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The Only 5 Tools You Need to Implement GTD

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The Only 5 Tools You Need to Implement GTD

    If you visit Lifehack regularly then I’m sure you’ve noticed the Getting Things Done series that’s been featured here lately. In recent weeks I’ve been discussing the methodology itself, and how to use it in your everyday efforts (both work and personal projects).

    What I didn’t do, however, is point you towards specific tools you can use to make your GTD life easier. Well, that is exactly what I’m going to do today.

    Let me just remind you that there are 7 main elements of GTD: Projects List, Next Tasks List, Future/Maybe List, Calendar, “Waiting for” List, Resource Files, and the intangible element – trust.

    Each of these can be handled using the simplest tools possible – pen and paper. But since we live in the 21st century, then it’s probably not the most effective way around for some people.

    What follows is a list of great tools that are either GTD-friendly right from the get-go, or can be easily adjusted to fit the GTD way of working.

    Your Inbox

    As I said in one of the posts in the GTD series (Your Daily Graph of Activity), most people usually start their work in their inboxes.

    These inboxes don’t have to be actual inboxes (email or traditional mailboxes). As defined in GTD an inbox is “simply the place where all the incoming things land”. This gives us many possibilities regarding the actual tools or software we want to use for our inboxes.

    Some tools and software that tend to work best are:

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    1. Every email software

    This is obvious, but the simplest solutions are often the best. Your email software (no matter what you use) is set up perfectly well to be used as an inbox for some incoming things because…well, it simply has an inbox in it — and every email you get is waiting there for you to read it.

    One important thing to remember, however, is that when dealing with new emails is you should take action on them immediately.

    But what to do when you encounter a new request that hasn’t been sent via email? This is where other tools come into play.

    2. Remember The Milk

    Remember The Milk (or RTM) is a great tool and it has a lot more GTD applications than just acting like an inbox.

    First of all, RTM is essentially a to-do list application. It’s available online (for all operating systems), and also it has a lot of versions for other platforms (iPhone, iPad, Android).

    However, to actually call it simply a “to-do list application” is quite an understatement. It can be used for any kind of activity where lists of things come handy.

    For example, since there’s an iPhone version, you can use it as a grocery list when you’re shopping or as a simple notepad you can use on the go so no brilliant ideas escape your mind. Or you can use it as an additional inbox. Whenever you stumble upon a new request that hasn’t been sent via email you can put it into a separate list inside RTM (preferably one named “inbox”).

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    Going back to RTM itself. The tool is very easy to use. It supports multiple lists, four levels of priorities, tags, many keyboard shortcuts (they make working with RTM lightning-quick once you get a hang of them), RSS feeds, iCal feeds, reminders, and more.

    Projects List

    Often the Project List is quite an extensive piece of GTD real estate…so to speak. It needs to be perfectly organized so every project is easy to grasp and easy to work with.

    For me, there’s only one way of doing this properly – using mind maps.

    Just to remind you (courtesy of Wikipedia), a mind map is “a diagram used to represent words, ideas, tasks, or other items linked to and arranged around a central key word or idea”. Or in plain English – it’s the best way of giving your thoughts a physical form (in this case, creating a digital representation of your thoughts).

    Most projects are only semi-organized around many different thoughts that do make sense all together, but are hard to put into a traditional list or text document. Mind maps, however, can handle such a situation exceptionally well. This is why mind maps are perfect to handle your Projects List.

    3. FreeMind

    When it comes to mind mapping digitally (on a computer), there are many tools that can make it possible. Nevertheless, there’s one really worth checking out. It’s called FreeMind.

    The name gives quite a good hint that the tool is free — and that’s a good thing. But there’s more good news — there are versions available for most popular platforms and operating systems. Not only that, but you can also download “binaries” (FreeMind is a true open source project).

    But the best news of all is this: FreeMind is the easiest to use, quickest, and smallest (in terms of memory and disk space used) tool available. In essence, this is the best tool for mind mapping available.

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    (If you prefer online tools to dealing with local files on your computer you can check out MindMeister. It looks quite impressive too. It provides all the important functionality for mind mapping, and has a lot of additional stuff, like the ability to include attachments, images, PDFs and other files. But it’s not free. The less expensive plan available is $4.99 per month.)

    Next Tasks List, Future/Maybe List, “Waiting for” List

    Your lists, with the Next Tasks List leading the way, are where you spend most of your time when working with GTD. Therefore, they need to be easily accessible and easy to work with. Being able to access them online from every computer and operating system is a nice thing as well.

