In the Brainy Girl’s Guide to Productivity Part 1 I talked about the myth that surrounds time management i.e. that you can’t manage time. So if you can’t manage time how can you get things done?
The system I use is based broadly on one developed by Dave Allen, aptly named Getting Things Done®. The Getting Things Done® (known as GTD®) approach is based on the idea that you need to get everything out of your mind and into a recorded system so that you can focus on taking action. His system has been around for more than 10 years and is used by millions so it’s safe to say it has some credibility. If you do nothing else and haven’t yet tried it I highly recommend you visit the website and if you like the sound of it buy the book. In this part of the Guide to Productivity I give a brief overview of the system.
In summary the GTD approach has 5 steps:
Step 1: Capture
The first step is to get everything out of your head and record it somewhere. You can use a paper based system, software or app but you need a consistent, accessible place to record information. I’ll be describing the system I use in Part 3 of this Productivity series.
Step 2: Clarify
In step 2 you decide what to do with the information you capture. Broken down to its simplest form you can either
- Bin it
- Action it or
- Keep it for reference.
In the GTD system if you can action it in less than 2 minutes you do it straight away.
Step 3: Organise
Reference items and actionable items need to be organised into appropriate ‘files’. These may be physical files or virtual files. I use both but am moving away from physical files where I can.
The real secret though is to keep actionable items in one place until they have been acted upon. They don’t get moved, stored or filed until completed.
Importance & Urgency
In the original book Dave talks about assigning importance and urgency values to actionable items. The high importance, high urgency items take top priority.
Importance x Urgency = Priority
This worked well for me when I worked in the corporate world and had lots of different people making demands on my time. It was an excellent way to help me prioritise my activities and hold people off. But I have to confess I don’t really bother with this part of the system any more.
Instead I identify the 3 highest priority items on my list of actionable items and focus on them. Of course you can go through the urgent/important process to establish which are the 3 highest priority activities if you want or need to. I think after doing that for a few years I now find it quite easy to identify the high priority items without actually assigning importance and urgency values to them.
Step 4: Reflect
Reflection is all about reviewing your lists regularly. Once a week seems to work well for most people, often a Sunday. I tend to review my lists at the end of the week on a Friday so that I can relax over the weekend but you should do what works best for you and fits in with your schedule. The important thing is to review your list each week.
Step 5: Engage
Step 5 is to just do it. Take action.
One of the concepts I picked up from the GTD system, which sounds fairly obvious but few of us actually do it, is to collate similar items together and work on them in a batch. For example, if you have a bunch of phone calls to make, set aside the time and make all your phone calls. Got errands to run outside the house? Record them together and action them in one go. I mean it sounds obvious doesn’t it, but how often have you said to yourself ‘While I’m doing the shopping I must remember to pay that cheque in’ because intuitively you know it makes sense, but then promptly forget. When you record and organise activities into similar groups not only do you remember to do them but you don’t duplicate trips and don’t put things off because you don’t want to do them. I group tasks into Home, Telephone, Computer and Out and About. Specifically when working on my business I group items into Marketing, Product Development, Finance and Admin. I’m sure you get the idea.
Will the GTD system work for you?
If you are an organised person anyway this system probably sounds obvious.
If you’re not it probably sounds onerous. It’s really not.
It becomes a habit much like anything else. You don’t lose ideas or information and everything has a place. Even if you just action things that will take less than 2 minutes straight away, that one step will increase your productivity.
I recommend you at least give it a try. If you currently do nothing to organise your activities and simply can’t get everything done, what have you got to lose?
This is a basic overview of the system and for people that get really into it Dave offers all sorts of other hints and tips. For example he recommends buying a labelling machine. They cost around $20, although the refills can be quite pricey. I decided to invest when I first started using the system around 9 years ago and have to admit it was worth it. The labels are far easier to read than the tiny tabs you get on the top of traditional files and it has since come in handy for all sorts of other things. When we moved house 4 years ago everything was quickly and neatly labelled. The identical looking tubs of cat and rabbit food are neatly labelled. And when my daughter started school I was even able to buy iron on labels for her clothes which I can create myself.
The only downside of a labelling machine is that it can indeed become quite addictive.
And don’t let the machine near your kids or you’ll find labels on everything including the cat and the guinea pig.
Now unless you are stubbornly attached to your Filofax and refuse to embrace modern technology you are probably wondering what tools are available to implement the GTD system?
The answer is many. In Part 3 I’ll be describing the tool that I use to create the complete GTD system.
If you’ve got any comments about this Brainy Girl’s Guide please do drop them in the comments field below.