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Last Updated on July 25, 2018

Why Getting Things Done is the Best Productivity System For You

Why Getting Things Done is the Best Productivity System For You

David Allen’s Getting Things Done book has been around for over ten years now and has totally changed the way that many knowledge workers work and play.

The system has helped me and my team here at Lifehack get their most important work done on a daily, monthly, weekly, and “lifely” basis.

But, what if (this is a big what if) there was something better out there than GTD for increasing your productivity while decreasing your life’s overwhelm? What if there is something better and fits the way that the knowledge worker’s lifestyle works?

Well, you can stop worrying and looking. I’m here to tell you that the GTD is the best productivity system because it can be adapted to fit your lifestyle, has the over-arching models that you can use for a lifetime, and contains two secrets weapons of personal productivity.

1. It’s difficult to grok at first but will become your second nature.

One of the main reasons that people give up on GTD, especially at first, is that there seems to be a lot to it.

“You mean I have to go out and buy a labeler, filing cabinet, sticky notes, some list making apps, and better pens?” No, not unless you want to.

Mr. Allen’s book suggests getting some gear to get things started but you don’t have to do it, you can start GTDing with a crappy notebook and pen.

Another thing GTD suggests is taking a full two days to collect and process everything in your personal and professional life. I remember reading that and think, “how in the hell is that even possible? I’ve got too much stuff to do and I want to get it done now!”

While giving yourself two full days to clean out and clean up your life would be awesome, you can get started by collecting and processing as you go.

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The idea of next actions and projects can be foreign (although welcomed!) to someone that has used daily todo lists to accomplish things in the past. Some people get stuck and confused with having so many lists and things on those lists.

Mostly this is due to lack of completing proper weekly reviews. Once one settles in with GTD, collects and organizes things into the right lists, and then reviews it consistently the confusion will go away.

GTD takes time and practice to understand and use. But after some time, it becomes second nature to the practitioner. This is only with the help from the models that Mr. Allen has created.

2. It’s an all-in-one creative model with all the essential concepts.

Some people think that Mr. Allen “created” the ideas behind GTD. That’s not really true.

What we can give him his credit for is identifying the things that busy professionals and humans do to get more done with the least amount of effort and stress. He then put these principals together and created a model for productivity.

Rather than doing what many productivity gurus did before him, Mr. Allen decided that approaching your work from a bottom up approach was the fastest way to make yourself more productive as quickly as possible.

After “clearing your decks” with your next actions and identifying your projects, it was then easier to recognize your larger life goals and what your life meant. Then you modify your projects to meet those goals.

Mr. Allen gave us the Five Phases of Workflow (Collect, Process, Organize, Review, and Do), The Natural Planning Model for creating and moving forward on projects, The 2-minute rule, and many other things that we can utilize to Get Things Done.

These ideas were always there; Mr. Allen was smart and creative enough to put them all together in a nice package. The models of GTD help make it the best productivity system because one can always go back to the “basics” of the system to get back to a state of flow in their work and life.

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3. The alternatives to GTD always have something missing.

There are some alternatives out there to GTD like Master Your Workday Now (also the One Minute Todo List), GSD, Getting Results the Agile Way, ZTD, and many others.

The thing is that almost all of these either take things from Mr. Allen’s model, or don’t encompass the bigger picture of work and life allowing many important things to fall through the cracks.

I’ve tried most of these other alternatives (albeit not for terribly long periods of time) and I always felt like something was missing. It was the complete system that GTD offers me that these alternatives didn’t cover.

For instance, Getting Results the Agile Way is very interesting, but if you look into it more you will see that it is heavily based on GTD core principles. Agile Results then adds a top layer of making sure that you are geting results during your week, which really is a modified weekly review that Mr. Allen suggests in GTD.

So, it appears that the alternatives to GTD are just modified versions of Mr. Allen’s system, not completely different ideas on how to handle your work.

Yes, they may work for some others but we have to see that without GTD most of these systems wouldn’t exist in their current form making GTD a sort of pillar of productivity systems.