    This is where Remember The Milk comes into play yet again. I’ve described RTM in detail earlier in this post, so I’m sure you see its value when it comes to working with all kinds of lists.

    An additional benefit of using just one tool for all your lists is that you don’t have to play around with myriads of different login names and local files. The most effective way around is to always focus on a minimum number of tools and fit them into your work habits.

    Calendar

    This is simple, and I’m sure you can see it coming…

    4. Google Calendar

    I don’t think I have to convince you why Google Calendar is great. I’m sure you’ve already signed up for it (or for a similar tool/solution).

    The most important characteristics of a GTD-calendar tool are:

    • Available from any computer (with Internet access)
    • Supports reminders
    • Supports multiple calendars for a single user
    • Supports sharing events with other users
    • Supports ongoing events

    And Google Calendar has them all covered. Also, there are a lot of apps available for every mobile platform.

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    Resource/Reference Files

    The only difficulty with resource files is that they must be pretty well organized, accessible, and preferably available from any computer with Internet access.

    This can be done by implementing two things.

    1. First, create a directory/folder somewhere on your computer’s hard drive. This directory will contain all your resources – things that might come handy as a reference when working on your projects. It’s your job to organize this directory nicely, and make it as easy to grasp as possible.
    2. Next, connect it to Dropbox.

    5. Dropbox

    Dropbox is a tool that lets you synchronize your data between multiple devices you use, but it’s also great for accessing your content online directly through Dropbox’s website.

    All this makes it perfect for acting like a GTD Reference Files base. Not only can you synchronize your files on every machine you use, but you also get an online backup so you can stop worrying about your stuff disappearing overnight after a hard drive malfunction.

    If you’re just using Dropbox to store the most essential data you can go with their free plan (up to 2GB of disk space available, although you can get mire space by inviting others to the service). Later you can easily upgrade your account to “Pro 50”, where you get 50GB for a modest payment of $9.99 per month.

    Conclusion

    As you can see, you only need 5 tools to fully implement GTD into your life. (By the way, “every email software” counts as one.) And this is good because the less tools you use, the easier it is to keep your game together and make them work for you. If you start using too many tools they become a burden instead of an effectiveness and productivity booster.

    What tools do you use as part of your GTD approach? Please share them in the comments below.

    (Photo credit: Dirty Set of Hand Tools 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 October 7, 2021

    Are You Addicted to Productivity?

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    Are You Addicted to Productivity?

    “It’s great to be productive. It really is. But sometimes, we chase productivity so much that it makes us, well, unproductive. It’s easy to read a lot about how to be more productive, but don’t forget that you have to make that time up.”

    Matt Cutts wrote that back in 2013,[1]

    “Today, search for ‘productivity’ and Google will come back with about 663,000,000 results. If you decide to go down this rabbit hole, you’ll be bombarded by a seemingly endless amount of content. I’m talking about books, blogs, videos, apps, podcasts, scientific studies, and subreddits all dedicated to productivity.”

    Like so many other people, I’ve also fallen into this trap. For years I’ve been on the lookout for trends and hacks that will help me work faster and more efficiently — and also trends that help me help others to be faster. I’ve experimented with various strategies and tools . And, while some of these strategies and solutions have been extremely useful — without parsing out what you need quickly — it’s counterproductive.

    Sometimes you end up spending more time focusing on how to be productive instead of actually being productive.

    “The most productive people I know don’t read these books, they don’t watch these videos, they don’t try a new app every month,” James Bedell wrote in a Medium post.[2] “They are far too busy getting things done to read about Getting Things Done.”

    This is my mantra:

    I proudly say, “I am addicted to productivity — I want to be addicted to productivity — productivity is my life and my mission — and I also want to find the best way to lead others through productivity to their best selves.

    But most of the time productivity means putting your head down and working until the job’s done.” –John Rampton

    Addiction to Productivity is Real

    Dr. Sandra Chapman, director of the University of Texas at Dallas Center for BrainHealth points out that the brain can get addicted to productivity just as it can to more common sources of addiction, such as drugs, gambling, eating, and shopping.

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    “A person might crave the recognition their work gives them or the salary increases they get,” Chapman told the BBC.[3] “The problem is that just like all addictions, over time, a person needs more and more to be satisfied, and then it starts to work against you. Withdrawal symptoms include increased anxiety, depression, and fear.”

    Despite the harmful consequences, addiction is considered by some experts as a brain disease that affects the brain’s reward system and ends in compulsive behavior. Regardless, society tends to reward productivity — or at least to treat it positively. As a result, this makes the problem even worse.

