I believe it was 2005. One of my former partners gave me David Allen’s book: Getting Things Done. I began reading it on the plane coming back from Washington, DC. Before I finished reading it, I ordered 20 copies and started giving them to lawyers I was coaching at the time. I talked about the book so frequently with one coaching group that the administrative pro working with the group became a certified Getting Things Done trainer and she conducted an all-day session on how to implement the ideas. It remains the most popular book on my suggested reading list.

You might recall that a couple of weeks ago I wrote: Client Development: Change What You Think it Takes to Succeed and I bragged about Lamson Dugan and Murray partner Anastasia Wagner. She was one of the lawyers who really implemented what she read in the book. When I asked her for a self-assessment, she reported that implementing ideas from GTD was her major breakthrough. I asked her to share her thoughts with you.

I have worked with Cordell for the past year, and during this time, my law practice has changed dramatically. The most visible change is the appearance of my office. I was a hoarder. No, my office was not covered in maggots and trash, but there were probably some psychological similarities. I was governed by paper. Specifically, I piled. My desk was covered in well-intentioned piles of paper.

 (photo is representative only – I didn’t think to take a before picture)

Why did I hoard? Control. At my fingertips was everything I felt I needed to be on top of my cases. Copies of correspondence? Check. Scheduling orders? Check. Research? Check. How could I not know everything about a case when it was constantly within reach?

Then Cordell suggested I watch a presentation by Brook Redmond on tips for a more productive day. Brook is a certified trainer for the GTD work-life management system, based upon David Allen’s groundbreaking book.

I learned that hoarding is not control. By having things on my desk without attention or a plan, I was not in control at all. So I cleaned out my office, including eight years of random articles and case law “I might need someday.” I went through the piles to identify what should be filed and what should be tossed. I reviewed my cases and developed lists of next actions – concrete steps to move the case forward (as opposed to generalities such as “obtain summary judgment affidavits”). Three days and two 40-gallon recycle bins later, my office was clean. My bookshelf is no longer stuffed with random papers. My desk is clear but for two folders labeled Waiting For and Needs Action. More importantly, each of my cases has a plan.

Before GTD, I was proud of my hoarding abilities. This makes it painful to publicly air my confessions, but here goes. Since adopting the GTD philosophy:

  1.  I sleep better. With my Needs Action folder and action list, I do not wake up with panic at 3:00 a.m. over forgotten tasks.
  2. I am in greater control. I know where each case stands and what I need to do.
  3. Being in greater control has increased time for billable and non-billable activities.
  4.  It is nice to see the wood on my desk.
  5. In four months, I haven’t needed one thing from those precious piles.
Do you want to make your life less stressful? If so, I urge you to read Getting Things Done.