4. It spans personal and professional works.

GTD doesn’t care whether your work is professional or personal. It is all work in the eyes of your system.

Of course, you can segregate work tasks to home tasks and projects, but you don’t have to if you don’t want to.

It all takes the same amount of “physical RAM” in your brain so it all can be treated as work, everything from “create the TPS reports” to “buy dog treats for the puppies”. It’s all considered work by GTD standards.

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5. It gets you to start taking actions.

I told you there were two secrets that make GTD the best productivity system around, remember? Those secrets are the act of capturing and the idea of the next action.

One of the biggest problems that GTD tries to solve is the idea of workers having too many “open loops” in their lives. Open loops are basically all of the things that we have committed ourselves to do but haven’t kept track of them in some way (other than in our fallible brains).

Stress is induced when we have too many open loops at once and don’t have them captured into a system that we can trust they are in. Our minds start racing and it’s all down hill from there.

Capturing is the key to keeping yourself sane.

Enter, capture. Capturing allows the GTD practitioner to close the open loops in their life by writing them down and keeping them out of their mind. This is how one starts to get to the aspect of “mind like water” and starts to relieve the stress of all of the things they have kept in their mind for so long.

Identifying the next action of any project is another secret of GTD.

Seeing what the absolute next physical action is allows us to take the first step in completing a project of any size. The issue with many projects that are stalled or not yet completed is that they haven’t been thought through and the next physical action to get the project moving hasn’t been identified.

When I started to identify the next physical action I was surprised to see how quickly I could get a “stuck” project moving, no matter how little the next action really was. Things like, “call Bob to get the name of number of his accountant” is enough to spark a large project like “Form your LLC”.

Capturing and next actions are the secrets to why GTD is the best productivity system.

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Conclusion

If you take in most aspects of GTD, you will feel a sense of relief regarding your work and life that you haven’t felt before.

GTD is the best productivity system because it spans such a wide range of use-cases and is simple and complex enough to support a personal system as well as can be used for some of your biggest projects at work.

GTD’s bottom-up approach to productivity helps you get the pressing things done in your life so you can have the energy to answer the question “what’s my life purpose?” It helps you review your progress weekly and allows you to plan effectively for the future.

And with GTD’s capture and next action ideas, you can use it to instantly close open loops and move dead projects forward.

Even though the GTD has been around for a while now it still proves itself to be the best productivity system we as knowledge workers have access to.

If you want to get to know more about the GTD system, don’t miss our exclusive interview with David Allen:

GTD Leaders: A Lifehack Exclusive Interview with David Allen and Mike Williams

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Published on January 16, 2019

How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

We’re all busy, but sometimes we go through periods where the work piles up and it seems like it might never end.

You might have such a heavy workload that it feels too intimidating to even start.

You may have said yes to some or too many projects, and now you’re afraid you won’t be able to deliver.

That’s when you need to take a step back, take a deep breath, and start looking at what’s working and what’s not working.

Here’re 13 strategies you can use to get out from under your overwhelming workload:

1. Acknowledge You Can’t Do It All

Many of us have a tendency to think we can do more than we actually can. We take on more and more projects and responsibility and wear numerous hats.

We all have the opportunity to have and take on more work than we can reasonably expect to get done. Unfortunately, our workload is not static. Even now, while you are reading this article, I’m guessing that your inbox is filling up with fresh new tasks.

To make real, effective progress, you have to have both the courage and resourcefulness to say, “This is not working”. Acknowledge that you can’t do it all and look for better solutions.

At any given time in your life, there are likely many things that aren’t going according to plan. You have to be willing to be honest with yourself and those around you about what’s not working for you, both personally and professionally.

The more you exercise your ability to tell the truth about what’s working and what’s not working, the faster you’ll make progress.

2. Focus on Your Unique Strengths

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a leader or working as part of a team, every individual has unique strengths they can bring to the table.

The challenge is that many people end up doing things that they’re simply not very good at.

In the pursuit of reaching your goals or delivering a project, people end up doing everything themselves or taking on things that don’t play to their unique strengths. This can result in frustration, overwhelm and overwork.

