Several books discuss how to be more productive. David Allen offers a guide helping you do a task-by-task checkup in Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. A productivity expert, Allen helps people save time while getting more done in shorter amounts of time. In this getting things done overview, I will discuss the key points of the author’s well-known method.
Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity
In Allen’s book, he goes over the Getting Things Done (GTD) method. The method consists of a system of external lists to have on hand, with actions to accomplish tasks.
It’s a systematic approach to keeping your mind clear and staying on top of things. Also, it allows you to free up your brain while keeping projects going forward.
Along with organizing your workspace for maximum success, the steps listed in the GTD method include:
1.) Capturing your thoughts
2.) Clarifying each item
3.) Organizing your outcome into a structure of lists
4.) Reflecting on what’s important & reviewing the items
5.) Engaging in tasks & prioritizing.
Capture your thoughts
The first step of the GTD method involves capturing your ideas. Whenever something comes up in your mind, your immediate action should be to jot it down. Whether that’s on a sticky note, notebook, or a tablet, get that thought out and write it down.
These thoughts should go into what Allen calls an “in-pile” list. This list is a separate place to jot down tasks or reminders that’ll be easy to remember later.
For example, if a thought pops up while writing an email, make sure to write it down quickly. After that, go back to finish your email.
Another example could be while you’re doing basic chores. If an exciting concept comes up while you’re cleaning, stop what you’re doing and get that thought down on paper. It’s that simple- write it down and resume what you were doing before.
Clarify Each Item
The next step of the GTD method is to clarify each item you wrote down earlier. Each week, review and empty all external items to stay organized.
When going through each piece. Ask yourself the following:
1.)Is it an actionable step? Do I need to do something about it?
A.) If the answer is no, trash it or revisit it later.
B.) If the answer is yes, take action.
- A quick task- do it immediately (i.e., make a brief phone call).
- A complex task: Ask yourself, are you the right person for it?
2.) If not an actionable step, delegate or outsource to someone else if possible.
If it’s your responsibility, then defer it. The next steps will show you how to postpone these types of tasks.
Organize your outcomes into lists
When organizing your listed tasks, empty your collection tools and put the right things in place. Allen suggests breaking it down this way- overwriting traditional to-do lists.
Writing out a regular to-do list sometimes includes vague tasks, which may lead people not to take real action on those tasks. Your duties should be listed in the following categories:
If the item is actionable
|A.) Project: |
Complex tasks that require more than one step
|B.) Waiting For: |
Functions that can be delegated to someone else; one model could be to follow-up with a contractor on new tiles for a bathroom renovation.
|C.) Next Actions: |
Where all of your to-dos are listed out; these are the tasks you plan on doing now.
|Examples include writing a book or rearranging a living room.||One example model could be to follow up with a contractor on new tiles for a bathroom renovation.||Examples include finishing up a report, following up with a client, or meeting with a colleague|
If you cannot do the jobs at the moment, put them in your calendar to complete later that day. Examples include calling a friend, emailing a client, or purchasing an inventory order online.
If an item is not actionable
|A.) Maybe/Someday: Tasks that are reserved for later, but don’t want to forget about||B.) Reference Material: Information that may become useful later, usually store for future reference|
|Example: Setting time to learn a foreign language or enrolling in classes for an upcoming semester.||Example: Pulling a take-out menu from your favorite restaurant into your filing cabinet.|
Reflect: Constantly review
It is one thing to write down your tasks, followed by actionable steps. However, it is equally important to review them again.
To hold yourself accountable, check your calendar each day. If you know you’re going to be in meetings for an entire day, plan.
Also, check off any other next actions you have not worked on yet. If you know you’re going to have a quiet day at the office, use that free time to work on those next action tasks.
Along with checking your tasks daily, you want to do a comprehensive weekly review of your scheduled tasks. After going through the first steps, set aside a few hours each week to do a weekly report. It’s good to do this so you can keep track of what you accomplished.
Also, reflect on your shortcomings, and what you can do to improve the next time around. Typically, the best time to do the review would be around the end of the week (Friday), right before heading into the weekend.
Engage in tasks
In the final step of the GTD method, you then choose what to do at each moment, depending on your current circumstances. This part is where work gets done, and there are four types of criteria to ask yourself:
1.) What can you do in the current context?
- Example: If you have no phone, then you can’t make any phone calls.
- Look over the next action list you made earlier.
2.) What do you have time for?
- Example: If you only have ten minutes before a meeting starts, not the best time to start a budget review that may take a couple of hours.
3.) What do you have the energy for?
- Example: If you spent an entire afternoon reviewing your work budget, you might feel tired. But there is time to do shorter tasks, such as booking a flight for an upcoming business trip.
4.) Which task has the highest priority?
- To answer this question, you need to understand your values and goals.
Getting Things Done is one of the best books on productivity and time management. The five-step GTD method laid is a useful tool for getting more done in less time.
One other thing to keep in mind is keeping written tasks with you at all times. You’ll be likely to stay productive ahead of the game, even when last-minute ideas come up unexpectedly.
Whether you’re stuck during the rush-hour commute or sitting at an airport due to a delayed flight, these inconveniences can be the best times to work on those tasks.
Your Turn: Are you up to getting things done?
If you can stick to the GTD method, you may find yourself more productive, more relaxed, and less stressed in your daily activities.
Will you start getting things done today? Feel free to leave your thoughts by leaving a comment below. I look forward to reading them, and I’ll gladly respond promptly.
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Eric is the owner and chief editor of notimekillers.com. He takes great pride in helping people manage their time and grow their businesses. Eric is a firm believer in financial and time freedom, as he believes in financial independence and taking ownership of your time. “Time is your most important asset. It can be your best friend or worst enemy. How you use your time can shape the future you desire to have.” In his leisure time, Eric loves to write and read whenever possible. He enjoys going for long walks outdoors while doing in-home workout videos every week. You can also connect with Eric via LinkedIn.