    “It’s seen like a good thing: the more you work, the better,” adds Chapman. “Many people don’t realize the harm it causes until a divorce occurs and a family is broken apart, or the toll it takes on mental health.”

    Because of the occasional negative issues with productivity, it’s no surprise that it is considered a “mixed-blessing addiction.”

    “A workaholic might be earning a lot of money, just as an exercise addict is very fit,” explains Dr. Mark Griffiths, distinguished professor of behavioral addiction at Nottingham Trent University. “But the thing about any addiction is that in the long run, the detrimental effects outweigh any short-term benefits.”

    “There may be an initial period where the individual who is developing a work addiction is more productive than someone who isn’t addicted to work, but it will get to a point when they are no longer productive, and their health and relationships are affected,” Griffiths writes in Psychology Today.[4] “It could be after one year or more, but if the individual doesn’t do anything about it, they could end up having serious health consequences.”

    “For instance, I speculated that the consequences of work addiction may be reclassified as something else: If someone ends up dying of a work-related heart attack, it isn’t necessarily seen as having anything to do with an addiction per se – it might be attributed to something like burnout,” he adds.

    There Are Three “Distinct Extreme Productivity Types

    Cyril Peupion, a Sydney-based productivity expert, has observed extreme productivity among clients at both large and medium-sized companies. “Most people who come to me are high performers and very successful. But often, the word they use to describe their work style is ‘unsustainable,’ and they need help getting it back on track.”

    By changing their work habits, Peupion assists teams and individuals improve their performance and ensure that their efforts are aligned with the overarching strategy of the business, rather than focusing on work as a means to an end. He has distinguished three types of extreme productivity in his classification: efficiency obsessive, selfishly productive, and quantity-obsessed.

    Efficiency obsessive. “Their desks are super tidy and their pens are probably color-coded. They are the master of ‘inbox zero.’ But they have lost sight of the big picture, and don’t know the difference between efficiency and effectiveness.”

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    Selfishly productive. “They are so focused on their own world that if they are asked to do something outside of it, they aren’t interested. They do have the big picture in mind, but the picture is too much about them.”

    Quantity-obsessed. “They think; ‘The more emails I respond to, the more meetings I attend, the more tasks I do, the higher my performance.’ As a result, they face a real risk of burnout.”

    Peupion believes that “quantity obsessed” individuals are the most common type “because there is a pervasive belief that ‘more’ means ‘better’ at work.”

    The Warning Signs of Productivity Addiction

    Here are a few questions you should ask yourself if you think you may be succumbing to productivity addiction. After all, most of us aren’t aware of this until it’s too late.

    • Can you tell when you’re “wasting” time? If so, have you ever felt guilty about it?
    • Does technology play a big part in optimizing your time management?
    • Do you talk about how busy you are most of the time? In your opinion, is hustling better than doing less?
    • What is your relationship with your email inbox? Are you constantly checking it or experience phantom notifications?
    • When you only check one item off your list, do you feel guilty?
    • Does stress from work interfere with your sleep?
    • Have you been putting things off, like a vacation or side project, because you’re “too swamped?

    The first step toward turning around your productivity obsession is to recognize it. If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, then it’s time to make a plan to overcome your addiction to productivity.

    Overcoming Your Productivity Addiction

    Thankfully, there are ways to curb your productivity addiction. And, here are 9 such ways to achieve that goal.

    1. Set Limits

    Just because you’re hooked on productivity doesn’t mean you have to completely abstain from it. Instead, you need to establish boundaries.

    For example, there are a lot of amazing productivity podcasts out there. But, that doesn’t mean you have to listen to them all in the course of a day. Instead, you could listen to one or two podcasts, like The Productivity Podcast or Before Breakfast, during your commute. And, that would be your only time of the day to get your productivity fix.

    2. Create a Not-to-Do List

    Essentially, the idea of a not-to-do list is to eliminate the need to practice self-discipline. Getting rid of low-value tasks and bad habits will allow you to focus on what you really want to do as opposed to weighing the pros and cons or declining time requests. More importantly, this prevents you from feeling guilty about not crossing everything off an unrealistic to-do list.

    3. Be Vulnerable

    By this, I mean admitting where you could improve. For example, if you’re new to remote work and are struggling with thi s, you would only focus on topics in this area. Suggestions would be how to create a workspace at home, not getting distracted when the kids aren’t in school, or improving remote communication and collaboration with others.

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    4. Understand Why You Procrastinate

    Often, we procrastinate to minimize negative emotions like boredom or stress. Other times it could be because it’s a learned trait, underestimating how long it takes you to complete something or having a bias towards a task.

