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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

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    Last Updated on September 30, 2019

    How To Write Effective Meeting Minutes (with Examples)

    How To Write Effective Meeting Minutes (with Examples)

    Minutes are a written record of a board, company, or organizational meeting. Meeting minutes are considered a legal document, so when writing them, strive for clarity and consistency of tone.

    Because minutes are a permanent record of the meeting, be sure to proofread them well before sending. It is a good idea to run them by a supervisor or seasoned attendee to make sure statements and information are accurately captured.

    The best meeting minutes takers are careful listeners, quick typists, and are adequately familiar with the meeting topics and attendees. The note taker must have a firm enough grasp of the subject matter to be able to separate the important points from the noise in what can be long, drawn-out discussions. And, importantly, the note taker should not simultaneously lead and take notes. (If you’re ever asked to do so, decline.)

    Following, are some step-by-step hints to effectively write meeting minutes:

    1. Develop an Agenda

    Work with the Chairperson or Board President to develop a detailed agenda.

    Meetings occur for a reason, and the issues to be addressed and decided upon need to be listed to alert attendees. Work with the convener to draft an agenda that assigns times to each topic to keep the meeting moving and to make sure the group has enough time to consider all items.

    The agenda will serve as your outline for the meeting minutes. Keep the minutes’ headings consistent with the agenda topics for continuity.

    2. Follow a Template from Former Minutes Taken

    If you are new to a Board or organization, and are writing minutes for the first time, ask to see the past meeting minutes so that you can maintain the same format.

    Generally, the organization name or the name of the group that is meeting goes at the top: “Meeting of the Board of Directors of XYZ,” with the date on the next line. After the date, include both the time the meeting came to order and the time the meeting ended.

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    Most groups who meet do so regularly, with set agenda items at each meeting. Some groups include a Next Steps heading at the end of the minutes that lists projects to follow up on and assigns responsibility.

    A template from a former meeting will also help determine whether or not the group records if a quorum was met, and other items specific to the organization’s meeting minutes.

    3. Record Attendance

    On most boards, the Board Secretary is the person responsible for taking the meeting minutes. In organizational meetings, the minutes taker may be a project coordinator or assistant to a manager or CEO. She or he should arrive a few minutes before the meeting begins and pass around an attendance sheet with all members’ names and contact information.

    Meeting attendees will need to check off their names and make edits to any changes in their information. This will help as both a back-up document of attendees and ensure that information goes out to the most up-to-date email addresses.

    All attendees’ names should be listed directly below the meeting name and date, under a subheading that says “Present.” List first and last names of all attendees, along with title or affiliation, separated by a comma or semi-colon.

    If a member of the Board could not attend the meeting, cite his or her name after the phrase: “Copied To:” There may be other designations in the participants’ list. For example, if several of the meeting attendees are members of the staff while everyone else is a volunteer, you may want to write (Staff) after each staff member.

    As a general rule, attendees are listed alphabetically by their last names. However, in some organizations, it’s a best practice to list the leadership of the Board first. In that case, the President or Co-Presidents would be listed first, followed by the Vice President, followed by the Secretary, and then by the Treasurer. Then all other names of attendees would be alphabetized by last name.

    It is also common practice to note if a participant joined the meeting via conference call. This can be indicated by writing: “By Phone” and listing the participants who called in.

    4. Naming Convention

    Generally, the first time someone speaks in the meeting will include his or her name and often the title.

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    For example, “President of the XYZ Board, Roger McGowan, called the meeting to order.” The next time Roger McGowan speaks, though, you can simply refer to him as “Roger.” If there are two Rogers in the meeting, use an initial for their last names to separate the two. “Roger M. called for a vote. Roger T. abstained.”

    5. What, and What Not, to Include

    Depending on the nature of the meeting, it could last from one to several hours. The attendees will be asked to review and then approve the meeting minutes. Therefore, you don’t want the minutes to extend into a lengthy document.

    Capturing everything that people say verbatim is not only unnecessary, but annoying to reviewers.