It can mean projects taking a lot longer to complete because of knowledge gaps, or simply not utilizing the unique strengths of other people you work with.

It is often not about how to complete this project more effectively but who can help deliver this project.

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So, what are your unique strengths that will ensure your workload is delivered more effectively? Here’re some questions to help you reflect:

  • Are you a great strategist?
  • Are you an effective planner?
  • Is Project Management your strength?
  • Is communication and bringing people together your strength?
  • Are you the ideas person?
  • Is Implementation your strength?

Think about how you can bring the biggest value to your work and the projects you undertake.

3. Use the Strengths of Your Team

One of the simplest ways to manage your workload effectively is to free up your time so you bring your highest level of energy, focus and strengths to each project.

Delegation or better teamwork is the solution.

Everyone has unique strengths. It’s essential to think teamwork rather than working in isolation to ensure projects can be completed effectively. Besides, every time you give away a task or project that doesn’t play to your unique strengths, you open up an opportunity to do something you’re more talented at. This will empower both yourself and those around you.

Rather than taking on all the responsibilities yourself, look at who you can work with to deliver the best results possible.

4. Take Time for Planning

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe”. – Abraham Lincoln

One hour of effective planning could save hours of time. Rather than just rushing in and getting started on projects, take the time to map everything in.

You can take the time to think about:

  • What’s the purpose of the project?
  • How Important is it?
  • When does it need to be delivered by?
  • What is the best result and worst result for this project?
  • What are the KPIs?
  • What does the project plan and key milestones look like?
  • Who is working on this project?
  • What is everyone’s responsibilities?
  • What tolerances can I add in?
  • What are the review stages?
  • What are the challenges we may face and the solutions for these challenges?

Having absolute clarity on the project, the project deliverables and the result you want can save a lot of time. It also gets you clear on the priorities and timelines, so you can block out the required amount of time to focus and concentrate.

5. Focus on Priorities

Not everything is a priority, although it can often feel, in the moment, that it is.

Whatever you’re working on, there is always the Most Urgent, Important or Most Valuable projects or tasks.

One tool you can use to maximize your productivity and focus on your biggest priorities is to use the Eisenhower Matrix. This strategic tool for taking action on the things that matter most is simple. You separate your actions based on four possibilities:

  1. Urgent and important (tasks you will do immediately).
  2. Important, but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later).
  3. Urgent, but not important (tasks you will delegate to someone else).
  4. Neither urgent nor important (tasks that you will eliminate).

James Clear has a great description on how to use the Eisenhower Matrix: How to be More Productive By Using the Eisenhower Box

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    The method I use with my coaching clients is to ask them to lay out their Top Five priorities for the day. Then to start with the most important priority first. At the end of the day, you review performance against these priorities.

    If you didn’t get everything accomplished, start the next day with your number one priority.

    If you are given additional task/projects during the day, then you will need to gauge their importance V the other priorities.

    6. Take Time Out

    To stay on top of a heavy workload, it’s important to take time out to rest and recuperate.

    If your energy levels are high and your mind and body is refreshed and alert, you are in more of a peak state to handle a heavy workload.

    Take time out of your day to go for a walk or get some exercise in. Leave early when possible and spend time with people who give you a lot of energy.

    In the background, it’s essential to get a good night’s sleep and eat healthily to sharpen the mind.

    Take a look at this article learn about The Importance of Scheduling Downtime.

    7. Maintain a Healthy Work-Life Balance

    Maintaining a healthy work-life balance can be tough. The balance we all crave is very different from one another.

    I’ve written before about 13 Work Life Balance Tips for a Happy and Productive Life. Working longer and harder doesn’t mean achieving more, especially if you have no time to spend with the people that matter most. The quality of who you are as a person, the relationships you have, the time you spend in work, deciding on what matters most is completely within your control.

    Work-life balance is about finding peace within yourself to be fully present, wherever you are, whether that be in the office or at home, right now. It’s about choosing what matters most and creating your own balanced life.

