My Instagram bio begins with, ‘A procrastinator by profession…’ while most of you may think I am just trying my hand at self-deprecating humor to gain attention, I am actually not. I woefully admit that I am a full blow procrastinator, and while it makes for a cute Instagram bio, it is the biggest hurdle in my path to success.
If you, like me, are indulging in the sins of productivity, then you know exactly what I am talking about. Procrastination eats up my work hours, so I am left racing to complete my work at the end of each day like a mad man.
Having read my doleful story, it should come as no surprise to you that I am willing to try everything to get out of this self-destructive habit. In my day, I have tried several personal productivity programs, but I have to admit that none have been as effective as the Getting Things Done productivity method.
I have been practising the method for the past 2 months, and so far, so good! I am tentatively hopeful that in a month or so, my Instagram bio might say something different. Encouraged by my success, I have decided to share my experience of GTD, and why I think it’s the best productivity system, you will ever need.
Of course, no personal development method is perfect. In fact, it is impossible to find a system that is suited for every person. Some people prefer visual systems, while others are biased towards tactile development systems. To make sure that I am not wasting your time with a one-sided view, I have included an objective assessment of its pros as well as cons.
So without further ado, let’s begin!
The Getting Things Done Productivity Method
The Getting Things Done or GTD is a personal productivity method was proposed by David Allen, a world-famous productivity consultant in a book of the same name. Mr Allen claims that the GTD is a work-life management system which enhances the productivity in every individual by helping them become clear-minded, confident, and focused.
In simple terms, GTD is a method that helps you manage your time efficiently so that you can meet your work commitments in a stress-free environment. Today, people lead busy lives; most of us are trying to manage work alongside our familial obligations, both of which are becoming more demanding by the day. The GTD system helps you maintain a schedule that allows you to complete your work efficiently so that you are more attentive and happy in your personal life.
The Basic Idea of GTD
The underlying idea of GTD is Written Organization. The productivity system elaborates that you should write personal and professional tasks in separate to-do-lists so that you can free up your mind and focus on the task at hand.
Penning down the things you have to do carries the following advantages:
- Decreases the chance of forgetting a task.
- You spend less energy trying to remember the tasks you have to do
- Once your mind is free of the mundane, it can focus on the actual task at hand.
- Your mind is clearer, sharper, and thus more productive
- You can evaluate your work, divide your task into subtasks, identify areas of weakness, and make preparations for improvement.
The 5 Steps of Getting Things Done (GTD)
Collect your ideas, tasks, and appointments.
The first step is about writing, recording, and gathering anything that requires your attention to a collection tool. You can keep a record physically, such as in a notebook, a file, or even a piece of paper. Similarly, you can also collect your ideas in an online tool such as an MS Excel spreadsheet, or a dedicated task management software.
Sorting your tasks, ideas, and appointments into an inbox can take time. It is the lengthiest step of GTD, but it is worth it. Once you have organized everything, you can simply add new tasks to the inbox as they arise.
Once you have put everything in writing, you need to process the content and decide where they belong in the GTD system.
To do this, ask yourself the following questions:
- What type of task is it? Personal or Professional?
- Is it Actionable? – Yes, No, Someday
- Which action should you take? If the task is actionable/if the task is not actionable.
GTD recommends sorting each task by importance, scope, and urgency so that you can complete each task on time in the most productive manner.
See it this way; when we don’t write things down, and we don’t sort them, we often end up doing tasks that will be due tomorrow instead of the one’s due today. I have often spent 5 – 6 hours working on a task and patting myself on the back for excellent work, only to realize that this work was not that important after all. I could have utilized the hours to take care of a more important task.
With GTD, there is no fear of misappropriating your time; because you write and sort everything beforehand.
Here is what the clarification step looks like:
Once you have identified all the actionable items, it is time to assign them to temporary trays/folders/lists. The GTD system recommends the following:
1. Appointments > Calendars
To keep your tasks organized, it is best to make separate lists. The GTD system recommends that all appointments should be scheduled on a calendar. The appointments can be personal as well as professional. You cannot record tasks-to-do in the calendar, only appointments go here.
2. Multistep Tasks > Projects
Tasks that have multiple steps should be assigned in the projects list. David Allen says that any task that has more than one step is a project. A project can be personal as well as professional. It can be anything from writing a new book to repainting your house. Add all of your projects in the projects list. Then assign the next actions for each project and then set specific deadlines for each task in the calendar.
For example, let’s say you are the marketing chief of carpet cleaning London, a professional carpet cleaning service. You want to open a new branch in Bromley, and you plan to conduct a market assessment survey.
Here is how GTD would recommend organizing this project:
3. One Step Tasks > Next Action
Keep a separate Next Action folder for non-project related tasks. These tasks can be context-specific, and therefore you can divide them into separate lists such as events & occasions, holidays, phone calls, errands, and client meetings, etc.
4. Reminders > Waiting For
Finally, set reminders for all the tasks that you are waiting for. We do not work in isolation; most of the time, we are waiting for someone to complete their job so they can begin ours. For example, a content writer is dependent on the SEO expert to assign them a topic to write about. SO unless the SEO expert completes their job, you cannot begin yours.
