Advertising
Advertising

Stripped GTD: 3 Habits That Make You More Productive

Stripped GTD: 3 Habits That Make You More Productive

35899878_e2b396cf3b

    David Allen’s Getting Things Done has been a huge help to me as I’ve created processes and systems for many of the things I do, be it writing, other work, or just budgeting my time so I can spend more of it doing the things I love.

    The problem with GTD, the snag I’ve hit time and time again trying to implement its practices, is that it’s just so darn complicated. I need 43 folders, multiple inboxes, a bunch of project lists, next action lists, and a whole lot more. That might work for some people, but for me it just became over-complicated.

    Advertising

    In actual implementation, I’ve either adapted or ignored most of the GTD tools and practices. The habits GTD teaches, however, are a different story – they’ve taught me a great deal, and helped me become far more productive. Three habits in particular – Mind Like Water, Defer, and Review – have worked magic on me as an entrepreneur, employee, and person.

    Whether you want to call it GTD or something else, these are three habits that will immediately and irreversibly make you more productive.

    Mind Like Water

    Write everything down. That’s the first step of GTD, and the first step of any good productivity system. Studies have shown that the human brain can only handle seven things at a time, but most of us need to deal with far more than that. Get them out of your brain, and into a system you trust. I use Evernote for this purpose, but you can use anything – a computer, a notebook, receipts, a chisel – as long as it’s easy to use, simple to add to, and accessible to you later.

    Advertising

    Don’t trust your brain, or your memory – they’ll both fail you. Write everything that’s taking up space in your brain down. You’ll remember it better later, and free your brain to think about new things.

    Defer

    “Defer” is one of the actions GTD says to consider for any given thing that crosses your path. Don’t do it now, but don’t forget about it – just put it off for a little while. In my own life, I’ve found deferring to be hugely useful, because for the most part I never end up doing those things anyway. A lot more comes into our workflow than needs to, and seeing if the world ends because I don’t do something immediately is a good reality check for me.

    My standard practice now is this: unless I’m absolutely sure I need to do it, I defer it. I come back to it later, and often find that it never needed my attention in the first place – all of a sudden that’s one thing off my plate. I’ve found that a lot of my time was spent on things that were somewhat useful, but mostly just served to make me feel better about doing them. Now I just put those things off, and get to the things I need to and want to do. If I’ve got time, I get to the other stuff – usually just to discover I didn’t need to do it in the first place.

    Advertising

    Review

    This is the big one – the one practice I think everyone who’s trying to be more productive and more aware of what they’re doing should adopt. Review everything, on a scheduled interval. I do it once a week; others do it daily.

    Reviewing means go through your calendar, and figure out what’s coming that you need to deal with. Go through all your Inboxes (email, physical, voicemail, etc.) and clear them out. Go through your task list – what do you have time for in the near future?

    Also, take a look back at the time since your last review. What drained your time? What added the most value? What’d you miss or do poorly that could have been avoided? This kind of review helps you fix your system, as well as prepare you better for what’s coming and keep you from total overwhelm in any realm of your work – after all, that overwhelmed feeling is a one-way ticket out of productivity.

    Advertising

    By writing everything down, not doing most of it, and always keeping tabs on what’s happened and what’s coming, I’m constantly in a position where I feel like I know what’s going on. I know what I have to do, I know when I’ve got time to do it, and I’m pretty sure I’m not missing anything important. Without all the fancy tools and procedures, I’m already feeling ready to take on the world.

    What other habits are important to being more productive?

    Photo: jcraveiro

    More by this author

    9 Lists To Keep Updated, and Keep Handy In Defense of Multi-Tasking 10 Ways To Be Productive in 10 Minutes 5 Ways to Make Sure You’re Asking Well Can’t-Miss Marketing: Just Ask

    Trending in Featured

    1 How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques 2 How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators 3 How to Master the Art of Prioritization 4 How to Find Your Passion and Live a Fulfilling Life 5 What to Do in Free Time? 20 Productive Ways to Use the Time

    Read Next

    Advertising
    Advertising
    Advertising

    Last Updated on September 18, 2019

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    Note-taking is one of those skills that rarely gets taught. Almost everyone assumes either that taking good notes comes naturally or, that someone else must have already taught about how to take notes. Then, we sit around and complain that our colleagues don’t know how to take notes.

    I figure it’s about time to do something about that. Whether you’re a student or a mid-level professional, the ability to take effective, meaningful notes is a crucial skill. Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas we may have forgotten, the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better in the first place.

    One of the reasons people have trouble taking effective notes is that they’re not really sure what notes are for. I think a lot of people, students and professionals alike, attempt to capture a complete record of a lecture, book, or meeting in their notes — to create, in effect, minutes. This is a recipe for failure.

    Trying to get every last fact and figure down like that leaves no room for thinking about what you’re writing and how it fits together. If you have a personal assistant, by all means, ask him or her to write minutes; if you’re on your own, though, your notes have a different purpose to fulfill.

    The purpose of note-taking is simple: to help you work better and more quickly. This means your notes don’t have to contain everything, they have to contain the most important things.

    And if you’re focused on capturing everything, you won’t have the spare mental “cycles” to recognize what’s truly important. Which means that later, when you’re studying for a big test or preparing a term paper, you’ll have to wade through all that extra garbage to uncover the few nuggets of important information?