    Regardless of the exact reason, we end up doing busy work, scrolling social media, or just watching one more episode of our favorite TV series. And, even though we know that it’s not for the best, we do things that make us feel better than the work we should do to restore our mood.[5]

    There are a lot of ways to overcome procrastination. But, the first step is to be aware of it so that you can take action. For example, if you’re dreading a difficult task, don’t just watch Netflix. Instead, procrastinate more efficiently,y like returning a phone call or working on a client pitch.

    5. Don’t Be a Copycat

    Let’s keep this short and sweet. When you find a productivity app or technique that works for you, stick with it.

    That’s not to say that you can’t make adjustments along the way or try new tools or hacks. However, the main takeaway should be that just because someone swears by the Pomodoro Technique doesn’t mean it’s a good fit for you.

    6. Say Yes to Less

    Across the board, your philosophy should be less is more.

    That means only download the apps you actually use and want to keep (after you try them out) and uninstall the ones you don’t use. For example, are you currently reading a book on productivity? Don’t buy your next book until you’ve finished the one you’re currently reading (or permit yourself to toss a book that isn’t doing you any good). — and if you really want to finish a book more quickly, listen to the book on your way to work and back.

    Already have plans this weekend? Don’t commit to a birthday party. And, if you’re day is booked, decline that last-minute meeting request.

    7. Stop Focusing on What’s Next

    “In the age when purchasing a thing from overseas is just one click and talking to another person is one swipe right, acquiring new objects or experiences can be addictive like anything else,” writes Patrick Banks for Lifehack .

    “That doesn’t need to be you,” he adds. “You can stop your addition to ‘the next thing’ starting today.” After all, “there will always be this next thing if you don’t make a conscious decision to get your life back together and be the one in charge.”

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    • Think about your current lifestyle and the person you’re at this stage to help you identify what you aren’t satisfied with.
    • By setting clear goals for yourself in the future, you will be able to overcome your addiction.
    • Establish realistic goals.
    • To combat addiction, you must be aware of what is going on around you, as well as inside your head, at any given time.
    • Don’t spend time with people who have unhealthy behaviors.
    • Hold yourself accountable.
    • Keep a journal and write out what you want to overcome.
    • Appreciate no longer being addicted to what’s next.

    8. Simplify

    Each day, pick one priority task. That’s it. As long as you concentrate on one task at a time, you will be less likely to get distracted or overwhelmed by an endless list of tasks. A simple mantra to live by is: work smarter, not harder.

    The same is also accurate with productivity hacks and tools. Bullet journaling is a great example. Unfortunately, for many, a bullet journal is way more time-consuming and overwhelming than a traditional planner.

    9. Learn How to Relax

    “Sure, we need to produce sometimes, especially if we have to pay the bills, but, banning obsession with productivity is unhealthy,” writes Leo Babauta. “When you can’t get yourself to be productive, relax.” Don’t worry about being hyper-efficient. And, don’t beat yourself up about having fun.

    “But what if you can’t motivate yourself … ever?” he asks. “Sure, that can be a problem. But if you relax and enjoy yourself, you’ll be happier.”

    “And if you work when you get excited, on things you’re excited about, and create amazing things, that’s motivation,” Leo states. “Not forcing yourself to work when you don’t want to, on things you don’t want to work on — motivation is doing things you love when you get excited.”

    But, how exactly can you relax? Here are some tips from Leo;

    • Spend 5 minutes walking outside and breathe in the fresh air.
    • Give yourself more time to accomplish things. Less rushing means less stress.
    • If you can, get outside after work to enjoy nature.
    • Play like a child. Even better? Play with your kids. And, have fun at work — maybe give gamification a try .
    • Take the day off, rest, and do something non-work-related.
    • Allow yourself an hour of time off. Try not to be productive during that time. Just relax.
    • You should work with someone who is exciting. Make your project exciting.
    • Don’t work in the evenings. Seriously.
    • Visit a massage therapist.
    • Just breathe.

    “Step by step, learn to relax,” he suggests. “Learn that productivity isn’t everything.” For that statement, sorry Leo, I say productivity isn’t everything — it’s the only thing.” However, if you can’t cut loose, relax, do fun things, and do the living part of your life — you’ll crack in a big way — you really will.

    It’s great to create and push forward — just remember it doesn’t mean that every minute must be spent working or obsessing over productivity issues. Instead, invest your time in meaningful, high-impact work, get into it, focus, put in big time and then relax.

    Are You Addicted to Productivity? was originally published on Calendar by John Rampton.

    Featured photo credit: Christina @ wocintechchat.com via unsplash.com

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