Time management: Getting Things Done

GETTING THINGS DONE® is a personal productivity methodology that redefines how you approach your life and work.

This is what you can read on the What is GTD section of David Allen’s promotional website about the so-called method. Now, before reading Getting Things Done1 (the actual book), I went through many articles that arose my interest. The GTD method, as it is now known, should have been part of the Time management: more advanced techniques article indeed, but not only was I not done reading David Allen’s book (in time), but I also thought that this technique deserves a separate post. Here is what I have learned from these indirect resources.

GTD – as described by others

Do you feel overwhelmed by all your commitments? Then you’re a perfect candidate for the Getting Things Done self-management system.IONOS

People who feel overwhelmed in their daily lives should indeed benefit from this five-step method developed by the productivity consultant David Allen. GTD is a comprehensive time management framework that provides a detailed decision-making process for deciding how to proceed with a task.

Free up
    your mind    
and don’t
forget
anything!

Briefly, the fundamental idea of GTD is to put down all your tasks in writing to ensure that you won’t forget anything.2 Thanks to a written organizational system – using lists and calendars – not only will you clear your head (by recording tasks on paper), but you will also keep all your tasks, assignments, and projects in perspective. According to David Allen, GTP is a set of best practices that allows you to get more space in your head, so you have more bandwidth, attention, and ability to focus on the most meaningful stuff.

The more information bouncing around inside your head, the harder it is to decide what needs attention. As a result, you spend more time thinking about your tasks than actually doing them. When information piles up in your head, it leads to stress, overwhelm, and uncertainty.Laura Scroggs

The five steps, detailed below, that you do in a specific sequence are as follow:

Capture: note every task that springs to mind.

Clarify: decide what to do with every specific item.

Organize: put items on four main action lists (projects, next action, waiting for, calendar).

Reflect: from time to time, review your tasks.

Engage: start working on the selected tasks.

The system also requires one to have several tools (e.g. an inbox and a calendar). They can be physical or electronic. On the one hand, you can use a paper-based system. On the other end of the spectrum, you can try one of the software that supports the GTD time management system.

Your tool should be versatile enough to handle your most complex projects yet simple enough to maintain when you’re low on energy.Laura Scroggs

Five clear steps that apply order to chaos

Capture

The first step is to write down all the things you want or need to do. It can be everything that comes to your mind, every idea, task, or anything else that is worth remembering (things to read, watch, notes, bills, etc.). You collect them all in your inbox. As pointed out, this first step can take several days when you first start using the Getting Things Done method. After that, you simply add new tasks, appointments and ideas to your inboxes as they arise. This rarely takes more than a few minutes.2

Importantly, one of the core tenets of GTD is to get tasks out of your head and into your external system the moment they come to you.3 Therefore, you should make it a habit, whenever new stuff comes to mind, to immediately add it to your Inbox. Equally important, you should not process items when capturing them, even if you are tempted to do so.

Do not use one’s inbox as a “to-do” list.

Clarify & Organize

All you need to do is pick up something out of the pile and say, What the hell is this? and What’s the next action I need to take on this?David Allen

The important thing is to empty the inbox regularly; things shouldn’t just pile up but should be regularly processed instead. The GTD decision-making process will help you to do so, i.e. to sort tasks by scope, importance and urgency so that you can complete each one at the right time2.

Work through each in the order in which they appear in your inbox.

First, determine whether the task is actionable and whether it has concrete steps you can lay out and follow. You can indeed break tasks into smaller actionable items. If the item is actionable, you should either do it (immediately if this takes less than two minutes), delegate it, or defer it (but assign a due date to it). If the item is not actionable, you should either delete it, archive it, or delay it.

Do not put clarified items back into the inbox.

Once you’ve clarified an item in your inbox, you should sort (i.e. organize) it into the appropriate place. In doing so, you should provide as much information as you can to save you time puzzling over it later. It is also a good idea to “tag” actions with a context (e.g. at home, at work). In other words, make your tasks as specific and actionable as possible.

Reflect

The goal of reflecting is to make sure everything is up to date. You should do at least a weekly review to ensure that you’ll keep track of all your tasks and projects, identify weaknesses in your system, and make improvements. It will take a while, so you should ideally set off some time (probably at least 30 minutes) in advance.

There’s no point of having a superior productivity system if it’s not up-to-date and regularly “groomed”.Blaz Kos

Make sure each project has at least one next action.

Engage

Now that your system is full of concrete, actionable items organized into logical categories, you can start working on the selected tasks. Contrary to other tips, which advise doing the difficult or unpleasant tasks first (e.g. Eat That Frog), GTD suggests you try to do things in context, as they arise.

Summing up

The GTD method gives you a single organizational system for all your projects, both personal and work-related. In addition, the method’s many lists and guiding questions ensure that you use your free time efficiently.2 However, if you want to use this system, you have to understand it in detail and practice it consistently.

While GTD requires an upfront investment in time and energy to set up, it pays off with consistent use.Laura Scroggs

“Shall I?”

To be continued…


1 David Allen (2015) Getting Things Done: The art of stress free productivity (Revised edition). Penguin Books. ^
2 Unknown author (2019) Getting Things Done: a productivity system for all areas of life. IONOS. ^
3 Laura Scroggs (2021) Getting Things Done (GTD). Todoist. ^

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