Procrastination pt.2: Friends with Fear

In my first article about procrastination I talked about procrastination caused by disorganization.

A second cause T. Quek mentions is FEAR.
Someone once told me that it is nothing but False Evidence Appearing Real.

So, procrastination inducing fear comes in two different flavours:

Rational vs. irrational

“I know I should finish my article on procrastination, but why can’t I seem to do it?”

Discipline vs. comfort

“I planned to finish my article, but when time came, I didn’t feel like it anymore.”

The antidote to fear is faith, trust and some inspiration. So here goes.

INSPIRATION

  • Last year in Capetown I came across a simply beautiful collection of poetry by the South African poet Helen Steiner Rice, called: A collection of Joy. Here’s a quote from her poem Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.

Yesterday’s dead, tomorrow’s unborn,
So there’s nothing to fear and nothing to mourn,
For all that is past and all that has been
Can never return to be lived once again…
And what lies ahead or the things that will be
Are still in God’s hands, so it is not up to me (…)

  • What Would a Monk Do?

Being a monk is all about living in the present moment. Fear is either living in the future: “I will not be able to finish this task! It’s too big, too hard or fill in the dots…” or in the past: “I could not successfully manage this task in the past, so I will never be able to!”*

A Benedictine monk goes about his task quietly, steadily and mindfully. Not looking back, except at designated times. In the evening he takes time out for a brief examination of conscience. The reassuring rhythm of his life may seem boring to some but appealing to fear-driven creatures like me.
Moreover, he gives all his worries to God in prayer daily.

Freedom for me is surrendering my fears to God on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis and living in a flexible structure, enabling me to change plans at any given moment, with the inner guidance of God.

Everybody has fears and that’s ok. If I befriend my fears, bring them to tea, chat with them and surrender them, then that’s great. If I don’t succeed in doing that, I just dust myself off and try again. There’s always a new moment.

PRACTICAL TIPS

What’s my solution?

  • Making bite-size chunks of tasks and putting them daily from my general (big-ass) todo list onto a handwritten (this is essential for me) daily todolist (a detailed account about my current system, which is: GTD combined with ZTD, in one of my following articles).
  • Surrendering fear by being Aware, Accepting it and taking Action, in the form of little action steps. That’s how I befriend my fears.
  • If my worry or fear is too big I write it on a note and put that in my crafted God-box. You can find awesome step by step creative inspiration to make your own here.

What actions do you take to get out of fear-based procrastination? Love to hear your stories!

Next time we’ll talk about a third and my ‘favorite’ source of procrastination: perfectionism based! So stay tuned!

I’d love for you to spread the word via Facebook, email, Twitter or word of mouth if you like what you’ve read.
Word of mouth rocks! My humble gratitude for that.

Peace!

You can find me on: Facebook or on Twitter.

 or
 Take a minute to leave a comment now, I’d really appreciate it!

* T. Quek

A Benedictine solution to procrastination: pt 1: Organize

image

“An ancient proverb states: ‘It is not the size of the tree but the depth of its roots that make it strong.’ Procrastination usually has very deep roots. The problem of procrastination is one that often goes beyond self-discipline and whipping oneself from stasis to stress.” T. Quek

Comparing this to the way of a Benedictine monk, I notice his fluent transition from one activity to the next, at the sound of a bell, without dragging his feet.

Quek mentions 4 possible causes for procrastination:

(1) Disorganization:

  • poor distinction between urgency and priority
  • distractibility
  • forgetfulness
  • ‘lumping’

(2) Fear

  • rational vs. irrational
  • discipline vs. comfort

(3) Perfectionism

(4) Procrastination as an indicator of underlying illnesses (like ADD or mental disorders)

This is the first article in a series of three, where I go into these causes and present a Benedictine inspired solution for them.

Disorganization: The luring illusion of ‘comfort’ tasks

This is characterized by a poor distinction between urgency and importance.

