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Productivity Made Simple: Where to Start with GTD

Productivity Made Simple: Where to Start with GTD

    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.

    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 April 22, 2021

    How to Work Hard the Smart Way: 4 Daily Rituals to Follow

    How to Work Hard the Smart Way: 4 Daily Rituals to Follow

    Habits are what sets an average leader apart from a great leader. We can argue that talent is the biggest factor; we may debate how the amount of charisma sets the two apart. Yet, if you were to show me what you believed to be a great leader, I can show you the habits that made her/him great. Great leaders have great habits and know how to work hard the smart way.

    Developing Great Habits Is Hard Work

    In my early college days, I had spent a lot of time learning how to play the trumpet. Playing the trumpet took time and discipline. I had some natural talent, but not enough to hide my lack of ability. My trumpet teacher was a man of discipline, and there was no doubt he had talent. What stood to me was his work ethic. He had to be one of the hardest working mentors that I had the privilege of working with.

    One afternoon, I was in his office getting ready for my weekly trumpet lesson. As I was preparing, my eyes scanned the room and saw that there were quotes all over his office. My eyes rested on one quote that forever changed my thinking about my playing. It was a quote from my high school basketball coach Tim Notke that would become popular through professional athletes Kevin Durant and Tim Tebow:

    “Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard.”

    Hard work trumps talent. The key to success is not found in your talent or ability. Talent and ability are necessary, but they are not the primary factors. They are supporting roles in the story you are writing.

    Ultimately, hard work is the key to your success. A good work ethic creates the momentum that propels you forward towards your goals.

    Motivation Is Not the Answer

    How many times have you seen someone go to a conference, get inspired, and then come home and do nothing?

    If motivation were the answer, the world would have transformed hundreds of times over. Yet, when we look out our doors or turn on the news, we do not see a utopian society.

    We have thousands of people who become inspired but lack the work ethic to apply anything they have learned. Time and time again frustration creeps in. We are so motivated and inspired by what we see but fail to put in place the things that would change our lives.

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    Frustration happens when the gap between what you expect to be true and what is true gets bigger. Motivation tends to create an expectation that is not rooted in reality. We want to take on the world but cannot get off Netflix long enough to do so.

    Motivation is not the answer, but working hard is. Good habits and routines that produce success are the byproducts of a strong work ethic. The habits and routines we create and follow are the foundation on which we build a winning life.

    How to Work Hard by Working Smarter

    Here are 4 routines that will help you learn how to work hard and achieve your short term and long term goals.

    1. Define What a Win Looks Like

    In football, a player that crosses into the end zone gain points. In soccer, a player kicks the ball into the net to score. Hockey, lacrosse, and basketball are all the same. The player takes the object and moves it into the designated area to gain points. The team with the most points wins the game.

    Why is it that we can define what a win looks like in sports, but we fail to do so in our leadership, our businesses, or our homes?

    Learning how to work hard without setting a target is futile. It is insanity to work hard without having a clear direction to place your energy. I would argue that defining a win is one of the most important routines that a leader can have. Defining a win separates superficial activity from meaningful activity.

    When I define a win, I know the goal line I have to cross[1]. Knowing where the goal line is informs me of the activity I have to engage in to cross it. Without a clear direction, I am spinning my wheels hoping that I will get to a destination I haven’t defined. It is like asking a GPS for directions but failing to input the destination.

    4 Steps to Define a Win
    • Know the outcome you desire.
    • Declare the outcome in specific, meaningful terms.
    • Write the outcome down.
    • Set your activity list to only do that which will complete your goals.

    Let me give you an example. 15 years ago, I started speaking professionally. As a young and naïve speaker, I thought winning meant that I had to get a reaction from the audience. If they cheered, smiled, or cried, I considered myself a winner. The problem was my lack of understanding of what a win looked like. As a seasoned speaker, my wins look different.

    As of today, when I speak, I am not looking for any emotional reactions from the audience. I win if, and only if, I clearly communicated my point so that anyone hearing the talk can take it and apply it to their lives that day. That is how I define a win when I speak now.

