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Dates and GTD – Everything You Need to Know

Dates and GTD – Everything You Need to Know

    I have been a GTD fanboy for around 3 and a half years now and with that has come trying all different types of systems over the years. Yet, over that time I have also slowly come to realize that it isn’t about the tools you use, not in the slightest. What GTD is about is understanding the process and actually using your system to get more things done in work and life.

    One of the aspects of GTD that I have had the hardest time with is the idea of dates; be it start dates, due dates, milestones, whatever. In GTD, Mr. Allen doesn’t speak of date information related to actions very much other than the brief discussion of giving yourself a hard landscape by ways of your calendar. So, to that end, let’s take a look at the wide-world of dates and GTD, and how they can be used within your system.

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    Start Dates

    Quoting Merlin Mann regarding start dates:

    “Start dates are ace. Start dates are a way of punting stuff into the future.”

    I couldn’t agree more. Start dates allow you to plan your actions and projects effectively while keeping things that aren’t that important or time sensitive out of your hair for the time being. This allows you to concentrate on the stuff that really matters at the moment without being bogged down by tasks and projects that are in your system but aren’t due for weeks or even months down the road.

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    Because of the awesomeness of start dates I can no longer go back to a system that doesn’t support start dates as a field for a task or project. The two apps that come to mind that do this well are Toodledo and OmniFocus, but I’m sure there are at least a dozen more. If you have a ton of actions on your lists you should definitely consider using start dates to get them out of the way so you can concentrate on current actions and projects.

    “Fake” Due Dates

    Ever have self-talk like this regarding projects?

    “Let’s see. I have a report due by the end of the month and have at least 10 actions that go with it. I’m waiting to hear back from John, get the notes from the meeting, summarize the notes, make an outline, etc. So, by next week I should have have the notes summarized and the outline completed. I’ll give that due date of 2/27/11.”

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    The above is a good example of “fake due dates”; these are arbitrary dates that you set up for actions within a project that are due before the actual due date project. In my experience these types of due dates don’t work. What they tend to do is allow procrastinators procrastinate more, because when they see due dates they push everything back to the last minute.

    Here is a much better approach; instead of giving all your project actions fake due dates, make sure that your actions are “highly doable”, meaning that they are something that can be done within 10 to 25 minutes. This will help a project move a long much faster. What you may find is that you get more done than you would have giving all these actions fake due dates.

    Real Due Dates

    Real due dates are the actual due date of an action or project. These type of dates are usually put on us by project manager types or are set by yourself as the date that projects or actions are to be completed.

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    When I receive a due date for a school project or assignment at work I always add it to the action or the project and try very hard to avoid the fake due date syndrome I spoke of above. Sometimes in my project notes I will give myself milestones saying that if by such-and-such date I have a certain number of actions done then I am on track, otherwise I need to clear my back log of tasks to consider myself to be on time. This works well as it doesn’t clog my system with fake due dates, yet still allows me to check my progress on actions and projects related to dates.

    The Hard Landscape

      The hard landscape that Mr. Allen talks about is the idea of putting things on your calendar that have to be done on that particular day or time (think meetings, actions that can only be done on a single date or time, or reminders for that day or time). This is a sacred place and shouldn’t be cluttered with things that don’t have a hard due date or actions that you’d think you’d like to get done on a certain date.

      I will admit though, if I do have a long standing project that has a hard due date, I put in on my calendar as an all day event. Be it “right or wrong” per GTD, I don’t really care. What this has done for me is put things into perspective during my weekly review of actions and projects allowing me to see when large projects or certain actions are due at a glance of the calendar. Other than these hard due dates, the calendar is hands off for anything other than what was mentioned above.

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      Last Updated on August 16, 2018

      16 Productivity Secrets of Highly Successful People Revealed

      16 Productivity Secrets of Highly Successful People Revealed

      The same old motivational secrets don’t really motivate you after you’ve read them for the tenth time, do they?

      How about a unique spin on things?

      These 16 productivity secrets of successful people will make you reevaluate your approach to your home, work, and creative lives. Learn from these highly successful people, turn these little things they do into your daily habits and you’ll get closer to success.

      1. Empty your mind.

      It sounds counterproductive, doesn’t it?

      Emptying your mind when you have so much to remember seems like you’re just begging to forget something. Instead, this gives you a clean slate so you’re not still thinking about last week’s tasks.

      Clear your mind and then start thinking only about what you need to do immediately, and then today. Tasks that need to be accomplished later in the week can wait.

      Here’s a guide to help you empty your mind and think sharper:

      How to Declutter Your Mind to Sharpen Your Brain and Fall Asleep Faster

      2. Keep certain days clear.

      Some companies are scheduling “No Meeting Wednesdays,” which means, funnily enough, that no one can hold a meeting on a Wednesday. This gives workers a full day to work on their own tasks, without getting sidetracked by other duties or pointless meetings.

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      This can work in your personal life too, for example if you need to restrict Facebook access or limit phone calls.