Quek’s theory is that the typical procrastinator tends to procrastinate doing a lot of so-called ‘comforttasks, which are easy to reach, convenient or interesting to perform.
This causes a pile-up of old and new tasks wich start crying out for attention, thus becoming urgent, regardless of their level of importance.
The ‘tyranny’ of all the open loops of important tasks start weighing down on the procrastinator and she will want to perform even more comfort tasks to relieve that stress: a vicious cycle is born.

Distractibility: “What does THIS button doooo?”

Distractions are a multitude of off-task behaviours

This is a HUGE issue for me. Midsentence I fall prey to the lure of Facebook, What’sApp, texting, email – not so much anymore these days because I get so repelled by all the unanswered emails sitting in my inbox – eating, drinking, sudden cleaning urges, old-fashioned daydreaming, or doing non-important, non-urgent comfort tasks, *sigh*…

Forgetfulness: “Yeah, I was just about to do it…”

I can be really short about this: Put your mind on paper (or electronics). Author and guru of GTD (Getting Things Done): David Allen states we can only consciously remember a list of 10 things, if we put in another, then we “erase” the first again.

“The mind is for having ideas not holding them” –

David Allen

It’s key though to keep reminders of things to do in a dedicated place! Not in ten!
In my next post I will elaborate on this, with regards to the GTD-method.

Here’s already a nice teaser for you: David’s terrific video talk for “Dolectures“, on this subject.

Lumping!

Lumping or chunking is the errant perception that most tasks come as an inseperable whole (a “lump”) and cannot be subdivided and dealt with systematically.

Whoa! I feel so relieved to see that my plight actually has a name. How many fears in my life stem from this misconception.
Lumping my writing, lumping my household, lumping my life!

Ok, now that I’ve acknowledged my utter state of disorganization, I feel relieved yet inspired to change this. But: babysteps, one step at a time, towards no more lumping.

How would a typical Benedictine monk go about his tasks? Can I borrow some of his wisdom to infuse into my disorganized life?

  • A Benedictine monk would divide his attention well, praying for discernment in setting priorities at the beginning of his day, after a period of empty mind: meditation.
  • He would neither make a distinction between Ora et Labora (Pray and Work), nor between eating, loving or praying, because he knows that everything is equally important. The mundane is just as key as the heavenly.
  • He would also set emotional boundaries for himself: saying “no” to himself in case of distraction. So when the bell tolls: change of scenes. No: ” I quickly finish this…” or “Hey, I am praying but I actually have to give my abbot a phone call right now”.
  • He would take notes on his little notepad, which he takes with him everywhere, hidden in his habit. (Don’t you like the pun that monks are creatures of habit? A monk’s “habit” is also his cape.) He would then place a reminder on his to-dolist, but there wouldn’t even be the need for an agenda, because his day is being shaped by the ever present bell.
  • And he would not need an intricate productivity system, because his life were already stripped to the bare essentials: eat, pray, love your neighbour, work and recreate.
  • The monk would keep it simple, and progress slowly but steadily. He would give each different activity his undivided* attention, mindfully and slowly going from one thing to the next.
  • The daily timetable or horarium** of the monk automatically prevents him from “lumping”, because his day is already neatly subdivided. The great thing for him though, is that his abbot makes that table already for him, following the Rule of Benedict. We in turn have to let our own wise mind (our own ‘abbot’) sternly but lovingly set boundaries for ourselves, using a timer and planning ahead at the start of each new day.

To be continued!

In the next post we are going to look at fear-based procrastination.

Let me know if you recognize anything in my article, I’d love to talk with you about it! Maybe we can inspire each other with ways to tackle the problem of procrastination.

You can also find me on Facebook or Twitter.

*to divide comes from dividere (Latin), which means: to force apart or to cleave.

** Continue reading

More ‘Zen’ in my productivity

Lately I have been slowly moving away from GTD towards something else, a more simplistic and ‘zen’-approach if you like.