On the other hand, you may have delegated some tasks to other people as well. GTD says that you should set reminders to follow up on these pending tasks and check their progress. Schedule expected completion dates in your calendar, so you are prepared.
You may think that once you have organized all the tasks, your work is done. No, you must review and update your inbox regularly so that you don’t miss anything.
Checking your inbox and lists regularly gives you a quick view of which tasks are due so that you can focus on them. If you put the tasks in the folder but never look at the folder, you will end up wasting time trying to remember what was in the folder.
Therefore, review and update your GTD system regularly.
We recommend the following schedule:
- Collect — write down all the ideas or tasks that you have to do at the end of each week.
- Inbox — put the new ideas into the inbox weekly.
- To-do-lists — check your to-do-lists every day to make sure they are up to date and take tasks from them. You will also have to move tasks from due to complete as you progress.
- Project lists — check your list every day to see if you are on schedule, which tasks are pending, etc.
- Someday lists — check twice a week to see whether you want to trash the project or continue with it. If you want to continue with it, decide on a date or defer it to someone.
- Calendar — Check your calendar daily for appointments
- Waiting for lists — check them daily to send reminders and follow-up.
Now that you have your system in place, simply do the task.
Choose your task according to:
- Time Available.
- Energy Available.
Priority —your system will tell you which task is the most important, start with that one.
Context — using the GTD system, you have created several context lists. To be productive, you should choose a task that is relevant to the context you are in. For instance, if you are commuting on the train and have some free time on your hand, you can go to the context list responding to emails and do that. If you decide to make a formal call on the train, it may not be as productive because of distortion, noise, and other interferences.
Time Available — how much time do you have? If you have 10 mins to complete a task, don’t choose a big one which you will have to leave halfway in.
Energy Available — Our energy ebbs and peaks throughout the day; the flow is different for everyone. Don’t pick an important task when you are low on energy and vice versa.
Why do I think GTD is the Best Productivity Method for You?
1. The Most Structured Productivity System
An explanation of the 5 steps above gives you an idea of how well structured this system is. Every task, idea, and appointment you have is clearly sorted and labelled into relevant lists and folders for easy access. It saves a lot of time and energy so that you can focus your mind on the task at hand.
2. All in One Productivity System
The best thing about GTD is that it helps you manage both personal and professional tasks for greater overall productivity. Most systems either focus on one or the other. If you are using GTD, you don’t need a separate productivity method for your personal and professional life.
Most organizations focus on one aspect of employee productivity; when in fact work-life balance is essential for higher efficiency. It can be argued that organizations can make use of GTD to improve the time management skills of their employees for higher employee satisfaction as well as higher productivity.
3. It is a Reliable System
If you are someone who frequently forgets what they have to do and misses appointments than this system is perfect for you. This detailed method will help you keep track of all your tasks and appointments so that you are on time every day.
4. Makes it Easy and Doable
Most of us keep delaying something because it is too big; our minds become daunted by the enormity of the task and so we end up not doing it at all. I, for one, stress that it’s a big project, and I won’t be able to complete it in time, and the stress makes me not touch the project at all.
GTD breaks each project into smaller tasks that are manageable and easy to do. We say to ourselves, ill complete this sub-task and then take a break. This motivates us to complete the whole project within time.
5. The Most Productive You
With GTD’s help, you choose the tasks that are most urgent and important and do them when your energy is high, and your creative juices are flowing. In short, this method literally guides you into making the best use of your time.
Besides, it frees you for personal time. Most often, we don’t complete our work on time and end up bringing it with us to home. It puts a shadow on family time, movie night, an evening with your friends, and your own mental health. GTD lets you complete work on time, so you are free to enjoy your personal time fully.
Some Drawbacks of Getting Things Done
1. Time Commitment
You need to invest a good chunk of time collecting, clarifying, and organizing your tasks. Although it is extremely easy afterwards, it does require a little effort initially.
Secondly, it is a complex system. Don’t expect to learn it from a five-minute tutorial online. You will have to invest in time and effort to learn the system to benefit from it fully. To some people, it looks more trouble than its worth.
But believe me, every good thing is hard to get. Invest a little time for a lifetime of productivity.
2. It’s Not a Daily Planner
GTD helps you make the best use of your time, but it is not a daily planner. If you have trouble setting goals for yourself or want a system that schedules your entire day, GTD is not for you.
3. Not for the Type B
The comprehensive planning and rigid structure of GTD make it favourable to people who prefer structures, analytics, and organization. On the other hand, people who find spontaneity to be productive will not find value in GTD.
Getting Things Done is a world-famous personal productivity method that works miracles, but not for everyone. For people who think that organization and structure can help them make better use of their time, GTD is the best option there is. Its comprehensive structure and organization make it one of the most reliable production methods.
I have found that I can get more done as I follow the simple and clear structure of the GTD. However, people who don’t like being constricted with schedules may not find it useful.
What do you think? Are you willing to try getting things done rule to increase your productivity?