Getting Things Done (David Allen)

Do you feel stressed out when you can't get things under control? Do you struggle to go through a large workload, not knowing how to organize it effectively? Many books discuss how to become more productive. In Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, David Allen gives an essential step by step to checking out different tasks. Allen is one of the most influential figures in the productivity industry, which helps people save time while getting more done in a shorter amount of time. 

Getting Things Done

In Allen's book, he goes over a model known as the Getting Things Done (GTD) method. The method consists of a system of external lists to have on hand, with the next actions to accomplishing tasks. It's a systematic approach to keeping your mind clear and stay on top of things. Also, it allows you to free up your brain while keeping projects (personal and professional) going forward. Along with organizing your workspace for maximum success, the steps listed in the GTD method include:

1.) Capturing your thoughts

2.) Clarifying each item

3.) Organizing your outcome into a structure of lists

4.) Reflecting on what's important & reviewing the items

5.) Engaging in tasks & prioritization

Getting Things Done: Capture your thoughts

The first step of the GTD method involves capturing your ideas. Whenever something comes up in your mind, your immediate action should down jot it down. Whether that's on a sticky note, notebook, or a tablet, get that thought out and write it down. These thoughts should go into what Allen calls an “in-pile” list. This list is a separate place to jot down tasks or reminders that'll be easy to remember later.

For example, if a thought pops up while you're writing an email, make sure to write it down quickly. After that, go back to finish your email. Another example could be while you're doing basic chores. If an exciting concept comes up while you're cleaning, stop what you're doing and get that thought down on paper. It's that simple, write it down and resume what you were doing before.

Clarify Each Item

The next step of the GTD method is to clarify each item you wrote down earlier. Each week, review and empty all external items to stay organized. When going through each piece. ask yourself the following:

   1.) Is it an actionable step? Do I need to do something about it?

          a.) If the answer is no, trash it or revisit it later.

          b.) If the answer is yes, take action.

                 i.  A quick task- do it immediately (i.e., make a brief phone call).

                 ii. A complex task: Ask, are you the right person for it?

    2.) If not an actionable step, delegate or outsource to someone else if possible.

          If it's your responsibility, then defer it. The next steps will show you how to postpone these types of tasks.

Organize your outcomes into lists

When organizing your listed tasks, empty your collection tools and put the right things in place. Allen suggests breaking it down this way, overwriting traditional to-do lists. Writing out a regular to-do list sometimes includes vague tasks, which may lead people not taking real action on those tasks. Your duties should be listed in the following categories: 

1.) If the item is actionable:

     a.) Project: complex tasks that require more than one step; examples include writing a book or rearranging a living room.

     b.) Waiting For: functions that can be delegated to someone else; one model can be to follow-up with a contractor on new tiles for a bathroom renovation.

      c.) Next Actions: where all of your to-dos are listed out; these are the tasks you plan on doing now. 

If you can't do the jobs at the moment, put it in your calendar to complete later that day. Examples include calling a friend, emailing a client, or purchasing an inventory order online.

2.) If an item is not actionable:

     a.) Maybe/Someday: tasks that are reserved for later, but don't want to forget about; for example, setting time to learn a foreign language or enrolling in classes for an upcoming semester.

     b.) Reference Material: information that may become useful later, usually store it for future reference; for example, putting a take-out menu from your favorite restaurant into your filing cabinet.

Reflect: Constantly review

It is one thing to write out your tasks followed by actionable steps, but reviewing them is another crucial step. To hold yourself accountable, check your calendar each day. If you know, you're going to be in meetings for an entire day, plan. Also, check off any other next actions you have not worked on yet. If you know you're going to have a quiet day at the office, use that free time to work on those next action tasks. 

Along with checking your tasks daily, you want to do a comprehensive weekly review of your scheduled tasks. After going through the first steps, set aside a few hours each week to do a weekly report. It's good to do this so you can keep track of what you accomplished. Also, reflect on your shortcomings, and what you can do to improve the next time around. Typically, the best time to do the review would around the end of the week (Friday), right before heading into the weekend.

Engage in tasks

In the final step of the GTD method, you then choose what to do at each moment, depending on your current circumstances. This part is where work gets done, and there are four types of criteria to ask yourself:

1.) What can you do in the current context?

     -Example: If you have no phone, then you can't make any phone calls.

     -Look over the next action list you made earlier.

2.) What do you have time for?

     -Example: If you only have ten minutes before a meeting starts, not the best time to start a budget review that may take a couple of hours.

3.) What do you have the energy for?

     -Example: If you spent an entire afternoon reviewing your work budget, you might feel tired. But there is time to do shorter tasks, such as booking a flight for an upcoming business trip.

4.) Which task has the highest priority?

     -To answer this question, you need to understand your values and goals.

Wrap-Up: Getting Things Done

Allen's book, Getting Things Done, is one of the best books on productivity and time management. The five-step GTD method laid is a useful tool for getting more done in less time. One other thing to keep in mind is keeping written tasks with you at all times. You'll be likely to stay productive ahead of the game, even when last-minute ideas come up unexpectedly. Whether you're stuck during the rush-hour commute or sitting at an airport due to a delayed flight, these inconveniences can be the best times to work on those tasks. If you can stick to the GTD method, you may find yourself more productive, more relaxed, and less stressed in your daily activities. 

Will you start getting things done today?

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