The GTD Weekly Review was taking me more and more time to perform.
Why? Because I had just so much input for it. Especially my input for the Someday/Maybe-list got so overwhelming that I could not cope with the information stream anymore.
I was feeling like I was locked up in a tredmill going nowhere and I found out I had become an information-addict! Scared to miss out on the latest and the loudest, in fear of making the wrong choices of where to put my focus on.

What were my solutions to this feeling of impending doom?

Information Bankrupcy

I declared an information-bankrupcy by rigorously cutting back on my information sources:

  •  I am done capturing every nice shop or brand I want to check out on the web and putting them all in my Someday/Maybe-list for follow-up. I’m ashamed to say had become a slave to my ‘wants‘, a slave even to commercialism. I was reacting, not creating…
  •  I pruned my facebook and twitter contacts and declared total rss-reader bankrupcy.
  • I have been (re)reading Leo Babauta‘s books. ‘the Power of Less‘, ‘Focus‘ and I will also have a look into ‘Un-procrastinate‘. His views on living life mindfully, simply and fulfilling have greatly inspired me! Check his websites: Zenhabits and Power of less.

The Power of Less

I use Leo’s approach by working on 1-3 important things each day and simply list them each evening.
This keeps my head clear, my goals realistic and my focus strong. Leo Babauta is even moving to a goalless day at the moment. I know that life is so quicksilvery and fragile, I can make all the plans I want, but when I go with the flow and am flexible, yet not procrastinating, things get done in a far more easygoing, fluid way. Rigidity and complexity can frustrate things unnecessarily. ‘Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans’… (cliche but true).

Waiting For list

I keep using the ‘Waiting For’-list. It’s still an awesome GTD tool.
I write the date and the person or organization who owes me: money, a reply, goods, a call or whatever and I occasionally look at the list. Voila, easy does it.

Evernote

For Someday/Maybe stuff I use Evernote.
This is very convenient for me. My favorite things to clip off of internet are: quotes and nice pictures for moodboards or blog entries. Also I can easily clip info from different pages into evernote and compare for a quick but informed purchase decision. I don’t like to spend too much time on comparing stuff, but I also want to make a good (not perfect) choice. Just like the bike I bought recently.

Nothing beats pen and paper

For my daily lists I use good ol’ pen and paper (I have to admit that I even got rid of Nozbe, which I really liked at first and which I still think is a really good tool for GTD’ers, but too complex for my liking).
I am a stationary lover (not to say addict…) and I just love the tactile sensation of a Moleskine notepad with  my favorite pen: the Uniball Eye.

Simplifying things is making me feel reborn and renewed! More about simplicity, mindfulness and productivity in my coming blog-entries.

Tool #1 for simplifying my life:
I use a writing tool with the dodgy name of ‘Darkroom‘ (for Windows), which allows me to have a totally black screen with green writing without formatting for a focused and simple writing experience.
I highly recommend it.
For Mac-users there’s WriteRoom

If you like you can leave a comment below or find me on Twitter.

Declutter your input!

http://www.puur-puravida.nl

All year I have been carrying my ubiquitous capturing tool: my paper notepad everywhere, becoming a ‘Capture‘-ing blackbelt. But something kept nagging at me….

Eventually I noticed my Weekly Review consisted of a lot of Someday Maybe’s related to consumerist wants on the one hand and quotes for blogging on the other, which I was dutifully entering into Evernote and Nozbe. At some point I started losing sight of the bigger picture and didn’t have time to actually complete my Review.

My friends Tara Rodden Robinson and Augusto Pinaud suggested in my fun interview with them on @Context (episode 16) that I could buy an Iphone to make data entering easier. We even joked I would blame them if I eventually couldn’t resist buying one 🙂

…….Bigger – faster – harder – stronger!!!!!!!! was ringing in my ears….my head was spinning..it had to stop!…….

“She said run, but I’m not running no I’m not running.
Let ’em come, let ’em come but I’m not running, no, I ain’t running no more.
No more!” Children 18:3 (@Youtube)……..

