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GTD? Try WNTGD Instead

GTD? Try WNTGD Instead

I’m amazed at the number of postings and advice articles, let alone pieces of software, that are spawned by the GTD phenomenon. To me, it’s yet another symptom of today’s short-term mentality and our obsession with activity. Getting Things Done is useful, of course. I’m not without sympathy for people with bulging schedules and huge to-do lists, who seek a better way to organize themselves. But I think they would be better advised to turn their attention first to WNTGD: What Needs To Get Done.

It’s so easy to be overwhelmed with long, detailed lists of actions to be dealt with and so have your attention fixed remorselessly on the short-term. Business leaders succumb to this all the time. They obsess about next quarter’s results and targets. It seems that a majority of managers are willing to give up on important, value-creating projects to “make the numbers” for the quarter instead. Some even compromise the long-term health of the business in favor of short-term achievements, as I noted this week in Short-termism, over at Slow Leadership.

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By and large, shareholders get the managers they deserve, and vice versa. Of course, leaders also get the subordinates they deserve. As JKB said in a comment on that same posting:

If the organization promotes and advances those employees who cut corners and don’t spend the time needed to develop long term skills and relationships, then employees, managers and shareholders will feed on the carcass of the company and suck it dry.

But back to Getting Things Done. I’d be prepared to take a sizable bet that most people spend their time doing a whole lot of activities that mean virtually nothing in the longer-term and wider scheme of things. They do them because they’ve always done them—or someone has, and now it’s their turn—or because its assumed those things are needed. And they are so busy doing them that they never manage to take the time to question whether such actions are truly necessary—or even useful.

Most procrastination and anxiety about your task list has the same, simple cause: you don’t want to do whatever it is that you keep putting off. It’s boring, difficult, unpleasant, or just doesn’t seem to have much point. If it were something you were eager to do—something interesting and plainly useful to you—people would have to drag you back from getting started right now. To-do lists and all the rest are mostly a way to help people force themselves to do what they don’t want to do, especially things that don’t seem as if they need to be done anyway.

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Why not slow down and take a little time to see what can be dropped off the list altogether? After all, if you keep putting off those important, long-term projects to spend your time on short-term activities of dubious value to anyone, when will you ever get around to the things that really matter?

There’s the danger. When people feel rushed off their feet, it seems obvious to put off anything that doesn’t have to be done right away. There will always be time to get to those other things later, won’t there? Maybe. But important, long-term matters usually cannot be done in the blink of an eye. They take time to complete: maybe years of it. Suppose that you know you need to improve your qualifications. You’re probably looking at 3 or more years of effort. If you put off starting for a year while you concentrate on less important, short-term activities, it will now be 4 years at least before you can start to get the benefit of a better job or a new career. And so it goes. People put off their dreams and aspirations in favor of . . . what? Minor bits and pieces of administration; organizational tidying and throat clearing; attending pointless meetings; impressing the latest boss; meeting some crazy budget figure dreamed up by someone who simply took last quarter’s results and added 5%; filling in forms that are then filed and forgotten.

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If you truly want to spend your time getting the important things done in your life, remember WNTGD, and ask yourself What Needs To Get Done? Take a long-term view and concentrate first (and exclusively, if you can) on what will bring you, your customers, or your organization real and lasting value. Then focus on that and drop as much as you can of all the short-term, itsy-bitsy, meaningless stuff. You won’t miss it . . . and nor will anyone else, once they’ve got over their horror that form FR678/3/45 hasn’t been completed (if they can remember why it’s there anyway). A good 50% or more meetings have no good reason for taking place, and probably 90% of PowerPoint presentations would be best filed in the wastebasket instead of being shown. Statistical returns have a habit of multiplying faster than rabbits . . . and they are much less cute.

Turn your eyes firmly away from what is short-term and supposedly urgent, though not important, and fix them instead of whatever is really important, even if it doesn’t seem urgent. Only then will whatever you get done actually be worth doing.

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Related posts:

Adrian Savage is a writer, an Englishman, and a retired business executive, in that order. He lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his posts most days at Slow Leadership, the site for everyone who wants to build a civilized place to work and bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership.

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Last Updated on October 20, 2020

How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators

How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators

You have a deadline looming. However, instead of doing your work, you are fiddling with miscellaneous things like checking email, social media, watching videos, surfing blogs and forums. You know you should be working, but you just don’t feel like doing anything.

We are all familiar with the procrastination phenomenon. When we procrastinate, we squander away our free time and put off important tasks we should be doing them till it’s too late. And when it is indeed too late, we panic and wish we got started earlier.

The chronic procrastinators I know have spent years of their life looped in this cycle. Delaying, putting off things, slacking, hiding from work, facing work only when it’s unavoidable, then repeating this loop all over again. It’s a bad habit that eats us away and prevents us from achieving greater results in life.

Don’t let procrastination take over your life. Here, I will share my personal steps on how to stop procrastinating. These 11 steps will definitely apply to you too:

1. Break Your Work into Little Steps

Part of the reason why we procrastinate is because subconsciously, we find the work too overwhelming for us. Break it down into little parts, then focus on one part at the time. If you still procrastinate on the task after breaking it down, then break it down even further. Soon, your task will be so simple that you will be thinking “gee, this is so simple that I might as well just do it now!”.

