Is it just me or when Fall comes around your mind and body hits a reset? I’m feeling re-energized and motivated. I wonder if that ‘Back to School’ mentality is engraved in my head. I remember back in grade school, middle school, high school, and even college that when Fall came around, I was motivated to get a head start on the year.
I’ve talked about it here and there, but I’ve lacked productivity and procrastinated more lately and now I want to get back to being proactive and productive. There’s a method I use, especially back in my corporate days. It’s called the GTD method and it’s a popular task management system. The GTD stands for Get Things Done. If you follow this method, you will start to see the benefits of being proactive and doing away with procrastination. The idea behind this concept is that it allows your attention to be focused on taking action on tasks.
How To Start Getting Things Done
You know how people say their skill is ‘multitasking’. Don’t take this the wrong way, but I think that skill is full of bologna. When I used to interview people, I can’t help but internally roll my eyes. It is scientifically impossible for a human to do multiple tasks at once and accurately. The correct terminology is time management and prioritization.
So the GTD Method / GTD system consists of 5 steps: Capture, Clarify, Organize, Reflect, and Engage. Overall, these 5 steps are key to a great time management system. Which in my opinion is a great skill to have in your personal life and professional career. Let’s go over each step.
So the first is capturing or collecting your tasks, appointments, and ideas. Essentially, this is writing down a list. Some call this list an ‘inbox’. You can do this digitally or physically write it down. Some people have a favorite digital method to organize their project lists, ideas, and appointments. I’m old fashioned and I love using a planner and a pad of paper. Once I have all of that finalized then I log them all digitally.
For the GTD step ‘Clarify’, start with defining what you have collected and captured. Essentially, you are reviewing your list from Step 1 and deciding where they belong in the GTD system. These are the typical questions I ask myself.
- What kind of task is this?
- Is it actionable?
- What’s the next action?
If no action is needed, this usually means I trash it, put it in a ‘maybe’ list, or archive it for reference. I usually archive. My old job was highly sensitive and having that action list on hand for future reference was handy.
Now is the time to organize your action list and figure out where they belong so that they can be processed. Here are a few examples of buckets where you can organize your list.
- Calendar – Add to a calendar if they’re appointments or deadlines. Again, you can do this digitally or you can be old school like me and add it to your planner.
- Projects – If your tasks require more than one action, this usually means it is a project. For instance, maybe for your home you are doing home renovations or for work, you are managing a bank’s acquisition. Put all your projects in a projects list so you can review them daily. This project list is also a reminder on how each task should be delegated.
- Next Action – So this is a separate list that is not project specific. For example, this can be personal tasks that need to be accomplished for the day, errands, phone calls, etc.
The Reflect step is when you review your list. For me, I like to check my to-do list once a day, but I also do a weekly review. That way I have a better gage on where I’m at and if specific dates or due dates need to be modified.
In the GTD workflow, the weekly review consists of the following:
- Empty Your Head. Or as I like to call it, brain dumping (The GTD method calls this open loops). This is where I write down everything that is brewing in my head.
- Inbox / List. This is where I allocate new tasks, ideas, and dates.
- To-Do List. I have a weekly to-do list and a daily to-do list. As I complete each task, I cross them off. Another reason why I’m old school is that it is so satisfying to cross things off my list haha.
- Project List. How does this list look? Do I need to add anything to it? Have I completed any action tasks?
- Maybe List. After revising your project list, do you need to move them to the ‘maybe’ list? Perhaps things change due to budget or deadlines.
- Calendar. Always make sure your calendar is up to date. I know for me, I’m always having doctor appointments (thank you cancer) and my calendar is constantly changing. And on top of that, I have several campaigns I’m working on and need to be sure things are moving along accordingly.
- Follow-Up. Is there any task that requires you to follow-up with anyone? Were you waiting for something and need an update?
This is the final step of the GTD method. In this step, you evaluate what your next steps are and there are 4 criteria.
- Context. The context list is a smaller list of your big to-do list. This helps alleviate your to-do looking very overwhelming. I separate my context list by family, personal, work, and hobbies. It’s also a great way to identify which context list you can do if you happen to have any free time. For instance, when I go to my doctor appointment (personal context list), I’m always just sitting there in the waiting room. So I use that time to accomplish something from my work context list, in this case answer emails.
- Time Available. Figure out how much time you have. If you’re 15 minutes away from a destination, maybe hopping on a call is not a good idea, but perhaps you can stop at the store to cross off things from your grocery list.
- Energy Available. Most importantly, we need to recognize if we have the energy to accomplish something before getting started. Our energy levels fluctuate throughout the day. If it is low by end of the day, maybe it is not the right time to jump on a call. You are more productive if you are engaged in your tasks. From my experience, it can lead to errors and potentially having to do things over again. And that is a waste of time.
- Priority. Things change throughout the day and what originally may seem highly important in the morning might change by end of the day. Be flexible and re-prioritize your list. Can a task be moved to tomorrow? Is there something unexpected that requires your attention now? It’s okay if your list changes throughout the day. You just need to make sure you accomplish what is important on that day.
Not For Everyone
Hopefully, I did not overwhelm you with this. If you are new to organizing your day, I promise you that implementing GTD system gets easier over time. Personally, I think learning about the method looks more overwhelming than actually doing it.
I find that the first step is the most important which is the brain dumping – aka the Capture step. Our head is full of information and it is great to just have it out there.
I’m also aware that how I process things may not always work for everyone. So if the GTD workflow is not for you, that’s totally okay. It’s all about finding what works for you. Just thought I wanted to share with you how I process things.
Lastly, the GTD Method is actually from David Allen’s Book. It’s called Getting Stuff Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. So if you need any recommended reading or want to read the book on productivity systems, it is probably a good idea to check his book out.
Hope this helps!