David Allen’s Getting Things Done book has been around for over ten years now and has totally changed the way that many knowledge workers work and play. The system has helped me and many editors and contributors here at Lifehack get their most important work done on a daily, monthly, weekly, and “lifely” basis.
But, what if (this is a big what if) there was something better out there than GTD for increasing your productivity while decreasing your life’s overwhelm? What if there is something better and fits the way that the knowledge worker’s lifestyle works?
Well, you can stop worrying and looking. I’m here to tell you that the GTD is the best productivity system because it can be adapted to fit your lifestyle, has the over-arching models that you can use for a lifetime, and contains two secrets weapons of personal productivity.
Sometimes difficult to grok
One of the main reasons that people give up on GTD, especially at first, is that there seems to be a lot to it. “You mean I have to go out and buy a labeler, filing cabinet, sticky notes, some list making apps, and better pens?” No, not unless you want to. Mr. Allen’s book suggests getting some gear to get things started but you don’t have to do it, you can start GTDing with a crappy notebook and pen.
Another thing GTD suggests is taking a full two days to collect and process everything in your personal and professional life. I remember reading that and think, “how in the hell is that even possible? I’ve got too much stuff to do and I want to get it done now!” While giving yourself two full days to clean out and clean up your life would be awesome, you can get started by collecting and processing as you go.
The idea of next actions and projects can be foreign (although welcomed!) to someone that has used daily todo lists to accomplish things in the past. Some people get stuck and confused with having so many lists and things on those lists. Mostly this is due to lack of completing proper weekly reviews. Once one settles in with GTD, collects and organizes things into the right lists, and then reviews it consistently the confusion will go away.
GTD takes time and practice to understand and use. But, after some time it becomes second nature to the practitioner. This is only with the help from the models that Mr. Allen has created.
Mr. Allen created a model
Some people think that Mr. Allen “created” the ideas behind GTD. That’s not really true. What we can give him his credit for is identifying the things that busy professionals and humans do to get more done with the least amount of effort and stress. He then put these principals together and created a model for productivity.
Rather than doing what many productivity gurus did before him, Mr. Allen decided that approaching your work from a bottom up approach was the fastest way to make yourself more productive as quickly as possible. After “clearing your decks” with your next actions and identifying your projects, it was then easier to recognize your larger life goals and what your life meant. Then you modify your projects to meet those goals.
Mr. Allen gave us the Five Phases of Workflow (Collect, Process, Organize, Review, and Do), The Natural Planning Model for creating and moving forward on projects, The 2-minute rule, and many other things that we can utilize to Get Things Done.
These ideas were always there; Mr. Allen was smart and creative enough to put them all together in a nice package. The models of GTD help make it the best productivity system because one can always go back to the “basics” of the system to get back to a state of flow in their work and life.
There are some alternatives out there to GTD like Master Your Workday Now (also the One Minute Todo List), GSD, Getting Results the Agile Way, ZTD, and many others. The thing is that almost all of these either take things from Mr. Allen’s model, or don’t encompass the bigger picture of work and life allowing many important things to fall through the cracks.
I’ve tried most of these other alternatives (albeit not for terribly long periods of time) and I always felt like something was missing. It was the complete system that GTD offers me that these alternatives didn’t cover. For instance, Getting Results the Agile Way is very interesting, but if you look into it more you will see that it is heavily based on GTD core principles. Agile Results then adds a top layer of making sure that you are geting results during your week, which really is a modified weekly review that Mr. Allen suggests in GTD.
So, it appears that the alternatives to GTD are just modified versions of Mr. Allen’s system, not completely different ideas on how to handle your work. Yes, they may work for some others, but we have to see that without GTD most of these systems wouldn’t exist in their current form making GTD a sort of pillar of productivity systems.
Spanning personal and professional
GTD doesn’t care whether your work is professional or personal. It is all work in the eyes of your system. Of course, you can segregate work tasks to home tasks and projects, but you don’t have to if you don’t want to. It all takes the same amount of “physical RAM” in your brain so it all can be treated as work, everything from “create the TPS reports” to “buy dog treats for the puppies”. It’s all considered work by GTD standards.
It’s all about the capture and the next action
I told you there were two secrets that make GTD the best productivity system around, remember? Those secrets are the act of capturing and the idea of the next action.
One of the biggest problems that GTD tries to solve is the idea of workers having too many “open loops” in their lives. Open loops are basically all of the things that we have committed ourselves to do but haven’t kept track of them in some way (other than in our fallible brains). Stress is induced when we have too many open loops at once and don’t have them captured into a system that we can trust they are in. Our minds start racing and it’s all down hill from there.
Enter, capture. Capturing allows the GTD practitioner to close the open loops in their life by writing them down and keeping them out of their mind. This is how one starts to get to the aspect of “mind like water” and starts to relieve the stress of all of the things they have kept in their mind for so long. Capturing is the key to keeping yourself sane.
Identifying the next action of any project is another secret of GTD. Seeing what the absolute next physical action is allows us to take the first step in completing a project of any size. The issue with many projects that are stalled or not yet completed is that they haven’t been thought through and the next physical action to get the project moving hasn’t been identified.
When I started to identify the next physical action I was surprised to see how quickly I could get a “stuck” project moving, no matter how little the next action really was. Things like, “call Bob to get the name of number of his accountant” is enough to spark a large project like “Form your LLC”.
Capturing and next actions are the secrets to why GTD is the best productivity system.
If you take in most aspects of GTD you will feel a sense of relief regarding your work and life that you haven’t felt before. GTD is the best productivity system because it spans such a wide range of use-cases and is simple and complex enough to support a personal system as well as can be used for some of your biggest projects at work.
GTD’s bottom-up approach to productivity helps you get the pressing things done in your life so you can have the energy to answer the question “what’s my life purpose?” It helps you review your progress weekly and allows you to plan effectively for the future. And with GTD’s capture and next action ideas, you can use it to instantly close open loops and move dead projects forward.
Even though the GTD has been around for a while now it still proves itself to be the best productivity system we as knowledge workers have access to.
(Photo credit: productivity or motivation reminder via Shutterstock)