So much to do, so little time and with modern technology we are pretty much switched on 24/7 – it’s no wonder we feel so overwhelmed, drowning in our to-do lists.
Getting Things Done (GTD) is a time-management method, described in a book of the same title by productivity consultant David Allen. The full outline of his technique would require a fairly lengthy explanation, but there are a few stand-out, apply now points that can help with time management immediately (if you like the sound of some of its core principles, then buying the book is your best bet…)
The GTD method essentially rests on the idea of moving planned tasks and projects out of the mind by recording them externally and then breaking them into actionable work items. This allows one to fully focus attention on taking action on tasks, instead of wasting time recalling them.
Allen’s approach uses two key elements — control and perspective. He proposes a workflow process (outlined below) to control all the tasks and commitments that one needs or wants to get done and then suggests systems that clarify and define the regular working day.
The real thrust of GTD is to encourage you to embrace a preferred method to get your tasks and ideas out of your head and organized as quickly as possible so they’re easy to manage and therefore easy to action. GTD also suggests you organize to-dos in order of priority and time required to accomplish them: things that can be done quickly should be done sooner, and large projects should be broken out into smaller tasks that can be done quickly, feel less overwhelming and therefore (hopefully) not encourage procrastination!
There’s much more to it, some of which can be a little difficult to adopt, but here’s what to apply day to day:
Getting Control of Your Life: The Five Stages of Mastering Workflow
GTD centralizes around an easy, step-by-step and highly efficient method for achieving a relaxed yet highly productive state.
- Capture anything and everything that has your attention
- Define actionable things into outcomes and concrete next steps
- Organize reminders and information in the most streamlined way, in appropriate categories, based on how and when you need to access them
- Keep on top of it all with appropriately frequent reviews
The essence of this part of the process is that you write down a note about everything when you take on a new responsibility, make a new commitment, or have a useful thought. All of this ends up in some kind of “in” box. You then go through your “in” box and decide what needs to be done next for each item.
Essentially, all you really need to start this is a notebook and pen, just to get thoughts and ideas out of your head and clear your mind in order to focus. This can be writing down thoughts from “must buy mum a birthday card” to “those figures are due by 4pm” all clouded by the fact you keep forgetting to book a dentist appointment because you’re trying to get a report finished… There are other tools and systems suggested, but this is the real start point so that the head is emptied to focus on action.
The next step is to process all your papers. Gather them in one pile, and work from top to bottom, disposing of each one until you’re done. Get a physical inbox, and use it as your one point of entry for all papers (including simple Post-its, phone messages, receipts and everything else). If you’re feeling ambitious, take the next step and do the same with your email inbox (warning: in our digital age this might take slightly longer…)
Allen also has a two-minute rule, which states that as one goes through their “in” box and determines next actions, any next action that can be completed in two minutes or less should be completed immediately. This is not rocket science. It is simple common sense, but with discipline.
It is the discipline that really helps manage projects and best use of time. Allen’s key concept is that every task, promise, or assignment has its own place and a time for completion. With everything in its proper place and time, you feel in control and replace the time spent on vague worrying with effective, timely action.
Allen outlines this part of the process in great detail, complete with a flowchart. Put simply, it asks:
•What is the task? Is it actionable?
• If not, trash it or put it in a reference file for later when it can be actioned.
• If so, what’s the next action?
• Will next action take less than 2 minutes?
• If yes, do it.
• If no, delegate it or defer it and give it a specific action time.
If it will take longer than 2 minutes, consider it a project which will be then be organized and reviewed for action at a later stage.
Time to organize those projects. In this stage, Allen describes in great detail eight categories of reminders and materials to process all your information – including filing methods, calendar reminders and read and review piles. The important part to take away is that each task needs organized before it is actioned. First, process the top item first. Resist the urge to pull out the most urgent or interesting (or fun!) item. Second, process one item at a time. Finally, never put anything back into the “in” box – it is either filed or dealt with.
Allen says a dedicated review of all one’s lists, preferably weekly, is absolutely critical for success.
4. REVIEWING: KEEPING YOUR SYSTEM FUNCTIONAL
To keep the system working, it is key that the system is trusted. Trust is maintained by keeping the system up-to-date and always having an end of day and most importantly a weekly review. At review stages, this process includes again emptying one’s head so that the workflow process starts again.
Choosing and taking next actions are the essence of productivity. With an organized, structured action plan in front of you it is far easier to manage your projects and to complete them in a timely process. The technique is as simple as its name, making sure that you are able to simply get things done.