February 6, 2019

Getting Things Done with Getting Things Done

We’re all busy, and when you run a business, your tasks can become overwhelming. You have phone calls to return, work to do, meetings, finding new customers – your brain can become overwhelmed with all the things you need to do.

For years, productivity experts have been coming up with ways to handle all the tasks on your to-do list. One of the most popular models – and one that many people swear by – is Getting Things Done (GTD), based on a book by David Allen.

GTD’s Key Concept

The concept behind GTD is pretty simple: your brain is not a reliable place to keep your tasks. You get distracted, forget appointments, and bury things in the back of your mind, only to return when it’s too late.

The key is getting everything out of your head and into a system. Allen proposes capturing everything you need to do – whether it’s tasks, projects or things you hope to do one day – in an inbox. You can list these items on a sheet of paper, a notebook or one of the popular productivity apps such as Wunderlist or Todoist. You may have to-do lists on a Post-It note, a napkin or the back of a receipt.

You then ask yourself three questions:

  1. Is the task actionable? If not, throw it away, file it for future reference, or put it into a “Someday” list.
  2. If the task is actionable, will it take less than 2 minutes to complete? If so, do it!
  3. Are there more than one actions that can be grouped together? If so, this is a project, and you need to treat the tasks as items on a project plan.
    If there is just one task, put it into a “Next Actions” folder, where you can act on it when you have time.

There are other folders in which you can place tasks:

  • Delegate (as a business owner with employees, this is important), which goes into a “Waiting For” folder to be followed up on.
  • Projects – this lists all the projects, and of course, each project has its own list of tasks.
  • Someday – A folder that lists all the things you hope to do one day – Learn Chinese, go to Europe, get that MBA.

That’s GTD at its very core. It gets a bit complicated when you add contexts to the mix. Contexts are tags that you put on every task that determines where the action can be done, or what you need to complete it. You can get creative with contexts, but common ones include:

  • @phone
  • @computer
  • @supermarket
  • @home

Based on where you are or what you’re doing, you can perform those actions. For instance, if you’re waiting in line at the grocery store, check your tasks that are tagged with @phone to see if you can call anyone back.

Weekly review

So do you get everything out of your head and just work the list? No. Allen recommends a weekly review in which you do the following:

  • Make sure any next actions that you completed are off your list
  • Add any new next actions
  • Make sure each project has a next action so you can continue to advance the project
  • Review your Waiting For list – you may need to send reminders to people to get those tasks done (Hopefully they’re using GTD…)
  • Examine your Someday list and see if you’re ready to take action on anything

This should take about 30 minutes; a good time to conduct this is Sunday evening, before you dive into another week.

What to Remember about GTD

Don’t forget to keep feeding the system. Use one of the GTD apps on your mobile phone, or carry around a notebook to capture new tasks and new ideas. When you have a moment, put them into your system, assign it to a folder, project or context, and then do it.

Like any habit or new system, Getting Things Done takes a while to get used to, but the important thing is to trust the system, continue to put tasks into it, and act on those tasks.

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