GTD - Is it the right system for you?

Getting Things Done (GTD) was first developed by David Allen. If you are looking for a system that gets everything out of your head and into one place then this system could be for you.

Using the right system is important as you don’t want a system that cramps your style or dampens your productivity. In this article I will talk about:

  • The basic tenets of the GTD System
  • The tools required for this time management system
  • What’s missing
  • Who is best to use the system and will struggle with it
  • Did the system work for me?

Basic tenets of Getting Things Done (GTD)

In a nutshell this system is about getting things out of your head and into one place, and then religiously reviewing your system. First developed by David Allen in Getting Things Done, the system stepped me through 5 things

Collection: I collected everything and anything that was capturing my attention. I started with a mind sweep of everything that I wanted to, or needed to do for the in the near future.  My list included essentials, such as teaching, meeting with colleagues, or deadlines. I also included nagging worries and dreams of things that I would like to do - such as spending more time with my family. 

Process: I sorted all the things. The simple step of separating information from action was profound. Information was filed if there was an action then I identified the next logical action. The framework that David Allen used was if it is less than 2 minutes the do it now, otherwise delegate it or defer it. Applying this framework to incoming email (with the built-in functionality in Outlook, Groupwise, or Lotus Notes) was profound.

Organize: I organized reminders and information into streamlined categories. Calls that needed to be made went on an @calls list. Things to do at home went on an @home list, things to do while out went on an @out list. Actions were put into these context dependent lists or scheduled in the calendar.

Review: To keep on my game I regularly reviewed my game plan. This involved reviewing the six horizons (purpose, vision, goals, areas of focus, projects, and actions).

Do: Choose actions based on the context, availability of time, energy, or priority.

Tools required

In terms of tools, 'Getting Things Done'  is tool agnostic. All that is required is:

  • Inbox (or a collection bucket) to collect information or actions
  • A calendar to schedule tasks
  • A filing system to put your information or reference material
  • A collection tool that is with you at all times
  • A tool that allows you to create lists (could be as simple as several sheets of paper)

The system was flexible in the sense that I was able to choose the contexts that were relevant to me and my various responsibilities. 

'Getting Things Done' worked equally well with paper or electronic versions however, I have a preference for GTD software that links to my email. It makes sense that if you are receiving much of your work through email that you would have your GTD system linked to the email system. 

What was not flexible in the system was the weekly review. However, if you read my previous ideas about the importance of weekly planning and scheduling into your weekly planner, there should be a time in which we review our priorities. The natural review period for most people is the weekly review period.

What is missing?

As a registered psychologist I have spent many working years studying the causes of procrastination (prior to becoming a time management coach in many large organizations). Given that procrastination and multiple handling is such a dominant feature of behavior (and time management) there could have been more in this space.

However, having said that, the identification of the next logical step (and a framework to deal with these next actions) is a crucial behavioral technique to beat procrastination.

Who it would suit?

This system would suit somebody who is overwhelmed with lots of tasks. Because the system identifies the difference between tasks and projects it would also suit people who have this difficulty (in my experience this is many people that I coach).

For people who find one master task list unhelpful or even overwhelming the GTD system can be useful. This is because the lists are context dependent and relevant to the situation at hand.

The rigor of the weekly review is paramount to this system holding together. I missed the weekly review once and I started to notice that my system was getting frayed at the edges. This system will suit those who have the rigor to maintain the weekly review.

Who would this time management system not suit and does it work?

People who hate lists, don’t like the weekly review or struggle with procrastination (and this procrastination is not a result of a lack of clarity about what they need to do).

Does this time management system work?

Within two hours of implementing this time management system I noticed that feeling of being overwhelmed evaporated.

By getting all the stuff that was in my head, in my notes, in my email…all the stuff that was in my life - and putting these into one central place with logical next actions was liberating and released a flood of creative energy.

Sure my workload had not changed but I had brought order to it. As I kept using GTD my trust for the system increased. This meant that I could focus entirely on what it was that I was doing, rather than have nagging worries that I may have missed something.

Learn more about Getting Things Done (GTD).

If you liked GTD then you may also like the Franklin Covey time management system or this article on choosing a personal organizer to manage your time.

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