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Upgrade Your GTD Calendar and Keep Up with the Times

Upgrade Your GTD Calendar and Keep Up with the Times

    While I love Getting Things Done (GTD) as one of the best time management systems around, many of its user struggle to implement its recommendations.

    The reason? GTD was developed in the 1990’s at a time when email volumes were low, mobile email access was limited, there was no such thing as tweeting and 2 people weren’t forced to do the job of 8. It was invented for a simpler time, and taught users to create lists of tasks tagged by “contexts,” which were mostly determined by a combination of one’s physical location and proximity to required tools.

    Things have certainly changed, and today, some of those who are inspired by GTD’s rules are taking a new approach in order to keep up with life in 2011.

    In the first place, they are, according to Sven Fechner, abandoning the old notion that work is defined by location. Tags such as @Blackberry or @iPad obviously have little meaning due to the mobility of these devices, @Computer seems like a quaint reminder of the days when email was only received at your desk, and with the advent of cloud computing and mobile technology, @Home has become the functional equivalent of @Work.

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    Today, users of GTD have different problems: they are struggling (like everyone else) to keep up with the increasing amount of stuff they want to do in the limited time available. Luckily, there is a solution inherent in GTD’s principles, but it can only be understood by looking at the way strict GTD’ers manages their tasks.

    At the start of any activity, a user of GTD contextual tagging follows this process:
    1. Determine my current context e.g. @Computer
    2. Scan the list of items that are tagged with that particular context
    3. Decide which task to act on first
    4. At the end of the task, go back to step 1

    Frequently, a GTD user must also conduct a “Weekly Review” of all their tasks to make sure that they are appropriately tagged.

    It’s a sequence that’s easy to understand and implement, and the key to making it work is to have every single task tagged with the right context. This approach has worked fine for many, but there are a growing number who are complaining about their inability and unwillingness to conduct an effective Weekly Review.

    What’s happened is simple to explain. As the number of tasks, messages, communication channels and mobile devices has increased, the process of scanning every item on each list has become overwhelming. It is taking too long, they complain: a tedious chore that is not worth the effort.

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    Mental vs. Explicit Schedules

    Something else has also added to the feeling of being burdened.

    All effective knowledge workers engage in some form of active time-planning at certain critical moments in the week: before starting work each morning, on Sunday nights before the week starts, just before they agree to accept a new assignment, and when a breakdown of some kind occurs. At these moments. they quickly scan their mental calendars, and start moving items around in their heads to ensure that they can complete the most important tasks before they are due.

    This juggling act is especially essential for complex activities, such as paying one’s taxes by the April 15th deadline. Most people don’t think only about the big day itself, but also focus on carving out time to complete the preparatory work some weeks and even months ahead of the due date in order to prevent a last minute panic.

    As you might imagine, the most organized professionals don’t do these tasks on their own. They use planning tools such as paper calendars, tablets, laptops, smartphones and web services to help them manipulate due dates, durations and deliverables in an explicit schedule, unknowingly adopting some of the established best practices in project management.

    Curiously however, GTD famously discourages its users from transferring these mental schedules out of their minds. Its most rigorous users only use these planning tools to track appointments that cannot be moved, such as the non-negotiable April 15th due date. Any and all activities that can take place on flexible dates before then, do not belong in a calendar. They wouldn’t, for example, set time aside in their schedules to find bills, purchase software, consult past records and consult tax tables.

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    I’m not sure if this is what the author of GTD intended, but the effect on GTD users on a whole is that they walk around with almost-empty calendars, but very complex mental schedules. Once again, this wasn’t a problem when GTD was developed in the 1990’s. However, in today’s workplace, trying to keep complex and ever-changing calendars in one’s mind has lead to feelings of overwhelm and burden as users are forced to build, remember and recall mental schedules that stretch over several months.

    About 5 years ago, I also thought that my electronic calendar was the problem and tried following the GTD approach to task planning. When more of my commitments starting falling through the cracks, I didn’t understand why, but now I do — it’s too hard to keep a mental calendar in today’s world of ever-increasing tasks.

