When it comes to productivity, there is one book that immediately comes to mind: This is David Allen’s Getting Things Done AKA GTD. GTD is a framework that offers, as the author puts it, a work-life management system for stress-free productivity.
If you have not yet read the book, I strongly suggest that you give it a try. For me, Getting Things Done served as a milestone both in my personal and professional life.
By the very beginning of the book, I felt that something very special will happen to me and I didn’t get disappointed. Although Allen published two more books around the GTD framework, neither of them left a fingerprint on my life comparable to that of the original GTD book.
If you’re new to the field of productivity, definitely GTD is the best source to begin with.
My aim with this post is to introduce the basic concepts of GTD; in the next episode, we will dive deeper into more actionable tips. Let’s begin with the basics…
The 2-minute rule
If this is the only takeaway you happen to integrate into your life, you’re much ahead of most people.
If a task takes less than 2 minutes, do it now.
Don’t delegate it, don’t postpone it, and don’t schedule it. Just do it immediately.
A lot of emails fall in this category. I wonder why so many people neglect emails that would need only 2 minutes to answer right away. Instead, they postpone the decision and finally forget to act on.
You don’t have to check your watch to ensure that you follow the 2-minute rule. Sometimes I call it the 5-minute rule; 5 minutes makes more sense to me.
GTD is built around stress-free productivity and this involves that you clear your head and free up as much space as possible for important stuff. Look at it as the random access memory (RAM) in your computer: Once you turn your computer off, data are lost; RAM is used for temporary storage only.
GTD proposes that you keep a whole-life system and write down any tasks and ideas as soon as they come to mind to free up your RAM. Remember, it’s all about stress-free productivity and the 2-minute rule perfectly fits that framework.
Now, take a step further and see what happens when a more complex task lands on your table.
Projects and next actions
GTD defines a project as
any of your desired outcomes that will require more than one action steps to complete.
Although Allen suggests that projects should have a defined endpoint, there are some never-ending projects. For example, you might have a project on personal development, which is a bucket list of your actions you want to take to develop a better version of yourself. This project has no endpoint because personal development never ends. Hopefully, you agree on that. Another example might be a home project which lists current actions around your house.
From the project definition, it follows that any project will require at least two steps―these are your next actions. You might add that this means you have lots of projects. And you are right. GTD-fed people have some 30-100 projects on their plates. That’s why it’s extremely important that you set up and maintain a reliable system and write down your thoughts immediately when they come to mind.
You can get the most out of GTD when you apply the system to both your personal and professional projects. Your project list will cover your next actions on your goals, meetings, reports, clients, shopping, home, school, etc.
The key here is to take action―projects come with actionable items only. Any non-actionable item that supports your project comes as project support material and should be filed to appropriate places.
GTD sorts your actions into contexts thereby offering a new dimension to your system. The core GTD contexts include:
It’s a good place to start, but you’ll quickly recognize that your life doesn’t fit all of those categories. So feel free to come out with your own contexts, which are tailored to your very own circumstances. The office category, for example, might be a very broad context; at least it was for me.
Build categories around significant people (mom, boss), around time (deep work, 10-minute tasks), around content creation (ideas, drafting, in review, publishing), around importance (most important tasks, low-energy tasks), you name it.
With this project thinking in mind, let’s have a look at the system as a whole.
The first and most critical step is to identify whether your stuff is actionable or not. This dichotomy will determine your next steps. If your stuff isn’t actionable, you can file it for future reference (“reference material”) or delete it based on the premise that you’ll make use of that stuff later or not.
If your stuff is actionable, you have the following options:
- Do it immediately if it takes less than two minutes.
- Delegate it if it’s not important stuff.
- Schedule it if it’s your job, it’s important stuff, or it needs to get done on a specific time.
- Do it as soon as you have the necessary resources (time, physical resources).
If it’s your job to do the task, you should put it on your next actions list. Let’s assume that you got an email with potential clients and your next action is to call them one by one. You might keep a Client project and put this task right to that project with the context of “Calls.” If these phone calls have to happen on a specific day, you should schedule them and put them into your calendar. More on that in the second episode of this post.
You might feel that GTD is for the privileged elite of productivity junkies who have the discipline to build up and maintain a complicated system. It’s far from being true. By mastering basic GTD skills, you’re likely to get more organized in all areas of your life than ever before, regardless of your organizational skills.
Of course, it takes time and dedication to digest the GTD rules and build up a reliable system. Once, however, you created your system and fully embraced the concept, hopefully, you’ll experience a paradigm shift in your life. You’ll then personalize your system.