For example, I’m currently writing a new book (on How to achieve anything in life). Book writing at its full scale is an enormous project and can be overwhelming. However, when I break it down into phases such as –

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  • (1) Research
  • (2) Deciding the topic
  • (3) Creating the outline
  • (4) Drafting the content
  • (5) Writing Chapters #1 to #10,
  • (6) Revision
  • (7) etc.

Suddenly it seems very manageable. What I do then is to focus on the immediate phase and get it done to my best ability, without thinking about the other phases. When it’s done, I move on to the next.

2. Change Your Environment

Different environments have different impact on our productivity. Look at your work desk and your room. Do they make you want to work or do they make you want to snuggle and sleep? If it’s the latter, you should look into changing your workspace.

One thing to note is that an environment that makes us feel inspired before may lose its effect after a period of time. If that’s the case, then it’s time to change things around. Refer to Steps #2 and #3 of 13 Strategies To Jumpstart Your Productivity, which talks about revamping your environment and workspace.

3. Create a Detailed Timeline with Specific Deadlines

Having just 1 deadline for your work is like an invitation to procrastinate. That’s because we get the impression that we have time and keep pushing everything back, until it’s too late.

Break down your project (see tip #1), then create an overall timeline with specific deadlines for each small task. This way, you know you have to finish each task by a certain date. Your timelines must be robust, too – i.e. if you don’t finish this by today, it’s going to jeopardize everything else you have planned after that. This way it creates the urgency to act.

My goals are broken down into monthly, weekly, right down to the daily task lists, and the list is a call to action that I must accomplish this by the specified date, else my goals will be put off.

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Here’re more tips on setting deadlines: 22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

4. Eliminate Your Procrastination Pit-Stops

If you are procrastinating a little too much, maybe that’s because you make it easy to procrastinate.

Identify your browser bookmarks that take up a lot of your time and shift them into a separate folder that is less accessible. Disable the automatic notification option in your email client. Get rid of the distractions around you.

I know some people will out of the way and delete or deactivate their facebook accounts. I think it’s a little drastic and extreme as addressing procrastination is more about being conscious of our actions than counteracting via self-binding methods, but if you feel that’s what’s needed, go for it.

5. Hang out with People Who Inspire You to Take Action

I’m pretty sure if you spend just 10 minutes talking to Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, you’ll be more inspired to act than if you spent the 10 minutes doing nothing. The people we are with influence our behaviors. Of course spending time with Steve Jobs or Bill Gates every day is probably not a feasible method, but the principle applies — The Hidden Power of Every Single Person Around You

Identify the people, friends or colleagues who trigger you – most likely the go-getters and hard workers – and hang out with them more often. Soon you will inculcate their drive and spirit too.

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As a personal development blogger, I “hang out” with inspiring personal development experts by reading their blogs and corresponding with them regularly via email and social media. It’s communication via new media and it works all the same.

6. Get a Buddy

Having a companion makes the whole process much more fun. Ideally, your buddy should be someone who has his/her own set of goals. Both of you will hold each other accountable to your goals and plans. While it’s not necessary for both of you to have the same goals, it’ll be even better if that’s the case, so you can learn from each other.

I have a good friend whom I talk to regularly, and we always ask each other about our goals and progress in achieving those goals. Needless to say, it spurs us to keep taking action.

7. Tell Others About Your Goals

This serves the same function as #6, on a larger scale. Tell all your friends, colleagues, acquaintances and family about your projects. Now whenever you see them, they are bound to ask you about your status on those projects.

For example, sometimes I announce my projects on The Personal Excellence Blog, Twitter and Facebook, and my readers will ask me about them on an ongoing basis. It’s a great way to keep myself accountable to my plans.

8. Seek out Someone Who Has Already Achieved the Outcome

What is it you want to accomplish here, and who are the people who have accomplished this already? Go seek them out and connect with them. Seeing living proof that your goals are very well achievable if you take action is one of the best triggers for action.

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9. Re-Clarify Your Goals

If you have been procrastinating for an extended period of time, it might reflect a misalignment between what you want and what you are currently doing. Often times, we outgrow our goals as we discover more about ourselves, but we don’t change our goals to reflect that.

Get away from your work (a short vacation will be good, else just a weekend break or staycation will do too) and take some time to regroup yourself. What exactly do you want to achieve? What should you do to get there? What are the steps to take? Does your current work align with that? If not, what can you do about it?

10. Stop Over-Complicating Things

Are you waiting for a perfect time to do this? That maybe now is not the best time because of X, Y, Z reasons? Ditch that thought because there’s never a perfect time. If you keep waiting for one, you are never going to accomplish anything.

Perfectionism is one of the biggest reasons for procrastination. Read more about why perfectionist tendencies can be a bane than a boon: Why Being A Perfectionist May Not Be So Perfect.

11. Get a Grip and Just Do It

At the end, it boils down to taking action. You can do all the strategizing, planning and hypothesizing, but if you don’t take action, nothing’s going to happen. Occasionally, I get readers and clients who keep complaining about their situations but they still refuse to take action at the end of the day.

Reality check:

I have never heard anyone procrastinate their way to success before and I doubt it’s going to change in the near future. Whatever it is you are procrastinating on, if you want to get it done, you need to get a grip on yourself and do it.

Bonus: Think Like a Rhino

More Tips for Procrastinators to Start Taking Action

Featured photo credit: Malvestida Magazine via unsplash.com

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