Our brains are bad at remembering important information amidst a constant stream of tasks and distractions. Trying to keep everything in our heads not only hampers our ability to think clearly but also leads to a lack of concentration on the task at hand.
To address this challenge, a system called Getting Things Done (GTD) offers a five-step workflow to regain control over our workload:
Capture: write down your tasks or ideas
Clarify: clearly define what the item is and decide if it's actionable
Organize: create calendar reminders and lists
Reflect: regularly review the items in your system
Engage: pick an item to work on
Capture everything in external collection tools so we don't rely on remembering. A collection tool is where we can quickly jot down tasks, ideas, reminders, and more whenever we think of them. The goal is to have a place where we can find these items later, regardless of their importance.
Collection tools can be physical (notebooks) or digital (list apps).
Collection tools should be easily accessible wherever you are.
Keep the number of collection tools to a minimum.
To start implementing the GTD system, go through existing to-dos, ideas, thoughts, and materials and transfer them to the collection tools.
Clarify items in your collection tools on a weekly basis.
Start by examining each item and determining what it is. Focus on identifying whether the item is actionable or not. If it's not actionable, it falls into three categories: trash, something to be dealt with later, or information for future reference.
For actionable items, define the desired outcome or result. If multiple actions are required, consider it a project. Then, determine the next physical and visible action needed to progress the project.
Two minute rule: If the action takes less than two minutes, do it immediately.
If the action takes longer, consider delegating it if appropriate. Otherwise, defer it for later.
Organize items with categorized lists. Examples:
Project list: items pertaining to a specific project
Someday/Maybe: items that you may want to address or remember in the future (e.g., repaint room, learn French, watch Titanic)
References: items that might later be useful reference material (e.g., positive work performance review)
Projects are defined as anything that requires multiple steps. Examples are planning a party and buying a car. Project lists should be regularly reviewed.
It's crucial to ensure that each project has a clear and concrete next action (e.g., email John, buy posterboard). Always ask “What's the next action?” The next actions are what move the projects forward and lead to their completion.
The natural planning method is a five-stage approach to planning complex projects that aims to simplify the process. The aim is to reach a point where you feel confident in your project plan and no longer have lingering doubts.
Purpose and principles: Clearly define the purpose of your project and establish the guiding principles or boundaries that will shape its execution. Examples of a principle/boundary would be “don't do anything unethical” or “don't spend over $10,000”.
Outcome visioning: Envision the desired outcome of the project and paint a clear picture of what success looks like. This helps to focus your efforts and set a specific goal to work towards. An example would be “increase customer count by 20%”.
Brainstorming: Generate as many ideas as you can for achieving the desired outcome. Don't evaluate the ideas yet. Quantity is more important than quality at this stage.
Organizing: Sort and organize the generated ideas based on their relevance, priorities, concreteness, or their connections to each other.
Identifying next actions: Determine the specific, tangible actions that need to be taken to move the project forward. An example would be “call John to ask about the current customer count”.
Your calendar should only contain time-specific items like appointments. Other items should go on a Next Action list.
It may be helpful to categorize the Next Action based on context (e.g., computer tasks, grocery tasks, phone tasks).
When collaborating with others, it's helpful to have a Waiting For list. This list allows you to track tasks or deliverables that you are waiting on from others, along with their respective deadlines.
By reviewing and updating this list regularly, you can identify when someone has not fulfilled their commitment within the agreed time frame. This then becomes a concrete task for you: to remind the person responsible.
Reflecting on your system allows you to ensure that it is up-to-date and reliable.
Begin each day by checking your calendar to understand your schedule and then review your Next Action lists to identify tasks that align with the context of the day.
Comprehensively review your system weekly. Tie up loose ends from the previous week, mark off completed tasks, review your calendar, check your Waiting For list, review project statuses, and assess your Someday/Maybe list.
Engage means choosing what to do next. You can trust your intuition or consider these four criteria:
The task's priority
The tasks you can do in the current context (e.g., at home, traveling, waiting at a doctor's appointment)
The available time you have
Your energy levels
To organize and identify what's important in our lives, categorize items into horizons.
Ground: current actions/tasks/reminders
Horizon 1: current projects
Horizon 2: areas of focus and accountabilities (e.g., time management at work, family time at home)
Horizon 3: 1-2 year goals
Horizon 4: long-term visions or 3-5 year goals
Horizon 5: life purpose
Keep your workspace(s) consistent and comfortable. The goal is to eliminate the time required to prepare your workspace. Have an efficient filing system, it should take less than a minute to file something away. Purge your filing system at least once a year to avoid bloat.
People often experience negative feelings regarding their unfinished items because they symbolize broken agreements they made to themselves. To handle this, you have three options:
Don't make the agreement: only take on commitments that you need or want to do
Complete the agreement: finishing it will achieve a sense of accomplishment
Renegotiate the agreement: altering the terms does not equate to breaking the agreement