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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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      Last Updated on August 20, 2018

      What Highly Successful People Do Every Day To Perform At Their Best

      What Highly Successful People Do Every Day To Perform At Their Best

      What separates highly successful people from the “average crowd?” This is a topic that is widely discussed.

      If you want to be successful, you have to watch carefully what other successful people do and imitate them. While every successful person has his or her own unique approach, there are a couple thoughts and actions they have in common.

      Here are 7 habits many successful people have!

      1. They make a difference

      If you have an idea, that idea has to change peoples life’s. As long as you’re not helping other people, it’s useless. Don’t start with an activity or business primarily to make money, it won’t work. When you create fans by offering your expertise, they are willing to pay for it. The problem with today’s entrepreneurial mindset is that’s all about “quick” money and not necessarily about making a difference.

      “Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.” — Albert Einstein

      2. They focus on productivity instead of on being busy

      Do you know those people who always say they can’t meet up with you or help with a certain thing because they’re always busy? I do, and to be honest I was one of them.

      When I look back, I don’t actually know with what I was being busy. I thought I was being busy, but now I realize I could have done many things in a much more productive way.

      Is 8 hours of work actually 8 hours when you’re checking your Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram updates every 30 minutes? It’s necessary to take a rest once a while, but don’t get lost in hundreds of status updates that make you forget about your priorities.

      Looking for some tips? Check out this infographic: How to be productive by doing more and working less

      3. They keep setting S.M.A.R.T. goals

      You can never reach the success you want if you’re not setting goals. The trick is to set up a couple small, achievable goals and a couple of bigger ones. If you only set up huge, unachievable goals, you’ll get unmotivated and fall back into your old mindset. The small goals keep you motivated and give you the feeling you’re being productive once you achieve them.

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      Try setting S.M.A.R.T. goals, which is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely. These goals are concrete and well-defined measures of your progress.

      A while ago, I asked a friend of mine what his goal was this year. He told me he wanted a sports car. I told him he will have much trouble reaching that goal because it isn’t specific. He needs to know the brand, the model, the color, what kind of rims etc. Only then he can define how long it’s going to take and what he needs to do in order to buy that car.

      4. They take action

      There is a big difference between talking or actually taking action. I’m pretty sure you have people around you who’ve said, “This year, I’m going to lose weight, become fit, and look like I’ve never looked before!” Or, “I’ve got such a good idea, I’m planning to start a new business, but first I’m going to do some research,” which probably results in never taking any action.

      Many of those people do take action, but the majority do not. It could be many things that keep them from taking action, like fear, no money, or no motivation. The trick is to make a plan and take action right from the start—choose to put in the effort to overcome those obstacles.

      5. They exercise and eat right

      The better you treat your body, the better you will feel, which results in better results. Successful people take time to prepare healthy meals and work out for at least 30 minutes a day.

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      Not having time to work out or prepare a healthy meal is nonsense. If you have time to watch TV or check your social media profile, you also have time to care about your body.

      You don’t necessarily need to lose weight or gain muscle, but try to stay in shape and watch your junk food intake.

      6. They always step out of their comfort-zone

      Successful people are willing to do everything they have to succeed. If they fail, they try it again and learn from it. The vast majority of people think differently and want to stay in their comfort zone.

      You can’t expect magic is going to happen when you always do the same things over and over again. You need to step up and start doing new things. The fear of failure is usually the reason that keeps people from acting.

      Think about something you’ve done in the past. Something that was so scary that it made you sweat, feel nauseous, or become overly nervous. That could be giving a speech in front of a big crowd or asking someone on a date. In the end, it wasn’t as scary and difficult as you thought, right? And you’ve learned from it.

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      Approach everything in your life this way. If you really want to become successful, you need to step out of your comfort zone.

      “Move out of your comfort zone. You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new.” — Brian Tracy

      7. They lead

      Successful people are also incredibly good leaders. How can you stand out of the crowd if you follow the herd like anyone else does? The main thing successful people do differently is that they think and act differently from the rest. But they do it in a way that creates fans who follow and support them.

      You don’t have to be a born leader, but you can learn to be one. An example of a great leader and entrepreneur is Elon Musk. He is the founder of SpaceX and co-founder of Zip2, PayPal, and Tesla Motors. By following his example, you just might find the great leader inside you.

      Have these tips helped you? Share them!

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      Featured photo credit: Steve Jurvetson via flickr.com

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