The book and system Getting Things Done (GTD) has been around for so long that I used to assume that everyone knew of it and used it. Lately I’ve been reminded that is not true.
Well, if you haven’t heard of GTD and forgot about it, this primer on it may be just the things you need to (re)acquaint yourself with it.
I have issues with GTD, but if you are someone who feels like you can never get all the things you have to do organized and get yourself feeling productive, then get using GTD. You will get more productive, for sure.
It’s Monday. You are trying to plan your day, your week, and you are struggling. It may just be you, but chances are it is the act of writing out your todo list. To see what I mean, read this excellent piece by my online friend and great writer, Clive Thompson. Everyone struggles with todo lists and the tools used to work with them. I know I do. I have used many such tools over time and have never landed on the perfect one.
So here’s what I recommend:
- First, acknowledge todolist tools are blunt instruments at best. Don’t try too hard to do everything with one tool. Do the best you can.
- Second, acknowledge that it is easy to overwhelm todo list tools with data. When you do, you end up spending more time working with the tool then getting things done. Try to hold back.
- Third, understand the level of granularity to require. Start high level on your todo lists and then drill down only if you have to.
- Finally, separate planning and reporting from todo lists. Your plans should drive your todo lists. Focus on more on achieving your plans and your goals and less on your tasks. Then when you are done, report what is necessary.
Todo list tools are good to help you achieve your tasks. But focus less on your tasks and tools and more on what you are trying to achieve.
(Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash )
Ok, that’s a cute name, but what do I mean by “to don’t” list? Chances are, you have a long list of todos. Worse, you don’t even have a list: you just have a foggy anxious stew in your head of many things you feel you need to do.
Here’s what to do. Write out everything. You can use paper, you can use post-it notes. You can use workflowy like I do. But get down those todos. If you already have a long list, then great. I mean…”great”. 🙂
Once you have your list, go through the four questions here: Multiply your time by asking 4 questions about the stuff on your to-do list
Take all those items you are going to eliminate and put them in one list. The items you are going to automate in another, the items you plan to delegate in a third, and the items you can put off in a fourth. Then remove them from your list. Tada! You’ve decluttered your todo list and separated it into a To-do List and a To-don’t List.
If you find this difficult — and decluttering is difficult — ask a friend to come in and help you. They can be much more objective about things that you can. Don’t dither: if you can’t decide, put an item into the Put Off list.
As for automation, don’t just think of the one time you do something, think of the many times a year you have to do something. It adds up. A little bit of time automating might add up to hours of effort in the next year or two.
The point of a todo list is not to accumulate a list: it’s to get things done. Get the unnecessary things off of it so you can focus on the necessary ones.
(Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash )
Let’s face it: Monday is a good day to deal with tasks you’ve been putting off. So you write them down, say: this week I will deal with these! And then….you don’t.
It’s ok. Procrastination is a complex thing. If you don’t believe me, read this:
‘Why Do I Spend Weeks Avoiding Tasks That Will Take Me 10 Minutes to Do?’
So much of our culture rewards us for meeting deadlines, so we are encouraged to do things at the last minute. That can encourage our use of procrastination. Likewise, many of us do not acknowledge we have ebbs and flows of energy as well as ebbs and flow of mood. If we were to acknowledge that, we would schedule tasks when we know we have energy and in a good mood.
Read the article and pick out the things that contribute to your putting things off (e.g. mood). Then schedule and do those things that have been on your todo list for so so long.
(Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash)
This piece argues that they are: Why Calendars are More Effective Than To Do Lists.
I think there are definite benefits to using calendars over to do lists. For example, when you need to work with other people. Scheduling time makes sure people commit to working on something and getting it done. Calendars are also great for when you need to give yourself a deadline.
I think todo lists are better than calendars when you aren’t sure how long it will take to do a task. Calendars aren’t great if you spend a significant amount of time planning to do things versus actually doing them. (Although you can procrastinate the same way using todo lists.)
One way of merging calendars with todo lists is to work in sprints of 1 to 2 to 4 weeks, like agile developers do. At the start of a sprint, go over your todo list and prioritize and size your tasks. Then fill up the sprint period with the tasks you can get done in that time. Then you can schedule them on your calendar to remind yourself to get them done. If you have things blocking you that day, plan to resolve them by eliminating the blocker.