the list, which means our "inputs" (work to do) exceed our "outputs" (work done). Mark Forster nails this pretty well (he calls them closed lists) - see Do It Tomorrow and Other Secrets of Time Management.
  • On changing behaviors, he says anytime we encounter a new idea there are three possible outcomes: 1) nothing will happen, 2) you will alter your behavior in some minor ways, 3) the idea will significantly change your behavior and your life forever. He claims we must examine and disrupt the belief system that is driving that outcome...
  • Finally, he talks about the ideas behind the work, including:
    • under pressure, you act without thinking
    • you can turn on the rational mind by relaxing
    • if feeling part of brain is on, you default to habits (good or bad)
    • if you insist on operating under pressure, you must learn good habits
    • something that feels right may be bad for you (it's a habit that feels normal)
    • something that feels wrong may be good for you (it's not a habit yet)

Again, a great book, lots of sound ideas, and some delightful wisdom about work and life. I'll leave you with a few more great quotes (I collect them for my infamous quote card exercises in my workshops):
Good productivity techniques are about feeling engaged, working at a satisfying pace, and getting the best out of people.
A peaceful state of mind is the ultimate reason for getting more focused, organized, and productive.

Reader Comments (12)

Great post, thank you! I'm a GTD devotee but this has some really nice ideas. I've put the book on my list to pick up when next in a bookshop, thank you! Fiona

June 4, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Fiona, thanks for reading.

Brent: I wouldn't advise anyone to separate their todo list from their waiting for list: Hmmm. That's exactly how GTD works, right? They are different lists - and used differently - but yes, definitely reviewed regularly.

As always, an easily read post with stacks of information: Thanks, Brent. And I agree: Chris Crouch's ideas are solid.

June 4, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

First, I really enjoyed the details you put into your review.

You say that it is "a great book, lots of sound ideas".

How does that translate for us, the unwashed masses? It is a 'must read', a 'do not bother' or somewhere in between? I guess I am looking for some sort of bottom line on this.

June 4, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterdon

don, It is a 'must read', a 'do not bother' or somewhere in between? I guess I am looking for some sort of bottom line on this.: Hmmm. I don't have a set answer for you. If you were blown away by the ideas you read about, by all means buy the book. But if what you read satisfies you, skip it. An intermediate step might be to read the free on-line articles [ here | http://ezinearticles.com/?expert=Chris_Crouch ].

Hope that helps!

June 4, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell


Thank you for the information! As usual your thoughts and ideas help crystallize many of my own issues into SOLUTIONS!

HOW do you make the time to BOTH work AND write? Amazing! Truly!

Cheers from Texas.


June 5, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterJeffH

Jeff: You are very kind! You are welcome, and thanks a ton. Helping readers gives me a real boost.

HOW do you make the time to BOTH work AND write?: First, I have an internal contract with myself to write one post per week, rain or shine (I'm trying to develop discipline). Second, I'm certainly working, though it's early days and I have (and have created) time to read and write. That said, the reading needs to pick up again.

Thanks for reading, and for your comment.

June 5, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

i just post all my things that I need organized on my dry erase board wall. Best place to get dry erase boards and dry erase overlays is http://www.ZoomaZoomaZoom.com

June 8, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterBobbyD

Here's a nice email I received from the author, FYI.


I read your blog comments. Thanks for the positive feedback. There are also several articles (actually past newsletters) on my website – see [ www.thegosystem.com > Library > Articles and Tips | http://www.thegosystem.com/index.asp?rightnav=true&name=Articles%5Fand%5FTips&rid=149&lid=45&lname=Library ]. The articles are in PDF format and can be read or downloaded at no cost. I wish you much success with your summer workshops.

Chris Crouch

June 12, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

excellent review and book suggestion Matt - thanks!

June 17, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterBob Walsh

Thanks, Bob. Glad you liked it.

June 18, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell
It is nice to give assistance to others, especially if this will help them get more organize or become more productive. Others might think that setting goals and priorities are very easy - but not to everyone. Most of us might require guidance or styles to follow in order to keep up with everything happening at work and home. this helps us remember the things that need to be accomplished for the day and we avoid wastage - not just for papers or documents being redone because they have mistake but most importantly with regards to time. For office or school work, getting organized is indeed a big help. This helps us avoid wasting paper and other office/school supplies, make us more focused and decisive about which thing to do first.
August 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterD_S_S Texas
Thanks, D_S_S.
August 27, 2011 | Registered CommenterMatthew Cornell

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