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    Create a habit of declaring a win. When you do, you will see your productivity soar and your encouragement increase. Pairing a hard work ethic with wise decisions creates victory. Stop being a mouse on a wheel that goes nowhere, and start being the captain of your fleet.

    2. Evaluate Your Activity

    Not all activity is equal. There are things you must do, things you need to do, and things we can either give away or delete. The greatest challenge of a leader is understanding the difference. Understanding what activity is busywork and what activity is mission work is pivotal.

    Not only do we need to learn how to evaluate our activity, but we must make this a core routine in our arsenal of success. Stop working so hard on everything and start learning how to work hard on the right things.

    Not every activity will move the needle forward for you. In fact, you were never meant to do everything yourself! Once we stop trying to be a martyr in our leadership, we can start looking at how to take things off our plates through delegation.

    Based on the Eisenhower box, there are 4 things that we look at when deciding on which activities are important:

    • Do now
    • Plan to do it later
    • Delegate to someone else
    • Delete it

    Powerful questions are the way you discover if the activity is right or not:

    • Does this activity move me towards or away from my goals?
    • Do I have to do this activity or can I give this activity away to someone else?
    • Does this activity have to be now right now or can it be scheduled for later dates?
    • Does this activity have to be done at all?

    Evaluating the type of activity you engage in should be a routine that you do daily. Learning how to work hard should create progress. Having a system of evaluation and a routine to do it will help.

    3. Prioritize Your Calendar

    If you were to show me your calendar, I could show you why you are not further along. When you lack the routine of placing things on your calendar, two things happen.

    First, what does not make it on your calendar does not get done.

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    It is a simple truth that is often overlooked. Your calendar contains the power to change your life. Yet, we don’t use our calendars to their fullest potential.

    “You will never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.” -John C. Maxwell

    Also, if you don’t mark you activities on your calendar, you are leaving it open to other’s priorities.

    “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” -Stephen Covey

    Having a routine in your life where you place things on your calendar is pivotal to your success. This is not a routine one should overlook.

    It’s time to take your leadership and business to the next level. It’s time to start putting your daily routines on your calendar, along with your priorities.

    4. Reflect on Your Day and Plan the Next

    We are all about the morning routine. Whatever that looks like for you, there should be a routine in the morning that sets you up for success.

    Hard work starts when your feet hit the ground in the morning. Creating the habit of winning starts with the first thing you accomplish that morning. If you win your morning, you will win your day.

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    Best Morning Routine to Prepare to Work Hard

      But how often have you heard people talk about an evening routine? Tomorrow is won the day before it happens. When you fail to plan your day, you may put your effort toward in the wrong things. Route replaces routine. Indecision replaces decisiveness. Losses replace wins. The discouragement will deflate your momentum and increases the chances of procrastination. That is why we set our schedule the night before.

      “Every battle is won or lost before it is ever fought.” -Sun Tzu

      Working hard doesn’t have to be hard work. It shouldn’t take much out of you learn how to work hard as long as you work smart. Having a time where you reflect on the day and set your priorities is the difference-maker.

      Use these questions to reflect on your day:

      • What went well?
      • What didn’t go well?
      • What can I change?
      • What do I need to start doing?
      • What do I need to stop doing?

      The Bottom Line

      Navigating through life is hard work. Yet, the work doesn’t have to be hard when you work smarter. When you create routines that support your mission, you create wins. Working hard, the smart way will tip the balance in our favor.

      Boxing legend Joe Frazier said:

      “Champions aren’t made in the ring; they are merely recognized there.”

      Champions put in the hard work behind the scenes. The world recognized them as a champion when they saw the results of the hard work. Right now, you are doing the work of creating a champion in yourself.

      That work is setting your routines in order because you now know that success flows from your daily routines. If you are not experiencing the success you desire, then it is time to change things up.

      More on Creating Healthy Routines

      Featured photo credit: Zan via unsplash.com

      Reference

      [1] The Balance Careers: Interview Question: “How Do You Define Success?”

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