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Productivity Made Simple: The 7 Main Elements of GTD

Productivity Made Simple: The 7 Main Elements of GTD

    Just like the five elements (Fire, Earth, Metal, Water and Wood), GTD has its own elements. Only there are seven instead of five…and not nearly as epic.

    In the previous parts of this series we were talking about things like how to select what to do next, and how to compile your projects list (and your next tasks list). Today it’s time to get deeper into this topic, and explain the main elements a little more in detail.

    Not to keep you hanging any longer…let me tell you what the seven main elements of GTD are:

    • Projects List
    • Next Tasks List
    • Future/maybe List
    • Calendar
    • “Waiting for” List
    • Resource Files
    • The Intangible One (wait for it…)

    Being familiar with these elements, knowing how to use them, and understanding their purpose is key to implementing GTD successfully.

    I know that it sounds like a lot of work, and that some of the elements are not clear at this point, but I assure you, it’s much easier than it seems.

    Let’s take it from the top, and talk about the first element on the list:

    Projects List

    We briefly talked about this one in the previous post — Selecting What to Do Next with GTD. Feel free to check it out if you haven’t already. The post also explains the meaning of projects as defined in GTD.

    In essence, your Projects List is where all of your current projects are listed.

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    Each project has its own section in the Projects List. Each section is a somewhat complete collection of various things regarding a project.

    Such a project section usually contains things like:

    • A short description of the project. This is helpful when you want to come back to a given project after a while of inactivity, and you can’t remember what the project was about exactly.
    • A list of tasks that need to be done to complete the project.
    • References to other materials that might come handy when working on the project.

    The first element is pretty self explanatory. The second one has been explained in the previous post. So we’re left with the last one – references to other materials. The truth is that whenever you’re working on something, you need a set of different things for reference (or other information that will help you to get the project done).

    Let’s use the simplest of examples just to explain this briefly – our car fixing example. Some references to other materials might include: listing of all professional garages in your area, phone numbers, important paperwork for the car.

    Of course, every project has different characteristics, so there’s no universal template for those references, but I’m sure you get the idea.

    Next Tasks List

    Like I was saying in the previous post, this is where you spend most of your time when working with GTD.

    Essentially, Next Tasks List contains only one task from each of your projects. Not more, just one single task.

    Again, the previous post (Selecting What to Do Next with GTD) explains the purpose and the construction of the Next Tasks List in detail.

    Future/Maybe List

    This is a new element. We haven’t talked about it yet.

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    The purpose of this list is very simple in nature. It contains everything that you know you won’t be able to take action on right now ( Future), or things that you’re not yet sure if you’re going to take action on them ever (Maybe).

    The purpose of this list is to give you a place to store all your ideas, possible projects, things that simply seem interesting, things you don’t want to forget about, etc.

    The construction of the list is not defined exactly, so anything you want can find its place there. In particular, things like:

    • Short descriptions of new projects.
    • Single tasks you’re thinking about doing.
    • Random, yet actionable thoughts on anything.
    • Things (requests, projects, tasks) other people have sent you.
    • Summaries of interesting articles/posts you might want to take action on in the future.

    Virtually, everything that’s worthy of keeping for possible future actions finds its place in the Future/Maybe List. There are no other rules more important than this one.

    Calendar

    A calendar seems like a pretty obvious thing. But it’s not. Many people fall into a trap of putting everything in a calendar. It’s a habit. And it’s a bad one.

    The biggest problem with a calendar is that we often use it to list some things we think we’re going to be able to do on a given day. So we end up with tens of tasks, one on top of the other, each not done on the desired day. This also makes it really easy to overlook some tasks that absolutely need to be done on a given day.

    Your calendar is sacred. The real purpose of a GTD calendar is to let you know that if you put something in it, it means that this specific thing can only be done on the exact date you’ve picked…or NEVER.

    I’m serious. It really is your only chance of doing the thing. After you miss it, it’s lost for eternity.

    What’s the purpose of all this? It’s simple. It’s for so that all of the truly time-sensitive tasks don’t get overlooked.

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    Let’s say you’ve got a doctor’s appointment. Such appointments are always set to a specific date and hour. If you miss it, well, you missed it, and you have to make another appointment. You can’t just show up the next day and say “Sorry, I’m late.” This won’t work.

    The doctor’s example is actually perfect for explaining the purpose of a GTD calendar. It really is a sacred place. If something gets put into the calendar there’s no way of rescheduling it, or postponing it. It’s like it’s been written in stone.

    What’s the main benefit? You’ll be amazed how little things you’ll have in your calendar once you implement this.

    “Waiting for” List

    This is a new element too. Quite simply, this list contains all the things you are waiting for.

    “Things you are waiting for” is a vague explanation so let me give you some examples:

    • Emails you’re waiting for other people to send you.
    • A call your real estate agent was supposed to make to you.
    • The price of Mexican Peso to go down so you can buy some currency for your vacation.
    • Your car to be fixed so you can pick it up.
    • Your post to be published on Lifehack.org.

    This list is a place for all things that are somewhat independent of your actions, yet you are still waiting for them to happen.

    What’s the purpose? Simply not to forget about the fact that someone was supposed to do something for you, and they’re late. It’s so you don’t wake up one day and say, “Wait a minute, my article was supposed to be published like 2 months ago!

