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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 September 30, 2020

      Effective vs Efficient: What’s the Difference Regarding Productivity?

      Effective vs Efficient: What’s the Difference Regarding Productivity?

      When it comes to being effective vs efficient, there are a lot of similarities, and because of this, they’re often misused and misinterpreted, both in daily use and application.

      Every business should look for new ways to improve employee effectiveness and efficiency to save time and energy in the long term. Just because a company or employee has one, however, doesn’t necessarily mean that the other is equally present.

      Utilizing both an effective and efficient methodology in nearly any capacity of work and life will yield high levels of productivity, while a lack of it will lead to a lack of positive results.

      Before we discuss the various nuances between the word effective and efficient and how they factor into productivity, let’s break things down with a definition of their terms.

      Effective vs Efficient

      Effective is defined as “producing a decided, decisive, or desired effect.” Meanwhile, the word “efficient ” is defined as “capable of producing desired results with little or no waste (as of time or materials).”[1]

      A rather simple way of explaining the differences between the two would be to consider a light bulb. Say that your porch light burned out and you decided that you wanted to replace the incandescent light bulb outside with an LED one. Either light bulb would be effective in accomplishing the goal of providing you with light at night, but the LED one would use less energy and therefore be the more efficient choice.

      Now, if you incorrectly set a timer for the light, and it was turned on throughout the entire day, then you would be wasting energy. While the bulb is still performing the task of creating light in an efficient manner, it’s on during the wrong time of day and therefore not effective.

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      The effective way is focused on accomplishing the goal, while the efficient method is focused on the best way of accomplishing the goal.

      Whether we’re talking about a method, employee, or business, the subject in question can be either effective or efficient, or, in rare instances, they can be both.

      When it comes to effective vs efficient, the goal of achieving maximum productivity is going to be a combination where the subject is effective and as efficient as possible in doing so.

      Effectiveness in Success and Productivity

      Being effective vs efficient is all about doing something that brings about the desired intent or effect[2]. If a pest control company is hired to rid a building’s infestation, and they employ “method A” and successfully completed the job, they’ve been effective at achieving the task.

      The task was performed correctly, to the extent that the pest control company did what they were hired to do. As for how efficient “method A” was in completing the task, that’s another story.

      If the pest control company took longer than expected to complete the job and used more resources than needed, then their efficiency in completing the task wasn’t particularly good. The client may feel that even though the job was completed, the value in the service wasn’t up to par.

      When assessing the effectiveness of any business strategy, it’s wise to ask certain questions before moving forward:

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      • Has a target solution to the problem been identified?
      • What is the ideal response time for achieving the goal?
      • Does the cost balance out with the benefit?

      Looking at these questions, a leader should ask to what extent a method, tool, or resource meets the above criteria and achieve the desired effect. If the subject in question doesn’t hit any of these marks, then productivity will likely suffer.

      Efficiency in Success and Productivity

      Efficiency is going to account for the resources and materials used in relation to the value of achieving the desired effect. Money, people, inventory, and (perhaps most importantly) time, all factor into the equation.

      When it comes to being effective vs efficient, efficiency can be measured in numerous ways[3]. In general, the business that uses fewer materials or that is able to save time is going to be more efficient and have an advantage over the competition. This is assuming that they’re also effective, of course.

      Consider a sales team for example. Let’s say that a company’s sales team is tasked with making 100 calls a week and that the members of that team are hitting their goal each week without any struggle.

      The members on the sales team are effective in hitting their goal. However, the question of efficiency comes into play when management looks at how many of those calls turn into solid connections and closed deals.

      If less than 10 percent of those calls generate a connection, the productivity is relatively low because the efficiency is not adequately balancing out with the effect. Management can either keep the same strategy or take a new approach.

      Perhaps they break up their sales team with certain members handling different parts of the sales process, or they explore a better way of connecting with their customers through a communications company.

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      The goal is ultimately going to be finding the right balance, where they’re being efficient with the resources they have to maximize their sales goals without stretching themselves too thin. Finding this balance is often easier said than done, but it’s incredibly important for any business that is going to thrive.

      Combining Efficiency and Effectiveness to Maximize Productivity

      Being effective vs efficient works best if both are pulled together for the best results.

      If a business is ineffective in accomplishing its overall goal, and the customer doesn’t feel that the service is equated with the cost, then efficiency becomes largely irrelevant. The business may be speedy and use minimal resources, but they struggle to be effective. This may put them at risk of going under.

      It’s for this reason that it’s best to shoot for being effective first, and then work on bringing efficiency into practice.

      Improving productivity starts with taking the initiative to look at how effective a company, employee, or method is through performance reviews. Leaders should make a point to regularly examine performance at all levels on a whole, and take into account the results that are being generated.

      Businesses and employees often succumb to inefficiency because they don’t look for a better way, or they lack the proper tools to be effective in the most efficient manner possible.

      Similar to improving a manager or employee’s level of effectiveness, regularly measuring the resources needed to obtain the desired effect will ensure that efficiency is being accounted for. This involves everything from keeping track of inventory and expenses, to how communication is handled within an organization.

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      By putting in place a baseline value for key metrics and checking them once changes have been made, a company will have a much better idea of the results they’re generating.

      It’s no doubt a step-by-step process. By making concentrated efforts, weakness can be identified and rectified sooner rather than later when the damage is already done.

      Bottom Line

      Understanding the differences between being effective vs efficient is key when it comes to maximizing productivity. It’s simply working smart so that the intended results are achieved in the best way possible. Finding the optimal balance should be the ultimate goal for employees and businesses:

      • Take the steps that result in meeting the solution.
      • Review the process and figure out how to do it better.
      • Repeat the process with what has been learned in a more efficient manner.

      And just like that, effective and efficient productivity is maximized.

      More on How to Improve Productivity

      Featured photo credit: Tim van der Kuip via unsplash.com

      Reference

      [1] Merriam-Webster: effective and efficient
      [2] Mind Tools: Being Effective at Work
      [3] Inc.: 8 Things Really Efficient People Do

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