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* 🙂 :
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!!!’
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:
- Will it take me 2 minutes or less?
- 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
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:
@ 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!):
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.
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:
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.
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)
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.