    What to Write Down

    Your focus while taking notes should be two-fold. First, what’s new to you? There’s no point in writing down facts you already know. If you already know the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776, there’s no reason to write that down. Anything you know you know, you can leave out of your notes.

    Second, what’s relevant? What information is most likely to be of use later, whether on a test, in an essay, or in completing a project? Focus on points that directly relate to or illustrate your reading (which means you’ll have to have actually done the reading…). The kinds of information to pay special attention to are:

    Advertising

    Dates of Events

    Dates allow you to create a chronology, putting things in order according to when they happened, and understand the context of an event.

    For instance, knowing Isaac Newton was born in 1643 allows you to situate his work in relation to that of other physicists who came before and after him, as well as in relation to other trends of the 17th century.

    Names of People

    Being able to associate names with key ideas also helps remember ideas better and, when names come up again, to recognize ties between different ideas whether proposed by the same individuals or by people related in some way.

    Theories or Frameworks

    Any statement of a theory or frameworks should be recorded — they are the main points most of the time.

    Definitions

    Like theories, these are the main points and, unless you are positive you already know the definition of a term, should be written down.

    Keep in mind that many fields use everyday words in ways that are unfamiliar to us.

    Arguments and Debates

    Any list of pros and cons, any critique of a key idea, both sides of any debate or your reading should be recorded.

    This is the stuff that advancement in every discipline emerges from, and will help you understand both how ideas have changed (and why) but also the process of thought and development of the matter of subject.

    Advertising

    Images

    Whenever an image is used to illustrate a point, a few words are in order to record the experience.

    Obviously it’s overkill to describe every tiny detail, but a short description of a painting or a short statement about what the class, session or meeting did should be enough to remind you and help reconstruct the experience.

    Other Stuff

    Just about anything a professor writes on a board should probably be written down, unless it’s either self-evident or something you already know. Titles of books, movies, TV series, and other media are usually useful, though they may be irrelevant to the topic at hand.

    I usually put this sort of stuff in the margin to look up later (it’s often useful for research papers, for example). Pay attention to other’s comments, too — try to capture at least the gist of comments that add to your understanding.

    Your Own Questions

    Make sure to record your own questions about the material as they occur to you. This will help you remember to ask the professor or look something up later, as well as prompt you to think through the gaps in your understanding.

    3 Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    You don’t have to be super-fancy in your note-taking to be effective, but there are a few techniques that seem to work best for most people.

    1. Outlining

    Whether you use Roman numerals or bullet points, outlining is an effective way to capture the hierarchical relationships between ideas and data. For example, in a history class, you might write the name of an important leader, and under it the key events that he or she was involved in. Under each of them, a short description. And so on.

    Outlining is a great way to take notes from books, because the author has usually organized the material in a fairly effective way, and you can go from start to end of a chapter and simply reproduce that structure in your notes.

    Advertising

    For lectures, however, outlining has limitations. The relationship between ideas isn’t always hierarchical, and the instructor might jump around a lot. A point later in the lecture might relate better to information earlier in the lecture, leaving you to either flip back and forth to find where the information goes best (and hope there’s still room to write it in), or risk losing the relationship between what the professor just said and what she said before.

    2. Mind-Mapping

    For lectures, a mind-map might be a more appropriate way of keeping track of the relationships between ideas. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of mind-mapping, but it might just fit the bill.

    Here’s the idea:

    In the center of a blank sheet of paper, you write the lecture’s main topic. As new sub-topics are introduced (the kind of thing you’d create a new heading for in an outline), you draw a branch outward from the center and write the sub-topic along the branch. Then each point under that heading gets its own, smaller branch off the main one. When another new sub-topic is mentioned, you draw a new main branch from the center. And so on.

    The thing is, if a point should go under the first heading but you’re on the fourth heading, you can easily just draw it in on the first branch. Likewise, if a point connects to two different ideas, you can connect it to two different branches.

    If you want to neaten things up later, you can re-draw the map or type it up using a program like FreeMind, a free mind-mapping program (some wikis even have plug-ins for FreeMind mind-maps, in case you’re using a wiki to keep track of your notes).

    You can learn more about mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

    3. The Cornell System

    The Cornell System is a simple but powerful system for increasing your recall and the usefulness of your notes.

    Advertising

    About a quarter of the way from the bottom of a sheet of paper, draw a line across the width of the page. Draw another line from that line to the top, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the right-hand edge of the sheet.

    You’ve divided your page into three sections. In the largest section, you take notes normally — you can outline or mind-map or whatever. After the lecture, write a series of “cues” into the skinny column on the right, questions about the material you’ve just taken notes on. This will help you process the information from the lecture or reading, as well as providing a handy study tool when exams come along: simply cover the main section and try to answer the questions.

    In the bottom section, you write a short, 2-3 line summary in your own words of the material you’ve covered. Again, this helps you process the information by forcing you to use it in a new way; it also provides a useful reference when you’re trying to find something in your notes later.

    You can download instructions and templates from American Digest, though the beauty of the system is you can dash off a template “on the fly”.

    The Bottom Line

    I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of the variety of techniques and strategies people have come up with to take good notes. Some people use highlighters or colored pens; others a baroque system of post-it notes.

    I’ve tried to keep it simple and general, but the bottom line is that your system has to reflect the way you think. The problem is, most haven’t given much thought to the way they think, leaving them scattered and at loose ends — and their notes reflect this.

    More About Note-Taking

    Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

    Read Next