It turned out I didn’t need a more sophisticated capturing tool but an other view on what was actually worth capturing at all.
These were Fr. Roderick’s epiphanic words from the Health and Holiness Bootcamp-podcast episode 33 for me:

What is decluttering your life? Getting rid of anything you have in abundance, living a life detached from stuff. Because that can be hampering to living a happier and holier life. I mean, getting to inbox zero is amazing but I wouldn’t trade it in for more important things like family, workout, prayer(…)
Decluttering is also letting go of the desire to be always up to date with everything that happens, constantly mastering the stream of communication, keeping tabs on all that I have.”

I listened to his words, sitting on the side of a canal in Amsterdam, dangling my feet and smelling the Summer air, my eyes unfocusing on the water.
Then and there I decided to slow down and change my ubiquitous capturing to not writing down every detail, every shop I want to visit, every restaurant to remember, every thing I want to have and buy buy buy, but instead go for the quotes and ideas that come up in my creative mind and not to obsess over collecting everything like a teenager keeping pictures of her favorite boyband.

So there it is! Now I am very relieved! But it’s only the first step. I want to set my mind on:

“whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—anything excellent or praiseworthy” (Phillipians 4:8-10)

“Let ’em come, let ’em come but I’m not running, no, I ain’t running no more.”

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.
Please leave a comment below or tweet me @E5ter

GTD with Nozbe

http://www.nozbe.com

Today I found a little gem in my inbox from a reader named Daniel who posed me some interesting questions via the comments on this blog. He says he’s ‘dating different GTD apps’ in search for the perfect one — which may not even exist. True that! Daniel loves the Evernote/Nozbe integration though, like I do.

I’m going to answer his questions about GTD and Nozbe first, followed by a recommendation for the folks at Nozbe to make me ‘marry’ Nozbe instead of simply ‘dating him’ — to keep with Daniel’s metaphor 🙂

1) how do I use Nozbe‘s inbox?

As some of you may know, Nozbe’s inbox consists of a project that always stays on top of your projects list at the left of the page. Here’s how I use it:
Collect:
True to GTD, every time I do my weekly review (preferably once a week 🙂 ), I empty my physical inbox and dump all the tasks I define out of that amorphous blob in Nozbe’s inbox. I do the same with my e-mail inbox, where my action items are already red starred for easy recognition.
It’s also also possible to add a slew of tasks in one go:
go to: + new action > actions > options > add more actions at once > then enter every task with an asterisk in front of it so it’s recognizable as a bunch of tasks.

Organize:

  • Then I start dragging and dropping tasks into the appropriate contexts on the right side of the page (like @Computer, @Home, @Errands etc).
  • After that, I star the next actionable items for the coming week with a cute little green Nozbe star.
  • Then, while still being in the inbox, I drag and drop my items to projects or create new ones. There are always a bunch of tasks that don’t have a project attached to them. Today Daniel’s comment got me thinking and I tried out something new: I created a new project called: batch tasks, where I dump all the orphan tasks (tasks without a mother: a project). I make an exception for the waiting for items who are going in a waiting for project and my someday items which find shelter in a someday do project. Note: so the waiting for items and the someday items are both in a project and a context of the same name! I know this sounds awfully intricate, but it totally works for me and it keeps my Nozbe inbox clean and crispy!!!
  • Last I go to projects and see if there’s any other tasks I need to add to projects which are not next action items (for the coming week, being green starred), but still need my attention.

2) how do I sort my actions in Nozbe?

Review:
Nozbe hasn’t got any default sorting options, so what I’ll do is I go to all my contexts and drag-and-drop starred items to the top (in no particular order) with the rest (unstarred) underneath, although this manual dragging and dropping is quite obnoxious…
I’ve got a great idea though to improve this. See the last paragraph about my recommendation to Nozbe.

Apart from sorting between next action/action, I don’t sort at all.

