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Productivity Made Simple: The Key to GTD – Your Daily Graph of Activity

Productivity Made Simple: The Key to GTD – Your Daily Graph of Activity

    Sounds serious, doesn’t it? Thankfully, the whole idea turns out to be quite easy to grasp.

    But first…

    At this point you already know what the main elements of productivity are and where to start with GTD. This is all great, but we’re still lacking one important piece of information…

    What the hell to do with all this stuff?!

    And today, we’re going to cover exactly that.

    Understanding the Diagram of Action

    When working with GTD you’re basically doing one of three things at all times:

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    • Take care of defined tasks.
    • Take care of undefined tasks.
    • Plan (define) your tasks.

    These things fall into a loop, and repeat themselves throughout the day, week, month, and so on.

    Planning your tasks will be the topic of the next post in this series, so let’s leave it for now and focus on the first two things.

    • Defined tasks/activities are everything that’s in your Projects List, Next Tasks List, Future/maybe List, and Calendar. You know, all the stuff you’ve planned to do eventually.
    • Undefined tasks/activities are everything that comes at you by surprise, forcing you to take some kind of action. Like when your spouse calls you and yells that your house is on fire. (That’s an extreme example, but I’m only trying to get my point across.)

    Defined and undefined are the only possible types of tasks you might stumble upon on your way through life. Everything is either familiar to you (things you’ve planned for), or new and unexpected (things you didn’t predict would happen).

    So defined tasks we’ve got covered. Whenever you’re in the mood for work you just pick one from your Next Tasks List and execute it. But what to do when undefined tasks happen? Do we simply do them, or what?

    This is where the Daily Graph of Activity comes into play.

    Getting to Know Your Daily Graph of Activity

    First, the graph itself. Don’t get discouraged right from the start because the thing is actually quite easy to grasp — as I’m explaining below.

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    GTD graph

      There’s a thing called things on top of the graph. Things are everything that crosses your path during the day – everything your life hits you with (the undefined tasks). Getting an email is a thing. Coming up with a new idea for something is a thing. Receiving a phone call is a thing. Getting a direct order from your boss is also a thing. In a sentence – everything that requires any kind of reaction on your part is a thing.

      So the things go into your inbox. The inbox doesn’t have to be an actual inbox, like an email inbox or a traditional mailbox in your front yard. This is simply a place where all the incoming things land.

      You can create a folder on your computer’s desktop, for example. Or write everything down on sticky notes and stick them to your computer’s screen. Or have a special container next to your desk. The choice is truly up to you. Whatever makes the most sense to you can be used as an inbox.

      So everything lands there and waits until some further action on your part. What you do is pick something up from the inbox and answer the first question: What is it? Do I have to (or want to) do anything about it?

      If the answer is no then you have four main options you can do next.

      • Trashing the thing. Pretty self-explanatory.
      • Putting it in your Future/Maybe List. If you think you might want to work with this thing in the future.
      • Scheduling it in your Calendar. If you need to take action on it on an exact date and time (remember, your Calendar is sacred).
      • Putting it in your Reference Files. If it’s just some piece of information you want to keep, but it’s not actionable in any way.

      If the answer is yes then a second question arises: Is it the next possible action?

      The undefined things you’re hit with during the day can be constructed very differently. They can be simple one-action activities (like an email saying, “Take out the trash”, or they might as well start massive projects (like, “Start the marketing campaign for Coca-Cola”). So the question above is where you decide if it’s the former or the latter.

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      If it indeed is something that sounds like a new project then you need to put it in your Projects List, and then do some planning around it to come up with a list of possible tasks for it (I’ll cover this more in the next post in the series).

      However, if it is just a simple one-action activity/task then you should consider taking care of it immediately. Hence the third question on the graph: Can I do it in less than 2 minutes?

      Why the 2 minute restriction? Because if you were to take care of every one-action task someone sends you right at the spot you wouldn’t be able to do anything else in a day. GTD simply protects you against a situation when incoming tasks are sabotaging your way of working.

      So, if you can indeed do it in less than 2 minutes then simply do it. An example of such a task is one I gave you a couple of paragraphs above – someone telling you to take out the trash.

      Unfortunately, most undefined tasks cannot be done in less than 2 minutes. That’s just life.

      There are two choices for you in such a case. You can either delegate them, or defer them.

      • Delegating something means to simply send it to someone else. Your assistant, your contractor, or whoever else you have to spare or find the thing to be a suitable task for. Once you send the task to them, simply put it in your “Waiting for” List so you don’t forget to get back to that person and ask about their progress.
      • Deferring something means placing it in one of two possible places: either your Calendar or your Next Tasks List.

      Put it in your Calendar if it absolutely needs to be done on a specific date, otherwise put it in your Next Tasks List so you can get back to it when you decide to work on your defined tasks.

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      That’s all there is to the graph. Following it honestly lets you handle every undefined task very effectively.

      Undefined tasks are the ones that can completely ruin your perfectly planned out day; GTD can help you to prevent such a situation.

      Now what?

      We know what to do with our defined tasks (simply do them when you have some time) and we also know what to do with our undefined tasks (define them as explained above). But there’s one more quick thing I want to share with you today. And that is how to review your work each day/week, and actually be aware of what’s going on.

      Here’s what I personally do.

      1. Each day I start with my Calendar. Because I know that the most important tasks for a given day are right there. Tasks that can’t be overlooked. I advise you to do the same and start your day by checking out your Calendar as well.
      2. When I’m done with the Calendar I take my Next Tasks List, pick one task and start executing it. Then I pick another task, then another and so on.
      3. Additionally, once a week I do a bigger review and have a look at all my lists: Projects List, Future/Maybe List, Waiting for List, and I make sure that my priorities are still the same and that I still want to execute all those things that are there. I also plan my next week and update everything so it’s perfectly in tune with my current goals and matters. This is also the time for creating new projects and deleting old ones — you know, cleaning stuff up.

      And that’s it. This whole methodology comes down to these simple activities:

      1. Take care of your Calendar.
      2. Take care of your Next Tasks List.
      3. Review everything.
      4. Repeat.

      And that is why GTD is so effective in a real-life environment.

      (Photo credit: Decision Making Phrase 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 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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