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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

    Blogger, published author, and founder of a site that's all about delivering online business advice

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    Last Updated on October 9, 2020

    Find out How to Study Effectively With These 6 Tips

    Find out How to Study Effectively With These 6 Tips

    Learning is a lifelong endeavor and one that we can all hopefully learn to enjoy. One way to boost learning is through effective study techniques and habits. Once you learn how to study effectively, learning will get significantly easier, both in the classroom and out.

    There are several study habits that are pivotal to know in order to study effectively and properly. These techniques could be the deciding factor as to whether you pass or fail or, more importantly, learn. These 6 techniques will help you learn how to study effectively.

    1. Take Notes

    In order to study, a person is required to understand what he or she is learning. A great way of understanding/learning is by making notes of the content you are reading[1]. Note-taking may including making linear notes, diagrams, charts, etc.

    The key to taking notes when learning how to study effectively is limiting your notes to the most important and complex information, and making it all as simple as possible. Trying to write down everything you hear is a recipe for disaster, as you will simply become overwhelmed when looking back at what you’ve written.

    An exceptional note making style is using summaries. Summaries are a written record of all the important points in a short and concise version. They’re excellent for using when an exam is fast approaching. However, if this doesn’t work for the subject matter or if you’re more creative, try mapping instead[2].

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    Use mind mapping when learning how to study effectively.

      2. Practice

      Studying is meant to enable you to apply your learned knowledge to real life situations, so if you want to learn how to study effectively, focus on practice.

      The best way to study is by practicing with realistic examples and questions. As one TED article points out, “Practice is the repetition of an action with the goal of improvement, and it helps us perform with more ease, speed, and confidence”[3].

      For example, if you have a big interview coming up, how will you prepare for it? You’ll likely study types of questions typically asked in interviews. The most effective next step would be finding a friend to do a mock-interview with you. One article points out that “a mock interview helps you learn how to answer difficult questions, develop interview strategies, improve your communication skills, and reduce your stress before an actual job interview”[4].

      Placing yourself in these kinds of practice testing situations will help you recreate the emotions you’ll likely feel in the actual situation, so you won’t be taken off guard when the time comes.

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      3. Improve Your Study Area

      Often enough, we study in a place that we feel comfortable in, but this has both pros and cons. Make sure that the room you’re studying in is not too cold or too warm. A cold room will make you feel uneasy, whereas an overly warm room will make you feel lethargic and lazy.

      Ensure that it’s not in an area with a lot of traffic that will work to distract you. If there is a lot of distracting background noise, consider putting on some relaxing music to drown it out[5].

      Furthermore, ensure that your study space is free of clutter. Research shows that clutter significantly increases chances of procrastination[6]. Other studies have suggested that having excess clutter can increase stress and levels of cortisol. Therefore, if you really want a productive study hour, make sure your workspace is clean first.

      4. Eliminate Distractions

      You may need to decipher between a distraction and an interruption when learning how to study effectively. A distraction can come in the form of open social media pages or a crying child, whereas an interruption can be anything from a phone ringing to an unexpected visitor showing up.

      While interruptions are nearly impossible to control, it is possible to eliminate the majority of distractions for certain periods of time. Choose a time when you’re alone or it’s quiet enough for you to study. It takes a lot of concentration to study properly, and there’s no guarantee that you can focus again once your train of thought is disturbed.

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      If you have to use your computer to study, close out of all social media pages. If you have small children, ask your partner to keep them occupied in the meantime. There is often a solution for the distractions that each of us have to deal with in life, so get creative.

      5. Set Goals

      In order to make progress with your studies when learning how to study effectively, it’s great if you set mini goals or objectives for yourself. Set out an allocated amount of work you want to complete for a day and make sure you do it. Every time you accomplish a mini goal, reward yourself with some free time. This will assure that you’re properly motivated and certainly won’t suffer from a burn out from over-studying.

      Deadlines can be hugely helpful in motivating us to get things done. One study suggests that “as we approach a deadline, or get near to completing a task, this has the effect of reducing ‘opportunity costs’ – essentially, the lure of all the other things you could be doing instead”[7].

      If you know you have a big exam coming up in a day or two, make a deadline for yourself. For example, tell yourself: “I will read these three chapters before 10 pm tonight.” You can even set a reward for when you complete your goal on time.

      You can read more on creating effective deadlines in this article.

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      6. Follow a Healthy Routine

      When learning how to study effectively, a healthy routine is important to your success. Your body needs to brace itself for intense studying, which is why you should get at least 8 hours of sleep, keeping in mind that the amount of time you sleep before 12 counts the most.

      Have a proper diet, including not living off energy drinks or takeout. A proper diet consists of 3 to 5 meals a day with average portions. If you need energy, opt for whole grains instead of processed grains to ensure your body is able to slowly process the food, offering consistent energy for the study session ahead.

      The greatest obstacle to face is having a balanced lifestyle, as studying is very time and energy consuming, which is why an overall healthy lifestyle is highly recommended.

      Final Thoughts

      Whether you’re studying for a big interview, a final exam, or a certification, learning how to study effectively is crucial to your success. Follow the tips above to ensure that the time you spend studying is time used well.

      More Tips on Studying Effectively

      Featured photo credit: Windows via unsplash.com

      Reference

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