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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

More by this author

CM Smith

A technologist and writer who shares advice on personal productivity, creativity and how to use technology to get things done.

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Last Updated on September 28, 2020

How to Create an Action Plan and Achieve Your Personal Goals

How to Create an Action Plan and Achieve Your Personal Goals

There’s no denying that goals are necessary. After all, they give life meaning and purpose. However, goals don’t simply achieve themselves—you need to write an action plan to help you reach your goals.

With an action plan, you’ll have a clear idea of how to get where you want to go, what it will take to get there, and how you’ll find the motivation to keep driving forward. Without creating a plan, things have a way of not working out as you waver and get distracted.

With that in mind, here’s how you can set goals and action plans that will help you achieve any personal goal you’ve set.

1. Determine Your “Why”

Here’s a quick experiment for you to try right now: Reflect on the goals you’ve set before. Now, think about the goals you reached and those you didn’t. Hopefully, you’ll notice a common theme here.

The goals you were successful in achieving had a purpose. Those goals you failed to accomplish did not. In other words, you knew why you put these goals in place, which motivated you to follow through.

Simon Sinek, author of Find Your Why: A Practical Guide for Finding Purpose for You and Your Team, explains:

“Once you understand your WHY, you’ll be able to clearly articulate what makes you feel fulfilled and to better understand what drives your behavior when you’re at your natural best. When you can do that, you’ll have a point of reference for everything you do going forward.”

That, in turn, enables better decision-making and clearer choices.

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I’ll share with you a recent example of this in my life. Earlier this year, I decided to make my health a bigger priority, specifically losing weight. I set this goal because it gave me more energy at work, improved my sleep, and helped me be a better father—I really didn’t care for all that wheezing every time I played with my kids.

Those factors all gave me a long-term purpose, not a superficial short-term goal like wanting to look good for an event.

Before you start creating an action plan, think about why you’re setting a new goal. Doing so will guide you forward on this journey and give you a North Star to point to when things get hard (and they inevitably will).

2. Write Down Your Goal

If you really want to know how to create an action plan for goals, it’s time to get your goals out of your head and onto a piece of paper. While you can also do this electronically through an app, research has found that you’re 42% more likely to achieve your goal if it’s written down[1].

This is especially true for business owners. If they don’t schedule their time, it’ll be scheduled for them.[2]

When you physically write down a goal, you’re accessing the left side of the brain, which is the literal, logical side. As a result, this communicates to your brain that this is something you seriously want to do.

3. Set a SMART Goal

A SMART goal pulls on a popular system in business management[3]. That’s because it ensures the goal you’ve set is both realistic and achievable. It can also be used as a reference to guide you through your action plan.

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Use SMART goals to create a goal action plan.

     

    By establishing a SMART goal, you can begin to brainstorm the steps, tasks, and tools you’ll need to make your actions effective.

    • Specific: You need to have specific ideas about what you want to accomplish. To get started, answer the “W” questions: who, what, where, when, and why.
    • Measurable: To make sure you’re meeting the goal, establish tangible metrics to measure your progress. Identify how you’ll collect the data.
    • Attainable: Think about the tools or skills needed to reach your goal. If you don’t possess them, figure out how you can attain them.
    • Relevant: Why does the goal matter to you? Does it align with other goals? These types of questions can help you determine the goal’s true objective — and whether it’s worth pursuing.
    • Time-bound: Whether it’s a daily, weekly, or monthly target, deadlines can motivate us to take action sooner than later.

    Learn more about setting a SMRT goal here: How to Set SMART Goal to Make Lasting Changes in Life

    4. Take One Step at a Time

    Have you ever taken a road trip? You most likely had to use a map to navigate from Point A to Point B. The same idea can be applied to an action plan.

    Like a map, your action plan needs to include step-by-step instructions on how you’ll reach your goal. In other words, these are mini goals that help you get where you need to go.

    For example, if you wanted to lose weight, you’d consider smaller factors like calories consumed and burned, minutes exercised, number of steps walked, and quality of sleep. Each plays a role in weight loss.

    This may seem like a lot of work upfront, but it makes your action plan seem less overwhelming and more manageable. Most importantly, it helps you determine the specific actions you need to take at each stage.

    5. Order Your Tasks by Priority

    With your action steps figured out, you’ll next want to review your list and place your tasks in the order that makes the most sense. This way, you’re kicking things off with the most important step to make the biggest impact, which will ultimately save time.

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    For example, if you have a sedentary job and want to lose weight, the first step should be becoming even a little more active. From there, you can add more time to your workout plan.

    The next step could be changing your diet, like having a salad before dinner to avoid overeating, or replacing soda with sparkling water.

    Learn these tips to prioritize better: How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster

    6. Schedule Your Tasks

    Setting a deadline for your goal is a must; it prevents you from delaying the start of your action plan. The key, however, is to be realistic. It’s highly unlikely, for example, that you’ll lose 20 pounds within two weeks. It’s even less likely that you’ll keep it off.

    What’s more, you should also assign tasks a start and end date for each action step you’ve created, as well as a timeline for when you’ll complete specific tasks. Adding them to your schedule ensures that you stay focused on these tasks when they need to happen, not letting anything else distract you.

    For example, if you schedule gym time, you won’t plan anything else during that time frame.

    Beware the temptation to double-book yourself—some activities truly can be combined, like a run while talking to a friend, but some can’t. Don’t trick yourself into thinking you can both write and catch up on Netflix simultaneously.

    While you can use a paper calendar or planner, an online calendar may be a better option. You can use it to set deadlines or reminders for when each step needs to be taken, and it can be shared with other people who need to be in the know (like your running buddy or your mentor).

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    7. Stay on Track With Healthy Habits

    Without healthy habits, it’s going to be even more challenging to reach your goal. You could hit the gym five days a week, but if you’re grabbing burgers for lunch every day, you’re undoing all your hard work.

    Let’s say your goal is more career-oriented, like becoming a better public speaker. If you practice your speeches at Toastmasters meetings but avoid situations where you’ll need to be unrehearsed—like networking gatherings or community meetings—you’re not helping yourself.

    You have to think about what will help transform you into the person you want to be, not just what’s easiest or most comfortable.

    8. Check off Items as You Go

    You may think you’ve spent a lot of time creating lists. Not only do they help make your goals a reality, but lists also keep your action plan organized, create urgency, and help track your progress. Because lists provide structure, they reduce anxiety.

    There’s something else special about lists of tasks completed. When you cross off a task in your action plan, your brain releases dopamine[4]. This reward makes you feel good, and you’ll want to repeat this feeling.

    If you crossed out on your calendar the days you went to the gym, you’d want to keep experiencing the satisfaction of each bold “X.” That means more motivation to go the gym consistently.

    9. Review and Reset as Necessary

    Achieving any personal goal is a process. Although it would be great if you could reach a goal overnight, it takes time. Along the way, you may experience setbacks. Instead of getting frustrated and giving up, schedule frequent reviews—daily, weekly, or monthly—to see how you’re progressing.

    If you aren’t where you’d hoped to be, you may need to alter your action plan. Rework it so you’re able to reach the goal you’ve set.

    The Bottom Line

    When you want to learn how to set goals and action plans—whether you want to lose weight, learn a new skill, or make more money—you need to create a realistic plan to get you there. It will guide you in establishing realistic steps and time frames to achieve your goal. Best of all, it will keep you on track when you stumble, and we all do.

    More on Goal Action Plans

    Featured photo credit: Estée Janssens via unsplash.com

    Reference

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