How it works?
The GTD method includes recording tasks externally and breaking them down into other work items instead of just planning broad-brush. The most famous book about this topic was written by David Allen, and it’s called Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. It was published in 2001, and it became an immediate bestseller. David Allen claims that stress can be reduced while productivity increases if you put in place reminders about every single task you have. The main operative mechanism of GTD is having external systems such as lists, a calendar, or a trash can, and all of the tools can be physical or electronic. For example, if you are speaking with a few people at the same time it is good to make notes of the essence of each conversation you had. If you are not able to write down in summary, just write a few sentences so you can remember the main things. That helps you with every other conversation you have, and it relieves you from the pressure of worrying that you will forget anything. If you are able to generate and organize lots of ideas from this system, you will establish mental discipline.
Capture, clarify, organize, reflect, and engage!
The five stages mentioned above are the main stages in GTD. Alternative terms could include: collecting, processing, organizing, reviewing, and doing. The underlying philosophy is that if you want to be productive, you must be able to think clearly; and that means deleting all the unimportant things on your docket. The key is that stress does not lower effectiveness; the real problem is a failure to define the work that must be done.
For example, if you have a task to do, you must capture your ideas and tasks as soon as they happen and collect them in your notebook, computer, or whatever you will be using. Everything that is on your list to do must be captured by these tools because that is how you can work without any distraction from the outside, and that is how you can efficiently process the tasks before you. Once you do, each task will be clarified and organized by finding out more things about that task. When we are talking about clarification, it’s not enough if you only give a title to an idea. Clarification means breaking the idea down into steps.
Organization should be according to categories and priorities, and that means setting reminders and plans, and in this stage you are not doing any of the items on the list, you are just organizing how you will do them. The gathering process should be figuratively organized into desk drawers or cabinets. Always process the top thing first, and always process one task at a time. Organization consists of knowing where to put things – in list of projects, storage, a calendar, a reminder of the next actions required or reminders of the things you are waiting for. Later, your task will end up either in the trash, or on a “maybe list”, or it will be on your calendar, or it will be immediately done. Your inbox needs to be emptied daily or at least weekly, but don’t wait a month to do it. Be careful, an “empty” inbox does not mean all of the things are done, it means only that you have transferred them to other stages. Your inbox is not supposed to be a “to do” list.
Once you organize your things and empty your inbox, you will reach the stage called reflection. That means paying attention to the next required actions, and in this stage you will realize how important clarification was. The last stage is engagement. You will finish the last stage when you decide how you will work on this case. Take into consideration the place you are right now (at home, at your computer, etc.) and also the estimated time required, and energy, and what is the first priority. At this stage, you know how to work on the tasks before you because they are organized in many groups, and now it will be easy to start. Try it!
As noted above, GTD gives only some basic rules, and you have the challenge of choosing how you will put the rules into practice. The two key elements of GTD are control and perspective. The goal of the control processes in GTD is to get rid of everything in your head except your task. The most important thing is to complete daily tasks each day.
Tips & tricks
- Always use the tool you have selected whether it is a pen and a notebook or a mobile phone. The basic tools people use are plain paper, post-its, clips, staplers, file folders, calendars, recycling bins, etc. Your tool should always be with you, because sometimes it can happen that you are already working on something and a new task will appear. With your tool you will never need to be stressed if you remember to process each new task. It is not necessary, but it can be useful – while writing it down, make it visible, for example bold it with many colors, create symbols, or any other technique that can remind you of it.
- Set aside a little time each day for your tasks. Plan your day in advance. Even five minutes each morning will help you to manage and organize your daily tasks. Write them down in a calendar or store them on your master list, if needed. While organizing, don’t put anything in the “later” category.
- While you are processing the tasks, make sure nothing distracts you. Set aside everything that is not helping you and concentrate on this one thing. Clean your desk, close the internet, and your process will be much faster.
- Start to use a timer. Set your timer to a few minutes, if for example the current task is a simple one, and if the task is harder then use five minutes. That is how you will realize how much time you actually need.
- Don’t include unnecessary items in your list. Throw away items which you are not using, and don’t regret doing it. That will help you later. And don’t add things to your list unless you are sure you will proceed with them.
- Do a weekly or daily review, and don’t skip it! Reward yourself for great reviews – enjoy a movie, go out with friends, eat your favorite meal, anything you want. That will motivate you. Keep in mind – if you do a review every single day you will need less time to do a weekly review. During weekly reviews, it is better to focus on the bigger things.