Do:
I just glance at my list (one context at a time or sometimes the whole next actions list at once if I’m feeling audacious) and pick whatever suits my time, energy and fancy.
GTD is not about prioritizing; just follow your intuition and just go for it. Do!

3) how do I handle Areas of Focus in Nozbe?

I have two Nozbe accounts (within my Family account): one for work and one for home. I’m liking this a lot! It helps me to set healthy boundaries.
Here are a few of my current areas of focus:

  • church
  • faith
  • friendships
  • household
  • writing
  • finances
  • marriage

When I first defined my projects list in Nozbe, I attached a tag to every project with the name of the corresponding area of focus. You can find them on the left side of the page @ Project Labels. This showed me that they were well balanced, so right now, to be honest, I don’t bother attaching project labels with my areas of focus anymore. But there’s always the option.

Recommendation for Nozbe:

My recommendation for Michael Sliwinsky and his team, who deserve immense kudos for their fabulous product, is the following:
Please, please create a filter for next actions (starred items) which we can apply within a context or within a project, so that there will be an option to see the whole bunch of items (starred and unstarred) and also an option to filter out the visual clutter of the unstarred items, so we can fully focus on our next actionable items by context or project! Thank you in advance for considering this!

Dear Daniel and all my other readers, I hope this post was insightful and of interest to you.

Please leave a comment or question in the comments section. I’d be ever so happy to reply to them.
You can also post your comment or question via Twitter.
Thank you!

Note: I don’t get paid by Nozbe or anything 🙂 I just love the way their app boasts my productivity and peace of mind.

Be a Task Killer Ninja

http://www.how-to-draw-funny-cartoons.com

How do we get from Victim to Captain and Commander in our productivity?

In his book Making it All Work David Allen describes the matrix of self-management.
In the mire of little perspective and little control, in the lower left quadrant is the Victim. A feared state of hopelessness and inertia.
In the upper right quadrant is the widely admired state of Captain and Commander. That’s the perfect state in which we are if we have both perfect perspective and control over what we do. Of course these states can alternate per week, day or even hour…

Sometimes I can get into a slump and I must admit: the label Victim best suits me in that situation. Sigh…

So what do I do to drag myself out of it and start doing?

Last Wednesday I wanted to knock a whole lot of tasks off my to-do-list.
I started with the Most Important Task, which was adjusting six similar reports. Instead of spreading the energy and focus thin, I gave myself an extremely tight time limit for each report: 10 minutes. So I started chopping away at my reports like a ninja chops his wooden boards. I even had to suppress some of the little ninja-yells. Immediately I saw myself from a helicopter vision and thought: I am a Task Killer Ninja, that’s what I am!!! I was exhilarated and in great flow.

Here’s what defines the Task Killer Ninja GTD-style:

  • clear vision of the outcome: next action thinking
  • extreme focus
  • compressed energy
  • speed
  • bold task killer attitude
  • black suit is optional

Later that day I applied my Task Killer Ninja-attitude to my Weekly Review. I grabbed my intray and started chopping away at all the little Collected notes. Within 30 seconds I divided them between actionable and non-actionable items. You should’ve seen me! I looked like a ninja movie played fast forward. This was my record in Clarifying!

The Task Killer Ninja-attitude I can also recommend for cleaning your house or chopping wood.

Let me know if you’ve ever felt like a productivity-ninja or if you identify with something else. I’m so curious!

Post a comment or find me on Twitter

p.s. I googled task killer ninja and I saw that Leo Babauta also has an excellent blog post on Task Ninja’s (without killer)

The Spiritual Power of Next Action Thinking

http://media-cdn.tripadvisor.com/

This is a guest post by my friend Tara Rodden Robinson from the GTD Virtual Study Group and @Context podcast.

Start your walk along the Holy Way and you’ll learn what every pilgrim before you has known. There will be obstacles. Not just random pebbles in the path. Big boulders. Subtle uneven places. And bunny trails–not the sweet nice kind–trails meant to lead you away, confuse your travels, and woo you away from your destination.