    For each agenda item, you ultimately want to summarize only the relevant points of the discussion along with any decisions made. After the meeting, cull through your notes, making sure to edit out any circular or repetitive arguments and only leave in the relevant points made.

    6. Maintain a Neutral Tone

    Minutes are a legal document. They are used to establish an organization’s historical record of activity. It is essential to maintain an even, professional tone. Never put inflammatory language in the minutes, even if the language of the meeting becomes heated.

    You want to record the gist of the discussion objectively, which means mentioning the key points covered without assigning blame. For example, “The staff addressed board members’ questions regarding the vendor’s professionalism.”

    Picture a lawyer ten years down the road reading the minutes to find evidence of potential wrongdoing. You wouldn’t want an embellishment in the form of a colorful adverb or a quip to cloud any account of what took place. Here’s a list of neutral sounding words to get started with.

    7. Record Votes

    The primary purpose of minutes is to record any votes a board or organization takes. Solid record-keeping requires mentioning which participant makes a motion — and what the motion states verbatim — and which participant seconds the motion.

    For example, “Vice President Cindy Jacobsen made a motion to dedicate 50 percent, or $50,000, of the proceeds from the ZZZ Foundation gift to the CCC scholarship fund. President Roger McGowan seconded the motion.”

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    This vote tabulation should be expressed in neutral language as well. “The Board voted unanimously to amend the charter in the following way,” or “The decision to provide $1,000 to the tree-planting effort passed 4 to 1, with Board President McGowan opposing.”

    Most Boards try to get a vote passed unanimously. Sometimes in order to help the Board attain a more cohesive outcome, a Board member may abstain from voting. “The motion passed 17 to 1 with one absension.”

    8. Pare down Notes Post-Meeting

    Following the meeting, read through your notes while all the discussions remain fresh in your mind, and make any needed revisions. Then, pare the meeting minutes down to their essentials, providing a brief account of the discussion that summarizes arguments made for and against a decision.

    People often speak colloquially or in idioms, as in: “This isn’t even in the ballpark” or “You’re beginning to sound like a broken record.” While you may be tempted to keep the exact language in the minutes to add color, resist.

    Additionally, if any presentations are part of the meeting, do not include information from the Powerpoint in the minutes. However, you will want to record the key points from the post-presentation discussion.

    9. Proofread with Care

    Make sure that you spelled all names correctly, inserted the correct date of the meeting, and that your minutes read clearly.

    Spell out acronyms the first time they’re used. Remember that the notes may be reviewed by others for whom the acronyms are unfamiliar. Stay consistent in headings, punctuation, and formatting. The minutes should be polished and professional.

    10. Distribute Broadly

    Once approved, email minutes to the full board — not just the attendees — for review. Your minutes will help keep those who were absent apprised of important actions and decisions.

    At the start of the next meeting, call for the approval of the minutes. Note any revisions. Try to work out the agreed-upon changes in the meeting, so that you don’t spend a huge amount of time on revisions.

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    Ask for a motion to approve the minutes with the agreed-upon changes. Once an attendee offers a motion, ask for another person in the meeting to “second” the motion. They say, “All approved.” Always ask if there is anyone who does not approve. Assuming not, then say: “The minutes from our last meeting are approved once the agreed-upon changes have been made.”

    11. File Meticulously

    Since minutes are a legal document, take care when filing them. Make sure the file name of the document is consistent with the file names of previously filed minutes.

    Occasionally, members of the organization may want to review past minutes. Know where the minutes are filed!

    One Caveat

    In this day and age of high technology, you may ask yourself: Wouldn’t it be simpler to record the meeting? This depends on the protocols of the organization, but probably not.

    Be sure to ask what the rules are at the organization where you are taking minutes. Remember that the minutes are a record of what was done at the meeting, not what was said at the meeting.

    The minutes reflect decisions not discussions. In spite of their name, “minutes,” the minutes are not a minute-by-minute transcript.

    Bottom Line

    Becoming an expert minutes-taker requires a keen ear, a willingness to learn, and some practice, but by following these tips you will soon become proficient.

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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