Productivity Made Simple: Where to Start with GTD
GTD (or Getting Things Done) is a widely popular personal productivity and time management methodology created by David Allen and described in his book “Getting Things Done”.
And yes, Lifehack has had its share in covering this area already. For instance, by doing a simple search on Google you can quickly find out that there are more than 6,000 pages on Lifehack that mention GTD in one way or the other.
So the whole idea seems discussed enough, right? Perhaps…but it is definitely worth revisiting as we enter a new year. Consider that despite thousands of articles around the internet there is still one main problem with GTD – it’s not a methodology that’s easy to grasp.
It has a learning curve and if you simply throw yourself in the middle of it you might get the wrong overall impression about the system and abandon it after just a short while.
So if you are new to GTD I have only one favor to ask you: have a little faith that you can get much more productive with GTD and be much less stressed out and uncertain about the tasks you should do both in your work and your personal affairs.
This is the true power of GTD, at first it seems complicated, but eventually it becomes one of those can’t-live-without parts of your life.
Now, I’m not going to describe every possible aspect of GTD here. The first reason is that the book is nearly 300 pages long, and I’m not in a position to claim that I can explain it all in a single blog post. The second reason is that I only want to get you started here, and there’s only a small set of things you need to do for that.
The GTD adventure starts with one particular exercise. It’s going to take you a while but it’s worth the effort regardless if you’re going to end up implementing the system or not.
The Brain Dump Exercise
Take a couple of blank pieces of paper and write down every task (i.e. every thing you have to do) that’s on your mind right now. And by “every task” I mean every task.
Start by writing down everything work related. All the reports you need to write, all the calls you need to make, all the email you need to write or respond to, all the things your boss told you to do, all the things your clients want from you, and so on … simply everything.
If you’re not in a desk job don’t quit here. Simply write down all that is specific to your line of work.
Then switch to all house related tasks. Cleaning, building, cooking, all the other chores. Also things like calling the plumber, and so on.
Next in line is your family. Write down every task that’s a part of your family life. Things like visiting your aunt the next weekend, picking your brother up from the airport, making sure that your son does his homework, helping your daughter to choose a college, drop off you spouse for a night out with their friends, again everything you can think of.
Health and fitness related tasks. Like that doctor’s appointment you need to make for the next week, or those prescription drugs you need to pick up for the kids on you way back from work, or visiting the gym before work to stay in shape, or this new diet you want to find out more about.
Friends and colleagues. I’m sure there’s something on your mind that’s involving your friends. Maybe you’re meeting them today and need to make a reservation in your favorite pub, not to mention that you need to remember to be there on time. Apart from that, there are hundreds of other things that involve your social life. Give it a minute and try to write down every one of those things.
Most people love shopping, everybody hates paying bills. Anyway, both these things are an integral part of our lives. No matter what you do, there are still some things you want / need to buy and some bills you don’t want have to take care of. Write down everything you need to buy and every bill that has to be taken care of by the end of the month.
We’re not done yet. Next up are books, articles, and education in general. I’m sure there’s a book you really want to read, or an article you need to remember to save for future reference, not to mention all your education related tasks. Like, for instance, remembering not to be late for your Spanish lesson, or making sure that you buy a new guitar tuner before your next guitar class. I’m sure you get the point.
Now let’s get to some purely positive aspects of life, like hobbies and entertainment. Maybe there’s a movie you want to see, or how about that concert (“are the tickets still available?”), also, I’m sure there’s an upcoming party you want to attend. Think about your hobbies and all the things you want to do to get them going.
I don’t have any more ideas for additional categories of things, so let me just name this final category as other activities and tasks. Just to give you an example, I’m sure there are things you’ve chosen not to clutter your mind with because you thought you didn’t have the time to do them … write them down too.
Now, how was it? How long did it take? Do you have absolutely everything on these lists? Just a small hint, if there are less than 300 items on the lists then you haven’t been entirely honest. You need to spend a little more time and complete the list until absolutely everything is on it.
Examine The List
Simply take a look at the list. Can you believe that all these things have been occupying your brain’s resources? Obviously, this is one of the reasons for you being stressed out and afraid that something important might slip your mind.
Imagine how much better you could use your brain’s resources to think about (and eventually figure out) these things rather than to remember about these things.
This is what GTD can do for you. It can throw all of them out of your brain and place them in a different location you can trust.
The lists from this exercise will be the cornerstone for the system, something you will build upon in the next steps. Reflect on it for a while, and make sure that truly everything is there. If not, do a quick update,
Next time: What to do with the list and how to start implementing GTD the easy way.
Have you tried GTD yet? How is it working for you? Let us know in the comments.
(Photo credit: Productivity or Motivation Reminder via Shutterstock)
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