For more than a decade, many of my favorite task management tricks come from David Allen’s Getting Things Done® (GTD®) methodology. He’s got it figured out! In a nutshell, from the website:
“GTD is the proven path for getting in control of your world, and maintaining perspective in your life. Much more than a set of tips for time management and organization, GTD is a total work-life management system that transforms overwhelm into an integrated system of stress-free productivity.”
Here’s the deal: It’s not about checking off the most to-do boxes or being able to rattle off a million things when your significant other politely asks, “So, what did you do today?” It’s about freeing your mind of the mundane to allow room for higher-level thinking and added energy flow. Mr. Allen often refers to martial arts, a big foundation of the system being, “mind like water”. Hear it from him:
“Imagine throwing a pebble into a still pond. How does the water respond? The answer is, totally appropriately to the force and mass of the input; then it returns to calm. It doesn’t overreact or underreact.”
I think of it as the pro tennis player at Wimbledon waiting for a serve on break point. Focused. Poised. Relaxed. Controlled. Ready to react when that serve comes, then quickly return to enough of a sense of calm to keep reacting as needed.
In running, or rather racing, you reach the point of fatigue when your mind tells your body to STOP. It is at this point that you have to convince your mind to stay cool. How do you do that? My coach calls it getting used to being, “comfortably uncomfortable”. Stay focused. Poised. Relaxed. Controlled. Someone makes a move? You react to meet their move, then settle down again. But you don’t freak out. Or at least, try really hard not to. You strive to stay calm and keep going.
As Ravi Madhavan explains in an Allari Information Technologies article, “This mind like water state, where you respond appropriately without overreacting or underreacting, is the productive state where you are in control, not stressed and highly focused. GTD’s main purpose is to keep you in that state or at least get you closer to it when you feel out of control, highly stressed, and out of focus – having an unclear mind.”
Yep, it’s that easy! Who knew? Well, everyone exposed to GTD, that’s who. The original GTD book was published in 2001, with a reboot out in 2015 to account for changes in technology and new discoveries in how the mind works. If you haven’t read it and are curious about these things, which you may be since you are still reading this, then I highly recommend you put $15 of your hard-earned income toward purchasing a copy.
So enough with the sales pitch on the GTD methodology. And no, I’m not getting a kick back, I am just a huge fan after seeing the remarkable changes it’s made in my life and the lives of my clients through the years. Here are 10 concrete things you can start doing today to add more joy and productivity to your life, pulling from the research, science, and advice of GTD:
1) Do something important before 11:00 AM every day. Knowing you’ve completed this thing will provide great motivation for the rest of the day, truly lifting weight off your shoulders. The morning is when the mind is sharp and the pressures of everyone else’s day haven’t overtaken yours. You know all those emails you like to check first thing in the morning? They are others’ to-dos checked off, now inhibiting your ability to check off the ones you intended to start your day with. Do the thing you think is important before getting distracted with anything – or anyone – else.
2) In making task lists, write a specific action to be done. Review these lists frequently (daily, weekly) and make revisions as necessary. They will only work for you if you trust them to be current and complete.
3) Regarding your calendar…Only fill it with things that must happen at a fixed time. Respect your calendar and the things on it. As with the lists, it will only be helpful to you if it is current and complete. Unless you are really adept at keeping it updated and doing what you plan, don’t bug it up with “to-do” type things…use your lists for that. The calendar can stay clean and focused when it contains only time-specific things.
4) Set reminders on your phone or on the calendar itself, if you are having trouble staying on top of activities on your calendar (ex: you run late or blow things off because you reprioritize your time at the last minute). It won’t seem like such a chore to get there if you are mentally and physically prepared, and if you’ve completed the big things of the day already. Setting a reminder a day before and an hour before helps to ensure you don’t double book or leave late. And if you get that reminder and know it’s not going to happen on time, then make the adjustment in the calendar right then so you don’t forget (or have to remember yourself!).
5) When procrastinating on something, take a moment to consider why that might be. Write down the reason. Then think of one immediate action you can do toward finishing it, consider how long it will take you, then commit to doing just that one thing. Still not convinced to start? It’s possible you don’t know a good reason for starting. Try to think of one, jot it down. If you can’t, then question why this needs to be done at all.
6) Use short deadlines. For starters, apply the Two Minute Rule. If a task can be completed in two minutes or less, do it immediately. For things that take longer, set a time limit. Setting a boundary on your time will help to keep you focused and make you aware of how long it takes to do things. That awareness will aid in time management. “Allowing” yourself to spend just 10 minutes to do something can motivate you to get it done.
7) Delegate or eliminate the undesirable. For routine things you repeatedly avoid because you just don’t like to do them, first consider if they are absolutely necessary. If they are, consider how much time, effort, and money it would take to have someone else take care of them. Look first to those already in your orbit – perhaps you can trade them your task for one of theirs – then to people in a similar position who already delegate that type of task (To whom do they delegate to, how did they get started with that, how does it work?).
