Do you ever find yourself facing a mountain of things to do at home without knowing where to start? What about having hundreds of unopened emails in your inbox? If you’re nodding your head, don’t worry – I’ve been there too.
If you need a hand tackling your to-dos, I’d like to share a few learnings from a fantastic resource – a book called Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, by David Allen. Getting Things Done provides a paradigm-shifting way to think about your work, your tasks and your deadlines. The takeaways from the book are helpful for not only being organized at work, but at home too.
I was first introduced to the book and its methods in a training session at work. I was pleased to learn that some of the practices were already part of my daily time and task management routine. Since, I’ve read the book and I’m more aware of how the principles positively influence my productivity, and I’ve improved how I use them.
Both life and work can throw a seemingly-endless stream of stimuli at you every day. Take your email inbox as an example. Emails can be nerve-wracking because each one varies in the level of engagement required from you. They can demand an answer to a question, include a message that you’re CC’d on only for reference, provide a document or presentation that requires your detailed review, share details for a new project, or even alert you to a crisis. This can be overwhelming without a system that enables you to filter them based on importance, urgency and priority, and then apply your attention appropriately.
The system that can help – with both email, and everything else you need to do – is the Getting Things Done methodology.
This methodology is the key to productivity. It makes you appropriately engaged with the tasks at hand so that they can be managed effectively by understanding the one next step that you need to do. This doesn’t mean that every item on your plate is completed immediately, but instead, you take the right step that ensures you’ll get those things done when they need to be. At the same time, you get them off the laundry list of to-dos that are running through your head.
Why is it important to free up space in your mind by relying on a system, rather than your brain power, to manage your daily to-dos? You can gain a feeling of control and focus your attention where you need it. This will provide the mental capacity to be creative, solve complex challenges, think of new ideas, and focus on being stress-free.
The philosophy behind Getting Things Done is summed up nicely in the following quote:
“If you don’t pay appropriate attention to what has your attention, it will take more of your attention than it deserves.” – David Allen
Let’s get into the nitty-gritty of how the Getting Things Done system works. The below Workflow Map demonstrates how random inputs are filtered as actionable or not actionable, and the possible steps you can take based on context, time available and resources.
What are some of my Getting Things Done habits? I boost my productivity by:
- Writing actionable to-do lists – It might be intuitive to think about the things that you need to do in terms of entire projects. Rather than just listing my projects on my to-do list, which can be both overwhelming and not actionable, I break down those projects into the immediate next steps that I can take. For example, if I need to write a media coverage analysis report, there are many steps that need to be complete before writing the actual report. For example, a first step would be to compile the coverage and the associated metrics into a chart, and a second step could be to ask my colleagues for similar reports that were completed in the past so that I can start with a template. Writing these micro actions down provides me with a snapshot of all the steps that go into a project and how long they’ll take, so that I can move the project forward while managing my time effectively.
- Acting immediately – This doesn’t mean that I immediately finish each task. Instead, when something new is put on my plate, I take the first step toward getting it done right away. If I can complete the task within two minutes – like sending a short email response or providing availability for a meeting – then I’ll do it right away. If not, I’ll either delegate the task and set a reminder to follow-up with the person regarding their progress, or defer it by adding it to my to-do list (broken down into actionable steps, of course), setting due dates in my calendar and filing emails/files to reference later.
- Keeping a clear email inbox – My goal at the end of each work day is to have an empty inbox. To achieve this, I consistently review my emails and move them to designated folders that are based on my projects. If emails include an attachment, before filing the email I’ll save the attachment to my computer or the company shared drive to refer to later. If there’s an action item that I need to complete eventually, I set a meeting or a reminder in my calendar. Find more tips for managing your emails here. This helps reduce the potential for chaos in my mind because I’ve already addressed each email appropriately.
Have you tried applying the Getting Things Done system to improve your productivity? How did it work for you? Share in the comments.
Image credits: Pixabay.com; Laine Jaremey; David Allen & Co.