Among the subtleties is a very old, and not commonly discussed, temptation to despair of success. The ancients referred to this spirit of desolation as the “noon-day devil” or acedia. Acedia is a form of apathy, a draining away of inspiration, a deadening of the soul.

What the noonday devil does, Margaret Guenther writes, is to woo us away. Woo us away from our callings, our divinely inspired vocations. Here’s what she says, “…the noonday devil …insinuates [itself] into our thoughts, suggesting that God is not very interested in us and that consequently what we do is not important. [It] can persuade us that…we might as well let go of dreams and hopes.” The noonday devil encourages us to envy, to compare ourselves to others and find ourselves lacking. But most insidiously, the noonday devil invites us to quench our own spark.

As Mephistopheles boasts in Faust, “I am the spirit of eternal negation,” the noonday devil points to your dreams and softly whispers ‘no.’ Or in my case, often whispers ‘Look, over here! Email!” It is so tempting to do the easy (check for mail) that yields a mirage of results (emails received) rather than the seemingly difficult but actually quite easy (sitting down and reviewing what I did last, and relaxing into my work) that yields results.

The mantra of GTD, “what is the next action?” is a powerful weapon against the noonday devil. Taking action, no matter how small, propels you forward, keeps you engaged, and anchors you in the present moment. And moment by moment, step by step, you move out of the shadows where this teensy demon torments into the sunshine where your dreams are waiting.

About the Author

Known as The Productivity Maven, Tara Rodden Robinson is an author, educator, and coach. You can learn more about her by visiting http://tararobinson.com

Mixing GTD with ZTD

Yesterday I got a great tweet-question about GTD and ZTD from@raymondu999

@E5ter ah. Alrighty then!! Thanks for your info 🙂 Which one do you use by the way? Is #ztd flexible enough to let you use #gtd programs? which I answered with:

#ztd #gtd Sure! I am using GTD http://wp.me/pKD06-1v and I tweak it with ZTD. Going to make a blogpost this week to explain.

In my last post I told you all about my GTD-system; today I want to address my way of blending a zesty hint of ZTD into my good ol’ GTD-system to get that extra tasty productivity melting pot.
In his excellent post Leo Babauta explored the topic GTD versus ZTD but here I want to make clear that it’s not a matter of choosing between Getting Things Done and Zen to Done but that you can have your cake and eat it too :-).

I will explain to you how I do it:

1. Weekly review

First I do my regular GTD-style weekly review and then I add an extra five minutes to it to choose my Big Rocks for the week. Those are the things I really really want to accomplish for the week. This is the way to focus myself, so that my attention doesn’t get spread too thin over all the tasks that are on my plate. n addition you want to make sure that your big rocks are right under your nose the whole week: I use a nifty little pink notebook with a cute ribbon but you could use sticky notes too or put a reminder on your mindmap.

2. Daily review

I think many of you who are already using GTD may have some sort of a daily review as well. The daily review ZTD-style consists of choosing 2 to 3 (or more if you’re a busy bee) MIT’s (i.e Most Important Tasks) for the next day. The evening is a nice time to do that in order to be able to jumpstart your day in the morning. At least one of my MIT’s is part of a Big Rock for the week.
Example:

Big Rocks for the week:
1) scan 20 pages of my rabbit photobook into Evernote
2) write 2 blogposts for Pursuing a Holy Life
3) write 2 blogposts for Inspiration and Productivity
4) prepare Rabbit Circus Training workshop
5) prepare little Lewis my dwarf rabbit for the Rabbit Exhibition

MIT’s for Monday:
1) scan 5 pages of my rabbit photo book into Evernote (for Big Rock 1)
2) go grocery shopping
3) clean the kitchen
4) comb Lewis’ hair and put ribbons in it (for Big Rock 5)


The idea is also to do at least one of your MIT’s first thing in the morning to really get you going before you start checking blog stats, e-mail or cuddling your rabbits.

