“I’m terrible at todo lists. I write things down in a notebook but nothing ever happens with my notes…”
“When I’m juggling lots of things at work I sleep badly…”
“I have hundreds of emails in my inbox. I’ve no real idea of what lies in there, but if it’s important they’ll come back…”
“I have my best ideas in the most inconvenient places, at the most inconvenient times…”
“I spend too much energy thinking about today’s challenge and have little energy left to think about the things that really matter to me…”
“When work is really busy I forget to pick up the milk…”
Any of these sound familiar? If so, please read on.
I was in the same place a while ago. I’d struggled for years with writing todo lists on scraps of paper, in special books, or even capturing the lists digitally. Then I stumbled across an approach called Getting Things Done (often called simply GTD) developed by David Allen and examined in his book. This approach has helped become more productive in my work, but has also had several unexpected consequences – it has reduced my stress levels, helped me sleep better, and perhaps even helped me become a slightly better husband/father. Perhaps it can help you too..
I’m constantly surprised at how few people are aware of GTD as there is nothing else I’ve come across that helps me deal with the multitude of things that occupy one’s phsyche. Personally I think this is something that should be taught at school as it is a life skill that most of us could do with learning and practicing from an early age. Perhaps everyone else is simply more organised than I am…
|GTD Workflow. Taken from http://www.toodledo.com/info/gtd.php|
The core workflow of GTD is very straightforward, and is summarised well in this page from Toodledo. It starts with collecting all the things that occupy your attention (aka “Stuff”) into a single collection point.
Then there is a step to decide what to do with each piece of stuff – is it a task that needs to be actioned, or can it be binned, filed away for later reference, or stored for consideration at some point in the future? The tasks themselves will then need to separated into tasks that will take only a couple of minutes to complete (in which case, just get on and do them rather than have them clog up your system) and tasks that you choose to do next, or at a specific time in the future, or tasks that need something else to happen first before you can execute (eg waiting for a colleague to provide some information).
Of course, sooner or later you have to get on and perform some work – GTD doesn’t magic any of this away for you! There is one final aspect that is the glue that holds the GTD approach together. This is termed the weekly review – a review of all your various lists to ensure it is fresh and that nothing is falling through the cracks, and to identify any changing priorities.
I’ve been a student of GTD for 4 or 5 years now at different levels of depth. One of the good things is that you can apply the methodology in as straightforward or sophisticated way as you want/need, and it is totally independent of the technology that you choose to use – indeed it can be implemented in paper if that is your preferred tool (it isn’t mine!).
I’ll cover my specific GTD setup in a future post, but as with so many things, the technology is not the most important thing – and is very much a personal choice. It’s the method that’s important – and even that needs to be able to be tuned to the way that works best for you.
Through may study and practice of GTD there are a number of things I’ve learned that I’d like to pass on to you – if it encourages you to explore just a little more, then please let me know.
1. You’ve got to have a system
One challenge with ideas is that they don’t all occur when you have a pad and pencil in front of you. One of the core principles of GTD is to collect all your stuff into a single collection point. So part of the answer here is to always have a piece of paper at hand wherever you are. Thus I have small notepads in my suits, by my bed, in my car etc. Increasingly these are being replaced by technology (usually my iPhone/iPad so that I can input directly into my system. But the approach of capturing the idea into your system so that you can forget about it is immensely powerful and a major stressbuster.
2. Processing and Doing are Not the Same
For many of us, the major source of potential tasks is our email. Many of us our email inbox as a todo list. I believe this is a mistake for 3 reasons:
- Not ALL your tasks come via email
- You spend too much time being distracted by the latest incoming mail, rather than taking control of what YOU wish to accomplish
- You are missing the joyful feeling that comes from having an empty email inbox
3. Adieu to Due Dates
Most convention action list methodologies assign a due date to every action. The trouble with this is that you spend an inordinate amount of time resetting due dates. As Douglas Adams said “I love deadlines. I like like wooshing sound they make as they fly by!”
4. Keep things Moving with Projects
5. Get Yourself an Elephant
An Elephant never forgets -it turns out there is a lot of truth in the old saying. But if you find that carrying an elephant around with you is a little inconvenient, then perhaps opt for a computer. Whatever you do, don’t rely on your brain. Don’t get me wrong, the human brain is a fantastic thing that we understand next to nothing about (BTW – read David Eagleman’s Incognito if you want a cracking read on how little we know about brain function). But if we task it with trying to remember multiple different things it struggles. Studies show that it has difficulty beyond two tasks, so why give yourself that stress.
There’s no getting away from it – computers are great at remembering things. And as we increasingly adopt Cloud-based applications, it becomes easy to access the things we need from a smartphone in your pocket. Thats’s why I increasingly rely on computers to store stuff I need to remember and to do – so another worry is dealt with. At the very least – it’s a good backup strategy for your brain!
6. Get Out of Your Inbox
7. Get Ready for the weekend with a Weekly Review
I have also discovered that when I’m feeling out of control it’s often because I have skipped a weekly review. It’s always an hour well spent that leaves me feeling more relaxed.
I hope this article has stimulated you to explore the Getting Things Done approach and to experiment with it. It’s not for everyone – it assumes that you want to get a llittle more control back into your life, and it seems to me that not everybody puts a priority on that.
But what will you do with the time and energy that you wrestle back? More work or something else? Now there is an interesting question…