Would you like to get more done, have more successful outcomes, and feel more relaxed while doing it? I've spent the last 25 years researching productivity and how to accomplish more with less effort. The methods I'm going to share with you will help you manage all the details of your personal and professional life with more confidence, knowing that at any moment you are doing exactly what you should be doing from all the choices available to you.
Let's start with the educational foundation for stress-free productivity, which I call "Getting Things Done®," or GTD® as it has become popularly known. It's a work-life management system that will help you go from personal stress and being overwhelmed to an integrated system with focus and control.
What I do is based on a radically commonsense notion that with a complete and current inventory of all your commitments, organized and reviewed in a systematic way, you can focus clearly, view your world from optimal angles, and make trusted choices about what to do (and not do) at any moment. Here are some of the things I can help you with:
- Capturing anything and everything that has your attention
- Defining actionable things discretely into outcomes and concrete next steps
- Organizing reminders and information in the most streamlined way, in appropriate categories, based on how and when you need to access them
- Keeping current and "on your game" with appropriately frequent reviews of the six horizons of your commitments (purpose, vision, goals, areas of focus, projects, and actions)
My system explores each of those steps, in detail and with real-world examples. It includes simple advice for how to work (and live!), in that more efficient and productive way.
Why do we need this kind of help now?
We are faced with a world that changes overnight with the emergence of new technologies and lifestyles. We've gone from an analog world of top-40 hits on vinyl albums to a digital world of downloadable hits from every genre. We've invented new products, hoping to make our lives better — the fax machine, personal computer, PDA, Internet, cell phones, etc. — delivering data faster and faster to more people.
But we haven’t necessarily become more efficient, and life hasn’t necessarily changed for the better at broadband speed. While the world was being introduced to new hardware and software, no one had developed a mindset or the education to seamlessly integrate the new technologies with everyday life. We’ve had a lot of new stuff — more channels, more podcasts, more text messages — but not a new way of thinking.
Most everyone I talk with says he or she has far more to do than time and energy to do it. I focus on helping you get things done that are meaningful to you, with truly the least amount of invested attention and energy. I bring you the thought process for getting things done that makes all the gear and technology more usable.
Let’s look more closely at how you can use my advice on Getting Things Done to make your life better.
Everyone wants to achieve more successful outcomes with a sense of relaxed focus and control. The place to begin is capturing anything and everything that has your attention. Why is that so important?
Because your mind is a lousy office. When you have a thought about something you want or should do, it is usually so simple and so obvious when you're thinking of it, you're sure you'll never forget it or that you'll remember it in the right moment. Then two minutes later, with the next thing on your mind that you're sure you'll never forget, you've forgotten that you've forgotten the first thing!
If your mind had a mind, it would only remind you of something when you could do something about it. Here's a simple example — do you have any flashlights with dead batteries? When does your mind remind you that you need batteries? At the dead ones! If your mind had a mind, it wouldn't bother you at the dead ones but would clearly let you know only when you were in a store that had live ones!
Just because we think of something, that doesn't mean that we are being productive or constructive about or with it, or that it will be fulfilled. We have to realize that the thought itself is just a beginning, and if we care at all that it brings value or improvement, we probably need to capture it, clarify what it means to us, and organize the actions and information embedded or associated with it.
Most people I meet are still letting their mind run the show. They need to learn that a flashlight with dead batteries should either have the batteries replaced the moment they notice it, or the flashlight itself should go right into the in-basket as a reminder for adding batteries to the shopping list.
How many thoughts and ideas do you have daily that represent useful things to do or potentially enhance or improve projects, situations, and life in general? How many have you had and forgotten, and forgotten that you've forgotten?
"I ought to call Susan and ask her about where she stayed in Hawaii..."
"I need to write up the meeting agenda and email it to the team."
"Wonder what marinade I'd use to cook a lamb on the grill..."
"I ought to update Bill about my conversation with his customer."
Most people have (or could have) many more of these kinds of thoughts than they realize during the course of any 24-hour period. Most people don't get value from many of them, because they lack both the habit and the tools to collect those thoughts when they occur. If they aren't captured, they are useless, and, even worse, can add to the gnawing sense of anxiety most people feel about things "out there" they know they've told themselves they should do or would like to do but don't remember consciously what they are.
I've had thousands of ideas and fun or important to-do's actually come to pass, and kept a refreshingly empty head about all of them, because I've managed to create the habit of grabbing those thoughts when they occur. Many people view improving personal organization skills and tools as a "fix" or at best a "maintenance" need. Yet from my experience, gaining the habit of capturing and organizing all of my thinking can take on a much more creative and proactive spin.
To do this, and to make it easy, you'll need two things:
(1) A collection tool with you at all times, and (2) the habit of processing all the thoughts within a short period of time.
(1) The Tools:
Simple, portable tools are required. I use my NoteTaker wallet for this purpose, since it has my driver's license and credit cards and is always with me. I usually have my PDA/phone with me as well. Some people use a portable voice recorder. The tool doesn't matter, as long as you have it handy when and where you have thoughts to capture.
(2) The Habit:
You must process these thoughts into your organization system soon, and completely. Processing could be as simple as picking up the flashlight from your in-box and adding batteries to your shopping list that you take to the store. Of course some thoughts you capture will be about projects or larger goals, rather than simple actions.
Both elements are essential — capturing your thoughts outside your mind and organizing the results.
You’ll want to get all of your commitments into an external system (externalized from your mind, that is) which you trust and review regularly. That means getting every project, appointment, and assignment off your mind and onto a list. The system can be as simple as a 3-ring binder with a list of appointments (also known as a calendar), a list of projects, and lists that contain the next actions for each of those projects. Or you could keep those lists in a digital form, using calendar and task management software. Where you externalize what's on your mind is a matter of preference, but that you externalize is an absolute best practice. Once you get in the habit of getting things off your mind, you'll be able to use your mind for more creative things.
If you leave messages unheard again on your recorder or notes piled up in a purse or briefcase, the whole process is defeated, and your motivation to continue will disappear.
But if you do get the tools, use them when you think, and organize the results into your system, I guarantee you'll have more thoughts. And good ones, too.
You can find out more about David Allen and GTD at http://www.davidco.com/
The David Allen Company is a professional training, coaching, and management consulting organization, based in Ojai, California. Its purpose is to enhance performance and improve the quality of life by providing the world's best information, education, and products in the fields of personal productivity and work/life balance.