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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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    Last Updated on March 23, 2021

    Manage Your Energy so You Can Manage Your Time

    Manage Your Energy so You Can Manage Your Time

    One of the greatest ironies of this age is that while various gadgets like smartphones and netbooks allow you to multitask, it seems that you never manage to get things done. You are caught in the busyness trap. There’s just too much work to do in one day that sometimes you end up exhausted with half-finished tasks.

    The problem lies in how to keep our energy level high to ensure that you finish at least one of your most important tasks for the day. There’s just not enough hours in a day and it’s not possible to be productive the whole time.

    You need more than time management. You need energy management

    1. Dispel the idea that you need to be a “morning person” to be productive

    How many times have you heard (or read) this advice – wake up early so that you can do all the tasks at hand. There’s nothing wrong with that advice. It’s actually reeks of good common sense – start early, finish early. The thing is that technique alone won’t work with everyone. Especially not with people who are not morning larks.

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    I should know because I was once deluded with the idea that I will be more productive if I get out of bed by 6 a.m. Like most of you Lifehackers, I’m always on the lookout for productivity hacks because I have a lot of things in my plate. I’m working full time as an editor for a news agency, while at the same time tending to my side business as a content marketing strategist. I’m also a travel blogger and oh yeah, I forgot, I also have a life.

    I read a lot of productivity books and blogs looking for ways to make the most of my 24 hours. Most stories on productivity stress waking up early. So I did – and I was a major failure in that department – both in waking up early and finishing early.

    2. Determine your “peak hours”

    Energy management begins with looking for your most productive hours in a day. Getting attuned to your body clock won’t happen instantly but there’s a way around it.

    Monitor your working habits for one week and list down the time when you managed to do the most work. Take note also of what you feel during those hours – do you feel energized or lethargic? Monitor this and you will find a pattern later on.

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    My experiment with being a morning lark proved that ignoring my body clock and just doing it by disciplining myself to wake up before 8 a.m. will push me to be more productive. I thought that by writing blog posts and other reports in the morning that I would be finished by noon and use my lunch break for a quick gym session. That never happened. I was sleepy, distracted and couldn’t write jack before 10 a.m.

    In fact that was one experiment that I shouldn’t have tried because I should know better. After all, I’ve been writing for a living for the last 15 years, and I have observed time and again that I write more –and better – in the afternoon and in evenings after supper. I’m a night owl. I might as well, accept it and work around it.

    Just recently, I was so fired up by a certain idea that – even if I’m back home tired from work – I took out my netbook, wrote and published a 600-word blog post by 11 p.m. This is a bit extreme and one of my rare outbursts of energy, but it works for me.

    3. Block those high-energy hours

    Once you have a sense of that high-energy time, you can then mold your schedule so that your other less important tasks will be scheduled either before or after this designated productive time.

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    Block them out in your calendar and use the high-energy hours for your high priority tasks – especially those that require more of your mental energy and focus. You also need to use these hours to any task that will bring you closer to you life’s goal.

    If you are a morning person, you might want to schedule most business meetings before lunch time as it’s important to keep your mind sharp and focused. But nothing is set in stone. Sometimes you have to sacrifice those productive hours to attend to other personal stuff – like if you or your family members are sick or if you have to attend your son’s graduation.

    That said, just remember to keep those productive times on your calendar. You may allow for some exemptions but stick to that schedule as much as possible.

    There’s no right or wrong way of using this energy management technique because everything depends on your own personal circumstances. What you need to remember is that you have to accept what works for you – and not what other productivity gurus say you should do.

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    Understanding your own body clock is the key to time management. Without it, you end up exhausted chasing a never-ending cycle of tasks and frustrations.

    Featured photo credit: Collin Hardy via unsplash.com

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