    The answer, thankfully is not to abandon GTD, but instead to tweak it.

    The Tweak

    The purpose behind tagging tasks with a context is to provide a filter that gives the user a small, manageable range of tasks to choose from. Now that we have more demands on our time, we need different filters than the ones described in the book.

    Today, the key resource constraint is time, and there are already some users who are using temporal tags to help them do this filtering. For example, imagine that you’re in the middle of a tense meeting at 9:30am and you receive a message from your Nanny: “Pick up the milk on the way home from work.”

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    What used to be “@GroceryStore — Pick Up Milk” now becomes “@Mon evening — Pick Up Milk” or even “@6pm — Pick up Milk.”

    In this example, the biggest challenge for working professionals is not remembering what to do once they are at the grocery store. Instead, it lies in remembering to make the detour to the store at 6pm after a day of tough meetings Those who are most likely to “remember” don’t in fact use memory. They use tools like smartphone calendars to make sure they don’t have any conflicts, before placing the item in the 6pm time-slot along with a notifier such as a buzzer, beep or vibration.

    While this solution seems simple enough, the fact is that electronic calendars weren’t built for this purpose, and need to be customized to meet each user’s needs. If you decide to do make this upgrade, it’s a good idea to keep experimenting to see if life does improve by asking the following:
    Question 1 – Am I better off managing my activities in a tool rather than in my memory?
    Question 2 – Am I using the tool in a way that is increasing the odds of picking up the milk?
    Question 3 – Am I able to reduce the Weekly Review by scanning tasks scheduled for the near future?

    These shouldn’t be abstract questions — they should be answered as you experiment with your upgrade to see whether or not further changes are needed, or even a rollback.

    The fact is, there is no longer any one-size fits all, permanent solution to managing our commitments, and we need to keep tinkering to find new ways to get better. Upgrading our systems and the way we use GTD’s recommendations can be fun as we discover new ways to be productive, but we must be willing to change with the times.

     

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    Francis Wade

    Author, Management Consultant

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    Last Updated on March 31, 2020

    Why Do I Procrastinate? 5 Root Causes & How To Tackle Them

    Why Do I Procrastinate? 5 Root Causes & How To Tackle Them

    Procrastination is something many people can relate to and I, myself, have been there and done that. Yes, I write all about productivity now, but when I first started out on my career path, I would often put off work I didn’t want to do. And most of the time I didn’t even realize I was doing it.

    So what changed?

    I thought to myself, “why do I procrastinate?” And I started to read a lot of books on productivity, learning a great deal and shifting my mind to the reasons why people procrastinate.

    My understanding brought me a new perspective on how to put an end to the action of procrastination.

    Procrastination slows your goals and dreams way down. It can create stress and feelings of frustration. It rears its ugly head on a regular basis for a lot of people. This is particularly apparent at work with day-to-day projects and tasks.

    But, why do people self-sabotage in this way? Essentially, there are 5 reasons behind procrastination. See if you can identify with any of these in your own work life.

    1. The Perfectionist’s Fear

    Procrastination is sometimes a subconscious fear of failure.

    If you put off a task enough, then you can’t face up to the potential (and usually imagined) negative results. If you’re a stickler for minor details, the stress of getting things ‘just right’ may be too much and cause you to delay continuing the task.

    Either way, fear is at the root cause and can sabotage your desire to move forward.

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    How to Tackle It?

    Try visualizing the completion of your task in a positive way.

    For example, you have a presentation that your boss wants you to conduct for a potential client. Visualize yourself standing in the meeting room confident, meeting the eyes of the client and seeing them light up as you explain the concept simply and concisely.

    Imagine your boss telling you how great you did and you were the best person for the job. Think about how it would feel to you and focus on this as you move forward with the task.

    2. A Dreamer’s Lack of Action

    This is a person who is highly creative and has many brilliant ideas but can’t quite seem to bring them to fruition.

    The main reason for this is because there’s usually no structure or goal setting involved once the idea has been created. This aimless approach ends up manifesting as a lack of decision-making and significant delays on a project.

    How to Tackle It?