    If you feel there is not enough balance, then it may be time to make a change.

    8. Stop Multitasking

    Multi-tasking is a myth. Your brain simply can’t work effectively by doing more than one thing at a time—at least more than one thing that requires focused attention.

    So get your list of priorities (see earlier point), do the most important thing first, then move to the next item and work down your list.

    When you split your focus over a multitude of different areas, you can’t consistently deliver a high performance. You won’t be fully present on the one task or project at hand.

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    If you allocate blocked time and create firm boundaries for specific activities and commitments, you won’t feel so overwhelmed or overworked with everything you have to do.

    9. Work in Blocks of Time

    To keep your energy up to produce your best results it’s essential to take regular breaks.

    I use the 60-60-30 method myself and teach it to my coaching clients.

    Work on a project for a sustained period of 50 minutes.

    Then take a 10-minute break. This could be taking a walk, having a healthy snack or just having a conversation with someone.

    Then continue to work on the project for a further 50 minutes.

    Then take another 10-minute break.

    Then take a complete 30-minute break to unplug from the work. This could be time for a proper lunch, a quick bit of exercise, reading or having a walk.

    By simply taking some time out, your energy levels stay up, the quality of your work improves and you reduce the risk of becoming burned out.

    10. Get Rid of Distractions

    Make an estimation on how many times you are distracted during an average working day. Now take that number and multiply it by 25. According to Gloria Mark in her study on The Cost of Interrupted Work, it takes us an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to return to the original task after interruption.[1]

    “Our research has shown that attention distraction can lead to higher stress, a bad mood and lower productivity.”

    Distractions don’t just take up your time during the distraction, they can derail your mental progress and focus for almost 25 minutes. So, if you are distracted 5 times per day, you could be losing almost 2 hours every day of productive work and almost 10 hours every week.

    If you have an important project to work on, find a space where you won’t be distracted, or try doing this.

    11. Commit Focused Time to Smaller Tasks

    You know sometimes, you need to simply tackle these tasks and take action on them. But there’s always something more pressing.

    Small tasks can often get in the way of your most important projects. They sit there on your daily To Do list but are often forgotten about because of more important priorities or because they hold no interest for you. But they take up mental energy. They clutter your mind.

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    Commit to spending a specific period of time completing all the small tasks you have on your To Do list. It will give you peace of mind and the space to focus more on your bigger priorities.

    12. Take a Time Audit

    Do you know exactly where your time is going each day? Are you spending too long on certain projects and tasks to the detriment of bigger opportunities?

    Spend a bit of time to analyze where you are spending your time. This insight will amaze you and give you the clarity to start adjusting where you focus your time and on what projects.

    You can start by taking a piece of paper and creating three columns:

    Column A is Priority Work. Column B is Good Work. Column C is low value work or stuff.

    Each day, write down the project or task and the time spent on each. Allocate that time to one of the columns.

    At the end of the week, record the total time spent in each column.

    If you are spending far too much time on certain types of work, look to change things so your focused time is in Column B and C.

    13. Protect Your Confidence

    It is essential to protect our confidence to ensure we don’t get overwhelmed, stressed and lose belief.

    When you have confidence as a daily resource, you are in a better position to problem solve, learn quicker, respond to anything, adjust to anything, and achieve your biggest opportunities.

    Confidence gives you the ability to transform fear into focused and relaxed thinking, communication, and action. This is key to put your mind into a productive state.

    When confidence is high, you can clearly see the possibilities at hand and create strategies to take advantage of them, or to solve the challenges you face each day.

    Final Words

    A heavy workload can be tough to deal with and can cause stress, burnout and ongoing frustration.

    The key is to tackle it head on, rather than let it go on and compound the long-term effects. Hopefully, you can take action on at least one of these tips.

    If it gets too much, and negatively affects your physical and mental health, it may be time to talk to someone. Instead of dealing with it alone and staying unhappier, resentful and getting to a point where you simply can’t cope, you have to make a change for your own sanity.

    Featured photo credit: Hannah Wei via unsplash.com

    Reference

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