Back in 2014, I was undergoing a major life overhaul. I had just started the Miracle Morning and was also starting my project of becoming a full-time blogger. I soon realized that, if I wanted to juggle my regular job and my side hustle, I needed to improve my productivity game. I heard of a book called Getting Things Done. The tagline of the book piqued my interest : The Art of Stress-free Productivity. That’s what I wanted! Get everything done with a zen attitude! Don’t we all want that? In today’s article, I will share a beginner’s guide to Getting Things Done, the productivity system that will allow you to get your life under control and achieve what David Allen calls “mind like water”.
First, let’s start by stating what Getting Things Done (GTD) is not. It is not a quick-fix technique to boost your productivity. It is not a single tip, but a whole system, a methodology to encompass everything you need and want to do in your life, both professionally and personally. The GTD system is not simple, but it has become for me more than a system, a real way of life.
Getting Things Done consists of 5 phases to process every task that needs to be done in your life. They are : 1) Capturing 2) Processing 3) Organizing 4) Reviewing and 5) Doing. Let’s explore each step, shall we?
The capturing phase of the GTD workflow is the one that has had the biggest impact on my state of mind. Allen explains that, when you empty your head of all the tasks that sit in there at all times into a trusted system, you can achieve “mind like water”, a state of mind in which you can react calmly and objectively to the things that come your way. It is a zen state of mind, one that I did not believe I could achieve before I implemented GTD. Allen says that your mind is made for having ideas, not to hold them. The capturing phase allows you to empty those ideas from your head and created a trusted list that you can refer to at any time.
To capture your ideas, you will need a kind of inbox to store them. An inbox can be physical or digital, but I would highly suggest that you get both. In my office, I have a document tray labeled “in”, in which I put anything that requires my attention. In my task management system, a software called Todoist, I have an inbox where I put tasks when I am on the go using the app on my phone. We also all have an inbox in our email software, but I am sure you can think of many more inboxes in your life. The point of GTD is to have a designated inbox in which to put everything as it comes up, to empty your head. Every time you think of a task that needs to be done, put a note in your inbox. You will process those notes in the next phase.
Now, your inbox probably has collected many items. At the moment, my in-tray holds a blouse that needs to be returned, a pouch that needs to be sewn and a note to remind me to buy some dye at the drugstore. To process my inbox, I will take out one item at a time and decide what needs to be done with it. David Allen created a workflow chart to help you decide how to organize those items. Here is a visual representation of the chart :
The first question to ask when you take the item out of your inbox is : is it actionable? If it is, take it to the next level of the workflow. If it isn’t, do you still need it? Many items will find their way to the trash at this point. If you might need it at a later time, you can either put it in a pile to be reviewed later, or file it for future reference. I have a separate in-tray labeled Someday/Maybe where I would put anything that needs to be reviewed later. I process that tray each week during my review. Also, I use a file organizer for any reference material and Evernote for any digital reference material.
Now, if the item is actionable, ask yourself : will it take more than one step to complete the required action? If not, get to the next phase. If so, David Allen defines this action as a project. I suggest that you create a list on which you can inscribe all the projects you are working on. In Todoist, the project list is an integrated part of the software, but a simple piece of paper with your list on it is sufficient. Some more complex projects will require that you create a project plan. I will soon write an article on that topic alone.
Once you’ve defined your project, decide what is the next action required for this project. David Allen has a very nice rule called the “2 minute rule”. If a task takes less than 2 minutes to do, do it right away. If it takes more than 2 minutes, get to the next step. I am currently planning a workshop on the topic of life-planning and the next action on that project is to book a venue, which takes more than two minutes, so I would continue down the workflow chart.
There are two things you can do with a task that takes more than 2 minutes. You can either delegate it, or defer it. In the processing phase, now is not the time to execute tasks, (except if they take less than 2 minutes), but to decide what to do with them. If you choose to delegate it, put it on a “waiting for list”. I have yet another in-tray labeled waiting, and a waiting list in my Bullet Journal for non-physical items. Last but not least, you can defer your task. If the next action is time-sensitive, put it on your calendar. If it is not, put it on your next actions list. (I bet you’ve guessed that I have an in-tray for that too!)
Now that you’ve organized every item in your inbox, it is time to either do, or review.
I won’t go into the specifics or the review phase because I wrote a whole post on the topic, but let’s just say that, to me, reviewing your system is the most important part of Getting Things Done. I like to review my lists every Friday to make sure that every next action required on my projects is properly included in my plans for the next week. I like to know that nothing fell through the cracks of my system, and it is what makes me comfortable to say that GTD is my trusted system of choice. If you decide to implement GTD, make sure to schedule time for your review every week.
Of course, none of that system is useful without actually doing the things that need to get done. Now that you have a solid list of next actions to take, David Allen suggests to choose what task to do at any given moment based on the four following criteria :
- Time available
- Energy available
Context is the place you are in, or the tools available to you. For example, you won’t be able to accomplish the same tasks if you are in your office or if you are flying over the ocean. If you are commuting, you could be making phone calls and errands, for example.
Time available is pretty self-explanatory. You can filter your task list according to the time needed to accomplish any task. If I am waiting to get to a meeting, I could be sending an email, but not writing a full-length article.
Energy available is crucial to the mastery of the task involved. I just can’t write a good article when I am dead tired, but I can do simple things like data entry without much of a problem.
Lastly, when you choose your task, make sure it is the highest priority that can be done with the resources, time and energy available at the moment.
David Allen has created a system for dividing your life into what he calls “horizons”. This is a more advanced topic that is not quite suited to this beginner’s guide to Getting Things Done, but if you are interested to know more, let me know in the comments below and I might write a stand-alone article on this topic. I might be starting a whole series on the GTD methodology so if there are parts of what I’ve shown you today that are not clear or need further details, let me know!
I know that Getting Things Done is not a simple method, more of a detailed and complex system, but I assure you that it is worth the trouble of implementing. I would never go back to that time in my life when I was not clear on what needed to get done and when I was stressed out that I would forget to do stuff. Now, at every given moment, I know exactly what needs to be accomplished and I have a specific plan to achieve my goals. I truly feel the bliss of “Mind like water.”
I have created a printable of the GTD workflow shown above that you can download by clicking here. If you would like to get more productivity tips, you can browse the Productivity category on the blog and like us on Facebook and on Google+. See you next Tuesday!
*This article contents affiliate links. It means that if you buy something with the links I have provided, I will receive a small commission, at no cost to you.