8) Ensure meetings are worth the time and effort. Meetings can be time-consuming. Depending on your role, you may presently be more often called to the meeting versus calling the meeting, but both parties can keep in mind the following to make meetings worthwhile:
- Ensure all attendees know beforehand the topics to be discussed by having a set agenda.
- Ensure those invited to attend have something to contribute that directly relates to the topics discussed.
- Have research on the topics done before the meeting so the meeting focuses on making decisions.
- Set an end time for the meeting and honor it.
- Each person leaving the meeting is to have a clear understanding of what actions they are to perform and by when, based on the discussion.
9) Rather than have one granddaddy of a list, put items on mini lists. The lists will vary according to when the items need to be done and the tool needed to complete them. Reviewing and updating the lists frequently (daily, weekly) is important to keep them current and complete so you can trust that they cover everything. Writing down specific actions to be performed helps takes the guesswork out of the items, too.
Types of lists related to when:
- Someday: Items of the, “it would be nice to do one day” nature go on a Someday These are all those cool, fun, exciting, interesting things you would do if you had the time, money, or inclination. Write down all of them. Get them from your dreams to paper.
- Waiting For: Items you cannot move forward on until something else happens (email/phone call returned to you, a client to provide more information on the issue, a component to arrive…) are on a Waiting For Setting reminders to check on these things helps to ensure things will not slip through the cracks.
- Current Day: Items you want to do on a given day go on the list for that day (the idea is to create the plan the day before). These items are pulled from the other lists you created and should not be longer than one page to ensure you have realistic expectations for what can be accomplished. Mark the three most important things and do at least one of them first thing in the morning. This will focus your mind and help you keep moving strategically through the rest of the day.
Types of lists related to tool (or place):
- Calls: Grouping together calls gives you one place to see what’s needed when you have access to a phone. It is suggested that you group your phone time as much as possible so you are not constantly pulled back to the phone throughout the day. Also, putting a definite time for when you call people may help ensure difficult calls get made.
- Computer: Grouping together items that require a computer will help guide the use of your time when you’re at the keyboard. Additionally, this list will help free your mind when you are not at the keyboard – write them down on the list to remember when you are doing computer work and focus on something else when you are not.
- Emails: Grouping together email gives you one place to see what messages you need to send when you have access to do so. Some emails are quick – if two minutes or less to complete them, just do it! Some require more time, and those get put on this list.
- Out: Grouping together items that require a car helps map a plan of attack for when you’re driving and reminds you to bring along with you any object that is needed to complete the errand. There could be a designated “outgoing” container (bin, basket, etc.) at the office and at your house so you can easily grab and go.
- Office: Grouping together items that must be done at the office provides one place to look for reminders of what you need to do when you are in it. This will help to ensure you don’t forget and make the most of your time there.
- Home: You could have a staff of twenty and there will always be something that needs to be done by you at home. Grouping together these items will, like at the office, ensure you don’t forget and help you make a sensible plan for how to spend your time at home, especially after an overwhelming work day.
10) Apply the 5 Key Components of the GTD methodology to maintain mind like water. Think of these and the above tricks as you go throughout your day and get flooded with new stuff. They will do more than help you stay afloat, they will ensure you thrive!
- Capture – Collect what has your attention. Use an inbox, notebook or voice recorder to capture 100% of what is crossing your mind…personal or professional, big or little, one task or a complex project.
- Clarify – Process what it means. For everything you capture, ask yourself, “Is this actionable? Can I physically do something with this/for this?” If no, then trash it or file it for reference. If yes, then decide what is the next action to do. If the action will take two minutes or less, then do it right then. If it won’t, delegate that action, or put it on a list to do later.
- Organize – Put it where it belongs. If it’s an event or something else time-sensitive (deadlines, birthdays, etc.), put it on your calendar. Otherwise, put a note about the needed action on the appropriate list. Typical lists include:
- Calls to make
- Computer work to do
- Emails to send
- Something to do while Out
- Something to do at the Office
- Something to do at Home
- Things you are Waiting For (If you delegated the action or otherwise are done with your part and need something else to happen for your next move.)
- Things you may want to do Someday
- Things you want to do Today (or Tomorrow)
- Reflect – Look over your calendar and lists often to determine what to do next. Do a weekly review to update them. Complete lists provide a clear mind.
- Engage – As Nike says, “Just Do It!” Take the right action with confidence. What you choose to act on will be based on your mood, energy, time, what tools/places you have access to, and what is a priority at the moment. Set yourself up for success by being realistic about these resources and your priorities.
Want to learn more? Visit www.gettingthingsdone.com, buy the book, and/or contact Meck Organizing to show you the fundamentals for enhancing your current task management system. Feel good about your every day by being happy with what you are doing and comfortable with what you are not.