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Productivity Made Simple: Where to Start with GTD

Productivity Made Simple: Where to Start with GTD
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    Simply GTD

    GTD (or Getting Things Done) is a widely popular personal productivity and time management methodology created by David Allen and described in his book “Getting Things Done”.

    And yes, Lifehack has had its share in covering this area already. For instance, by doing a simple search on Google you can quickly find out that there are more than 6,000 pages on Lifehack that mention GTD in one way or the other.

    So the whole idea seems discussed enough, right? Perhaps…but it is definitely worth revisiting as we enter a new year. Consider that despite thousands of articles around the internet there is still one main problem with GTD – it’s not a methodology that’s easy to grasp.

    It has a learning curve and if you simply throw yourself in the middle of it you might get the wrong overall impression about the system and abandon it after just a short while.

    So if you are new to GTD I have only one favor to ask you: have a little faith that you can get much more productive with GTD and be much less stressed out and uncertain about the tasks you should do both in your work and your personal affairs.

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    This is the true power of GTD, at first it seems complicated, but eventually it becomes one of those can’t-live-without parts of your life.

    Now, I’m not going to describe every possible aspect of GTD here. The first reason is that the book is nearly 300 pages long, and I’m not in a position to claim that I can explain it all in a single blog post. The second reason is that I only want to get you started here, and there’s only a small set of things you need to do for that.

    The GTD adventure starts with one particular exercise. It’s going to take you a while but it’s worth the effort regardless if you’re going to end up implementing the system or not.

    The Brain Dump Exercise

    Take a couple of blank pieces of paper and write down every task (i.e. every thing you have to do) that’s on your mind right now. And by “every task” I mean every task.

    Start by writing down everything work related. All the reports you need to write, all the calls you need to make, all the email you need to write or respond to, all the things your boss told you to do, all the things your clients want from you, and so on … simply everything.

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    If you’re not in a desk job don’t quit here. Simply write down all that is specific to your line of work.

    Then switch to all house related tasks. Cleaning, building, cooking, all the other chores. Also things like calling the plumber, and so on.

    Next in line is your family. Write down every task that’s a part of your family life. Things like visiting your aunt the next weekend, picking your brother up from the airport, making sure that your son does his homework, helping your daughter to choose a college, drop off you spouse for a night out with their friends, again everything you can think of.

    Health and fitness related tasks. Like that doctor’s appointment you need to make for the next week, or those prescription drugs you need to pick up for the kids on you way back from work, or visiting the gym before work to stay in shape, or this new diet you want to find out more about.

    Friends and colleagues. I’m sure there’s something on your mind that’s involving your friends. Maybe you’re meeting them today and need to make a reservation in your favorite pub, not to mention that you need to remember to be there on time. Apart from that, there are hundreds of other things that involve your social life. Give it a minute and try to write down every one of those things.

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    Most people love shopping, everybody hates paying bills. Anyway, both these things are an integral part of our lives. No matter what you do, there are still some things you want / need to buy and some bills you don’t want have to take care of. Write down everything you need to buy and every bill that has to be taken care of by the end of the month.

    We’re not done yet. Next up are books, articles, and education in general. I’m sure there’s a book you really want to read, or an article you need to remember to save for future reference, not to mention all your education related tasks. Like, for instance, remembering not to be late for your Spanish lesson, or making sure that you buy a new guitar tuner before your next guitar class. I’m sure you get the point.

    Now let’s get to some purely positive aspects of life, like hobbies and entertainment. Maybe there’s a movie you want to see, or how about that concert (“are the tickets still available?”), also, I’m sure there’s an upcoming party you want to attend. Think about your hobbies and all the things you want to do to get them going.

    I don’t have any more ideas for additional categories of things, so let me just name this final category as other activities and tasks. Just to give you an example, I’m sure there are things you’ve chosen not to clutter your mind with because you thought you didn’t have the time to do them … write them down too.

    Now, how was it? How long did it take? Do you have absolutely everything on these lists? Just a small hint, if there are less than 300 items on the lists then you haven’t been entirely honest. You need to spend a little more time and complete the list until absolutely everything is on it.

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    Examine The List

    Simply take a look at the list. Can you believe that all these things have been occupying your brain’s resources? Obviously, this is one of the reasons for you being stressed out and afraid that something important might slip your mind.

    Imagine how much better you could use your brain’s resources to think about (and eventually figure out) these things rather than to remember about these things.

    This is what GTD can do for you. It can throw all of them out of your brain and place them in a different location you can trust.

    The lists from this exercise will be the cornerstone for the system, something you will build upon in the next steps. Reflect on it for a while, and make sure that truly everything is there. If not, do a quick update,

    Next time: What to do with the list and how to start implementing GTD the easy way.

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    Have you tried GTD yet? How is it working for you? Let us know in the comments.

    (Photo credit: Productivity or Motivation Reminder 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 July 21, 2021

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to Make a Reminder Works for You

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

    More on Building Habits

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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