    Write down a timeline of what you want to achieve and by when. Ideally, do this daily to keep yourself on track and accountable for progression. Creative minds tend to jump from one idea to the next, so cultivating focus is essential.

    If you’re designing and creating a new product at work, set out a task list for the week ahead with the steps you want to focus on each day. Doing this ahead of time will stop your mind from wandering across to different ideas.

    Learn about how to plan your time and take actions from some of the successful people: 8 Ways Highly Successful People Plan Their Time

    3. An Overwhelmed Avoider

    This is one of the most common reasons for procrastination; the sheer overwhelm of a daunting task.

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    The complexity of a task can cause the brain to lose motivation and avoid doing it altogether choosing instead to stay in its comfort zone.

    The search then starts for a more enjoyable task and the harder tasks are put off. This can cause stress and dread when the task inevitably comes up to be completed.

    How to Tackle It?

    Break the challenge down into smaller tasks and tackle each one individually.

    For example, if you have a project that has technical elements to it that you know you’ll find challenging, list each step you need to take in order to complete these difficult elements. Think of ways you can resolve potential hurdles. Perhaps you have a coworker that may have time to help or even consider that the solution may be easier than you initially think. Put each task in order of most daunting to least daunting. Ideally, try to deal with the more challenging parts of each task in the morning so that momentum is created as the tasks get easier through the day.

    A reward system will also help you stay motivated so, once completed, you can enjoy your treat of choice.

    If you want to know how to better handle your feelings and stay motivated, take a look at my other article: Procrastination Is a Matter of Emotion, Here’s How to Stop It

    4. The Busy Bee Who Lacks Prioritization

    Either you have too many tasks or don’t truly acknowledge the differing importance of each task. The result? Getting nothing done.

    Time is spent switching constantly from one task to another or spending too much time deciding what to do.

    How to Tackle It?

    It’s all about priorities and choosing important tasks over urgent ones.

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    Make sure to question the value and purpose of each task and make a list in order of importance.

    For example, throughout your work day, you can waste a lot of time dealing with ‘urgent’ emails from colleagues but, you need to ask yourself if these are more important than working on a task that will affect, say, several office projects at once.

    Help yourself to prioritize and set a goal of working through your list over the next few hours reassessing the situation once the time is up.

    In my other article, I talk about an effective way to prioritze and achieve more in less time: How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster

    5. The One with Shiny Object Syndrome (Distraction-Prone)

    This is another common cause for procrastination; just simple distraction.

    Our brains aren’t wired to focus for long periods of time and it looks for something else. So throw in a bunch of colleagues equally looking for distractions or checking your phone mindlessly, and you’ve got a recipe for ultimate procrastination.

    However, this type of procrastination may not always be an unconscious decision to sabotage and put off work. It’s simply a result of your work setup or types of coworkers you have. Only you know the answer to that.

    How to Tackle It?

    Be mindful of your workspace and potential distractions. Schedule a specific time to converse with your coworkers, put headphones on to minimize listening to what’s going on around you, and switch your phone off.

    Aim to do this for 20-30 minutes at a time and then take a break. This will be a much more efficient way of working and getting what you need done. This is also why scheduling down time is so important for productivity.

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    Whether this type of procrastination is self-sabotage or being a victim of a distracting environment, either way you can take control.

    If you need a little more guidance on how to stay focus, this guide can help you: How to Focus and Maximize Your Productivity (the Definitive Guide)

    Bottom Line

    I’m going to be bold and assume you identified with at least one of these procrastination pitfalls.

    You could be trapped in the endless cycle of procrastination like I was, that is, until I decided to find out my why behind putting off tasks and projects. It was only then that I could implement strategies and move forward in a positive and productive way.

    I killed the procrastination monster and so can you. I now complete my tasks more efficiently and completely killed that feeling of stress and falling behind with work that procrastination brings.

    I know it’s not easy to stop procrastinating right away, so I also have this complete guide to help you stop it once and for all: What Is Procrastination and How to Stop It (The Complete Guide)

    Featured photo credit: Luke Chesser via unsplash.com

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