3. Creating habits

What rhymes with rabbits? Habits! An important addition to GTD is that the ZTD focuses a great deal on habit change, on the doing. You can find Leo’s website on creating habits here.
What I do is take one habit every month, keep track of it in my pink little notebook (I check off the days). For example last month I was trying to ingrain the habit of checking e-mail only twice a day and not before an MIT or task. It takes about a month to successfully ingrain a new behavior; I was very successful and boosted my productivity a lot by this habit during the month of February and further.
You could also form habits for all the stages of GTD, like for example capturing everything on a notepad and tossing it into your in-tray everyday. See my previous blog post for the other stages. Leo wrote a great post on creating habits especially for ZTD too. (See the latter part of his post.)

4. Flowing with the moment

In the GTD Virtual Study Group podcast of January 14 2010, Leo Babauta was interviewed and he shared with us that he’s increasingly letting go of the whole idea of goal setting and live more and more in the present moment. This appeals to me greatly because I have always been struggling to set my goals for 1 year and 3 to 5 year (resp. horizons 30k and 40k from GTD). More about the horizons of focus of GTD another time.

In this age of information tsunami staying in the present moment is extremely precious and wholesome. I think this topic deserves its own blogpost too so keep an eye on my blog.

Conclusion

GTD and ZTD have a great synergy. You don’t have to choose between GTD and ZTD; ZTD has a bit of a different angle and is more focused on the doing, the habit change and focusing on the present moment than GTD is, that’s why they work great for me in combination. And to answer raymondu999‘s question: I use all my good ol’ GTD programs like Nozbe, Evernote and Gmail in conjunction with my pink ZTD-notebook 😉

If you have any questions about GTD/ZTD please take the time to comment below or leave me a tweet. I’d be happy to answer your questions or to discuss the topic.

Clear your head with GTD

In September of 2006 I had my first encounter with GTD: Getting Things Done, through Father Roderick who was raving about it on his podcast the Daily Breakfast — now The Break.
As you may know Getting Things Done is a great productivity system invented by David Allen.
So, I decided to buy the audio book: Getting Things Done, the Art of Stress-free Productivity on iTunes and I devoured it!
I always used to feel so swamped with tasks mundane as well as extraordinary that I always felt out of control and lagging behind on everything.

In his latest book Making It All Work David Allen says: ‘the mind is a great servant but a terrible master’; if we hold on to everything inside our own mind we’re going to end up being in a state of information overload-mode. That’s where GTD comes in.

Here’s a short outline on what GTD is, how I use it and how it changed my life *blink* 🙂 :

1. Capture

Capturing anything and everything that has your attention.
I do this by carrying around little notepads with me all the time: one for quotes, one for to-do items, one for nice English phrases I come across for my blog. Every day I put all of it into my in-tray. Of course I also have my email inbox brimming over with lovely amorphous stuff screaming at me: ‘Decide what I mean to you!!!’

2 Clarify

Defining actionable things discretely into outcomes and concrete next steps.
The contents of my in-tray go into my system:
I have a few choices:

  • Is it actionable?

Yes:

  • Will it take me 2 minutes or less?

Yes:

  • Do it!

No:

  • I put it in Nozbe, which is my task/project manager

My non-actionable items like quotes or other pieces of information go into my Evernote account

3. Organize

Organizing reminders and information in the most streamlined way, in appropriate categories, based on how and when you need to access them
My actionable items I further organize within contexts:
@ Computer
@ Home
@ Phone
@ Read
@ Martin (my hubbie)
@ Toast (actions I can still do when I feel exhausted)
@ Waiting for

@ Someday Maybe
That way I don’t have to dig through a big pile of actions and look for e.g. all my calls if I have a phone handy. It saves me a lot of time.