    Resource Files

    Resource Files contain every piece of information you might need to get on with your projects, work, and…essentially…life. ”Resource Files” isn’t the best name in the world, so let’s show some examples:

    • Articles that might come handy.
    • Blog posts you’ve read (or written).
    • Your directory of tabs and notes (if you’re a guitarist, for example).
    • Your notebook of contacts.
    • Your list of the best restaurants in the city.
    • Certain books you want to review.
    • Every piece of important information that’s stored on your computer’s hard drive.
    • Pictures from your last holiday.
    • and so on…

    I guess that the only rule is to store everything that isn’t actionable in any way, but you want to keep it nevertheless.

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    As you’d imagine, this is probably the biggest element in volume of them all. Nothing else comes even close to your Resource File. Thankfully, these days we’re doing most of our stuff on a computer, so we don’t have to play around with tons of paper.

    The Intangible Element

    This is the final and most important element of them all. It’s the intangible one: Trust.

    If you don’t have trust for GTD then nothing else can make the system work for you. If you want GTD to help you make your life and work more organized you have to trust that GTD can indeed do that for you.

    Trust is not that important for other, simpler methodologies. But GTD is different. It is somewhat complex. It hasn’t been invented overnight. It’s a result of years of work and experience of its author – David Allen. It is not accidental. And that is why it works.

    But to make it work you have to trust it, or – as some like to call it – suspend your disbelief while you learn GTD. It will pay off soon.

    There have been three parts of the Productivity Made Simple series already. At this point, do you trust that it can change the way you work? Share your thoughts in the comments.

    (Photo credit: Tutorial or Advice Concept via Shutterstock)

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    Karol Krol

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    Last Updated on September 11, 2019

    Why To-Do Lists Don’t Work (And How to Change That)

    Why To-Do Lists Don’t Work (And How to Change That)

    How often do you feel overwhelmed and disorganized in life, whether at work or home? We all seem to struggle with time management in some area of our life; one of the most common phrases besides “I love you” is “I don’t have time”. Everyone suggests working from a to-do list to start getting your life more organized, but why do these lists also have a negative connotation to them?

    Let’s say you have a strong desire to turn this situation around with all your good intentions—you may then take out a piece of paper and pen to start tackling this intangible mess with a to-do list. What usually happens, is that you either get so overwhelmed seeing everything on your list, which leaves you feeling worse than you did before, or you make the list but are completely stuck on how to execute it effectively.

    To-do lists can work for you, but if you are not using them effectively, they can actually leave you feeling more disillusioned and stressed than you did before. Think of a filing system: the concept is good, but if you merely file papers away with no structure or system, the filing system will have an adverse effect. It’s the same with to-do lists—you can put one together, but if you don’t do it right, it is a fruitless exercise.

    Why Some People Find That General To-Do Lists Don’t Work?

    Most people find that general to-do lists don’t work because:

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    • They get so overwhelmed just by looking at all the things they need to do.
    • They don’t know how to prioritize the items on list.
    • They feel that they are continuously adding to their list but not reducing it.
    • There’s a sense of confusion seeing home tasks mixed with work tasks.

    Benefits of Using a To-Do List

    However, there are many advantages working from a to-do list:

    • You have clarity on what you need to get done.
    • You will feel less stressed because all your ‘to do’s are on paper and out of your mind.
    • It helps you to prioritize your actions.
    • You don’t overlook so many tasks and forget anything.
    • You feel more organized.
    • It helps you with planning.

    4 Golden Rules to Make a To-Do List Work

    Here are my golden rules for making a “to-do” list work:

    1. Categorize

    Studies have shown that your brain gets overwhelmed when it sees a list of 7 or 8 options; it wants to shut down.[1] For this reason, you need to work from different lists. Separate them into different categories and don’t have more than 7 or 8 tasks on each one.

    It might work well for you to have a “project” list, a “follow-up” list, and a “don’t forget” list; you will know what will work best for you, as these titles will be different for everybody.

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    2. Add Estimations

    You don’t merely need to know what has to be done, but how long it will take as well in order to plan effectively.

    Imagine on your list you have one task that will take 30 minutes, another that could take 1 hour, and another that could take 4 hours. You need to know the moment you look at the task, otherwise you undermine your planning, so add an extra column to your list and include your estimation of how long you think the task will take, and be realistic!

    Tip: If you find it a challenge to estimate accurately, then start by building this skill on a daily basis. Estimate how long it will take to get ready, cook dinner, go for a walk, etc., and then compare this to the actual time it took you. You will start to get more accurate in your estimations.

    3. Prioritize

    To effectively select what you should work on, you need to take into consideration: priority, sequence and estimated time. Add another column to your list for priority. Divide your tasks into four categories:

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    • Important and urgent
    • Not urgent but important
    • Not important but urgent
    • Not important or urgent

    You want to work on tasks that are urgent and important of course, but also, select some tasks that are important and not urgent. Why? Because these tasks are normally related to long-term goals, and when you only work on tasks that are urgent and important, you’ll feel like your day is spent putting out fires. You’ll end up neglecting other important areas which most often end up having negative consequences.

    Most of your time should be spent on the first two categories.

    4.  Review

    To make this list work effectively for you, it needs to become a daily tool that you use to manage your time and you review it regularly. There is no point in only having the list to record everything that you need to do, but you don’t utilize it as part of your bigger time management plan.

    For example: At the end of every week, review the list and use it to plan the week ahead. Select what you want to work on taking into consideration priority, time and sequence and then schedule these items into your calendar. Golden rule in planning: don’t schedule more than 75% of your time.

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    Bottom Line

    So grab a pen and paper and give yourself the gift of a calm and clear mind by unloading everything in there and onto a list as now, you have all the tools you need for it to work. Knowledge is useless unless it is applied—how badly do you want more time?

    To your success!

    More to Help You Achieve More in Less Time

    Featured photo credit: Emma Matthews via unsplash.com

    Reference

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