Don’t look a gift list in the mouth

Her awkward smile and clenched teeth told me it was bad. And then I remembered – she didn’t even like dark chocolates. Even though the letters on the box spelled out Black Magic, her gift had ’24-hr garage’ written all over it.

When you give a gift to someone you are, in a sense, speaking to them and the message on this festive occasion was, “I remembered your present on the way home from the pub last night after a couple of pints of Olde Tom’s Winter Warmer”.

I wasn’t a great gift-giver back then, but eventually my reputation started to turn the corner after I discovered Getting Things Done (GTD) and began to experiment with ways to be more organised.

One of the first ways it worked for me was in the arena of gift-giving. I simply started emailing myself a reminder whenever I saw something cool online that might make a good gift for someone. I’d then file the email in an Outlook folder called ‘Gifts’ and it became a place I could dip into all year-round for instant Xmas and birthday solutions.

It’s a plan that has brought happiness to friends, family and Amazon shareholders many times over.

As the years have passed, my GTD system has matured but under the bonnet it still runs according to the same key GTD practices – capturing ideas when they show up and parking them in a trusted system until it’s useful to be reminded about them.

Gift-giving is an area where this kind of organisation can really earn its stripes. Even if your loved ones don’t say exactly what they want for Xmas, they’ll give you hints all year-round. It could be February when you detect a faint yearning behind a casual remark or a longer-than-usual gaze in a shop window. Making a note there and then and storing it outside your head can have a great return-on-investment later in the year.

By then it will have become a great gift because the best ones aren’t just about what’s in the box, they’re also about the feeling that someone knows you well. And if your system stays out of sight your powers of gift-giving might almost feel like black magic.