The next, very important step is to pick your Next Actions from your lists of Actions: a Next Action is  the one concrete next actionable item for a project. This is critical!
For example, a lot of people have actions on their list like:
craft party hats for my rabbits (too big, it consists of multiple action steps)
or even worse:
rabbit party hats (very vague)
It’s key to break that down into concrete steps like:

  • look up on the internet: party hat for rabbits ideas (@ Computer)
  • draft designs for rabbit party hats in sketchbook (@ Home)
  • make a list of materials you need (@ Computer)
  • look them up in your cabinet (@ Home)
  • go buy new materials (@ Errands)
  • craft the actual rabbit party hats (@ Home)

So ‘look up on the internet: party hat for rabbits ideas‘ is the next action for project ‘craft party hats for my rabbits’.
In Nozbe, I can star that item so it stands out from the rest.

I can also link my actions to Projects in Nozbe. A project in GTD-jargon is something which takes more than one action-step to complete.
A project can be:
Craft party hats for my rabbits
Organize rabbits’ birthday party
Draft Rabbit book proposal
Research designer clothes rabbits

My non-actionable items go mostly in Evernote:
I scan a lot of things and put them in Evernote.
These are a few of my favorite tags (I have 75 in total!):
quotes
prayer
tweets
funny pics
important docs
declutter tips
checklists
scans of my photobooks

I also have a physical alphabetical archive system. At work I have this awesome filing cabinet with plain hanging folders labeled with my super-duper Dymo label maker — another great asset for GTD-affichonados. Still working on getting one for my home too. At present I have a stack of alphabetically arranged envelope-folders.

It is a dream of mine though to go (almost) entirely paperless.

4 Reflect

Keeping current and ‘on your game’ with appropriately frequent reviews of the six horizons of your commitments (purpose, vision, goals, areas of focus, projects, and actions — If you are just starting out with GTD, it is fine to just figure out Projects and Actions, the rest will come later.)

The idea is to do a Weekly Review of your system consisting of:

  • Getting clear

Go to inbox and in-tray zero, do a brain dump.
This usually takes up so much of my time that I now decided to get clear the day before I do the Weekly Review.

  • Getting current

Review (Next) Action lists (by context), calendar, Waiting For list (one of my most helpful lists), Project list, any relevant checklists.
Use these as triggers for new actions.
Also mark your Next Actions (in my case with a star)

  • Getting creative

Review your Someday Maybe-list. (This is a list with all the things you might want to do some day but not now, like taking singing lessons, learning Greek, writing a book about rabbits etc…) and lastly:

‘Be creative and courageous: any new, wonderful, harebrained, creative, thought-provoking, risk-taking ideas to add to your system?’ (David Allen – Making It All Work)

However, this Weekly Review is the toughy for me, the bottleneck in my system, because the Weekly Review you should do — well — weekly, and that’s where I fall through the cracks…
I’m still working towards making it a real Weekly Review, because I’m convinced that I won’t dread it as much as I do now and I will be — as David calls it — Captain and Commander a lot more (i.e. being ‘on’, ‘ in flow’ or ‘in the zone’).

5. Engage /Do!

If you have defined good concrete next actionable items for your projects and arranged them into contexts, it would be a piece of cake performing them.
Unless, that is, you go numb to your own lists, like I do a lot of the time, and you resist looking at the lists altogether 🙂

But if you are really flowing with all the steps you will start to experience ‘a mind like water‘, ready to respond perfectly and appropriately to every stimulus, not overreacting and not underreacting. You will be free of distraction, stress, strain; no undue energy will be spent; you will gain power, focus, flexibility, clarity and openness.

I must say am definitely feeling more in control, more focussed and more clear since I have been using GTD.

If you read all the steps it may seem like a lot of hassle to go through, but once you have set up the system, it actually frees up more time for creativity and productivity and don’t we all want that?

If you have any questions or comments regarding GTD, please leave a comment below. You can also follow me on Twitter.


Also take time to listen to the GTD virtual study group podcast by awesome host and productivity coach Tara Rodden Robinson or @ Context, an interview series with people using GTD, also by Tara Rodden Robinson. You can follow her on Twitter too.