Advertising
Advertising

What You Should Know Before Starting GTD

What You Should Know Before Starting GTD
Clock

As I’m sure is the case with most folks who get into GTD, I was driven to it by promises of organization and less stress, both at work and at home. Frankly, the notion of being able to accomplish everything I needed to (and even some things I wanted to, but never had time for) was music to my ears. I had missed too many deadlines, forgotten too many dentist appointments, neglected too many quarts of milk on my way home from the office. I definitely needed some assistance (and I’m sure many of you can empathize).

Advertising

Here I sit, many months later, working hard to fully integrate GTD into my daily life. I’ll admit, it isn’t easy (a notion exemplified by sites like the GTD Mastery 100 and the countless blogs) and can take a good deal of investment. Part of me wishes I had a better idea what I was in for before diving glassy-eyed into the pool of kool-aid. So, with that in mind, I came up with my own list of things I wish I’d known about GTD before I got started (not that I would’ve decided any differently – I’d still be doing it because it’s a fantastic system):

Advertising

  • It Takes Work – After reading the book, you haven’t magically unlocked the part of your brain that remembers to call your mother on Mother’s Day. There’s a good deal of work required to keep your system current and complete. At the absolute minimum, you’ll need to maintain several different lists, a filing system and a calendar. Obviously things can get more complicated from there, especially given the myriad of different implementations and tools that exist today. But no matter if you’re strictly paper or using the latest Web 2.0 web app to Get Things Done, know that it’s not a “set it and forget it” operation.
  • It Takes Time – I’ve heard various, rough estimates of how long one can spend doing the necessary weekly review, daily management of project and task lists, etc. – but it will obviously depend on the amount of stuff you’re trying to accomplish. For me, I can quite easily spend between 30 minutes and an hour per day just keeping my various in-baskets and whatnot empty and processed. Again, your specific implementation and project list may dictate longer processing and maintenance time frames – just know that you’ll spend a sizable chunk of time keeping all your ducks in a row.
  • It Takes Discipline – With a well-oiled GTD implementation, you’ll be amazed at how effective you are at knocking out tasks and projects. But there’s a flip-side of that coin: if left alone and/or not maintained properly, the system can quickly become very unwieldy and difficult to manage. I’ve encountered this situation a handful of times since I started, and I can personally attest to the fact that it’s a much bigger task to catch up on a week’s worth of stuff than it is to just spend a little time not falling off of the wagon. I believe the occasional lapse is unavoidable, but plan on setting aside an evening to get your system back on track.
  • The Benefit is Directly Proportional to Your Level of Investment – Some people feel that, for GTD to be really effective, the whole system (as described in the book) must be implemented completely. Others think that you can definitely take bits and pieces of the book and experience significant benefits in your quality of life and work. Personally, I’m a bit on the fence, but I believe there is one universal truth here : the degree to which you do this stuff will dictate the benefits you experience. If all you do is write things down, then you’ll probably forget fewer ideas you have while out hitting golf balls or whatever. In the end, it’s really up to you how extensively you do this GTD thing. But the more you do, the greater your return will be.

This isn’t meant to scare anybody into not doing GTD – I can’t recommend it highly enough. But you need to bear in mind that, for the system to work, you’re going to have to work at it. Is your peace of mind and a general lack of stress worth it? I would say, yes, definitely.

Advertising

Brett Kelly is a Computer Programmer from Southern California, where he lives with his wife and son. He enjoys waxing philosophical (as well as giving practical, useful advice) about productivity, GTD and technology over at The Cranking Widgets Blog (RSS feed). For more practical GTD shenanigans, you might enjoy GTD Masters, a series of interviews with well-known GTD/productivity bloggers.

Advertising

More by this author

Trapeze Artists, A Japanese Sedan and Achieving GTD Nirvana What You Should Know Before Starting GTD Sharpen Your GTD Chops by Teaching Others The Macaroni and Cheese Project

Trending in Featured

1 3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively 2 How to Master the Art of Prioritization 3 How to Stay Motivated and Reach Your Big Goals in Life 4 How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators 5 11 Reasons Why You Aren’t Getting Results

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on July 8, 2020

3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

It is easy, in the onrush of life, to become a reactor – to respond to everything that comes up, the moment it comes up, and give it your undivided attention until the next thing comes up.

This is, of course, a recipe for madness. The feeling of loss of control over what you do and when is enough to drive you over the edge, and if that doesn’t get you, the wreckage of unfinished projects you leave in your wake will surely catch up with you.

Having an inbox and processing it in a systematic way can help you gain back some of that control. But once you’ve processed out your inbox and listed all the tasks you need to get cracking on, you still have to figure out what to do the very next instant. On which of those tasks will your time best be spent, and which ones can wait?

When we don’t set priorities, we tend to follow the path of least resistance. (And following the path of least resistance, as the late, great Utah Phillips reminded us, is what makes the river crooked!) That is, we’ll pick and sort through the things we need to do and work on the easiest ones – leaving the more difficult and less fun tasks for a “later” that, in many cases, never comes – or, worse, comes just before the action needs to be finished, throwing us into a whirlwind of activity, stress, and regret.