      3. Prioritize your work.

      Don’t think every task is created equal! Some tasks aren’t as important as others, or might take less time.

      Try to sort your tasks every day and see what can be done quickly and efficiently. Get these out of the way so you have more free time and brain power to focus on what is more important.

      Lifehack’s CEO has a unique way to prioritize works, take a look at it here:

      How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster

      4. Chop up your time.

      Many successful business leaders chop their time up into fifteen-minute intervals. This means they work on tasks for a quarter of an hour at a time, or schedule meetings for only fifteen minutes. It makes each hour seem four times as long, which leads to more productivity!

      5. Have a thinking position.

      Truman Capote claimed he couldn’t think unless he was laying down. Proust did this as well, while Stravinsky would stand on his head!

      What works for others may not work for you. Try to find a spot and position that is perfect for you to brainstorm or come up with ideas.

      6. Pick three to five things you must do that day.

      To Do lists can get overwhelming very quickly. Instead of making a never-ending list of everything you can think of that needs to be done, make daily lists that include just three to five things.

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      Make sure they’re things that need to be done that day, so you don’t keep putting them off.

      7. Don’t try to do too much.

      OK, so I just told you to work every day, and now I’m telling you to not do too much? It might sound like conflicting advice, but not doing too much means not biting off more than you can chew. Don’t say yes to every work project or social engagement and find yourself in way over your head.

      8. Have a daily action plan.

      Don’t limit yourself to a to-do list! Take ten minutes every morning to map out a daily action plan. It’s a place to not only write what needs to be done that day, but also to prioritize what will bring the biggest reward, what will take the longest, and what goals will be accomplished.

      Leave room for a “brain dump,” where you can scribble down anything else that’s on your mind.

      9. Do your most dreaded project first.

      Getting your most dreaded task over with first means you’ll have the rest of the day free for anything and everything else. This also means that you won’t be constantly putting off the worst of your projects, making it even harder to start on it later.

      10. Follow the “Two-Minute Rule.”

      The “Two-Minute Rule” was made famous by David Allen. It’s simple – if a new task comes in and it can be done in two minutes or less, do it right then. Putting it off just adds to your to-do list and will make the task seem more monumental later.

      11. Have a place devoted to work.

      If you work in an office, it’s no problem to say that your cubicle desk is where you work every day.

      But if you work from home, make sure you have a certain area specifically for work. You don’t want files spread out all over the dinner table, and you don’t want to feel like you’re not working just because you’re relaxing on the couch.

      Agatha Christie never wrote at her desk, she wrote wherever she could sit down. Ernest Hemingway wrote standing up. Thomas Wolfe, at 6’6″ tall, used the top of his refrigerator as a desk. Richard Wright wrote on a park bench, rain or shine.

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      Have a space where, when you go there, you know you’re going to work. Maybe it’s a cafe downstairs, the library, or a meeting room. Whenever and wherever works for you, do your works there.

      12. Find your golden hour.

      You don’t have to stick to a “typical” 9–5 schedule!

      Novelist Anne Rice slept during the day and wrote at night to avoid distractions. Writer Jerzy Kosinski slept eight hours a day, but never all at once. He’d wake in the morning, work, sleep four hours in the afternoon, then work more that evening.

      Your golden hour is the time when you’re at your peak. You’re alert, ready to be productive, and intent on crossing things off your to-do list.

      Once you find your best time, protect it with all your might. Make sure you’re always free to do your best uninterrupted work at this time.

      13. Pretend you’re on an airplane.

      It might not be possible to lock everyone out of your office to get some peace and quiet, but you can eliminate some distractions.

      By pretending you’re on an airplane, you can act like your internet access is limited, you’re not able to get something from your bookcase, and you can’t make countless phone calls.

      Eliminating these distractions will help you focus on your most important tasks and get them done without interruption.

      14. Never stop.

      Writers Anthony Trollope and Henry James started writing their next books as soon as they finished their current work in progress.

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      Stephen King writes every day of the year, and holds himself accountable for 2,000 words a day! Mark Twain wrote every day, and then read his day’s work aloud to his family to get their feedback.

      There’s something to be said about working nonstop, and putting out continuous work instead of taking a break. It’s just a momentum that will push you go further./

      15. Be in tune with your body.

      Your mind and body will get tired of a task after ninety minutes to two hours focused on it. Keep this in mind as you assign projects to yourself throughout the day, and take breaks to ensure that you won’t get burned out.

      16. Try different methods.

      Vladimir Nabokov wrote the first drafts of his novels on index cards. This made it easy to rearrange sentences, paragraphs, and chapters by shuffling the cards around.

      It does sound easier, and more fun, than copying and pasting in Word! Once Nabokov liked the arrangement, his wife typed them into a single manuscript.

      Same for you, don’t give up and think that it’s impossible for you to be productive when one method fails. Try different methods until you find what works perfectly for you.

      Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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