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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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      CM Smith

      A technologist and writer who shares advice on personal productivity, creativity and how to use technology to get things done.

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      Last Updated on April 19, 2021

      The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

      The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

      Think of yourself as a cup. Each day, you wake up full. But as you go about your day—getting tasks done and interacting with people—the amount in your cup gradually gets lower. And as such, you get less and less effective at whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing. You’re running out of steam.

      The solution is obvious: if you don’t have anything left to pour out, then you need to find a way to fill yourself up again. In work terms, that means you should take a break—an essential form of revitalizing your motivation and focus.

      Taking a break may get a bad rap in hustle culture, but it’s an essential, science-based way to ensure you have the capacity to live your life the way you want to live it.

      In the 1980s, when scientists began researching burnout, they described this inner capacity as “resources.” We all need to replenish our resources to cope with stress, work effectively, and avoid burnout.[1]

      When the goal is to get things done, it may sound counterproductive to stop what you’re doing. But if you embrace the art of taking a break, you can be more efficient and effective at work.

      Here are five ways on how you can take a break and boost your productivity.

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      1. Break for the Right Amount of Time, at the Right Time

      When I started my first job out of college, I was bent on pleasing my boss as most entry-level employees do. So, every day, I punched in at 9 AM on the dot, took a 60-minute lunch break at noon, and left no earlier than 5 PM.

      As I’ve logged more hours in my career, I’ve realized the average, eight-hour workday with an hour lunch break simply isn’t realistic—especially if your goal is to put your best foot forward at work.

      That’s why popular productivity techniques like the Pomodoro advocate for the “sprint” principle. Basically, you work for a short burst, then stop for a short, five-minute break. While the Pomodoro technique is a step forward, more recent research shows a shorter burst of working followed by a longer pause from work might actually be a more effective way to get the most out of stepping away from your desk.

      The team at DeskTime analyzed more than 5 million records of how workers used their computers on the job. They found that the most productive people worked an average of 52 minutes, then took a 17-minute break afterward.[2]

      What’s so special about those numbers? Leave it to neuroscience. According to researchers, the human brain naturally works in spurts of activity that last an hour. Then, it toggles to “low-activity mode.”[3]

      Even so, keep in mind that whatever motivates you is the most effective method. It’s more about the premise—when you know you have a “finish line” approaching, you can stay focused on the task or project at hand.

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      There are many applications and tools that can help you block distracting websites and apps (such as social media) for specific periods of the day. Similarly, you can also use some mailing apps like Mailbrew to receive all the social media content or newsletters you don’t want to miss in your inbox at a time you decide.

      So, no matter how long you work, take a break when you sense you’re losing steam or getting bored with the task. Generally, a 10-15 minute break should reinvigorate you for whatever’s coming next.

      2. Get a Change of Scenery—Ideally, Outdoors

      When it comes to increasing a person’s overall mental health, there’s no better balm than nature. Research has found that simply being outside can restore a person’s mind from mental fatigue related to work or studying, ultimately contributing to improved work performance (and even improved work satisfaction).[4]

      No lush forest around? Urban nature can be just as effective to get the most out of your break-taking. Scientists Stephen R. Kellert and Edward O. Wilson, in their book The Biophilia Hypothesis, claimed that even parks, outdoor paths, and building designs that embrace “urban nature” can lend a sense of calm and inspiration, encouraging learning and alertness for workers.

      3. Move Your Body

      A change of scenery can do wonders for your attention span and ability to focus, but it’s even more beneficial if you pair it with physical movement to pump up that adrenaline of yours. Simply put, your body wasn’t designed to be seated the entire day. In fact, scientists now believe that extended periods of sitting are just as dangerous to health as smoking.[5]

      It’s not always feasible to enjoy the benefits of a 30-minute brisk walk during your workday, especially since you’ll most likely have less energy during workdays. But the good news is, for productivity purposes, you don’t have to. Researchers found that just 10 minutes of exercise can boost your memory and attention span throughout the entire day.[6]

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      So, instead of using your break to sit and read the news or scroll your social media account, get out of your chair and move your body. Take a quick walk around the block. Do some jumping jacks in your home office. Whatever you choose, you’ll likely find yourself with a sharper focus—and more drive to get things done.

      4. Connect With Another Person

      Social connection is one of the most important factors for resilience. When we’re in a relationship with other people, it’s easier to cope with stress—and in my experience, getting social can also help to improve focus after a work break.

      One of my favorite ways to break after a 30-or-so minute sprint is to hang out with my family. And once a week, I carve out time to Skype my relatives back in Turkey. It’s amazing how a bit of levity and emotional connection can rev me up for the next work sprint.

      Now that most of us are working from home, getting some face-to-face time with a loved one isn’t as hard as it once was. So, take the time to chat with your partner. Take your kids outside to run around the backyard. If you live alone, call a friend or relative. Either way, coming up for air to chat with someone who knows and cares about you will leave you feeling invigorated and inspired.

      5. Use Your Imagination

      When you’re working with your head down, your brain has an ongoing agenda: get things done, and do it well. That can be an effective method for productivity, but it only lasts so long—especially because checking things off your to-do list isn’t the only ingredient to success at work. You also need innovation.

      That’s why I prioritize a “brain break” every day. When I feel my “cup” getting empty, I usually choose another creative activity to exercise my brain, like a Crossword puzzle, Sudoku, or an unrelated, creative project in my house.

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      And when I’m really struggling to focus, I don’t do anything at all. Instead, I let my brain roam free for a bit, following my thoughts down whatever trail they lead me. As it turns out, there’s a scientific benefit to daydreaming. It reinforces creativity and helps you feel more engaged with the world, which will only benefit you in your work.[7]

      Whether you help your kids with their distance learning homework, read an inspiring book, or just sit quietly to enjoy some fresh air, your brain will benefit from an opportunity to think and feel without an agenda. And, if you’re anything like me, you might just come up with your next great idea when you aren’t even trying.

      Final Thoughts

      Most of us have to work hard for our families and ourselves. And the current world we live in demands the highest level of productivity that we can offer. However, we also have to take a break once in a while. We are humans, after all.

      Learning the art of properly taking a break will not only give you the rest you need but also increase your productivity in the long run.

      More on the Importance of Taking a Break

      Featured photo credit: Helena Lopes via unsplash.com

      Reference

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