This is why setting priorities is so important.

Advertising

3 Effective Approaches to Set Priorities

There are three basic approaches to setting priorities, each of which probably suits different kinds of personalities. The first is for procrastinators, people who put off unpleasant tasks. The second is for people who thrive on accomplishment, who need a stream of small victories to get through the day. And the third is for the more analytic types, who need to know that they’re working on the objectively most important thing possible at this moment. In order, then, they are:

1. Eat a Frog

There’s an old saying to the effect that if you wake up in the morning and eat a live frog, you can go through the day knowing that the worst thing that can possibly happen to you that day has already passed. In other words, the day can only get better!

Popularized in Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog!, the idea here is that you tackle the biggest, hardest, and least appealing task first thing every day, so you can move through the rest of the day knowing that the worst has already passed.

When you’ve got a fat old frog on your plate, you’ve really got to knuckle down. Another old saying says that when you’ve got to eat a frog, don’t spend too much time looking at it! It pays to keep this in mind if you’re the kind of person that procrastinates by “planning your attack” and “psyching yourself up” for half the day. Just open wide and chomp that frog, buddy! Otherwise, you’ll almost surely talk yourself out of doing anything at all.

2. Move Big Rocks

Maybe you’re not a procrastinator so much as a fiddler, someone who fills her or his time fussing over little tasks. You’re busy busy busy all the time, but somehow, nothing important ever seems to get done.

Advertising

You need the wisdom of the pickle jar. Take a pickle jar and fill it up with sand. Now try to put a handful of rocks in there. You can’t, right? There’s no room.

If it’s important to put the rocks in the jar, you’ve got to put the rocks in first. Fill the jar with rocks, now try pouring in some pebbles. See how they roll in and fill up the available space? Now throw in a couple handfuls of gravel. Again, it slides right into the cracks. Finally, pour in some sand.

For the metaphorically impaired, the pickle jar is all the time you have in a day. You can fill it up with meaningless little busy-work tasks, leaving no room for the big stuff, or you can do the big stuff first, then the smaller stuff, and finally fill in the spare moments with the useless stuff.

To put it into practice, sit down tonight before you go to bed and write down the three most important tasks you have to get done tomorrow. Don’t try to fit everything you need, or think you need, to do, just the three most important ones.

In the morning, take out your list and attack the first “Big Rock”. Work on it until it’s done or you can’t make any further progress. Then move on to the second, and then the third. Once you’ve finished them all, you can start in with the little stuff, knowing you’ve made good progress on all the big stuff. And if you don’t get to the little stuff? You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you accomplished three big things. At the end of the day, nobody’s ever wished they’d spent more time arranging their pencil drawer instead of writing their novel, or printing mailing labels instead of landing a big client.

Advertising

3. Covey Quadrants

If you just can’t relax unless you absolutely know you’re working on the most important thing you could be working on at every instant, Stephen Covey’s quadrant system as written in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change might be for you.

Covey suggests you divide a piece of paper into four sections, drawing a line across and a line from top to bottom. Into each of those quadrants, you put your tasks according to whether they are:

  1. Important and Urgent
  2. Important and Not Urgent
  3. Not Important but Urgent
  4. Not Important and Not Urgent

    The quadrant III and IV stuff is where we get bogged down in the trivial: phone calls, interruptions, meetings (QIII) and busy work, shooting the breeze, and other time wasters (QIV). Although some of this stuff might have some social value, if it interferes with your ability to do the things that are important to you, they need to go.

    Quadrant I and II are the tasks that are important to us. QI are crises, impending deadlines, and other work that needs to be done right now or terrible things will happen. If you’re really on top of your time management, you can minimize Q1 tasks, but you can never eliminate them – a car accident, someone getting ill, a natural disaster, these things all demand immediate action and are rarely planned for.

    Advertising

    You’d like to spend as much time as possible in Quadrant II, plugging away at tasks that are important with plenty of time to really get into them and do the best possible job. This is the stuff that the QIII and QIV stuff takes time away from, so after you’ve plotted out your tasks on the Covey quadrant grid, according to your own sense of what’s important and what isn’t, work as much as possible on items in Quadrant II (and Quadrant I tasks when they arise).

    Getting to Know You

    Spend some time trying each of these approaches on for size. It’s hard to say what might work best for any given person – what fits one like a glove will be too binding and restrictive for another, and too loose and unstructured for a third. You’ll find you also need to spend some time figuring out what makes something important to you – what goals are your actions intended to move you towards.

    In the end, setting priorities is an exercise in self-knowledge. You need to know what tasks you’ll treat as a pleasure and which ones like torture, what tasks lead to your objectives and which ones lead you astray or, at best, have you spinning your wheels and going nowhere.

    These three are the best-known and most time-tested strategies out there, but maybe you’ve got a different idea you’d like to share? Tell us how you set your priorities in the comments.

    More Tips for Effective Prioritization

    Featured photo credit: Mille Sanders via unsplash.com

    Read Next