Sometimes I feel so busy that I cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel. The list of tasks just seem to constantly pile up, no matter how hard and long I work to burn that list down. So I decided to pickup David Allen’s famous book that I heard about on Getting Things Done. At first, I was skeptical, but after reading this book, I feel more equipped to deal with the busy-ness of my day-to-day life.
I used to use the excuse “I’m busy” all the time. But armed with the knowledge in this book, I can confidently make time for the things that matter to me. So here’s a summary of my 5 main takeaways from Getting Things Done.
1. Capture Absolutely Everything
Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.David Allen
We humans are notoriously forgetful. How many times have we thought of something for a split second, just to realize that it slipped our mind the next moment?
Capture the things that have our attention. Gather 100 percent of the “incompletes” so we can free up our brain space.
Use capture tools that work for you. Here’s a list of (non-exhaustive) examples:
- Physical Tray
- Paper / Writing Pads
- Digital / Voice Note Taking
- Email / Texting
- Technology Integration
Successful Factors for Capturing:
1. Get It All Out Of Your Head
The sense of trust that nothing possibly useful will get lost will give you the freedom to have many more good ideas.David Allen
Get into the capture habit where you write down anything that comes to mind before you forget it. You can always discard a captured idea, but you can never re-capture a forgotten idea.
2. Use As Few Capture Buckets As You Can Get Away With
If you capture in too many ways, then you will become overwhelmed with keeping track of your capture buckets. A good rule to abide by is to keep it simple, stupid (KISS).
I tend to stick with just 1 capture bucket: Google Keep. This helps me keep captures all in one place, and I always have my phone on me. Plus, I can sync it across all my devices, so I can review anytime and anywhere.
3. Empty Them Regularly
Finally, capturing is only useful if we end up looking at what we capture. Pick a time in your schedule to regularly review what you’ve captured. For example, I like to review my captures at the end of the day during my evening ritual.
Emptying will be explained in more detail below when we clarify and organizeour captures.
2. Clarify—Leave No Ambiguity
Great, now that we have turned ourselves into capture machines, what do we do with the items that we have captured?
1. What is it?
Start by clarifying exactly what you have captured. Sometimes we capture items in the moment, and don’t have time to describe exactly what it is. That’s okay—it’s better to capture without clarification than not capture at all. Now’s our chance to clarify.
Add a description, give it more details, de-duplicate with other captures and combine if necessary. Capturing was the first pass; clarifying is the second pass.
2. Is it actionable?
Do we need to do something about it? This should be a simple yes or no answer. If no, mark it as non-actionable for now. We will organize the non-actionable items in the next step.
3. If yes, what’s the next action?
Now that we have defined our captured item and decided it is actionable, we need to figure out how to get it done. But before we get there, we should follow The 2 Minute Rule, which states that if it can be done in less than 2 minutes, just do it now.
I cannot begin to tell you how effective The 2 Minute Rule was for me. Not only does it quickly burn down the list of captured items, but it also helps us gain momentum in getting things done with some nice quick wins. Plus, it’s not worth letting these 2-minute actions carry over to the rest of our framework, since we could just finish it right here and now.
If the captured item cannot be done in less than 2 minutes, then we need to figure out whether to delegate it or defer it.
Below is the Getting Things Done flowchart:
3. Organize—Figure Out Where Things Should Go
Now that we have clarified our captured items, we will begin to organize them based on whether they are non-actionable or actionable.
For the Non-Actionable Items
Perhaps we don’t need it. Then let’s embrace our inner Marie Kondo and toss it.
Someday / Maybe
Or perhaps we do need it. Just not right now. Add the item to a “parking lot” list where you store items that you may pick up again sometime in the future. I put this in my task list (Google Tasks) without a due date.
Or it might be a good reference for later. David Allen recommends keeping a filing system (physical or digital) that allows for the easy retrieval of such material. For example, my filing system is completely digital and stored in Google Drive with folders for each domain. If I have any paper-based material, I will scan them and then store them digitally.
For the Actionable Items
If the item is marked for delegation, we pass it off to someone else to take action. For example, sending an email or request to customer support. Meanwhile, we do want to keep track of the items we are waiting on so we can follow-up in case we don’t get a response on time. I simply put this onto my task list with an expected response date so I can follow-up if I need to.
If the item is marked as defer and we need to do it within the next few days, put it onto a task list so we remember to do it as soon as we have the bandwidth. This task list should help us keep track of things we need to do on a day-to-day basis. I put it onto my task list with a due date of today so I can tackle them when I have the availability.
If the item is marked as defer and we know we don’t need to do it right away in the short term, put it onto the calendar with a future due date. By putting it on the calendar now, I avoid any gaps in our workflow. I will see the item in a future date and be reminded to take action at that time.
4. Reflect—Step Back And See The Big Picture
No matter how productive we become, it’s irrelevant if we forget why we do what we do. This is where reflection comes into play.
For example, if we realize that something we do doesn’t get us closer to our goals, we would be better off not doing it and saving all that time and stress.
The Weekly Review
The weekly review helps empty our head and prepare for the upcoming week. The goal is to be able to honestly say “I absolutely know right now everything I’m not doing but could be doing if I decided to.”
Tie up any loose ends. Clear out any loose notes, whether it be meeting notes, receipts, mail, etc. Empty your head and get everything written down to free up brain space.
Re-orient yourself to the current. Review next actions, review your upcoming calendar, follow-up on any tasks you’re waiting for, and review your overall goals and plans.
This is a moment to indulge ourselves with imagination. We can review our someday / maybe list. Brainstorm without any limits. Just for fun, think of something that would be really cool to do, even if you have no idea how.
5. Engage—Make Strides Toward Getting Things Done
Finally, we execute. With a fully vetted list of action items, we now know exactly what we need to do. So we just do it.
Of course, this is easier said than done. We need discipline and consistency to execute well. This is built up over time like a muscle. The more we do it, the better we become.
Keep in mind that there’s a balancing act of making sure that we’re doing enough and that we’re not burning out. Work hard, but also remember to take breaks. Again, we become better at balance over time.
Overall, David Allen’s Getting Things Done was a good read. It helped me setup a framework on how I get things done. The book is quite detailed to the point that everyone can have different takeaways. You don’t necessarily need to follow each and every suggestion—just the ones that work for you, and you can reap the benefits.
The ultimate goal is to come up with a system that we can trust. By following each of these steps, we ensure nothing slips through the cracks. Of course, there will be trial and error as we experiment with how to setup our system. But through time, we learn to trust our system and can experience the benefits of stress-free productivity.
Getting Things Done—The Art of Stress-Free Productivity
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